3344. Robert Southey to George Ticknor, 13 August 1819

3344. Robert Southey to George Ticknor, 13 August 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 13 August. 1819

My dear Sir

I did not receive your friendly letter, & the books which you sent to Murrays, till the last week in May, at which time I supposed you would be on your voyage homeward. [1]  Long ere this I trust you will have reached your native shores, & enjoyed the delight of returning to your friends after a long absence. Life has few greater pleasures.

You have sent me a good specimen of American divinity. I very much doubt whether we have any contemporary sermons so good. For tho’ our pulpits are better filled than they were in the last generation, we do not hear from them such sound reasoning, such clear logic, & such manly & vigorous composition as in the days of South & Barrow. [2]  What is said in the Memoir of Mr Buckminster [3]  of the unimpassioned character of our <printed> sermons is certainly true, – the cause of it is to be found in the general character of the congregations for which they were composed, – always regular church-going people, – persons of wealth & rank, – the really good part of the community, & the formalists & Pharisees; none of whom would like to be addressed by their Parish Priest as miserable sinners standing in need of repentance. Sermons of country growth seldom find their way to the press; in towns the ruder classes seldom attend the church service, – in large towns because there is no room for them: & indeed both in country as well as town, the subjects who are in the worst state of mind & morals never enter the Church doors. Wesley & Whitefield [4]  got at them by preaching in the open air, & they administered drastics with prodigious effect. Since their days a more impassioned style has been used in the pulpit, & with considerable success. But the pith & the sound philosophy of the elder divines are wanting. Your Buckminster was taking the right course. The early death of such a man would have been a great loss to any country

You have sent me also a good specimen of American politics in the works of Fisher Ames. [5]  I perused them with great pleasure, & have seldom met with a more sagacious writer. – A great proportion of the words in the American Vocabulary [6]  are as common in England as in America. But provided a word be good, it is no matter from what mint it comes. Neologisms must always be arising in every living language; & the business of our criticism should be, not to reprobate them because they are new, but to censure <such> as are not formed according to analogy, or which are merely superfluous. The authority of an English Reviewer passes on your side of the Atlantic for more than it is worth; with us the review of the last month or the last quarter, is as little thought of as the last weeks newspaper. You x must have learnt enough of the constitution of such works to know that in upon questions of philology they are quite unworthy of being noticed. – The manner is which they are referred to in the Vocabulary led me to this, & this leads me to the criticisms upon Bristed & Fearon’s books in the Q.R. [7]  I know not from whom they came, but they are xxxxxxx of them not in a good spirit


* MS: Rauner Special Collections Library, Darmouth College Library, Ticknor 819211.1. (c). AL; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 88–90.
Note on MS: The letter was unfinished. It remained unsent until 19 August 1821, when it was enclosed in a letter of that date to Ticknor, Letter 3714. BACK

[1] Ticknor had sailed back to America on 16 April 1819. BACK

[2] Robert South (1634–1716; DNB), Anglican preacher and theologian; Isaac Barrow (1630–1677; DNB), Anglican preacher and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge 1663–1669. BACK

[3] Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784–1812), subject of ‘Memoir of Mr. Buckminster’, Sermons by the Late Rev. J. S. Buckminster (Boston, 1815), pp. xxxv–xxxvi, no. 392 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Buckminster was a Unitarian and a great influence on Edward Everett. BACK

[4] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) and George Whitefield (1714–1770; DNB), founders of Methodism. BACK

[5] Fisher Ames (1758–1808), Works of Fisher Ames (1809), no. 43 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Ames was a lawyer and an arch-conservative Federalist Representative from Massachusetts. BACK

[6] John Pickering (1777–1846), A Vocabulary; or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America (1816), no. 2238 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] John Bristed (1778–1855), America and her Resources (1818) and Henry Bradshaw Fearon (c. 1793–1842), Sketches of America: A Narrative of a Journey of Five Thousand Miles Through the Eastern and Western States of America (1818). Both books were reviewed, vituperatively, by John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB) in Quarterly Review, 21 (January 1819), 1–25 and 124–167. BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)