3267. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 17 March 1819
3267. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 17 March 1819 *
My dear Sir
Thank you for your auger, – as well as for your congratulations. – Had I written to you since the event, of course it would have been mentioned, – but I did not dream of troubling you with an Extraordinary Gazette upon the occasion.  Matter for congratulation it is, – a great danger (for such it has been) having, by Gods blessing, been past thro. The infant is large & to all appearance strong & healthy: – the mother is at present entirely lame, – but we hope & trust that this affection will soon pass away, & in all other respects she is doing well.
Surely I have represented that the salvation of souls was Wesleys  prime motive, & that the organization of Methodism (which is as perfect as that of the Jesuits) grew out of the accidents & circumstances which occurred in his pursuit of that great object. But I certainly think that he had much more ambition than he was himself conscious of, – & that in this respect both Law  & Zinzendorff  judged of him rightly. I have taken & am taking very great pains in with this book, in making myself thoroughly acquainted (as far as that can be done from his own writings, & others) with Wesleys conduct & opinions, & I have learnt enough to know that neither Dr Whitehead, nor Dr Coke & his colleagues can be called faithful biographers.  To any other merit they make no pretension; but they are guilty of great sins of omission, keeping out of sight very much which is necessary to a full understanding of Wesleys life & character. – The chapter which you have seen regards him at that part of his career when he had decidedly chosen his object, – but was yet all abroad concerning the means, – before he separated from the Moravians, & called in the assistance of lay-preachers. It does not regard him prospectively.
You ask me concerning a purpose which I entertained two or three years ago of writing a paper upon the West Indies.  I meant to have prepared an historical sketch of those islands (which seem from the hour of their discovery to have lain under a curse); for the purpose of enforcing the necessity of registering the slaves, & holding out the gradual emancipation of the negroes, & the ultimate amalgamation of all casts & colours as the measures to which we should look on, unless we prefer the continuance of enormous guilt, & the certainty, sooner or later, of the visitation which in its natural & proper consequences, it must draw on. But when Murray understood upon what principle I meant to write, he entreated me to forbear. I know not what mistaken notion was in his head, – nor to whom he had listened. Neither did I care to enquire, for I had an opportunity in distant prospect of expressing myself upon those subjects without restraint. One of my brothers (a Sea-Captain) has occupied his leisure for many years upon a chronological history of the West Indies.  Both the subject & the manner were suggested by me. The subject does not well admit of any other manner, being in itself xx broken & discontinuous: – & the manner is th such as to make relieve a writer from any uncomfortable notions about style, who had not been accustomed to literary composition. He has made great progress, & done his part elaborately. And what I have to say will be xxxxx embodied in his annals, in the form of introductory chapters, & general views & reflections – in their proper place. – My brother has been in the West Indies, & brought back with him as honest an abhorrence of slavery as he took out.
While you abolish transportation as a punishment, I hope you will encourage it as much as possible as one of the great preventatives of guilt & misery. And I sincerely wish it could be made the punishment for those libels which affect the peace of society, – there it is the appropriate punishment, preventing a repetition of the offence, & curing the offender by change of climate. How many hundreds & thousands whose minds have been poisoned, might have had their hearts sound & their principles of religion & loyalty untainted at this hour, if Cobbett & Leigh Hunt, instead of being condemned to imprisonment, & exasperated by the sentence, – had been sent out of the country which they were endeavouring to set on fire.  I would not have treated them as common criminals in the deportation, nor have imposed any other restriction upon them upon on their arrival in New Holland,  than that they should return t no more.
If you are in town in the beginning of May, or the latter end of April, I shall find my way to your breakfast table, if you will allow, one of the first mornings after my arrival.
farewell my dear Sir, & believe me
yrs with affectionate respect
Keswick. 17 March. 1819.
* Endorsement: March 1819/ Xx Mr Southey/ abt Wesleys Chr/ &
Life Brothers/ W. Inds Publick
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Wilbeforce, c.3. ALS; 4p.
 John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), the subject of Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK
 Nikolaus Zinzendorf (1700–1760), German landowner and Bishop of the Moravian Church; key figure in the eighteenth-century evangelical revival. BACK
 John Whitehead (c. 1740–1804; DNB), Life of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A. (1793–1796); Thomas Coke (1747–1814; DNB) and Henry Moore (1751–1844; DNB), The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. (1792). Both of these books were ‘official’ lives of Wesley, approved by his followers. BACK
 Cobbett was imprisoned in 1810–1812 for condemning the flogging of some militiamen at Ely; and Leigh Hunt served two years in 1813–1815 for criticizing the Prince Regent. However, both men were able to continue editing their newspapers from prison. BACK