3359. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 6 October 1819

3359. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 6 October 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 6. Oct. 1819

My dear Turner

During my long journey in Scotland [1]  I had not time to thank you for the Prolusions (which I received from Rickman) & for the manner in which my name is introduced in them. [2]  You know how little leisure there is in travelling, when the traveller wishes to see all that can be seen, & to preserve as many recollections as he can by means of a full journal. [3]  I am now once more left to myself, & to my habitual employments. Rickman & his family departed this morning, – & it will require some little time befo to reconcile myself to their departure for we have been together <after> seven weeks of uninterrupted intercourse. We went up the East coast of Scotland, as far as Fleet Mound, [4]  which is within sight of the Ord of Caithness: – & we crossed to the xxxxxxx <Western> Sea first from Dingwall to Jean town, & afterwards by the line of the Great Canal. And we returned from Fort William by way of Inverary & Glasgow. In most parts, or in all, there were the most unequivocal marks of rapid improvement, agreeing well with the view which you take of our increased & increasing civilization.

Your Prolusions are full of knowledge, & evince a range of reading as wide as the subjects upon which you have speculated. I go with you always in principle & in hope, – but not always in chearful expectation. [5]  For I fear that instead of going on easily & steadily from good to better, there lies a dismal stage of evil before us – that the age of Revolution is not over, & that we in this country shall go on from folly to folly, & from madness to madness, till we lose those liberties which are at this time so grossly & perilously abused. God grant that I may be mistaken in this judgement.

The end I doubt not, will be for the best, upon the great scale, – whatever it may be for England. And the light which we have <has been> diffused <from hence> will continue to shine when it may be darkness & desolation here, – if ever that unhappy day shall be brought on by our own insanity & guilt.

My last Volume of Brazil [6]  has been delayed by some accident about a proof sheet the whole time of my absence. I expected to have found it on my return. You will find in it a great deal of curious matter, of which a great portion is now for the first time made public. I am still seeking materials for improving it (with a full sense of its inevitable imperfections) & have indeed at this time a manuscript which is said to be of great value on the way. [7]  Whether a second edition may be called for in my time is indeed somewhat doubtful, – & perhaps hardly to be expected: but this will make no difference in my purpose. [8]  I will leave it as full & as correct as it can be made by my utmost diligence in procuring documents, & in using them. – The government of Brazil, I fear, is going on in the old way, – as if all its members were satisfied with believing that things will last their time, & were altogether indifferent in what state they may leave them to their successors. The prime minister is at this time amusing himself in England. [9]  Yet bad as the Government is, & blind & besotted as the rulers appear to be, I hope they may escape the revolutionary plague, which is laying Spanish America waste. [10]  A despotism may thro the influence of the spirit of the time be gradually improved into a good government; but anxiety & civil war end always in the tyranny of the sword. – The worst symptom of <in> Brazil is the prevalence of atheism among the educated classes. What remedy for this is to be hoped for in a Catholic country I confess I cannot see.

After so long an absence from home I feel a fresh appetite for work, – which is well when there is so much before me. My first business must be to finish the life of Wesley. [11]  About a third part of the second volume is printed, & I shall not be long in arranging the materials for the remainder. The Methodists remind me of a curious pamphlett published by Dr Chalmers; he wants to establish a religious discipline in large cities: [12]  – Methodism effects this, but in an objectionable way. But the want of any discipline of this kind, opens a way for so many evils, that I am glad to see public attention moved to the subject.

Longman has made a sad mistake in the title of the poem which he has announced for me, – my loose handwriting has been the cause. A Tale of Paraguay is the proper title. [13]  It is in Spenser’s stanzas. [14]  I hope to have it ready for publication in the spring. [15] 

[MS torn] Mrs S. joins with me in kind remembrances to Mrs Turner, [16]  & you[MS torn] aughters. [17]  Remember me to Alfred [18]  also, & believe me

my dear Turner

sincerely & affectionately yours

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] Keswick Sixth Octr 1819/ Sharon Turner Esqr/ Red Lion Square/ London/ Fxx/ J Rickman
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ OC 9/ 1819
Endorsement: 6 Oct 1819
MS: Robert H. Taylor Collection, Princeton University Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s tour of Scotland lasted from 17 August until 1 October 1819. He was accompanied by Rickman and Thomas Telford. BACK

[2] Sharon Turner, Prolusions On the Present Greatness of Britain; On Modern Poetry; and On the Present Aspect of the World (London, 1819). The final poem (‘On the Present Aspect, Progress, and Spirit of the World’) was addressed to Southey (p. 135), and the second (‘On Modern Poetry’) praised his ‘high-glanc’d aim’ and ‘The noblest feelings [which] in … [his] bosom glow’ (p. 111). BACK

[3] Southey had, as was his custom, kept up an account of his journey; see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

[4] Fleet Mound was a massive causeway, commissioned in 1803, designed by Telford, and built between 1814–1816, to carry the road over Loch Fleet. It comprised an earthwork, and a bridge with self-regulating sluice gates that allowed the waters from the river to flow out, but prevented seawater from coming in. BACK

[5] Turner’s sense of Britain’s future, both at home and abroad, was distinctly more optimistic than Southey’s. Although it acknowledged a period of potential crisis, his first prolusion (‘On the Present Greatness of Britain’) championed native common sense and argued that: ‘What now remains to keep our Britain blest/ But steady fortitude and social rest;/ The growing worth of every active mind,/ With justice, moral faith and hope combin’d;/ The blending of the free and loyal heart,/ Gracing the patriot with the subjects part:/ Obedient to the laws; respecting power;/ Conscious of rights; contented with the hour:/ Pursuing firmly all that’s great and fair,/ And happiest in the good which others share!/ Be this thy spirit Britain! and the earth/ Will hail thy empire as its noblest birth./ Mankind will gaze to emulate thy fame;/ But to attain it, must thy virtues claim’, Prolusions On the Present Greatness of Britain; On Modern Poetry; and On the Present Aspect of the World (London, 1819), pp. 82–83. BACK

[6] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[7] When the parcel containing this work arrived, Southey found it to be nothing more than another copy of Manoel Aires de Casal (1754–1821), Corografia Brazilica, ou Relação Historico-Geografica do Reino do Brazil (1817), no. 3252 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s Library. BACK

[8] A second, revised, edition of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) appeared in 1822; the remaining two volumes did not go into second editions. BACK

[9] Probably a reference to Pedro de Sousa Holstein, Conde de Palmela (1781–1850), Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, 1812–1817. He had been appointed Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil, but declined to make the journey to Brazil to take up his post until 1820. BACK

[10] After Spain was occupied by France in 1808 its American colonies became effectively independent and gradually started to declare themselves to be Republics from 1811 onwards. BACK

[11] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[12] Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847; DNB), Considerations on the System of Parochial Schools in Scotland: and on the Advantage of Establishing them in Large Towns (1819). Southey requested a copy from John Murray, 19 October 1819, Letter 3368. He needed it to expand his article on Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818), Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. BACK

[13] Longman was advertising Southey’s next poem. The misreading of its title meant that the wrong information had been sent to literary journals, who were thus widely announcing, ‘Robert Southey, Esq. will speedily publish in foolscap 8vo., the Fall of Paraguay, a Poem’, for example, Eclectic Review, n.s. 12 (September 1819), 298. BACK

[14] i.e. the nine-line stanza of Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[15] A Tale of Paraguay was not published until 1825. BACK

[16] Mary Watts (c. 1768–1843), whom Turner had married in 1795. BACK

[17] Turner’s daughters: Emilia (b. 1798); Eliza Mary (1799–1874); Mary (1801–1870); and Harriet (b. 1803). BACK

[18] Alfred (1796–1864), Turner’s eldest son; later a solicitor. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Telford, Thomas (1757–1834) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)