1245. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 December 1806 *
Keswick, Dec. 20. 1806.
Your letter and parcel arrived yesterday, just as I had completed the examination of the former papers. I have now examined the whole.
What account of your brother shall be given it rests with you, sir, and his other nearest friends, to determine. I advise and entreat that it may be as full and as minute as possible. The example of a young man winning his way against great difficulties, of such honourable ambition, such unexampled industry, such a righteous and holy confidence of genius, ought not to be withheld. A full and faithful narrative of his difficulties, his hopes, and his eventual success, till it pleased God to promote him to a higher state of existence, will be a lasting encouragement to others who have the same uphill path to tread; – he will be to them what Chatterton  was to him, and he will be a purer and better example. If it would wound the feelings of his family to let all and every particular of his honourable and admirable life be known, those feelings are, of course, paramount to every other consideration. But I sincerely hope this may not be the case. It will, I know, be a painful task to furnish me with materials for this, which is the most useful kind of biography,  yet; when the effort of beginning such a task shall have been accomplished, the consciousness that you are doing for him what he would have wished to be done, will bring with it a consolation and a comfort.
Let me beg of you and of your family, when you can command heart for the task, to give me all your recollections of his childhood and of every stage of his life. Do not fear you can be too minute; I will arrange them, insert such poems as will best appear in that place, and add such remarks as grow out of the circumstances. The narrative itself cannot be told too plainly; all ornament of style would be misplaced in it, – that which is meant to tickle the ear will never find its way either to the understanding or the heart.
Respecting the mode of publication, you had better consult Mr. _____.  The booksellers will, beyond a doubt, undertake to publish them on condition of halving the eventual profits, – which are the terms on which I publish. The profit, I fear, will not be much, unless the public should be taken with some unusual fit of good feeling; and, indeed, this is not unlikely, for they are more frequently just to the dead than to the living.
I shall be glad to see all his magazine publications; possibly some of the pieces marked by me for transcription may be found among them. There is one poem, printed in the Globe for Feb. 11. 1803, which I remember noticing when it appeared, and which may be more easily copied from the newspaper than from the manuscript.  Whether any of his prose writings should be inserted, I shall better be able to judge after having seen the magazines. But the most valuable materials which could be entrusted to me would be his letters, – the more that could be said of him in his own words the better.
I have been affected at seeing my own name among your brother’s papers; – there is a defence of Thalaba,  a part of which I regard as the most discriminating and appropriate praise which I have received. It seems to have been published in some magazine.  These are the highest gratifications which a writer can receive; – for that class of readers who call themselves the public I have as little respect as need be; but to interest and influence such a mind as Henry White’s is the best and worthiest object which any poet could propose to himself – the fulfilment of his dearest hopes.
* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey
(ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 60–63. BACK