2916. Robert Southey to John Murray, 14 February 1817

2916. Robert Southey to John Murray, 14 February 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 14 Feby. 1817.

My dear Sir

Your letter followed me to the house of a friend, where I had turned myself loose for a week in an old library. – There I chewed the cud at leisure upon your remarks as to the certain & wide circulation of the Review & the precariousness of any other mode of publication for writings of a political character. They had their weight, & perhaps would have entirely instead of almost persuaded me, had not the last Number which I found on my return in a great degree counteracted your arguments, by proving that whatever advantage this powerful Journal affords for the diffusion of political opinions, – the writer who avails himself of it must express none which are not perfectly in accord with those of the Government, let him be as zealous as he will in their cause. [1] 

I am therefore undecided in what form to bring forward some observations upon the real evils of society, & some speculations as to the possible means of removing or alleviating them. Perhaps the better place may be to put together Espriellas Travels, which Longman some time ago advertised announced, [2]  – & for which ample materials have long since been collected. This would ensure a considerable sale, & it would also enable me to speak with much more freedom because it would rest with the Reader to discover when distinguish when I was writing in a fictitious character, & when thro one; – & this would be very advantageous in treating of the Established Church.

In whatever manner this may be determined, it is beyond a doubt desirable that I should make as much use as I can of your journal. With temporary politics I hope there will be little more to do. If Government, as they appear to intend, should check the licentiousness of the press, all will do well; – if they do not, – the question will soon come to be settled between the Mob & the Military soon enough to ensure success to the Government. But this, even with such an issue is a dismal thing to contemplate.

The M. Chronicle has been sent me this day with an advertisement of Wat Tyler. [3]  I wrote this piece in 1794, when it was put into Ridgeways hands, he being then in Newgate. He promised to print it at that time, – & I suppose thought better of it. So little did I think of it that I never demanded back the MSS. By whose roguery it has got to the press I do not know. I have written to Wynn, as a good adviser in such cases, & if he thinks it better to obtain an injunction he will immediately xxx transmit my letter to Turner (which contains all the facts) & desire him to act for me. God be thanked that the worst which Malice can say of me is no more than what I was once proud to say of myself, <& never shall be ashamed of saying> that I was a Republican in my youth. – Were it not for a slight certain feeling of resentment which makes me desire that xx the publisher <should be> a loser by his rascality, I should let the thing take its course xxx unnoticed: I heartily wish the Attorney General would prosecute him for sedition. [4] 

Xxx xxx I am very little concerned at this dirty transaction. My heart as well as my mind has been well disciplined, – & I have not profited so ill by real & severe affliction, as to suffer any thing from trifles.

You shall have Mariner for your next number. There was a work about the Philippines published two or three years ago; let me have it, because it is possible, & perhaps likely, that something may be traced in this direction. I expect to make an interesting paper, – the narrative first, & then some wider matter respecting the state of these islands, the missionaries &c. Burneys book may very well stand in the title, & I will do my best to give it a lift. [5] 

Thank you for the Tales of my Landlord. [6]  The remarks which I transmitted you [7]  are by no means warranted by the book itself; – in which I see nothing to deserve such censure. The second story is admirably good, – & most certainly in my judgement Walter Scotts

You offer me liberally for my blank verse poem: & shall have it, if it be published during my life, – which I rather think it will not. [8] 

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Albemarle Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 17 FE 17/ 1817
Watermark: R E & S BATH 1814
Endorsement: 1816 Feb 14 Southey Rob
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 149–151. BACK

[1] Southey had proposed a book on the ‘State of the Nation’, but Murray had urged him to confine his writings to the Quarterly Review – something Southey was less keen to do once he had seen the editorial expurgations in his article ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278. BACK

[2] Southey never published a follow–up to his pseudonymous travelogue Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807), but Longmans had been attempting to boost the sales of the third edition of 1814 by announcing a sequel, e.g. Morning Chronicle, 8 September 1814, ‘Also speedily will be published. TRAVELS in ENGLAND. By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. In 3 vols. Duodecimo.’ BACK

[3] ‘A curious dramatic Poem, entitled Wat Tyler, by Mr. SOUTHEY, is just published’, Morning Chronicle, 12 February 1817. BACK

[4] Southey refers to his Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838), and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. William Garrow (1760–1840; DNB), Attorney-General 1813–1817, did not prosecute the publishers for seditious libel. BACK

[5] Southey reviewed John Martin (1789–1869; DNB), An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean, with an Original Grammar and Vocabulary of their Language (1817) in Quarterly Review, 17 (April 1817), 1–39. This book told the story of the ship’s boy William Mariner (1791–1853) who lived in the Tonga islands from 1806 to 1810 after the local people attacked his ship and killed his crewmates. Burney’s A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean; Illustrated with Charts and Plates (1816) was also listed as one of the books reviewed in this article. The book Southey asked for was probably An Historical View of the Philippine Islands: Exhibiting their Discovery, Population, Language, Government, Manners, Customs, Productions and Commerce. From the Spanish of Martinez de Zuniga published at Manila, 1803 (1814). BACK

[6] Walter Scott’s pseudonymous, Tales of My Landlord (1816), in which the second story was Old Mortality. BACK

[7] Southey to John Murray, 31 January 1817 (Letter 2910), transmitting William Wilberforce’s criticisms of Old Mortality from an evangelical perspective. BACK

[8] Southey began, but did not finish, such a poem, entitled ‘Consolation’. Sections were published after his death as ‘Fragmentary Thoughts Occasioned by his Son’s Death’, Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 93–95, and ‘Additional Fragment, Occasioned by the Death of his Son’, Poetical Works of Robert Southey. Complete in One Volume (London, 1850), p. 815. Murray had offered Southey 1,000 guineas for the poem. BACK

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