1857. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 January 1811

1857. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 23 January 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany 23. 1811

My dear Tom

Among the books from Gutch’s Catalogue was a History of Massachussets Bay. [1]  – & upon reading this I have fallen deeply in love with the subject of Philip’s War for a poem. [2]  You may remember I pointed it out in one of the Quarterlies. [3]  – It has now moulded itself something into shape, & I begin to wish Pelayo [4]  were finished for the sake of setting to work. George Taylor I hope will be satisfied when he hears of two human poems in succession, tho he will probably laugh if you tell him that a Quaker is to be the hero of the second one. This will be at least a new character in heroic Poetry, but I am sure I shall make much of him. he is to be the son of Goffe the Regicide, [5]  – his name Oliver because that is a good name <word> for verse, and nothing so likely as that he should have been so christened, & has had a good godfather of the name. [6]  I make a very happy conclusion with him, marrying him to a Squaw. – But if my second sight does not deceive me more than it has ever yet done, I think I shall represent a perfect model of moral heroism, upon the highest principles. – I am writing to Heber for books & as soon as I can make out a list, shall send over to America for a compleat cargo, by means of Martin. [7]  Boston is the place to go to & if my publisher there has any civility in him, he will take some pains to execute a commission for me. [8] 

There is but one xxxx difficulty at the outset, which is in determining on the metre. I equally feel the necessity of blank verse for the higher part, & of rhyme for all those in which it is a lower key is required. Some irregular form will probably be chosen which may enable me to pass from one to the other.

I have heard the scheme proposed of prosecuting Itinerancy, [9]  – but the thing is totally impracticable, without establishing a principle of violence which would make the remedy far worse than the disease. You cannot God be thanked, in this country, prevent a man from going where he pleases, & preaching in any place where he can do it peaceably, – that is in any place where he does not interrupt any body else, or trespass upon any person’s property. No Tom, both with religious & political revolutions, when the age for them is come there in no way but the recourse of the traveller in the wilds <savannahs> of America, – when the grass is on fire behind him, to set fire to it before. Direct <Kindle> the combustible materials yourself & direct them to your own purpose, or you will be consumed with them. I am never weary of repeating that faith is an appetite of the mind: our establishment starves it the Catholicks gorge it even to surfeiting & sickness. The most practicable (I fear the only practicable) remedy is by setting up a new system, an Eclectic church, continuing all that is good in each, yet so philosophically framed that as the world grew wiser it would be adapted for a Catholick – i-e- a universal faith. If I had had the slightest crack in the upper story I should have done this long ago, – & perhaps it is only the multiplicity of my employments & the interest which I take in them & the importance that I have persuaded myself attaches to them, – that has prevented me from being ten times more conspicuous in the world than I ever possibly was by any other means.

The Establishment has been an infinite blessing to England, – in proof of this [MS obscured] have only to look at Popery & Calvinism from both of which it has preserved us. It still is a blessing because it saves us from persecution; – but its creed will not stand the test of sound criticism. The story of the Fall, the plenary inspiration of the scriptures, & the miracles must be given up, – abandon these, insist upon a diseased moral nature, the necessity & all-sufficiency of grace effecting a moral redemption, – preach the doctrine of a perpetual revelation, appeal to the heart of man for the truth of these doctrines, – & Christianity becomes invincible. The nature of the Fall, & the questions of the Trinity & the super-human nature of Christ may safely be left undefined, for every person to understand according to his judgement. But I have begun upon a subject which it would require a volume to explain.

I shall be exceedingly sorry if I have made the mistake which you xxx xx point out, – x certainly I understand from G. Taylor that the whole sum was to be x expended in charitable foundations, & in that belief gave the Bishop the praise which bonâ fide I thought he deserved.  [10] 

It is unfortunate that you have been obliged to shift your quarters. The sin of brandy is ten fold that of wine, for drunkenness x differs according to the liquor which occasions it, & that provided by spirits is absolute madness. This is leading me to some physical speculations which end in a question for the Doctor – has he tried the effect of smoking stramonium upon <for> asthma? which several cases in the Monthly Magazine give reason to suppose <it> is a specific. [11]  Love to Sarah. Remember me to your host & his brother. [12] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ with William Taylor Esqr / St Helens Auckland/ Bishop’s Auckland/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 5–7. BACK

[1] Probably Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780), The History of Massachusetts, from 1628 to 1750 (1795), no. 1472 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the Native American inhabitants of New England. Southey’s poem was ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. BACK

[3] ‘This war affords … a finer subject for the poet than that upon which Ercilla composed his famous Araucana, – it has a good cause, an entire action, and a decisive event’, in Southey’s review of Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 (1808), Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 303. BACK

[4] The early incarnation of what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[5] William Goffe (c. 1605–c. 1679; DNB), soldier and one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). Condemned to death at the Restoration in 1660, he fled to New England and died there under an assumed name. BACK

[6] Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; DNB), Lord Protector 1653–1658. BACK

[7] Thomas Martin (1769–1850), formerly a Unitarian minister at Great Yarmouth, where Southey had met him in 1798, but by this time a merchant in Liverpool. He was later Secretary of the Liverpool Royal Institution. BACK

[8] Editions of Madoc and Letters from England had been published in Boston by Munroe, Francis & Parker. BACK

[9] Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), Prime Minister 1801–1804, Home Secretary 1812–1822, introduced a Bill into the House of Lords in May 1811 to outlaw itinerant preaching, unless the preacher had been licensed. It provoked an avalanche of evangelical protest and was dropped. BACK

[10] Southey had reviewed Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. In the course of the review (p. 488) he had praised Shute Barrington (1734–1826; DNB), Bishop of Durham, 1791–1826, for the munificence of his charitable donations. BACK

[11] e.g. Monthly Magazine, 29 (June 1810), [409]–410. The side effects of smoking the stramonium plant are highly dangerous, as it can produce delirium, violent behaviour and even death. BACK

[12] William Taylor (dates unknown), brother of George Taylor. He was also a farmer with intellectual tastes and a subscriber to the Friend. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)