3418. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 15 January 1820

3418. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 15 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 15 Jany. 1820

My dear Kenyon

Supposing that you will by this time be in London, I was intending to write & thank you for your company, & your laver, when the loitering intention was quickened into effect by some intelligence which this days post has brought.

You will not have forgotten the two remarkable letters from the anonymous writer who wished to entrust his papers to my care after his death. I now learn that the unhappy writer put an end to his life on New Years day; & that on the day preceding he deposited the papers at a house in town to await my directions. He proves to have been Mr Elton Hamond, a person well known to my brother, & whom I once met at dinner some years ago, at Dr Gooch’s, & well remember as a mild, melancholy, introspective man. Henry Robinson (a friend of Wordsworth’s & of mine) informs me of this, & gives me a very singular & interesting account of the deceased, with whom he had long been intimate. He describes him as thoroughly virtuous, good & gentle hearted, but intense feeling, intense vanity, self-centering thoughts, miserable metaphysics & a morbid temperament combined to produce <in him> that sort of insanity, which is incurable by any human means. – I anticipate a melancholy task with his papers, but it may possibly be an useful one.

Cases of this kind are seldom laid before the world either faithfully or charitably. The same elements which made Elton Hamond an utter unbeliever in every thing which it is desirable to believe, & a suicide at last, would have made him a Saint in the middle ages of monachism, – or a martyr in the age of the Reformation. – And what should I have been in those days? – A pilgrim to Jerusalem, – a chronicler (if I had learnt to write) & a maker of verses.

If your brother [1]  is still at Vienna will you ask him if he can obtain any account, – such for instance as a German Necrology, – or a biographical Dictionary may supply – of my old friend Dobrizhoffer; [2]  – he was living in 1784.

I have about three weeks work to finish Wesley: [3]  the printer [4]  will be longer about his part; but if he makes no unusual & unexpected delay, a copy will be left for you in Portland Place, before you see me in town.

The friends of order are singing Te Deum too soon for their victory over the Radicals. [5]  The disease is till in the system, & stronger measures with regard to the press must be adopted before it can be removed. The necessary consequence of general education must be a licensed press, – that is, a press under the control of government; so that nothing inflammatory, nothing hostile to the existing institutions be suffered to appear. And the alternative is, whether you will submit to this to prevent revolution, or come to it thro revolution & the military government in which revolution inevitably ends.

The ladies below [6]  desire to be kindly remembered. Write to me sometimes when you have an idle hour, & believe me

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ John Kenyon Esqre/ 30 Portland Place / London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 18 JN 18/ 1820
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.234. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp.170–172. BACK

[1] Edward Kenyon (d. 1856); he was still living in Vienna. BACK

[2] Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Jesuit missionary in South America and author of Historia de Abiponibus Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariae Natione (1784), one of Southey’s favourite books. Edward Kenyon acquired a copy and it became no. 843 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[4] Andrew Strahan (1749–1831; DNB), wealthy printer and MP. His firm printed Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[5] ‘Praise be to God’, the opening words of an early Christian hymn; following the uproar over the ‘Peterloo’ Massacre on 16 August 1819, in which eleven people had died, the government had succeeded in passing the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation, including a new Criminal Libel Act (1819). BACK

People mentioned

Hamond, Elton (1786–1820) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Gooch, Robert (1784–1830) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)