2414. Robert Southey to James White, 2 May 1814

2414. Robert Southey to James White, 2 May 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, May 2. 1814.

My dear James,

I am glad to hear from Neville that you are improved in health and spirits. What you say of the inconvenience of mathematical studies to a man who has no inclination for them, no necessity for them, no time to spare for acquiring them, and no use for them when they are acquired, is perfectly true; and I think it was one of the advantages (Heaven knows they were very few) which Oxford used to possess over Cambridge, that a man might take his degree, if he pleased, without knowing anything of the science. A tenth or a fiftieth part of the time employed upon Euclid, [1]  would serve to make the under-graduate a good logician, and logic will stand him in good stead, to whatever profession he may betake himself.

Your repugnance to the expense of time which this fatiguing study requires, is very natural and very reasonable; and the best comfort I can offer is to remind you that the time will soon come when you will have the pleasure of forgetting all you have learned. Your apprehensions of deficiency in more important things are not so well founded. The Church stands in need of men of various characters and acquirements. She ought to have some sturdy polemics, equally able to attack and to defend. One or two of these are as many as she wants, and as many as she produces in a generation; she cannot do without them, and yet sometimes they do evil as well as good. Horsley was the militant of the last generation; [2]  Herbert Marsh [3]  of the present. Next to these stiff canonists and sound theologians, she requires some who excel in the litterae humaniores, and who may keep up that literary character which J. Taylor, [4]  South, [5]  Sherlock, [6]  Barrow, [7]  &c. have raised, and which of late days has certainly declined. Of these a few also are sufficient. There are hardly more than half-a-dozen pulpits in the kingdom in which an eloquent preacher would not be out of his place. Everywhere else, what is required of the preacher is to be plain, perspicuous, and in earnest. If he feels himself, he will make his congregation feel. But it is not in the pulpit that the minister may do most good. He will do infinitely more by living with his parishioners like a pastor; by becoming their confidential adviser, their friend, their comforter; directing the education of the poor, and, as far as he can, inspecting that of all, which it is not difficult for a man of good sense and gentle disposition to do as an official duty, without giving it, in the slightest degree, the appearance of officious interference. Teach the young what Christianity is; distinguish by noticing and rewarding those who distinguish themselves by their good conduct; see to the wants of the poor, and call upon the charity of the rich, making yourself the channel through which it flows; look that the schools be in good order, that the workhouse is what it ought to be, that the overseers do their duty; be, in short, the active friend of your parishioners. Sunday will then be the least of your labours, and the least important of your duties; and you will very soon find that the time employed in making a sermon, would be better employed in adapting to your congregation a dozen, which your predecessors did not deliver to the press for no other purpose than that they should stand idle upon the shelves of a divinity library. The pulpit is a clergyman’s parade, the parish is his field of active service.

Believe me, my dear James,

Yours very affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is 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), IV, pp. 73–75. BACK

[1] Euclid (fl. 300 BC), Greek mathematician and author of the Elements. BACK

[2] Samuel Horsley (1733–1806; DNB), Bishop of St Asaph, upholder of religious and political orthodoxy. A staunch defender of the Anglican church against the claims of Unitarians and other Protestant dissenters, he advocated toleration for English Catholics and Scottish Episcopalians. BACK

[3] Herbert Marsh (1757–1839; DNB), cleric, controversialist and biblical critic. He had been Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge since 1807. For his involvement in contemporary religious controversy; see Southey to James White, 16 February 1812, Letter 2040. BACK

[4] Jeremy Taylor (bap. 1613, d. 1667; DNB), Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor 1660–1667 and a religious writer who Southey much admired. BACK

[5] Robert South (1634–1716; DNB), Anglican clergyman and theologian. BACK

[6] William Sherlock (1639/40–1707; DNB), Anglican clergyman and religious controversialist. He authored a number of works addressed to a wider Christian audience, including A Practical Discourse Concerning Death (1689). BACK

[7] Isaac Barrow (1630–1677; DNB), mathematician and theologian. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)