3355. Robert Southey to William Gifford, 3 October 1819

3355. Robert Southey to William Gifford, 3 October 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 3 Oct. 1819.

My dear Sir

I find your packet, a month after its date, on my return from a long tour in Scotland, where I have been <seeing> the great works execu already executed, or in progress, for the improvement of that country, – piers, roads, bridges & the Caledonian Canal. [1]  Had these things been done in France, all Europe would have been made to ring with them from side to side.

If I were disposed to produce an article upon the state of the country, there would not be time for it, – because you must certainly enter upon that subject in your next number, – before the meeting of Parliament, [2]  & I am a slow writer upon such topics. I am not sorry that there is this valid reason for declining the subject. To confess the truth, I see no use in attempting to serve a Government, which will make no effort to serve itself, but with its eyes open has suffered the country to be brought to the very brink of a Bellum servile. [3]  There is nothing unexpected, nothing surprizing in the present state of affairs. For these ten years I have seen it distinctly coming on, – & at any time the evil might have been checked by a few salutary laws. Three years ago we succeeded in making a strong impression in favour of the Government, & what use did Government make of the opportunity? [4]  Could any thing be more miserably imbecile than to ask for a suspension of the Habeas Corpus for twelvemonths only [5] x instead of during the danger! And even during that year the wrong use was made of the power which they had obtained. Hunt [6] ought to have been <was> the first man whom they ought to have seized, – & after him the seditious writers.

We want new laws for the mob & for the press. Transportation for life should be the punishment of sedition, any thing short of this is mere folly. Mr Fox law of libel [7]  should be repealed, for by putting the jury in the place of the judge it refers every question of that kind to be tried, not by the laws, but by the popular humour. The newspapers should be curbed by requiring securities from their proprietors, to a serious amount. All public meetings should be declared illegal unless a requisition for these were signed by a certain number of persons possessing a certain qualification, & those persons should be made responsible for the resolutions passd at such meetings. – But things will go on from bad to worse till they produce a reaction which will call for stronger measures. Some great mischief may very probably take place: more houses will be pulled down, or set on fire <burnt>, – perhaps some large manufacturing town may be set on fire; – more constables will be murdered, [8]  & perhaps it is not unlikely that the system of assassination may extend farther. And then because we will not impose a few salutary restraints to prevent these evils, we must submit to more & greater in the hope of xxxxx remedying them, – a suffering nation will looks to despotism as the end of its miseries, as a suffering individual looks to death.

Tomorrow I will return the paper upon Monachism. [9]  It is the mere sketch of a subject which I hope one day to treat more at length, – having long had it in mind & read largely with a view to it. – The article on Churches [10]  may very well be extended, & made to suit better the importance of the subject. I will write shortly to Murray for one or two books which will enable me to treat it more fully. As for Haydon, I know too little of him to bear any personal feelings which might bias me concerning him, – but I know that those who dislike him speak with high respect of his professional talents. However I will endeavour to leave nothing objectionable upon that score.

It does not appear to me that any sneer is implied in the way in which Rennel [11]  is mentioned, & I am sure that the writer regards Materialism with as much horror as you do. But it may be well to treat the subject in a severer manner.

After so long an absence from home, I have a keen appetite for my usual employments, – & plenty of work before me.

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Wm Gifford Esqre/ James Street
MS: Huntington Library, RB 131334, The Life, Letters and Literary Remains of Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton by His Son with Portraits and Illustrations, 2 vols (London, 1883), II, between pp. 58–59. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s tour of Scotland lasted from 17 August until 1 October 1819. For his record of events, see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

[2] Parliament met on 23 November 1819, primarily to consider the ‘Six Acts’ proposed by the Cabinet to suppress radical agitation. The next issue of the Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), did not appear until 11 December 1819. BACK

[3] Literally a ‘slave war’, i.e. a war of the poor against the rich. BACK

[4] Southey is here probably referring to his articles on ‘the state of the country’ for the Quarterly, including ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278, and ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. BACK

[5] Habeas corpus was the legal principle that prevented detention without trial; it was suspended for a year from March 1817. BACK

[6] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), radical politician. BACK

[7] The Libel Act (1792), sponsored by Fox, which made the jury, rather than the judge, the main element in deciding whether a publication was libellous. BACK

[8] Robert Campbell (d. 1819), a special constable, was killed by a mob in Newton Lane following the ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 16 August 1819, in which local magistrates ordered the dispersal of a public meeting in Manchester, resulting in at least eleven deaths. BACK

[9] Southey’s review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102. Southey planned, but never wrote, a ‘History of the Monastic Orders’. BACK

[10] Southey’s review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) finally appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591, after Southey had lengthened the article. BACK

[11] Thomas Rennell (1787–1824; DNB), well-connected clergyman and scholar, Vicar of Kensington 1816–1824. He was the author of Remarks on Scepticism, Especially as Connected with the Subject of Organisation and Life (1819). Rennell was not mentioned in the published version of Southey’s article on Haydon’s New Churches in the Quarterly Review. BACK

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