2485. Robert Southey to George Coleridge, 12 October 1814

2485. Robert Southey to George Coleridge, 12 October 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. Cumberland. 12 Oct. 1814.

Dear Sir

I should have written to you immediately upon the receipt of Mr. Mays letter, if a hope had not been held out that an exhibition of £50 a year might be obtained by Hartley if he went for six months to Haversham School, [1]  in the adjoining county of Westmoreland. We have but just obtained the necessary information upon this subject; & I am sorry to say that it totally excludes him, & offers but little chance for his brother. The endowment gives a preference to boys born in the parish; in default of such claimants others are admitted; but it is required that they shall have received the chief part of their education at the school, & even then it appears that every thing is decided not by a fair competition, but by direct favour, the exhibition to Oxford being promised for the next three years, & that to Oxford <Cambridge> pledged in like manner six deep. – Things therefore are as they were when I first wrote to our excellent friend Mr May. [2] 

The task of addressing you upon this subject Sir, is a painful one. It would be more so if I did not verily believe that your brother labours under a species of insanity. His intellect is as powerful as it ever was, & perfectly unclouded, – but all moral strength is paralyzed in him; & when any thing comes before him in the form of duty, it seems to take away from him not merely the inclination but even the power of performing it. It would scarcely be speaking too strongly were I to say that he has abandoned his family to chance & charity. He never writes to them; & it is in vain to importune him with letters when by chance we learn the place of his abode; for it has very long been his custom never to open any letter which he thinks may by possibility contain any thing that he does not wish to hear, or relate to any thing of which he does not chuse to be reminded.

All that Mrs S. Coleridge receives for the maintenance of herself & her three children is an annuity of £75 which was left to your brother by Mr Thomas Wedgwood; – an equal sum which was for many years granted by Mr Josiah Wedgwood [3]  having been withdrawn three or four years ago. From this the income tax is deducted, – & it can scarcely be necessary to add that the whole is consumed in the inevitable expences incurred by the two boys, tho the schooling of the elder has been gratuitously afforded him

Hartley is now eighteen years of age. His talents are extraordinary, & wherever he has been, he has been remarkably fortunate in making friends. But he is not one of those fortunate persons whose talents are convertible to any course, – in any other pursuit than that of letters, (the army perhaps excepted) he would be helpless. His father has just so far interfered with his education as to derange it: in consequence of which while he was a well-taught Grecian, he acquired for a long time no x other Latin than what was accidentally picked up. His Greek however will more than cover his defects, & from his acquirements, his talents & his application, he must (in my judgement) infallibly succeed at the University, if he takes the right course. It is, I am well aware, an expensive course of life to propose for one who must be indebted to the bounty of relations who know him not, for the chief means of his support. But no other course could so soon, or so surely enable him to obtain a provision for himself; – & I know not what alternative could be proposed suggested.

Lady Beaumont has offered for this purpose 30£ a year, – an act of great & [MS torn]cited kindness. Mr Poole, who is his godfather has pr[MS torn] £10 more. The duty & the absolute, imperious, necessity of strict frugality must be impressed upon him. He will be able to practise it, because under whatever circumstances he may appear, his acquirements & his understanding will command attention & respect; & I trust that feeling the duty & the necessity he will practice it. It is so long since I left college that I am little able to estimate what the inevitable expences at this time would be. Should Cambridge be preferred for him he must go as a Sizar, [4]  – but he has no predilection for mathematics: & wherever he goes enquiry must be made concerning exhibitions, scholarships &c. He was born in Gloucestershire. My friend Mr Heber has been made acquainted with this, & will make enquiry at Oxford. On this subject I shall be happy to receive your opinion & advice.

I have written so fully concerning Hartley, the immediate & pressing object being to provide for him – that there is scarcely room to say anything of the other two children. Derwent who is in his 14th year, is an excellent boy, quick at every branch of learning, & fond of mathematics: he has no eccentricities (in this respect unlike his brother) & his temper & talents & steadiness will ensure his success in any way of life. The little girl is uncommonly clever. At the age of 12 she is a good Italian scholar, a tolerable one in French & in Latin. She is at this time learning music, & if her health fail her not, will be admirably qualified for a Governess. I consider it as peculiarly unfortunate that these interesting children should be totally unknown to all their fathers family: if however their present state of abandonment should lead to a renewal of that connection which ought never to have been interrupted, good will arise from evil. [5] 

Present my respectful remembrances to your brothers & believe me

My dear Sir

Yours with the truest respect

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ The Reverend George Coleridge/ Warden House/ Ottery St Mary/ Honiton/ Devonshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Oct. 12th. 1814/ From Mr. Southey
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Haversham Grammar School, a 17th-century foundation, which provided two ‘closed’ scholarships for ex-pupils to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. BACK

[2] See Southey to John May, 10 September 1814, Letter 2480. BACK

[3] Josiah Wedgwood (1769–1843) had withdrawn his share (£75 p.a.) of Coleridge’s annuity in 1812. BACK

[4] A student who received assistance (e.g. meals, lodgings or reduced fees) in return for college duties, originally of a menial nature. BACK

[5] George Coleridge’s reply, 24 October 1814, is in the Ransom Center (MS (Coleridge, H), Misc): [extract] ‘I beg to acknowledge <your letter> and to return you my Brothers’ and my thanks for your explicit account of Samuel Coleridge and his family – To ascertain the causes of his malady would it seems, be useless, since he refuses to hear such able and affectionate reasoning, as you have occasionally offered him: and what is more melancholy, he has but little apology to make to the public for his conduct, none to his family; none, I judge, to himself – none, I fear, to his God. – The effects however of his misconduct in the course of things must be deplorable enough in every way. Hitherto indeed your most friendly and benevolent interposition has prevented any great evil to his family: and it is to anticipate any ulterior harm that may arise from a continuation of such dereliction of paternal duty that we wish to join you in the holy compact of providing for the fatherless.’ BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)