3444. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 21 February 1820

3444. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 21 February 1820 ⁠* 

Keswick. 21 Feby. 1820

My dear Kenyon

Immediately on the receipt of your letter the order for the char was given, & accepted; so that I thought myself sure of executing the commission. But I now learn that the fish would not be caught, & that it was not thought desirable to catch them; the fish, the fishermen, & the fish-potters being xxx unanimously of opinion that this is not the season. The proper months are October & November. [1]  Give me any directions for that time, & they shall be punctually observed.

What a world of events since the date of your letter, tho it is scarcely a month old! A new King, – an ugly question about the new Queen, – the preparations for a new Parliament, which bring on a relapse of the Election fever, before this part of England has recovered from the ill blood which the last left behind it, & this assassination in France! [2] 

You will be compelled, sooner or later, to agree with me concerning the Press, & you cannot be more unwilling to come to that opinion than I have been. There will be no security for government or society, till the constituted authorities all over Europe have the controul of the Press. The question is whether this shall be conceded to an equitable Government, which consults the public good, & regards public opinion, – as the means of preventing revolution, – or whether it will be taken by the military Autocrat to xxxx xxxxx xxxx they who escape from <who will put an end to> the series of massacres proscriptions & civil wars which this miserable country must inevitably undergo, unless the Press be curbed. We have no statesman courageous enough to venture upon the remedy, tho I cannot believe any of our statesmen can be so blind as not to understand the danger. What then is to preserve <save> us? Perhaps a premature rebellion, before the army is corrupted: this is not so likely as it was three months ago, when a day for the attempt was fixed, & when any government but ours would have caught the ring leaders in a trap. [3]  – Perhaps some frightful tragedy like this of the Duc de Berri, – & I will own to you that such a thing would surprize me less in this country, than it has done in France. It has already been twice attempted, – once on the late King, – once on the Regent; & on both times because the murderer missed his aim the newspapers made a jest of it! [4]  Infatuated as we are I believe that the shot which should take effect would be fatal to our accursed newspaper press. – I can imagine another means. It is among my uncomfortable speculations that a country which has been so long without any visitation of pestilence as England has been, has some right to expect it: so long a time never having elapsed without one before – , & it being certain that we are not preserved from it by any improvement in the healing art, nor by any precautions, nor by any change in our climate. [5]  It is a frightful thought, – but it has occurred to me who believe in the moral government of the world, (& it has made an impression upon me,) that Providence may send pestilence among us at once to punish us, & to preserve us from the only evil that would be greater, – xx xx Do you know that John Hunter was of opinion that our manufactories would engender for us some new plague? [6]  – Specific diseases many of them produce. But as yet the only plague which they have generated is a moral & political one.

My departure for the South is delayed for about a month, – chiefly because of the Kings death. I must produce some ex officio verses. [7]  When you see them you will perceive that you have xxx influenced them, in a very material point.

All here desire their kindest remembrances

God bless you



* Address: To/ John Kenyn Esqre/ 76 Oxford Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 24 FE 24/ 1820
Seal: black wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.235. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp.183–185. BACK

[1] The fishing season for charr in the Lake District is now July–October. BACK

[2] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) had died on 29 January 1820, leading to the succession of his eldest son, George IV, who was desperate to divorce his estranged wife, Queen Caroline (1768–1821; DNB). The death of a monarch automatically triggered a general election, which occurred between 6 March and 14 April 1820. The previous general election in 1818 had produced a bitter contest in Westmorland, where Henry Brougham had attempted to break the Lowther family’s hold on both seats. Finally, Charles Ferdinand d’Artoise, Duc de Berri (1778–1820), a nephew of Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), had been mortally wounded at the Paris Opera on 13 February 1820 by Louis Pierre Louvel (1783–1820), a Bonapartist. BACK

[3] Radicals in London certainly discussed revolution at this time, and the opening of parliament by the Prince Regent on 23 November 1819 was mentioned as an opportune moment. BACK

[4] James Hadfield (c. 1771–1842; DNB) had attempted to shoot George III at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 15 May 1800, but missed; he was acquitted of High Treason by reason of insanity. When the Prince Regent was travelling to the Palace of Westminster to give the speech opening parliament on 28 January 1817, his carriage had been pelted with rotten fruit and stones and a window broken. Conservatives claimed the window had been broken by a shot in an attempt to assassinate the Prince Regent. BACK

[5] There had been no major plague epidemic in Britain since that of 1665–1666. BACK

[6] John Hunter (1728–1793; DNB), scientist and surgeon. Southey had made this statement in his ‘Inquiry into the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 16 (December 1812), 338. BACK

[7] These verses became A Vision of Judgement (1821). It is not clear how they were influenced by Kenyon. BACK

People mentioned

George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 2 times)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)