2187. Robert Southey to Samuel Reid, 5 December 1812

2187. Robert Southey to Samuel Reid, 5 December 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Decembr 5th. 1812.

My dear Reid

I cannot be easy in mind unless I write to you on yr plan for leaving England; under this feeling it would be folly to apologize to any man for discharging a duty, & least of all can it be needful to you.

The stuff of which Martyrs & ordinary Saints are made is sufficiently common, the supply of these will be always equal to the demand; but you are the only man within my knowledge who without a                                  [1]  of religious fanaticism could not possibly have escaped canonization had you been born in the right age & the right country for it.

I believe that you will find no man who will understand yr feelings better than I do – or who will sympathize in them so far. Were it yr belief that all who do not die in the profession of a particular faith are everlastingly lost, & in that belief you should chuse to go & preach the gospel to the most cruel of the negro nations, or even in Japan itself, I might perhaps set forth to you the certain & inevitable danger, but I should hardly dissuade you from it, with such a belief the object is tantamount to the sacrifice & the means would seem adequate to the object. In some degree indeed they would actually be so. He who offers Hell on the one hand, & redemption by the blood of Jesus on the other will make his preaching felt wherever he can make it understood.

But what object do you propose which can counterbalance – I will not say danger to yourself (a thing not to be considered if the call of duty were clear, & hardly to be urged even in this case) but the pain which yr departure would cause to your nearest & dearest friends? Is it to Botany Bay that you would go? what could you do there? there are already schools missionaries & preachers. It is becoming a favourite station of the London Missionary Society. [2]  Marsden [3]  has been with them here in England & is returned there. How can you cooperate with these men, good as their intentions may be, & usefully as (in the main) their labours must be when the foundation of their faith is so different from your own, & when the points of difference are precisely those upon which they all insist the most; the true methodist will think you in more need of conversion than the wildest savage of the woods; what is there you would do for which these men are not better qualified? Opinions & principles pure as yours are the dish on which children should be fed – the strong drugs & counterpoisons of Methodism & Popery are the only medicines which will reach desperate cases; they who have lived always under the influence of their passions must by their passions be worked upon, repentance & redemption they all understand – they are intelligible things they are cauteries which reach the causes of the soul.

If you propose then to act as a Preceptor to carry knowledge where it may be wanted – for the good which may in this way be effected, you have a better field at home. England is at this moment the place where the seed of good principles will produce the best fruit,                                  [4]  the fountain head & the healing influence will be felt by all who drink of the water, for the public mind of England makes itself felt all over the world; there is scarcely a country to which vaccination has not already extended. When Wesley [5]  formed his first society he produced those missions which are now taking root in Asia & in Africa.

Remain in England Reid – make some deserving woman happy & train up children to act on yr principles when you are departed. – If there be a church with which you could feel yourself in communion, the way in which you could be most useful would be by becoming a minister of that church. The character gives an influence which is hardly otherwise to be obtained, but if like me you belong to no particular flock though under the great shepherd continue in the honourable employment in which you have hitherto been engaged – the good you do is certain, & far greater I sincerely believe than you could effect in any distant part of the world. But if you are in that state of mind (a state which I can well conceive) that you must like Clarkson have some                                  [6]  end in view to which to press on, & for which to press on devote yourself, pause awhile to consider if there be nothing in England which might fully & worthily employ you. I not only think that there is, but I believe also that I can point out one object of itself perfectly practicable, most desirable for the community, & which will entitle him who shall effect it to the blessings of thousands from generation to generation. The object which I mean is the establishment of institutions for women which shall procure them from want & render their talents & industry always available for their comfortable & respectable support. Richardson [7]  speaks of it & it was spoken of 50 yrs before him.

The                          [8]  of Flanders approach the nearest to what is meant or perhaps the Moravians [9]  – the thing is practicable & requires but zeal to establish it – you need not be told what the miseries are which might thus be in so great a measure prevented. God from time to time raises up men for great purposes of good, & it would require little to persuade me that you are one.

I could also point out you to a mission were you of a missionary temper, to a people who live almost without law or gospel, committing crimes of every kind, & doing nothing but evil, yet living in the midst of a Christian country, & that country our own –

Would not the man who should form a society for the purpose of reclaiming the Gipsies, deserve well of his country & his kind. Surely surely there is work enough at home, let the methodists go abroad – enough of them will be left; but who can fill your place to yr Mother & yr Sisters, [10]  & your friends. Alas there is not so much happiness in the world, that we should unnecessarily subtract from it. If I had not this deeply at heart I should not thus have addrest you. For Gods sake think again, & God bless your determination –

Yrs <very> affectionately

Robert Southey –

Mrs Southey & her Sisters [11]  beg to be remembered to Mrs Reid – note my remembrances also –


* Address: Mr Saml Reid – Liverpool –
MS: University of Newcastle Library, G. O. Trevelyan MS 185, p. 35, copy in an unidentified hand. TR; 1p. Another copy probably in the same hand is in the Somerset Record Office, DD/DU/205. The original letter seems not to have survived; text here is taken from the Newcastle University Library copy.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Space left by copyist. BACK

[2] A non-denominational (but mainly Congregationalist) missionary society founded in 1795. BACK

[3] Samuel Marsden (1765–1838; DNB). In July 1793 he had taken up the post of assistant to the chaplain of New South Wales. He was, however, frustrated by lack of success in reclaiming the souls of transported convicts and native peoples. He also acquired a reputation for severity, particularly in his duties as a magistrate, where he was a great advocate of flogging. In 1804 he became agent for London Missionary Society operations in the Pacific and visited England in 1807–1809 to lay the foundations of a mission to the Maori and to recruit new chaplains for the New South Wales mission. BACK

[4] Space left by copyist. BACK

[5] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), founder of Methodism. BACK

[6] Space left by copyist. BACK

[7] Samuel Richardson (bap. 1689, d. 1761; DNB). In the Daily Gazetteer (9 January 1740) a letter signed with Richardson’s name offered a proposal to rid the streets of prostitutes and to find the means of preserving the lives of the offspring of these women, a social problem that concerned Richardson to the end of his life. BACK

[8] Space left by copyist. Southey means the ‘Beguinages’, a medieval religious order for women in the Low Countries. Rickman had proposed organizations on these lines in Britain, where poor single women could live and work together. BACK

[9] The Moravians pursued a system whereby single men and women lived in separate groups of ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters’. BACK

[10] Rebecca Ford Reid (1765–1851), Samuel Reid’s stepmother; and his sisters, Elizabeth Peasley Reid (1779–1818) and Rebecca Ann Rickards (1785–1834). BACK

People mentioned

Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)