3415. Robert Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 9 January 1820

3415. Robert Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 9 January 1820⁠* 

My dear Sir

I am much beholden to Lord Bathurst for this intended & unsolicited kindness [1]  to a perfect stranger. Express to him my sense of the favour when you have an opportunity. It is better that my thanks should be conveyed by you, than that I should write upon the occasion, which would seem as if I were desirous of introducing myself.

The Guardian goes on well. [2]  I enclose some stanzas for it, which Wordsworth has sent me, to be inserted or cast aside, he cares not which. [3]  The thought is good, striking & original; but the movement of the verse is to my ear unpleasant & the expression is sometimes forced & awkward. Such as it is, however, I send it.

Government has done well, [4]  except in conceding any thing to an Opposition which was never more compleatly opposed to the general feeling of the whole property of the country. Concessions should never be made to such opponents. They assume a consequence from them, which if it were not thus given xxxx they would not know where to look for. The Seditious Meeting Bill [5]  must be made perpetual at last, & you will have the whole trouble of debating it again. Instead of substituting banishment for transportation, it would have been better to have given a discretionary power of sentencing to either; [6] accxx – Hobhouse for instance is a fit subject for banishment; Carlile for transportation. [7] 

The danger, I doubt not, is for a while averted. But it will the disease continues in the system, & will break out from time to time, till alteration measures are adopted & begin to take effect. A good beginning is made by the Saving Banks [8]  & the encouragement to colonization; [9]  & I am inclined to hope for extensive benefit from the Dartmoor scheme. [10]  If the principle were established that children who are brought up at the public expence belong to the public, means might easily be devised of disposing in the best way of the surplus population as it rises. I am putting together speculations of this kind; such of them as are good, will sooner or later have their effect. Owen [11]  has wrecked himself upon the shallows where I told him he would strike, & endeavoured vainly to direct him in a safer course. His Lanark experiment (I was there in the Autumn) [12]  proves nothing but that children are very happy & very docile under the most indulgent treatment, & that the kindest treatment is the best. He is wrong in all his principles except one, but that one is of main importance, – it is this, that the national character may be exactly what will always be what the institutions of the country make it, & that men are as clay in the hands of their legislators. At present indeed we have a great stock of coarse crockery on hand, made in the very worst pattern & applied to the vilest purposes. With this nothing can be done; – but we must learn to model better for the future.

Farewell my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 9 Jany. 1820.


* Endorsement: Ansd
MS: Morgan Library, MA 1005. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Myron F. Brightfield, John Wilson Croker (London, 1940), p. 170 [in part]. BACK

[1] Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst (1762–1834; DNB), Secretary of State for War and the Colonies 1812–1827. Under the impression that the Poet Laureate had a son who was nearing adulthood, Bathurst offered Southey the role of ‘writer’ – a junior administrator in the East India Company. The only way to gain such a post was through patronage – usually nomination by one of the company’s directors. BACK

[2] The Guardian (1819–1824) was a pro-government Sunday newspaper, promoted by Croker. BACK

[3] Wordsworth’s ‘Hints from the Mountains for Certain Political Aspirants’, published anonymously in the Guardian, 16 January 1820. BACK

[4] The government had managed to carry its ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation, in November–December 1819. BACK

[5] The Seditious Meetings Act (1819) required organisers of most meetings of over 50 people to obtain a licence from a magistrate. It was due to run out after five years. BACK

[6] The Criminal Libel Act (1819) made banishment the punishment for a second offence and anyone breaching the sentence was to be transported for 14 years. The original version of the Bill had made transportation for seven years the punishment for a second offence and death the punishment of last resort. BACK

[7] John Cam Hobhouse, 1st Baron Broughton (1786–1869; DNB), radical MP for Westminster 1820–1833, Nottingham 1834–1847, Harwich 1848–1851, at this time briefly imprisoned for a breach of parliamentary privilege in his pamphlet, A Trifling Mistake in Lord Erskine’s Recent Preface (1819); and Richard Carlile (1790–1843; DNB), radical journalist and editor of The Republican, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in October 1819 for blasphemy and seditious libel. BACK

[8] The first Savings Bank, paying interest on small cash deposits, was founded in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, in 1810 and the movement spread readily. BACK

[9] There were six different small-scale state subsidies to emigration 1816–1827, including £50,000 voted in 1818 to send 3,700 settlers to South Africa. BACK

[10] Schemes to open up the granite industry on Dartmoor by constructing the Haytor track. This made it possible to transport the stone from the quarries on Dartmoor to the Stover Canal (opened in 1820). BACK

[11] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the New Lanark mills in Scotland 1799–1825. Southey had warned him not to publicise his deist views, which would drain support from his schemes for settling the unemployed on the land. BACK

[12] Southey visited New Lanark on 28 September 1819, Journal of a Tour in Scotland, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 258–266. BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)