2830. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 17 August 1816

2830. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 17 August 1816⁠* 

Keswick, August 17. 1816.

My dear Chauncey,

I was from home for a few days’ absence when your letter arrived. I have seen too many instances of unjust prepossession to be surprised at them now. Much of my early life was embittered by them when I was about your age; and in later years I have been disinherited by two uncles in succession, for no other assignable or possible reason than the caprice of weak minds and misgoverned tempers. [1]  In this manner was I deprived of a good property, which the ordinary course of law would have given me. These things never robbed me of a moment’s tranquillity, – never in the slightest degree affected my feelings and spirits, nor ever mingled with my dreams. There is little merit in regarding such things with such philosophy. I suffered no loss, no diminution of any one enjoyment, and should have despised myself if anything so merely external and extraneous could have disturbed me. It is not in the heel, but in the heart, that I am vulnerable; and in the heart I have now been wounded: how deeply. [2]  He only who sees the heart can tell.

Whenever you come I shall rejoice to see you. Do not, however, wind up your expectations too high. In many things I may, in some things I must, disappoint the ideal which you have formed. No man has ever written more faithfully from his heart; but my manners have not the same habitual unreserve as my pen. A disgust at the professions of friendship and feeling and sentiment in those who have neither the one nor the other, has, perhaps, insensibly led me to an opposite extreme; and in wishing rather esse quam videri, [3]  I may sometimes have appeared what I am not.

I would not have you look on to the University with repugnance or dread. [4]  My college years were the least beneficial and the least happy of my life; but this was owing to public and private circumstances, utterly unlike those in which you will be placed. The comfort of being domesticated with persons whom you love, you will miss and feel the want of. In other respects, the change will bring with it its advantages. To enter at college, is taking a degree in life, and graduating as a man. I am not sure that there would be either schools or universities in a Utopia of my creation; in the world as it is, both are so highly useful, that the man who has not been at a public school and at college feels his deficiency as long as he lives. You renew old acquaintances at college; you confirm early intimacies. Probably, also, you form new friendships at an age when they are formed with more judgment, and are therefore likely to endure. And one who has been baptized in the springs of Helicon, [5]  is in no danger of falling into vice, in a place where vice appears in the most disgusting form.

There is a paper of mine in the last Quarterly, upon the means of bettering the condition of the poor. You will be interested by a story which it contains of an old woman upon Exmoor. [6]  In Wordsworth’s blank-verse it would go to every heart. Have you read The Excursion? and have you read the collection of Wordsworth’s other poems, in two octavo volumes? [7]  If you have not, there is a great pleasure in store for you. I am no blind admirer of Wordsworth, and can see where he has chosen subjects which are unworthy in themselves, and where the strength of his imagination and of his feeling is directed upon inadequate objects. Notwithstanding these faults, and their frequent occurrence, it is by the side of Milton [8]  that Wordsworth will have his station awarded him by posterity. God bless you!



* 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), IV, pp. 193–195. BACK

[1] Southey, and his surviving brothers, had not benefitted from the Wills of two wealthy, paternal uncles: John Southey (d. 1806) and Thomas Southey (d. 1811). BACK

[2] Southey’s son, Herbert, had died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[3] ‘To be, rather than seem [to be]’. BACK

[4] Townshend entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1816, graduating with a B.A. in 1821. BACK

[5] A mountain in Greece, reputed to be the home of the Muses; the reference is to Townshend’s ambitions as a poet. BACK

[6] ‘On the Poor’, published in the Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. The story of a 76 year-old woman who lived alone, after the death of her ‘idiot’, illegitimate daughter, in a hovel on Exmoor, her miserable condition and ‘vehement grief’ exacerbated by her lack of religious faith, is related at 231–232. BACK

[7] Wordsworth’s The Excursion (1814), and Poems: Including Lyrical Ballads, and the Miscellaneous Pieces of the Author; with Additional Poems, a new Preface, and a Supplementary Essay (1815). BACK

[8] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB). BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)