3485. Robert Southey to [Robert Gooch], 21 May 1820

3485. Robert Southey to [Robert Gooch], 21 May 1820 ⁠* 

Streatham. 21 May. 1820

My dear Sir,

Ever since I heard of your affliction [1]  I have wished to write to you. Here, in the quietness of the country & of a sabbath day, leisure & opportunity are given me. And I may write to you now in a strain from which at any other time, I should have been withheld by the usages of the world & the feelings which grow out of them.

I had been married six years before I had a child. At the age of twelve months that child, who had till then been as beautiful, & in all respects as promising a creature as a parents heart could desire, was taken from me by the same dreadful & hopeless disease [2]  which has bereaved you. Six years afterwards [3]  I lost another little girl, just when she was beginning to talk & to run about: & after another interval of seven years [4]  a slow & wasting malady deprived me of my son, my only son at that time, [5] whom I had – a boy too whose equal could hardly have been found, upon whom I had bestowed five years of careful instruction, & whose attainments were as much the wonder of all who knew him, as his disposition & manners & genius & happy nature were their delight. I had been his playfellow as well as his teacher: he was the constant companion of my walks. When absent from home I was never so chearfully employed as in writing to him, never so happily as when devising means for his present gratification or future advantage. My hopes were centered in him. I saw in him all that was good in myself. I thought it would be possible to prove in his person what might be done with the most promising nature by <under> the most favourable circumstances by the most diligent cultivation. The proudest & dearest thought of my heart was that I should have a son to succeed me, who would take up the pursuits which I should leave unfinished, & start from the point at which my career had ended: —a son who loved me with his whole heart & soul & strength, – as I loved him, & <for I> almost lived in his existence. If any grief could have killed me it would have been this deprivation: & had it not been for the sake of those whose well being depends upon my life, I should at that time earnestly have desired & prayed for death.

But in the freshness of that grief, as of those which preceded it, I felt the uses of affliction, & by God’s blessing I continue to feel them. Gibbon [6]  had loosened my belief in revealed religion, & the contagious spirit of the age for a short time effaced it. Happily I retained a sense of natural xxxxx of piety which no sophistry could shake, & very xx soon took refuge from xxxx infidelity in the creed of the Socinians. [7]  In their loose belief I continued many years; & perhaps I might never have xxxx perceived their error, nor have understood how much more than they teach is necessary for the heart & soul of man, if God had not chastened me by these severe but merciful dispensations. I sought for consolation in religion, — & more than consolation was given me: — strength & hope & assurance, —the peace which passeth all understanding, [8]  & that calm abiding happiness which nothing in this world can give or can take away.

What the state of your mind may have been upon the most important of all subjects I know not. Perhaps you have been too much in the world & of it, to think seriously of that which is to come. Perhaps you have not wholly escaped (for who can?) from those “sturdy doubts & boisterous objections” which Sir Thomas Brown tells us he used to “conquer, not in a martial position, but upon his knees.” [9]  Be that as it may, this letter cannot come unseasonably to you xx at a time xx when you must inevitably feel the unspeakable value of a firm & lively faith.

Among the many evils which are done by canting & trading professors of religion, it is not the least that they make us keep our best & wisest & holiest feelings to ourselves, lest we should be thought to resemble them. Under an apprehension of this kind I have sometimes been silent, when my heart would have led me to speak, & when perhaps the hearts of others have been open. I could hardly xx say to you what I have here written. Philosophy may teach us to bear affliction bravely, —but religion converts afflictions into blessings. When we attain the middle stage of life years pass away more rapidly then weeks in youth. The separations which death makes are only for a season, & it is no light benefit that they bind our feelings to our faith; — that they make us regard the termination of our mortal existence, not with distrust & unwillingness, but with hope & with desire. This is my state of mind, & I am thankful for the afflictions which have brought me to it. May yours be blest & sanctified as mine have been.

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey


* Watermark: KER 1818
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 3p.
Note on correspondent: Identified from the content, which refers to the recent death of Gooch’s son. BACK

[1] The Times, 9 May 1820, had announced the death of Gooch’s son, Robert Knighton Gooch (1815–1820). BACK

[2] Margaret Southey died of hydrocephalus in 1803. BACK

[3] 1809. BACK

[4] 1816. BACK

[5] Charles Cuthbert Southey had been born on 24 February 1819. BACK

[6] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[7] The doctrines of Fausto Sozzini (1539–1604); at this time another way of describing Unitarianism. BACK

[8] Philippians 4: 7. BACK

[9] Thomas Browne (1605–1682; DNB), Religio Medici (London, 1643), p. 45. Southey’s copy, undated, was no. 1960 in the sale catalogue of his library. This was a particularly apt quotation, as Browne, like Gooch, was a doctor who was closely associated with Norfolk – Browne lived in Norwich from 1637 and Gooch was from Great Yarmouth. BACK

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Streatham (mentioned 1 time)