6. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [c. 16 April 1792]

6. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [c. 16 April 1792] ⁠* 

To Ignorance


Parent of happiness — thou well-wig’d god
With staring eye & solemn stedfast gait —
Come with thy book — thy beads & sceptre rod
Come in despotic, dull scholastic state
Dispel the ray of science from my breast
Bid me o Ignorance be dull — be blest —

Genius avaunt — torment my soul no more.
Extinguish Ignorance Ambitions flame —
Teach me thyself. blot out the learned lore
That whilome mark’d me candidate for fame —
Let me o drowsy God be all thy own
And I may one day mount the mitred throne.

Ah Sensibility thou wilt not hence
Still still wilt thou command the soft’ning tear!
Why Nature didst thou curse my birth with sense?
Why teach me nought but Ignorance to fear?
Too soon alas has Nisus [1]  learnt to know
Increase of knowledge, but increase of woe.

Had I been ignorant I had been blest
Unmarkd by Vice by Calumny & Dodd
The fire of Freedom had not warmd my breast
And I had bowd submiss beneath the rod —
Yes I had pass’d with credit thro’ the school
An ignorant, contented, favor’d fool.

Tho’ Genius on my birth diffus’d a ray
That kindled Emulations glowing flame —
Tho’ Science led & pointed out the way
And proud Ambition climb’d the path of Fame.
Stupidity disguisd in sacred gown
And Pedantry await to thrust me down.

Lo where the Wigs assemble in debate —
Where Canterbury [2]  whets the butcher knife —
Where Markham [3]  reassumes his birchen state —
And Wingfield reembarks in legal strife —
Revenge & Infamy & Hell & Dodd
With ghastly smile await the Doctor’s nod. [4] 

Yes I will pour my vengeance on his head
(With grin tremendous thus the Doctor cries)
Yes all my anger shall on him be shed
Who dares in spite of Westminster be wise —
Ruin at him be hurld from Lambeths throne [5] 
And Law shall mark the victim for her own.

Yes Law shall seize him (Wingfield thus replied)
Shall seize the stripling & thus make him famous —
Tho’ Reason once could check scholastic pride
And tho’ the Jury markd me Ignoramus —
Tho’ when I plac’d the turtle in the pool
The surly hostler laughd & calld me fool,

Tho’ Justice & tho’ Equity oppose
Yet what are these when once compard with Law?
The Church shall mark them as her deadly foes
And strike their rebel souls with sacred awe —
The Church shall mark them thus the synod cry
Whilst Persecution beams <glares [6] > from every eye.

Let Persecution threat me — haughty More [7] 
I will not tamely to the slaughter go.
In Satires quiver many a shaft in store
Shall fence with Innocence from every foe.
I dare your utmost rage — nor Church nor Law
Nor both combin’d can strike my soul with awe

Tho’ no huge wig can shelter oer my brow
Tho’ no black gown protect for every sin —
I will not to the Inquisition bow
Nor meanly cringe security to win —
Still Innocence opprest can find a friend
And whom the Church accuses Reed [8]  defend.


Collins farewell — no more with thee the day
Shall glide in social converse swift along —
No more the hours unheeded pass away
No more with thee shall flow the tide of song —

See Persecution lifts her hated rod
Resentment deepens in the Doctors frown
Revenge with ghastly pleasure smiles on Dodd
And Malice lurks beneath the sacred gown —

Ruin awaits each chearless future hour
Nor Genius Worth or Innocence can save —
Where can I shield me from the arm of power?
Where can I seek for shelter but the grave?

Let Friendship sometimes drop the pitying tear
Nor chill Misfortune make the friend less dear.




* Address: Mr C Collins/ opposite the lying in hospital/ Lambeth/ near Westminster bridge
Postmark: [partial, obscured] CA/ 16/ 92
Endorsements: [4 illegible lines in another hand heavily scored through]
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44797. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 258–260.
Dating note: The subject of ‘To Ignorance’ confirms a date around the time of Southey’s expulsion from Westminster School in April 1792. Another version of the poem is in the Houghton Library, MS Eng 265.2; and a copy, in an unknown hand, dated ‘Apr. 16, 1792’ and sent to Charles Collins, is in the Morgan Library, MA 1471. BACK

[1] In Virgil’s (70–19 BC) Aeneid, a follower of Aeneas, famous for his friendship with Euryalus. BACK

[2] John Moore (c. 1730–1805; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury, 1783–1805. BACK

[3] William Markham (c. 1719–1807; DNB), Archbishop of York, 1777–1807. Earlier in his career he had been Head Master of Westminster School and Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. BACK

[4] A list of those Southey believed were responsible for the decision to expel him from Westminster School in 1792. BACK

[5] The Archbishop of Canterbury, whose London residence was Lambeth Palace. BACK

[6] glares: Inserted in another hand. BACK

[7] John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury. BACK

[8] Isaac Reed (1742–1807; DNB), literary scholar and editor of Shakespeare, tried — and failed — to prevent Egerton, the printer of The Flagellant, from revealing Southey’s name to the Westminster School authorities. BACK

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