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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1551. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 6 December 1808 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Coleridge I understand has ordered some of his Prospectuses [1]  to be sent to you, relying upon me to write to you on the subject. He manages things badly – a letter from me on the blank side of one prospectus would have done without packing off to you a bundle of papers too stiff for any ordinary purpose, – & a few advertisements in newspapers & magazines would have done better than any prospectus at all. – The thing however is done, & that with so little deliberation, tho not till after much delay, – that some of it requires undoing: for should he have many subscribers in the country there will be no mode of regular delivery other than by post, – in that case the numbers must be stamped, & stamps cover only a single sheet. Smaller type & Larger paper will bring it to the same quantity of contents, & the same market value.

Will he go on with this undertaking, – will be your first question. He can do it with little more trouble than that of arranging & putting together fragments already in existence, & yet I will own to you that I have great doubts & misgivings. – I do not like the Prospectus. It is too much like what it pretends to be, too fit for a letter, to be proper for the public. There is an injudicious adulation, as it may almost be called, of his friends, & an overdone xxxxabasement of himself, – on the whole a want of manliness which I cannot away with. But assuredly if he carries it into effect great things will be done; – sounder criticism & sounder philosophy established as well as addressed, than modern ages have seen; great truths upholden, & the axe laid at the root of those great errors which have been for the last century held xxxxxxxxto be the very name & thirty articles of philosophical faith.

When you collect your synonimes you would do well to mark what is the existing use of words, as well as to hunt out their primary meaning. I am almost pleased that you persevere so steadily in this collection, which will form a very valuable book in itself, & be of signal utility to the compilers of a national dictionary, whenever that work shall be undertaken. [2]  I believe I shall withdraw from the Athenæum altogether. Dr Aikin among other rejections has thought proper to suppress an article in the Omniana, for no other imaginable reason than that it called Pitt a babbler [3]  & Buonaparte a barbarian. I do not blame him for rejecting any thing which he thinks dull, because God knows any magazine xxxxwhich he conducts will always have its full complement of dull matter, – but this was a curious collection of facts about the change of climate in the last fifty years, put together more meo, [4]  & his only objection can have been to the that the politicks are not in accord with his own.

What a precious article is that in defence of Polygamy! [5]  the writer did not recollect that the Polyandrian system in Malabar utterly overthrows the physical assertion on which he rests, & that Xtianity originated in a hot climate. The Moravian Missionaries make no difficulty about the matter, – they let a convert keep his wives, following St Pauls authority, that it is unjust to put a heathen wife away against her consent, & perceiving the cruelty of giving x our institutions a retroactive effect, in this case. The only difference they make is that a man under such circumstances is not appointed to any office in the church. Thus xx the obstacle to conversion is effectually removed, & they the children being educated Xtians, naturally obey the Xtian ordinances. I am writing a View & Vindication of the existing Protestant missions for an unborn review which has never yet been heard of, & has as yet neither name nor existence, but will {hoist the bloody flag} run along side the Edinburgh & engage her yard arm & yard arm. [6]  What wretched work hads Sidney Smith made of this subject of the Missions! [7]  It were better be a fanatic than such a buffoon as this, for fanaticism implies some feeling, some sincerity, some heart of flesh & blood.

Wordsworth is writing a pamphlet upon the cursed Cintra-Convention, [8]  – it will be in that strain of political morality to which Hutchinson, & Milton, & Sidney [9]  could have set their hands.

My Brazil goes off to press in a few days, [10]  having travelled into Herefordshire [11]  & back for revision & correction. Do not expect a splendid book, – there is no splendour in the materials of which it is composed, – look for an honest one, with that pervading life & soul of free opinion which nothing but free opinion & the love of God & man can give, & you will not be disappointed.

God bless you.

R Southey.

Dec 6. 1808.



* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Endorsement: Ansd 27 Dec
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4860
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 229–232. BACK

[1] The Prospectus for Coleridge’s self-published journal The Friend, which he produced in 1809 and 1810. For the text see The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton, 1969). BACK

[2] William Taylor’s English Synonyms Discriminated was published in 1813. BACK

[3] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[4] Meaning ‘as is my custom’. BACK

[5] ‘An Obstacle to the Conversion of the Hindoos Considered’, The Athenæum, A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information (November, 1808), 407–412. BACK

[6] Southey reviewed the Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[7] Sydney Smith (1771–1845; DNB), ‘Indian Missions’, Edinburgh Review, 12:23 (April 1808), 151–181. BACK

[8] Wordsworth’s Concerning the Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra (1809) was triggered by the agreement, made on 30 August 1808, of the British generals to allow a defeated Napoleonic army to withdraw from Portugal to France unmolested and with its weapons – a decision he and Southey thought pusillanimous. BACK

[9] Three republican writers: Algernon Sidney (1623–1683; DNB), executed for involvement in the Rye House plot to assassinate the monarch. John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), republican polemicist as well as poet; Colonel John Hutchinson (1615–1664; DNB), a Puritan commander in the English civil war and a signatory of the death warrant of King Charles I, as revealed in a posthumously published memoir by his widow, Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681; DNB): Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806). In the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378, Southey extolled the conduct and morality of Hutchinson. BACK

[10] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[11] That is, to his uncle Herbert Hill, resident at Staunton-on-Wye. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013