3145. Robert Southey to Henry J. Monck Mason, 2 June 1818

3145. Robert Southey to Henry J. Monck Mason, 2 June 1818⁠* 

Keswick 2 June. 1818

My dear Sir

It will not be my fault if your brothers book [1]  should not be treated with that respect which is always due to a work of laborious research. And I assure you it is by no act or concurrence of mine that any unnecessary severity ever finds its way into the Quarterly Review. The principle which I have more than once declared is that whatever author comes before the public with the result either of his observations as a traveller, or his researches in history, antiquities &c, is so far as he communicates {adds} any new information to the existing stock of knowledge, a public benefactor, to be thanked for what he had done, to be encouraged & advised (if it be needful) for what farther he may intend to do, but in no case to be treated with severity, unless there be any mischievous opinions uppermost in his mind. For this is the only fault which can either require or justify that tone of criticism at present, unhappily, & to the disgrace & injury of literature, so prevalent. If a book be merely good for nothing – mole ruit suâ, [2]  – neglect, loss of time & perhaps of money, are a penalty more than sufficient for the writer’s mis-estimate of his own powers. In the present case I have expressed myself strongly to this purpose in time certainly, & I hope with effect, tho I am perfectly ignorant into whose hands your brothers work will be consigned. – It has more than once happened that papers in the Quarterly have been imputed to me by the offended parties, when I have expressed to the publisher, in private, & in the strongest manner, my utter disapprobation of the tone & temper of the criticism, & perhaps of the opinion pronounced upon the work.

I am exceedingly glad to hear of your success in your truly patriotic undertaking, [3]  & not a little surprized that Dr Troy [4]  should sanction such a publication with his name, [5]  – his English brethren keep most consistently aloof from all such cooperation. At the Revolution in 1688 Scotland was in a more barbarous state than Ireland is at this day, I say more barbarous, because you could not at that time have found any where in Scotland men who in mind & manners were entirely upon a par with the gentlemen of England, as you find them now every where in Ireland. Education has been the great instrument of the change, – a good deal also was owing to the military roads & the good use which was made of the military after the two rebellions. [6]  Whenever your country shall be cured of those atrocities which might be got rid of in one generation by a xxx combination of xxx civil & military law adapted to such circumstances, it will speedily outstrip Scotland in prosperity. Its natural advantages are far greater, & the Irish character, deplorably as it is sometimes perverted, is compounded of better & finer elements.

I shall be much gratified by seeing some of your cheap books. Pray express my thanks to Mr O Reilly, [7]  – to whom I shall find some opportunity of acknowledging my obligations in kind. If it be directed to the care of Thomas Blakeney Esqr [8]  – who holds some office, I believe, in the Customs at Whitehaven, [9]  it will reach me safely.

You were unfortunate last year in your weather, & I was unfortunate in being absent during the whole of your visit to this country. We have now had the finest month of May that was ever remembered, & are beginning to complain of sunshine & drought.

Mrs Southey & xxx her sisters [10]  join with me in compliments to Mrs Mason [11]  & your family

Believe me my dear Sir

with sincere esteem –

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Henry J Monck Mason Esqre/ 24 Kildare Street/ Dublin
Postmark: [partial] 6 JU 6/ 1818
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
Endorsement: Robert Southey/ 14 April 1818
MS: Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS File ‘S’, Folder 14136. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] William Monck Mason (1775–1859; DNB), The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St Patrick, near Dublin, from its Foundation in 1190 to the Year 1819 (1819). BACK

[2] ‘It falls of its own weight’. BACK

[3] Monck Mason was a key figure in the Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor People in Ireland (founded 1811), usually known as the Kildare Place Society. But this letter probably refers to his new venture, of which he was Secretary: the Irish Society for Promoting the Scriptural Education and Religious Instruction of the Irish-Speaking Population, chiefly through the Medium of their own Language (1818–1914). The new Society was usually known as the Irish Society. BACK

[4] John Thomas Troy (1739–1823; DNB), Catholic Archbishop of Dublin 1786–1823. At this time the Catholic hierarchy were fairly neutral towards the Kildare Place Society, though they were becoming increasingly suspicious. In 1818 Archbishop Troy made public his disapproval of the practice of reading the Bible without Church instruction in these schools. Monck Mason’s new Irish Society claimed to be inter-denominational and employed Catholic teachers, as few Protestants spoke Irish. But the Catholic hierarchy were opposed to its efforts from the start, seeing them (correctly) as an attempt to convert Catholic children to Protestantism. BACK

[5] This passage may refer to the Irish Society’s plans for Irish–language Bibles and teaching material. BACK

[6] The Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745–1746. BACK

[7] Probably Edward O’Reilly (1765–1830), another Irish scholar. He compiled an Irish–English Dictionary (1817) and was Assistant Secretary to the Iberno–Celtic Society, founded January 1818. O’Reilly, who owned a valuable collection of Celtic manuscripts, was at this time working with Henry Monck Mason on cataloguing the contents of the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. The ‘cheap books’ may refer to Monck Mason’s proposal for a series of cheap editions of popular books for the Kildare Place Society’s schools, including Southey’s Life of Nelson (1813). This scheme does not appear to have been carried through. BACK

[8] This was probably Robert Blakeney, Secretary and Treasurer to the Whitehaven Harbour Trustees, and well-known to Wordsworth. BACK

[9] The local Cumberland port for vessels coming from Ireland. BACK

[11] Monck Mason’s wife, the Hon. Anne Langrishe (1788–1873), whom he had married in 1816. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Blakeney, Robert (1758–1822) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)