3386. Robert Southey to John Murray, 10 November 1819

3386. Robert Southey to John Murray, 10 November 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 10 Nov. 1819

My dear Sir

I would do what you desire if it were possible. But when I wrote to Mr Gifford immediately on my return xxxxxx from Scotland, I then declined writing upon this subject, [1]  because it then appeared to me too late to undertake it for the next number, writing as I do, slowly, in every thing but narration. You talk of a week; – it would be the principal business of a month, work as diligently as I could. [2]  That I am not an unconcerned looker-on in these portentous times you may well suppose; & if preventive means had been used when first I pointed out the coming danger in the Q.R. much of the existing evil might have been easily averted. [3]  All that you say of the advantages afforded by publishing in such a journal as yours is true, & you may remember that I yielded to those same arguments three years ago, & cast into the shape which you advised what would otherwise have been brought forward in a more regular & extended form. [4]  The immediate object was obtained, – but I believe it was at the expence of a greater good. A review is laid upon the shelf sooner than a substantive volume, & is not so likely to be taken from it. And I am inclined to think that if I had brought forward my views of the state of society & its impending dangers in a connected shape, – & with that perfect freedom which I should have felt when publishing in my own name, – there would have been a regular set of opinions before the public, to which the well disposed might have been contented to appeal as their articles of political belief.

The advantages of writing anonymously are imaginary in my case as far as I am concerned. A I enjoy <have> already as large a portion of critical & Jacobinical abuse as can possibly be bestowed upon me. Whoever hates the government & the religion of his country, whoever has renounced his Saviour & would dethrone his King, regards me as his with a deadly hatred. If I regarded <cared for> this with (which I do not) I am not in the slightest degree protected from it by writing in the Review; but on the contrary I am just as much exposed – & am less able to d which is a real evil, I am exposed to disadvantage which I should not be, if standing alone. For in the first place, I cannot speak out, as I would do, tho by so doing I should serve the Government with far greater effect. This passage must be softened, & that must be expunged, – till sometimes a paragraph appears so mutilated in argument & so emasculated in style, that I scarcely recognize my own writing & should be unable to defend it. And perhaps in the next number there appears an article there expressly written for the purpose of contradicting what I had advanced – I am in the situation of a man brought into the lists to as a Champion, if those persons for whom he fights were to every now & then to insist upon his laying aside his own weapons which he has been accustomed to wield & on which he can depend; & were moreover every now & then to catch him by the arm when he is about to strike, for the purpose of giving the blow a different direction, or adding force <strength> to it, whereas the effect of such interference is effectually to frustrate the <his> aim & destroy xx its force take away this force.

You are not aware how much my articles have suffered by this sort of mutilation, – to say nothing of what they lose by being written under a sense of restraint.

On the whole then I am not displeased that there should be so unanswerable a reason as the shortness of time, for not writing a political arti paper just now. Sometime or other I shall find an opportunity of treating upon the Prospects of Society when I can do it in my own way, & to my own satisfaction. [5] 

You are an excellent purveyor, – a quality in which my good friends in the Row are sadly deficient. I am making myself master (as far as I can) of the history of this reign; [6]  – part of my reading every day is & long has been given to this subject. But whether it be for your interest & mine that the result of this reading, should be compressed into your review, instead of appearing as a separate work, which would have ever good probability of becoming a standard book, if is what you & I must confer about. The West Indies I have a motive for delaying – which is this. My brother Capt S. has been for many years making a Chronological Hist. of the W Indies, which he will ere long endeavour to publish by subscription. And if he succeeds in bringing it out, – I shall be able to give him a hearty shove by making a very amusing article. [7]  He has taken a great deal of pains with this, – & it will be a good book of its kind. The French have many histories of this kind, – they are more for reference than reading, – but he who refers to them, often goes on reading, – & this will be very much the c[MS missing] with his. I shall revise it for him, & write certain connecting parts.

The Account of Q Anns Churches [8]  will certainly be desirable. You have sent me Yates’s Basis of National Welfare, – but there is a former work of his which I ought to have – “The Church in Danger.” [9] 

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqre/ Albemarle Street/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 18 NO 18/ 1819
Seal: red wax, design illegible
Endorsement: 1819 Nov 10/ Southey, R
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42552. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 203–205. BACK

[1] Southey had been asked to write ‘an article upon the state of the country’; see Southey to William Gifford, 3 October 1819, Letter 3355. BACK

[2] Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819) appeared on 11 December 1819. BACK

[3] Southey’s ‘Inquiry into the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

[4] Southey, at Murray’s urging, had abandoned his plans to write a book on the ‘State of the Nation’ and had instead published his thoughts on ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278, and the ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. BACK

[5] Southey’s Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[6] The reign of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB); Southey did not write a book on this subject. BACK

[7] Tom Southey’s Chronological History of the West Indies (1827). Southey puffed it in the Quarterly Review, 38 (July 1828), 193–241. BACK

[8] The Commission for Building Fifty New Churches was set up by the New Churches in London and Westminster Act (1710), passed during the reign of Anne (1665–1714; Queen of Great Britain 1701–1714; DNB). It is not clear which ‘Account’ of its activities Southey requested. He needed this, and related publications, for what became his article on ‘New Churches’, Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. BACK

[9] Richard Yates (1769–1834; DNB), The Basis of National Welfare: Considered in Reference Chiefly to the Prosperity of Britain, and Safety of the Church of England (1817), and The Church in Danger: a Statement of the Cause, and of the Probable Means of Averting that Danger, Attempted in a Letter to the Earl of Liverpool (1815). BACK

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