1975. Robert Southey to John May [fragment], 2 November 1811

1975. Robert Southey to John May [fragment], 2 November 1811 ⁠* 

Nov. 2. 1811.

My dear Friend,

… Since our return a larger portion of my time than is either usual or convenient has been taken up by the chance society of birds of passage; this place abounds with them during the travelling season; and as there are none of them who find their way to me without some lawful introduction, so there are few who have not something about them to make their company agreeable for the little time that it lasts.

You have seen my article upon Bell and the Dragon in the Quarterly. It is decisive as to the point of originality, and would have been the heaviest blow the Edinburgh has ever received if all the shot of my heavy artillery had not been drawn before the guns were fired. [1]  I am going to reprint it separately with some enlargement, [2]  for the purpose of setting the question at rest, and making the public understand what the new system is, which is very little understood, and doing justice to Dr. Bell, whom I regard as one of the greatest benefactors to his species …. The case is not a matter of opinion, but rests upon recorded and stated facts. I tread, therefore, upon sure ground, and taking advantage of this, I shall not lose the opportunity of repaying some of my numerous obligations to the Edinburgh Review.

Probably you have seen the manner in which the Edinburgh Annual Register is twice noticed in their last number …  [3]  When the first year’s volume [4]  appeared it was not even suspected who was the historian; and Jeffrey, a day or two after its publication, went for the first time into the publisher’s shop expressly to tell him how much he admired the history, saying that though he differed from the writer on many, indeed on most points, he nevertheless must declare that it was liberal, independent, and spirited throughout, the best piece of contemporary history which had appeared for twenty years. When the second volume appeared he knew who was the author! Believe me,

Very affectionately yours,



* MS: MS untraced; text taken from: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 318–320 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey advocated the educational system of Andrew Bell over that of Joseph Lancaster (‘the Dragon’) in his review of Joseph Fox (1775–1816; DNB), A Comparative View of the Plans of Education as detailed in the Publications of Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster, and Remarks on Dr. Bell’s Madras School, and Hints to the Managers and Committees of Charity and Sunday Schools, on the Practicability of extending such Institutions upon Mr. Lancaster’s Plan, 3rd edn (1811); Herbert Marsh (1757–1839; DNB), A Sermon, Preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London, on Thursday, June 13, 1811. To which is Added, a Collection of Notes and Illustrations (1811); Reynold Gideon Bouyer (1741–1826; DNB), A Comparative View of the two New Systems of Education of the Infant Poor, in a Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Officialty of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, at Berwick-upon-Tweed, on Tuesday, May 12, 1811 (1811), in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. (This number of the Quarterly was published in October 1811.) The article was heavily censored by Gifford prior to publication and personal attacks on the Edinburgh Review were removed; see the account in Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[2] The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[3] A long aside (attributed by Southey to Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of Parliamentary privilege and hinted that action against the author and publishers might be taken. The Register’s criticism of Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB) was also berated (by Jeffrey, according to Southey) at Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 391. BACK

[4] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK