3392. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 November 1819

3392. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 November 1819⁠* 

Keswick, Nov. 20. 1819.

My dear Neville,

I wish for your sake that the next few months were over – that you had passed your examination, and were quietly engaged in the regular course of parochial duty. [1] In labore quies you know is the motto which I borrowed from my old predecessor Garibay. [2]  It is only in the discharge of duty that that deep and entire contentment which alone deserves to be called happiness is to be found, and you will go the way to find it. Were I a bishop, it would give me great satisfaction to lay hands upon a man like you, fitted as you are for the service of the altar by principle and disposition, almost beyond any man whom I have ever known. I have long regarded it as a great misfortune to the Church of England that men so seldom enter it at a mature age, when their characters are settled, when the glare of youth and hope has passed away; the things of the world are seen in their true colours, and a calm and sober piety has taken possession of the heart. The Romanists have a great advantage over us in this.

You asked me some time ago what I thought about the Manchester business. [3]  I look upon it as an unfortunate business, because it has enabled factious and foolish men to raise an outcry, and divert public attention from the great course of events to a mere accidental occurrence. That the meeting was unlawful, and in terrorem populi [4]  is to me perfectly clear. The magistrates committed an error in employing the yeomanry instead of the regulars to support the civil power; for the yeomanry, after bearing a great deal, lost their temper, which disciplined troops would not have done. [5]  The cause of this error is obviously that the magistrates thought it less obnoxious to employ that species of force than the troops, – a natural and pardonable mistake.

It is no longer a question between Ins and Outs, nor between Whigs and Tories. It is between those who have something to lose, and those who have everything to gain by a dissolution of society. There may be bloodshed, and I am inclined to think there will before the Radicals are suppressed, but suppressed they will be for the time. What may be in store for us afterwards, who can tell? According to all human appearances, I should expect the worst, were it not for an abiding trust in Providence, by whose wise will even our follies are overruled.

God bless you, my dear Neville!

Yours affectionately,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 359–360. BACK

[1] White had taken the decision to give up his work in the hosiery trade and pursue a clerical career. He enrolled at Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 26 June 1819 to study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree as a ‘ten-year man’, i.e. a part-time, mature student (he graduated in 1829). However, White was more immediately concerned with his approaching ordination examination, which required knowledge of Greek, Latin, works of divinity and the Bible; he duly passed and was ordained as a Deacon on 12 December 1819, becoming a Curate at St Edmund the King, Norwich. BACK

[2] ‘In labour is rest’, the motto on Southey’s seal. He had borrowed it from the prolific Spanish historian, Esteban de Garibay y Zamalloa (1533–1600). BACK

[3] The ‘Peterloo’ Massacre on 16 August 1819, when at least eleven people were killed after local magistrates ordered the dispersal of a huge radical meeting in Manchester. BACK

[4] ‘To the terror of the people’; a legal phrase used in indictments for riot. BACK

[5] When the Manchester magistrates ordered the arrest of the main speakers at the meeting at St Peter’s Field on 16 August 1819, the task was delegated to the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, a body of upper-class local volunteers; they began to attack the crowd indiscriminately, and the crowd responded by throwing brickbats at the Yeomanry. Finally, the meeting was dispersed by regular troops, primarily the 15th Hussars. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)