3233. Robert Southey to Neville White, 9 January 1819

3233. Robert Southey to Neville White, 9 January 1819 ⁠* 

Keswick, January 9. 1819.

My dear Neville,

Writing to you I find when I am in want of anything, is like putting on Fortunatus’s wishing-cap. [1]  I cannot tell you how much I was surprised and gratified yesterday by the contents of your parcel. The book arrived in the best time possible, to assist me with materials in that part precisely where they are most scanty and I was most deficient, and completely to confirm the view which I had taken of the conduct of the Jesuits in the most important part of the volume, and indeed of the work. [2]  Dean Funes has a strong Spanish antipathy for the Portuguese: except where this feeling predominates, I find his opinions, both of men and measures, to coincide with my own in every important point, and this coincidence is so remarkable as to be not a little gratifying to me.

I am truly rejoiced at what you say of yourself, your prospects, and your intentions. [3]  You have a right to look forward with hope, because you can look back with satisfaction; and where a man is thus situated with respect to the past and the future, he may justly think himself happy, and be thankful that he was born into the world.

Conder’s first volume [4]  is buried on my table under a tremendous accumulation of Spanish, Portuguese, Manuscripts, and Methodism. [5]  I am ashamed of not having yet read it, and written to him. I have gone some way through the first volume. The book does him very great credit, though I believe him to be radically wrong; bating that, [6]  as the woman said, he may defy criticism. You have exactly hit the blot. Here lies the truth: what is vital and spiritual in religion, is compatible with various forms, with many imperfections and errors of belief, and with much alloy of superstition; and as it is independent of all rational distinctions, it acts when those distinctions are forgotten. The question is in what manner can Governments best provide for the religious instruction of the people, and how can they best maintain those outward and visible forms, without which (supposing them to be totally abandoned) the inward and spiritual grace could no more exist, than our life could exist on earth without the body in which it resides. Now I affirm that it is just as much the duty of a Government to establish a National Church, endow it largely, and support it liberally, as it is for the father of a family to train up his children in the way he would have them go.

I am most exceedingly obliged to your friend Mr. John McNeile, [7]  and I beg you will tell him so when you have an opportunity. I should not have known that such a book was in existence, had it not been for the Yankee Report, [8]  and nothing could have been more opportune for me than its arrival. You know with what solicitude I seek for documents upon every subject on which I am employed, but you can hardly estimate the great delight there is in obtaining them, when they are not easily obtainable, and especially when they are unexpected.

Mrs. Southey desires to be most kindly remembered. Edith and Sara are with Mrs. Coleridge, at Wordsworth’s, as happy as playfellows, jackasses, and fiddles, can make them. These are the joys of their dancing days!

God bless you, my dear Neville.

Yours most affectionately,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 111–113. BACK

[1] Fortunatus was the hero of a series of tales widely published in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe. He had a cap that could grant the wearer whatever he wished. BACK

[2] White had sent Southey a copy of Gregorio Funes (1749–1829), Ensayo de la Historia Civil del Paraguay, Buenos-Ayres y Tucuman (1816–1817), no. 3464 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey required it for the third and final volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[3] White had taken the decision to give up his work in the hosiery trade and pursue a clerical career. He enrolled at Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 26 June 1819 to study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree as a ‘ten year man’, i.e. a part-time, mature student (he graduated in 1829). White was ordained as a Deacon on 12 December 1819 and became a Curate at St Edmund the King, Norwich. BACK

[4] The first volume of Conder’s two-volume On Protestant Nonconformity (1818). BACK

[5] As well as completing the History of Brazil (1810–1819), Southey was working on The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[6] An archaic term for ‘excepting that’. BACK

[7] Probably John McNeile (dates unknown), a prominent merchant in Buenos Aires. BACK

[8] The Reports on the Present State of the United Provinces of South America; Drawn up by Messrs Rodney and Graham, Commissioners sent to Buenos Ayres by the Government of North America (London, 1819), p. 137, which alerted Southey to the existence of Gregorio Funes’s book, Ensayo de la Historia Civil del Paraguay, Buenos-Ayres y Tucuman. BACK

People mentioned

Coleridge, Sara (1802–1852) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Conder, Josiah (1789–1855) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)