2062. Robert Southey to Neville White, 18 March 1812

2062. Robert Southey to Neville White, 18 March 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, March 18.1812.

My Dear Neville,

There is not a man in England whose opinion upon any matter of business is worth less than mine; but I think I can see a difficulty in transferring the “Remains” from Vernon’s [1]  house wholly to Longman’s which is not to be overcome; and that is, that the two houses being partners in this concern, the one will not choose to do anything detrimental to the other. Your interest or inclination is nothing to them: they will consider nothing but themselves; and it will be more Longman’s interest to remain with a fourth share of the profits and the goodwill of Vernon’s house, than to take a third, and, by so doing, offend them.

I did not tell you in my last that I hope to produce a few lines, in the form of an inscription, for a tablet in Wilford churchyard, [2]  because in cases of this kind the deed does not always follow the will; and if I could have succeeded I should have sent you the poem, if I had failed the disappointment would have been confined to myself. This is the only reply which I can make to you on my own part. I can engage to produce a great poem which shall be the work of years, and is to be drawn from accumulate stores — the work of long meditation and labour; but for those smaller pieces, which, if they come, must come unsought, I never can bind myself. From Coleridge I could, without difficulty, procure you a promise, but am very certain that such a promise would end in nothing. His good nature would render it impossible for him to refuse, and his habits would render it still more impossible for him to perform what he had thus incautiously pledged himself to do. I would not have the book assume the appearance of a formal collection of verses; there must be, as in all these “Illustrations,” some short descriptive accounts of the places represented in the prints, and such poems as you may obtain had better appear interspersed in their respective places. [3] 

I congratulate you on your good resolutions, and shall be truly glad to congratulate you when they are carried into effect. A man may be cheerful and contented in celibacy, but I do not think he can ever be happy; it is an unnatural state, and the best feelings of his nature are never called into action. The risks of marriage are far greater on the woman’s side; women have so little the power of choice, that it is not perhaps fair to say they are less likely to choose well than we are; but I am persuaded that they are more frequently deceived in the attachments which they form, and their opinions concerning men are much less accurate than men’s opinion of their sex. Now if a lady were to reproach me for having said this, I should reply that it was only another mode of saying there were more good wives in the world than there are good husbands, which I verily believe. I know nothing which a good and sensible man is so certain to find, if he looks for it, as a good wife.

I would answer Josiah Condor’s note if I were more at leisure, and thank him for it. Tell him I believe the “Edinburgh Annual Register” will be obliged to him for any pieces, and that I will gladly transmit them for him. [4]  Tell him also that I have unfortunately mislaid those lines of Montgomery’s which he gave me for that purpose. [5]  This has given me a good deal of trouble in hunting for them, and still more vexation; and I shall be very much obliged to him if he will have the goodness to favour me with another copy. I have searched so thoroughly for them, that I despair of ever finding them till they shall turn up unexpectedly.

Remember me to James. I suppose you will receive my little book upon the “Madras System” in the course of the week. [6]  God bless you.

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 257–259. BACK

[1] The London publishing house of Vernor, Hood and Sharpe had been part of the congerie that issued The Remains of Henry Kirke White in 1807. The transfer took place and the next (sixth) edition of the Remains was published solely by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown in 1813. BACK

[2] Southey’s inscription (which was never executed) was intended as a tribute to a place commemorated by Henry Kirke White in his ‘Lines Written in Wilford Church-Yard’; see Remains, 2 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. 38–40. (The 1807 Remains included a small section of verses praising White, I, pp. 265–276, this had been expanded in the editions of 1810 and 1811.) Wilford was then a village just outside Nottingham. BACK

[3] Neville White seems to have proposed a volume of prints of places celebrated in his brother’s poems; see Southey to Neville White, 12 April 1812, Letter 2076. This was intended to complement and capitalise on the popularity of Henry Kirke White’s Remains. Neville White’s model was probably Illustrations of Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel. Consisting of Twelve Views on the Rivers Bothwick, Ettrick, Yarrow, Tiviot, and Tweed: with Anecdotes and Descriptions (1810). This had been published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, which in turn might explain White’s determination to move publication of future editions of the Remains away from the congerie headed by Vernor, Hood and Sharpe. BACK

[4] Southey was mistaken. His attempt to get Conder published in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812) failed when the journal rejected Conder’s contribution (submitted via Southey). See Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812, Letter 2151. BACK

[5] James Montgomery’s ‘Verses, Written on a Blank Leaf in the “Hymns for Infant Minds”’ and two translated sonnets, appeared in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), xcii–xciii, civ–cv; see Southey to James Montgomery, 26 March 1812, Letter 2066; and Southey to Conder, 5 May 1812, Letter 2088. BACK

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

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