3108. Robert Southey to James Montgomery, 2 April 1818

3108. Robert Southey to James Montgomery, 2 April 1818⁠* 

My dear Montgomery

Thank you for the Iris. [1]  I inclose a one pound bill (more according to my means than my will) for the poor Greenlanders, [2]  & I will endeavour to do them better service by sketching (if I am permitted) a history of the Mission in the Quarterly Review. [3]  I have Egede & Crantz [4]  at hand, & will write for the Periodical Accounts. [5]  I have frequent cause to regret that the first volumes of these most interesting records are not to be procured.

Thank you also for your little publication on the death of Reynolds. [6]  I believe he did not become a resident at Bristol till after I had left that city, – but I have seen his daughter (so at least I suppose her to be) Mrs Rathbone, [7]  & she perhaps owes something of her sweetness of character, to inheritance, – for assuredly we bring with us predispositions good & evil, which the followers of John Locke [8]  & of John Calvin [9]  would find it difficult to reconcile with their respective systems.

It is very long since I have written to you, – forgive me, – & tell me so soon.

I am closely employed, & as usual upon many things: the chief of these is the concluding volume of Brazil, a work of great ardour, & corresponding delight to myself in its progress. This volume will contain much matter respecting the Jesuits which is little, if at all, known to the English public; & accounts of savage life more curious than any in the former volumes. It is getting on in the press, & I fully expect to publish it in the course of the summer. [10]  – Another work which interests me greatly at present is upon a subject which you may perhaps regard with more curiosity, – the Life of Wesley, upon such a scale as to comprise the history of Methodism {abroad & at home}, with no inconsiderable part of the religious history of this country for the last hundred years. [11]  You know enough of my intellectual habits to know my love of pursuing a subject in its ramifications. Just at this time I am drawing up a succinct account of the origin & economy of the establishment at Herrnhut, [12]  – a necessary part of that chapter which is entitled “Wesley in Germany.” No part of Wesleys conduct is so little creditable to him as that which relates to the Moravians. At first he submitted himself to them in a manner unworthy of his understanding, – as in the affair of his intended marriage with Sophia Causton, & still more with regard to William Law. [13]  And when he separated from them, he did not for a long time render them common justice, – but even in some degree sanctioned the abominable calumnies with which they were assailed. He became wiser & more charitable as he grew older. I have traced the progress of his mind with great care throughout his writings, – he outgrew all his extravagancies, but it was not easy for him to disown them all. When you see this book I think you will be satisfied with the diligence of the writer, I believe that you will not often dissent from his way of thinking, & I am sure that you will entirely sympathize in {with} his feelings.

Is there no hope of tempting you into this country? Spring is coming on, & you would render me a bodily service by drawing me away from the desk & the fire-side, to the mountain vallies & the hill tops. I am not a man to make insincere professions, – it would give me a heartfelt pleasure to see you here. The Leeds Coach runs to Kendal, & from Kendal there is a morning stage every day to Keswick.

Last summer I crost the Alps from Savoy, got as far as Milan, saw the three lakes Como, Lugano & Maggiore, & recrost the Alps into Switzerland, went over the finest part of that [MS torn] country, & then travelling thro the Black Forest to Friburg, came to Heidelberg & Frankfurt, & so by the Rhine to Cologne. I made a minute journal, which was no slight effort, for we travelled fast, & were incessantly indefatigable in seeing every thing. I brought back a store of images which no books had never taught me to call up; – perhaps no three months of my life were ever past so profitably. And I returned with a stock of recruited health which has lasted till now, unimpaired; – & with spirits as much improved as they are ever likely to be, – after the severest of all earthly losses. [14]  Come & see me Montgomery, – that we may talk together of this world, & of the next.

God bless you –

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 2 April 1818


* Address: To/ Mr James Montgomery./ Iris Office/ Sheffield/ Paid
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: red wax, with ‘S’, ‘In Labore Quies’ motto below
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 21. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Holland and James Everett, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of James Montgomery, 7 vols (London, 1854–1856), III, pp. 134–137. BACK

[1] The Sheffield Iris, a weekly newspaper that ran 1794–1848. Montgomery was its editor and owner 1794–1825. BACK

[2] Montgomery, a Moravian by education, campaigned for support for the Moravian missions in Greenland. In 1818 there was severe hardship among the Greenlanders and Montgomery published in the Iris an appeal for funds which raised £130 as well as numerous gifts of clothing. BACK

[3] An article on ‘Ancient and Modern Greenland’ appeared in the Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 480–496 (published 9 June 1818). Its author was not Southey, but Francis Palgrave. BACK

[4] Hans Egede (1686–1758), Description et Histoire Naturelle du Groenland (1763), no. 3068 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; David Crantz (1723–1777), History of Greenland (1767), no. 762 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] The regular reports of the Moravian missionaries, published from 1790 onwards as Periodical Accounts Relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren Established Among the Heathen. BACK

[6] Fragments to the Memory of the Late Richard Reynolds, Esq., the Philanthropist (1817). Richard Reynolds (1735–1816; DNB) was born in Bristol, but moved to Shropshire in 1756, only returning to his native city in 1804. He was a Quaker who became immensely wealthy through his ownership of the Coalbrookdale ironworks, but gave much of his money to good causes, including, in Bristol, the Samaritan Society, an orphan asylum, the Royal Infirmary and almshouses. BACK

[7] Hannah Mary Rathbone (1761–1839), Reynolds’s daughter, married William Rathbone IV (1757–1809), a Liverpool ship-owner, merchant and abolitionist. Southey met her in Liverpool in 1811; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 8 September 1811, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 1952. BACK

[8] John Locke (1632–1704; DNB), empiricist philosopher who argued in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) that there was nothing in the mind not derived from sense impressions and therefore it was a ‘white sheet’ at birth. BACK

[9] John Calvin (1509–1564), Protestant theologian who argued the proposition that, before birth, the nature and fate after death of each individual’s soul was already decided by God; and emphasised the central importance of the doctrine of original sin, according to which all people were born with a propensity to disobey God’s commands. BACK

[10] The third and final volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[11] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[12] The village in Saxony, Germany that, after 1722, became the centre for the Moravian revival. The Moravian Church was described in Chapter 5 of The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 175–208. BACK

[13] In The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 106–123, Southey accused Wesley of a lack of courage in allowing the Moravian elders to decide for him that he should not marry Sophia Hopkey (b. 1708), the niece of Thomas Causton (c. 1692–1746) of Savannah, Georgia. Wesley’s conduct in dropping a woman he had led to understand he might marry caused local outrage and even a court case. At I, pp. 160–167 Southey suggested that the influence of a Moravian preacher led Wesley rudely to criticise the teachings of his former mentor William Law (1686–1761; DNB). BACK

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

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)