2876. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder, 10 December 1816

2876. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder, 10 December 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 10 Dec. 1816

My dear Sir

For a long time I have delayed writing to you, in expectation that the Eclectics [1]  would arrive, – but it so happens than an unusually long time has elapsed without my receiving any parcel from Wm GiffordMurray, nor am I now likely to receive any for time some time, having sent him a reviewal of Kosters Travels, & not meaning to do any thing more for his next number. [2]  In the last number you might recognize me upon Ali Bey, & the Foreign Travellers, which latter was intended to be something very different, & of more permanent value, – but the danger of insurrection or rebellion appeared to me to be drawing so near that I took that opportunity of speaking a word in season & in place. [3]  I hope the folly & madness of these Watsons & their crew [4]  will not blind the eyes of the public to their real situation, & make them overlook or despise the deep & extensive disaffection which in xxx prevails. There is a dry rot in the mainbeams & joists, & if timely props be not applied the whole edifice will fall in ruins about our heads. The measure which I recommend, as the only effectual one, is that transportation be made the punishment for seditious libel. Any other is ridiculously inefficacious: & unless some check be given to the licentiousness of the press, in a short time the question will be whether we shall have a mob-revolution or a dragoon government, – & this question will be to be decided by arms.

There is so much good in this country, in our public institutions & private habits & we possess such easy means of bettering the condition of mankind <the people> at home & extending the blessings of civilization & Xtianity in distant parts of the globe, that I cannot think Providence will permit this light of the world to be extinguished And this is my best hope, for xxxx xxxx speaking there is little to be gathered from human prospects. On the one hand I see men without energy or decision at the helm, inactive, supine & either ignorant of the danger or intimidated by it. The only man among them who has the courage for his station is Lord Castlereagh, [5]  – & this is his sole merit qualification, – all else is froth & emptiness. On the other hand there is the Press battering the government in breach, & a formidable alliance of Guilt & Error, xxxx xxxx Poverty, Profligacy, Sophistry & Enthusiasm.

It is very likely that I may write at length upon the state of the country what I have thrown out at different times, & under considerable restraint, has made some impression. [6]  And if I can but convey to others the same distinct perception which I have myself xx upon some momentous subjects, any labour would be well bestowed.

Here we are out of the way of distress, or hear little of it. But this is not a poor country, because it is an agricultural one; & agricultural countries suffer only from natural, not from political causes. It is true we must live upon bad bread & bad potatoes till the next season, & pay dearer for them, but this has been foreseen in time to prevent any serious consequences, & the early sense of scarcity will prevent any thing like famine.

We talked of you on the Lord Mayors Day. [7]  – The year which is now drawing to its close has produced more sensible & lasting effects upon me than any former one. It has drawn a broad black line between the years which are gone & those which may be before me. [8] 

I am now taking up my Tale of Paraguay, to get it ready for spring publication, – a volume the size of the Pilgrimage, [9]  with rather a larger proportion perhaps of notes, – & the metre Spenser’s stanza. [10] 

Mr Hughes would tell you that he saw me, – a long interval had elapsed since we had seen each other, not less I think than fifteen or sixteen years. [11]  I was much interested with his colleague [12]  both in his public delivery, & in conversation. Campbell the traveller was also at Keswick, but I was unluckily absent, – otherwise I should have been much gratified in seeing him & his umbrella. I like his odd book, & should willingly have conversed with him. [13]  Oh that we had a Colonial Board upon [MS torn] principles of colonization, – & a missionary department x belonging to it. [14]  Might it not be effected with the disposable zeal which this age supplies. This & the condition of women in England are two of the momen important subjects which I shall enter upon, if I fulfill my present purpose.

I am anxious to hear how Neville is going on. Remember me to him & to your brother [15]  – & remember us to Mrs Conder. [16]  – I had nearly forgotten the very subject which made me resolve to write to you this day, – Bloomfields subscription. Tilbrooke has written to me about it. I cannot but think that the best plan in every respect is to publish a subscription edition of his works, – the pleasantest, the surest & far the most productive plan. Tell him this, – tell me if it be adopted, [17]  – & if it be not (but I strongly urge it) let me know where subscriptions may be paid. & now God bless you.



* Address: To/ Josiah Conder Esqre/ St Paul’s Churchyard/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 13 DE 13/ 1816; 13 DE 13/ 1816
Seal: [partial] black wax, design illegible
MS: Houghton Library, Harvard, fMS Eng 948. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Copies of the Eclectic Review, of which Conder was the editor. BACK

[2] Southey’s review of Henry Koster, Travels in Brazil (1816) appeared in Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 344–387. BACK

[3] Southey reviewed ‘Ali Bey’, Domingo Badia y Leblich, (1766–1818), Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, Between the Years 1803 and 1807 (1816) in Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 299–345. His review of ‘Works on England’, the narratives of foreign travellers, which included a warning about the state of the nation, appeared in the same issue, 537–574. BACK

[4] A reference to James Watson (c. 1766–1838; DNB) and his son James Watson (d. 1836), leaders of the group of revolutionaries who, on 2 December 1816, incited a section of the public meeting at Spa Fields, London, to attack the Tower of London and the Bank of England. BACK

[5] Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1812–1822. BACK

[6] Southey intended to write a book on the ‘State of the Nation’, but this project was abandoned. BACK

[7] Saturday, 9 November 1816. This was the day on which the incoming Lord Mayor of the City of London processed through the streets of London. On this occasion the Lord Mayor was Matthew Wood (1768–1843; DNB), MP for the City of London 1817–1843, who had been re-elected for a second term. As part of the procession the Lord Mayor was blessed by the Dean of London on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral; as Conder lived at 18 St Paul’s Churchyard he would have had a good view of proceedings. BACK

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

[9] Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816) was published in a slim octavo edition of 232 pages. BACK

[10] Southey’s A Tale of Paraguay was not completed and published until 1825. It, too, was an octavo, of 217 pages, including 63 pages of notes, and used the stanza form employed by Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB) in The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). The 18 pages of ‘Preface’ did not outweigh the 35 pages of ‘Notes’ to The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo. BACK

[11] Joseph Hughes (1769–1833; DNB), a Baptist minister, who in 1791–1796 worked as a teacher and Minister at the Baptist Academy and Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol. During his time there he met Joseph Cottle and moved in literary circles. He took up a post in Battersea, London in July 1796 and remained there until his death. He was one of the Secretaries of the British and Foreign Bible Society (founded 1804) and had visited Southey in the summer of 1816. BACK

[12] John Owen (1754–1824; DNB), Anglican priest and Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He had accompanied Hughes on his visit to Southey. Southey would have found many aspects of Owen’s life fascinating – he had known John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), of whom Southey was to publish a biography in 1820, and he had served as a chaplain in India 1783–1794 and with British forces in the Peninsular War 1809–1812; he had also led British troops in prayer before the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815). BACK

[13] John Campbell (1766–1840; DNB), Travels in South Africa: Undertaken at the Request of the Missionary Society (1814). Campbell was an evangelist who was famed for walking great distances and is pictured with his umbrella in the frontispiece of this work. BACK

[14] At this time colonial matters were divided between a Board of Control with ultimate authority over India, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies and the Foreign Secretary. There was no ‘missionary department’ and missionaries had only been allowed to operate in India from 1813. BACK

[15] One of Conder’s three brothers: Thomas (b. 1782), John (1783–1869) and Henry (b. 1797). BACK

[16] Joan Elizabeth Thomas (1786–1877), who wrote under the name ‘Eliza Thomas’. BACK

[17] It was not adopted and instead donations were solicited to help Bloomfield, who suffered from failing eyesight and had been impoverished by the bankruptcy of his publisher. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)