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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1328. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 28 May 1807 ⁠* 

Thursday night. May 28. 1807. Keswick.

My dear Lightfoot.

This brother of mine is, as you may well suppose, a thorn in the flesh. He writes me a penitent letter, & a good one, in a hand like a stable boys: but his Priest has not taught him that there can be no absolution without full confession. He denies the charge about the French prisoners – my brother Tom heard it at Bristol, & said to me ‘you may be sure I did not enquire into this matter’ – – it is certain that for some misconduct of this kind, involving a criminal charge, he was obliged to leave the regiment, – & it is very lucky for him the horse was stopt as it was, for he could have had no intention of returning with it when he xxx hired it, & it is better he should be liable to an arrest for debt, than make an appearance for horse-stealing.

He writes penitently now, & one who did know him so thoroughly and from his youth up as I do, might easily give credit to him. Hopeless however as I am from a deep conviction that he is destitute of any moral sense & has been blind of heart from his birth, – I am well aware that I must not shut my own against him, while there is any possibility, how faint soever, of restoring him. In my last letter [1]  I stated fully to you what my circumstances were, & that statement has shown you how utterly unable I am to meet the heavy expence of fitting him out in life anew, were it practicable to get him a situation, which as yet while his character is unreclaimed, it is not, – or were it prudent if practicable. My circumstances however by Gods blessing, will yearly xxx improve, &, as I told him, whenever he learns to demean himself decently & to do his duty in any situation let it be as humble as it may, he shall not find me deficient in brotherly offices.

Nothing it is certain can reclaim him. but bitter suffering. Some experience of a vagabond life he has had, & he must have more, it is prudent for his sake, & necessary for mine, – for now I cannot lend him a helping hand, nor would I yet if I could. But I shall see you before the year closes, – & then, if he lives respectfully meanwhile (for {as} – in any situation a man may be respectable) I will look after him, & if xxx xxx xxx. Do not tell him this, lest he should think of making his way to me, which would be of all things the most unpleasant & disquieting. Only let him know that I have never lost sight of him, & never shall, – that if he does his duty I will do mine, – that there are not three more affectionate brothers living than his fathers sons, – it is his fault that they are not four, & will be his fault if they are not one day made so. But that he must be aware his promises of amendment are not lightly to be credited & that some apprenticeship to repentance is necessary for one who has so long set shame at defiance, & been the shame & sorrow of his family. – Many & many are the plans which I could build upon his talents, were their but a foundation of morality for them to rest upon, – but when the heart is naught – –

At present he is utterly ignorant of the common rudiments of learning; – still his extraordinary talents might soon recover the time he has lost; – & if he can be trusted when I come into Devonshire, & will go thro two years severe study, I will enable him to maintain himself after that time by literature as a profession, – which so far from disqualifying him from any {other} means of support, will recommend him to it, but will support him if he has no other, & give him a rank in life which nothing else could do. But there must be proof of good behaviour first.

I will tell you what is in my mind, do not let him know it. xxx As for the army, were it practicable – you know that for one with a lack of morals it is the direct road to the Devil. You know {may perceive} that Edwards talents are equal to any thing, & will give me credit for knowing enough of literature to be able to direct him. I would board him one year with a Welsh clergyman, & one year with a Scotch one, to learn the two Celtic dialects thoroughly. after which half a year in Ireland might suffice to acquire the third. He should then come home to me, – I would procure all the materials {remains} which are preserved in the Welsh language, & by xxx & with such help as I could give him by bringing my knowledge to bear upon the new materials which he would then be able by mere translation to supply, – he should produce a work which would give him means to fit himself out for any line of life which he might then prefer – if he should not by that time have acquired a love of letters. With my connections there is no doubt of effecting this, – if he would only be his own friend, – but of that I confess that I despair. –

You will I dare say laugh at the out-of-the-wayness of this scheme, – yet nothing is so feasible, & I am thus proposing for him what I should do with my own son, were he old enough. – Are you shaking your head Lightfoot? So am I – not at the plan, but at Edwards wretched want of principles, which I verily believe, will frustrate every thing that can be done, as it has frustrated all that has been done, & will make him end as disagreeably as he has begun.

Excuse me for waiting till the season of franking returns, – the subject will plead my excuse. [2]  My book is not yet advertised – which I wonder at, – but Longman has directions to send it you, together with Joan of Arc [3]  – I look for a letter from you with some promised good news. Never regard franking, one item more will not perceptibly lengthen a half-yearly bill for letters of half a yard long.

O Nicholas Wood you & I are thirteen years older than we were when we parted & I dare say you have lost the dried piece of your thumb which was {deposited} xxx on the same shelf with Lactantius [4]  & in the same room with the Pot of Abomination. – I have preserved some college mementos, – the four prints among them which I found in Radfords [5]  rooms, – (one of which is that of Gaspar Poussin xxx which xxx is the subject of one of my better poemets: [6] ) – my own breakfast cups, & poor Sewards breakfast plates.

God bless you.

R Southey.


Notes

* MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng.lett.d.110
Unpublished. BACK

[1] See Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, [c. 18 May 1807], Letter 1324. BACK

[2] Southey’s friend John Rickman was unable to frank mail on Southey’s behalf if Parliament was not in session. BACK

[3] New editions of Joan of Arc (1806) and Madoc (1807). BACK

[4] Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (c. 240–320), the early Christian author of The Divine Institutions. BACK

[5] Arundel Radford (d. 1824), a student at Exeter College, Oxford, BA 1796. BACK

[6] ‘Musings on a Landscape of Gaspar Poussin’ was written in 1795 and published in Southey’s Poems (1797). BACK

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August 2013