2522. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton, 19 December 1814

2522. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton, 19 December 1814 ⁠* 

My dear Sir,

You will wonder at not having received my thanks for your Metrical Effusions; [1]  but you will acquit me of all incivility when you hear that the book did not reach me till this morning, and that I have now laid it down after a full perusal. It was overlooked at Murray’s, for I have received several parcels from him in the course of the last two months; and when upon the receipt of yours I wrote to inquire for it, it was packed up in company with heavier matter, and travelled down by the slowest of all carriers.

I have read your poems with much pleasure; those with most which speak most of your own feelings. Have I not seen some of them in the Monthly Magazine? [2] 

Wordsworth’s residence and mine are fifteen mile asunder; a sufficient distance to preclude any frequent interchange of visits. I have known him nearly twenty years, and, for about half that time, intimately. The strength and the character of his mind you see in the “Excursion,” [3]  and his life does not belie his writings; for in every relation of life, and every point of view, he is a truly exemplary and admirable man. In conversation he is powerful beyond any of his contemporaries; and as a poet, I speak not from the partiality of friendship, nor because we have been so absurdly held up as both writing upon one concerted system of poetry, but with the most deliberate exercise of impartial judgment whereof I am capable, when I declare my full conviction that posterity will rank him with Milton.

You wish the “Metrical Tales” [4]  were republished; they are at this time in the press, incorporated with my other minor poems in three volumes. [5]  Nos haec novimus esse nihil  [6]  may serve as a motto for them all.

Do not suffer my projected Quaker poem [7]  to interfere with your intentions respecting William Penn. [8]  There is not the slightest reason why it should. Of all great reputations Penn’s is that which has been most the effect accident. The great action of his life was his turning Quaker: the conspicuous one, his behaviour upon his trial. In all that regards Pennsylvania, he has no other merit than that of having followed the principles of the religious community to which he belonged, when his property happened to be vested in colonial speculations. The true champion for religious liberty in America was Roger Williams, [9]  the first consistent advocate for it in that country, and perhaps in any one. I hold his memory in veneration. But because I value religious liberty, I differ from you entirely concerning the Catholic question, and never would intrust any sect with political power whose doctrines are inherently and necessarily intolerant.

Believe me,

Yours with sincere respect,


19th December, 1814. Keswick


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849)
Previously published: Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849), pp. 108–110; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 91–92 [in part]. BACK

[1] Barton’s Metrical Effusions (1812). BACK

[2] Barton does not seem to have published any of his poems in the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[3] The Excursion (1814). BACK

[4] Metrical Tales (1805); a selection of Southey’s shorter poems from the Annual Anthology and the Morning Post. BACK

[5] Minor Poems (1815). BACK

[6] ‘We know these to be nothing’, Marcus Valerius Martialis (AD 38/41–AD 102/104), Book 13, Epigram 2, line 8. Used as an epigraph to Minor Poems (1815). BACK

[7] Oliver Newman, left incomplete at Southey’s death. BACK

[8] The Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644–1718; DNB). This project of Barton’s was unrealised. BACK

[9] The religious controversialist, advocate of toleration, and founder of Providence, Rhode Island, Roger Williams (c. 1606–1683; DNB). BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)