2829. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder [fragment], 13 August 1816

2829. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder [fragment], 13 August 1816⁠* 

Keswick, August 13, 1816.

The date which I have just written reminds me that yesterday completed my forty-second year. Few men have lived longer – if the expression may be allowed – in the same length of time. I have been married more than twenty years, and have experienced, in no common degree, both good and ill; wrongs and benefits, happiness and affliction, changes of opinion, loss of dear friends, of parents, and of children. I am younger, perhaps, in constitution than in years, but older in feelings than in either. Both my father and mother died at the age of fifty. Their deaths, in both instances, were accelerated, if not occasioned, by wasting anxieties; but the race is not long-lived, and I do not expect to prove an exception to it. I used to pray for continued life; without being weary of life, I have ceased to do this. No person could have supplied my place to Herbert; [1]  daughters [2]  neither require nor admit of the same tuition; and as they will be decently provided for after my departure, they can spare me, and I need not be solicitous concerning them.

Do not mistake me. I possess abundant blessings, and am capable of enjoying them. With what feelings I have long contemplated death many of my poems will indicate; – it may be seen in “Thalaba,” in “Kehama,” and in “Roderick,” [3]  – still more in the proem to an unfinished poem, written two years ago. [4]  The late loss which I have sustained has not created these feelings, but it has rendered them more vivid. The strongest root which fastened me to the world is broken, and I have now more ties in heaven than upon earth, I have borne the loss with much self-command, and perfect resignation. Common sense, common humanity, some little mixture of pride perhaps, and the stoicism which I laid to my heart in youth might have produced the first; and of all virtues there is surely none which deserves to be held so cheaply as that of resignation to what is inevitable and irremediable. But I hope I have persuaded myself feelingly that what has happened is best; that I acquiesce in the dispensation, and neither indulge nor acknowledge a wish that it should have been otherwise. My will is annihilated, and my heart is strong; but, in spite of that outward control which I am constantly able to maintain, recollections will come upon me by day and by night, and every hour, which make me feel the weakness of philosophy, and the inestimable value of the faith which looks beyond the grave. The best teachers are Love and Affliction. Enough, or too much of this. I thought to have sent you some remarks on some of your last numbers, [5]  but the time went by, and the feeling has evaporated. They related to some wrong-headed and mischievous politics (coming, I believe, from Foster), [6]  and to the unbecoming manner in which the Abbé Edgeworth’s memoirs were mentioned . . .  [7] 

When we see men doing their duty with heroic devotion, if a difference of opinion prevent us from feeling sympathy or expressing admiration, we have some reason to suspect that our own opinions are not what they ought to be. I can feel equal respect and equal compassion for Madame Roland and Madame Elizabeth, for the better part of the Girondists, and the better part of the Vendeans. [8]  My mind was not always capable of this equity. In the days of Jacobinism I did not like to contemplate the virtues of the Royalist party; and when the Queen of France [9]  suffered, I strove to qualify or quench the compassion and indignation which I could not help feeling at her murder, by dwelling upon her vices and her imputed crimes. In this, as in many other things, time has done me good, and taught me to do more justice to human nature. In this new Quarterly I have written upon the Vendean war, [10]  and upon the Poor. [11]  For this latter article Murray pays me £100. Chance-hits in literature have sometimes produced even more disproportionate profit to the writer; but for a deliberate price this is very great, and much more than I should ever have thought of asking I conclude this letter after and amid many interruptions. Yours, very truly,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857)
Previously published: Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857), pp. 179–182. BACK

[1] Southey’s son, who had died on 17 April 1816, had been tutored at home. BACK

[2] Four of Southey’s daughters were still living: Edith May, Bertha, Kate and Isabel. BACK

[3] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), The Curse of Kehama (1810), and Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[4] The ‘Proem’ to A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[5] i.e. recent volumes of the Eclectic Review, of which Conder was the editor. BACK

[6] The Baptist minister, essayist and republican John Foster (1770–1843; DNB). He supported parliamentary reform, Catholic emancipation and popular education and opposed the Corn Laws. He was a regular contributor to the Eclectic. BACK

[7] Southey objected to the abrupt and ‘unbecoming’ dismissal of Memoirs of the Abbé Edgeworth (1815) in the Eclectic Review, n.s. 5 (February 1816), 173–174: ‘These Memoirs consist chiefly of three or four letters of the Abbé, and his account of the execution of Louis the Sixteenth. Exclusive of what relates to the King’s pedigree, they contain little information that was not long since known by all who have either read or heard of the French Revolution.’ BACK

[8] The Girondin hostess, Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platiere (1754–1793), whose Appel a l’Impartiale Posteritè (1795) Southey had admired; the younger sister of Louis XVI (1754–1793; King of France 1774–1792), Madame Elizabeth (1764–1794), who refused exile and died on the guillotine; the Girondins were the leading faction in the French Revolution before being displaced by the Jacobins in May–June 1793; the Vendée was a pro-royalist area of North Western France that saw attacks on revolutionaries in 1793–1796 and again in 1815. BACK

[9] Marie Antoinette (1755–1793), Queen of France, executed on 16 October 1793. BACK

[10] Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 1–69. BACK

[11] Southey’s ‘On the Poor’, Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. BACK

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