1968. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, [c. 18] October 1811

1968. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, [c. 18] October 1811 ⁠* 

‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!” [1]  – To live in London would be to me so great <an> evil, xxxx that <it> would taint all my enjoyments; – & to have the usufruct of the Museum Library is the greatest temptation which could possibly have been offered to me. [2]  You have seen my letter to Turner, [3]  which was broken off last night by Dr Bells arrival. I should else have said something more about the office of Historiographer [4]  on which I have fixed my eye. It is not to be supposed that I could have that & the Mus. at the same time, & it cannot be doubted that that is the best thing of the two, for tho the salary is the same & there are no &cs, there is likewise no duty expected, & no confinement. Besides the title would be of direct advantage to me. Now of this I think myself tolerably secure whenever M. Dutens furnishes a conclusion to his Memoirs. [5]  Lord Lonsdale will ask it for me, – which is enough if things remain as they are. On the other side Wynn would obtain it.

400£ a year, if liable to the same deductions as my pension, which I suppose it is, is frittered down to 280. the labour of three hours a day, required for cataloguing, if given to the booksellers, would produce twice that sum. It is not that cataloguing would be unpleasant work. – far from it, – xxx that kind of desultory employment which is as good as idleness: but considering the objects which I have before me I ought not to allow time for any such (comparatively) unworthy employment. Even now I find it necessary to abstain from reading many things because there is not time for it. Did my ways & means afford it, I would give up the Quarterly for the same reason, tho there it is that I am best paid & that I obtain most reputation. – so ill are these rewards apportioned in our present state of things! – But it cannot be doubted that it is better to write even such miscellanies as these, than to employ the same time in cataloguing, & three hours a day throughout the year, is nearly if not entirely as much as the Review & the Register cost me. Granted that a few years would get thro the Catalogue I have not a few years to spare. – You know what a series of historical work <labour> lies before me, – if it be compleated it will place me far above all the historians whom this country has produced, & I must not let any thing which can be avoided impede the completion, from this time forward.

I am of course strongly attached to this place of residence, – which you would not wonder at if you had seen it. Nevertheless a less lovely country would satisfy me, but it must be country, for my own sake & that of the children. I cannot bear to confine either them or myself within the walls of London. As for the Mus. Gardens & such other places they would be to us like a sod to xxx <a> Lark in a cage.

I would willingly come nearer to you, so as to be within an easy days distance, & to this I look forward. The first term of my lease expires in five years. perhaps by that time it may be in my power to remove. Meantime however a yearly journey for myself is nothing. A month in town & a week in travelling I can well spare.

I am very much obliged both to xxx Turner & Rickman. Had not you been so near London the decision would have cost me nothing. As it is – I wish the choice had not been offered – because it costs me as much disquietude thus to have decided.

Our love to Mrs H & the Man.



* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: 10 o’Clock/ OC 18/ 1811 FNn; E/ 18 OC 18/ 1811
Seal: Partial, red wax.
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Matthew, 6: 13. BACK

[2] Francis Douce had resigned as Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum in April 1811. The post was in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Speaker and the Lord Chancellor. Southey considered applying for the post, but did not do so. BACK

[3] The letter to Turner does not appear to have survived. BACK

[4] Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), a French Protestant, held the post of Historiographer Royal until his death on 23 May 1812. Southey’s campaign for the post proved unsuccessful and it went to one of his particular bêtes noires, James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB). BACK

[5] i.e. when Dutens died. BACK

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