3582. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 14 December 1820

3582. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 14 December 1820 ⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 14. 1820.

My dear Neville,

I shall have a poem to send you in the course of a few weeks, planned upon occasion of the King’s death (which you may think no very promising subject), laid aside eight months ago, when half written, as not suited for publication while the event was recent, and now taken up again, and almost brought to a conclusion. The title is, ‘A Vision of Judgment.’ [1]  It is likely to attract some notice, because I have made – and, in my own opinion, with success – the bold experiment of constructing a metre upon the principle of the ancient hexameter. It will provoke some abuse for what is said of the factious spirit by which the country has been disturbed during the last fifty years; and it will have some interest for you, not merely because it comes from me, but because you will find Henry’s name not improperly introduced in it. [2]  My Laureateship has not been a sinecure: without reckoning the annual odes, which have regularly been supplied, though I have hitherto succeeded in withholding them from publication, [3]  I have written, as Laureate, more upon public occasions [4]  (on none of which I should otherwise have ever composed a line) than has been written by any person who ever held the office before, with the single exception of Ben Jonson, if his Masques are taken into the account. [5] 

The prevailing madness [6]  has reached Keswick, as well as all other places; and the people here, who believe, half of them, that the King concealed his father’s death ten years for the sake of receiving his allowance, and that he poisoned the Princess Charlotte (of which, they say, there can be no doubt; for did not the doctor kill himself? [7]  and why should he have done that if it had not been for remorse of conscience?), believe, with the same monstrous credulity, that the Queen is a second Susannah. [8]  The Queenomania will probably die away ere long; but it will be succeeded by some new excitement; and so we shall go on as long as our Government suffers itself to be insulted and menaced with impunity, and as long as our Ministers are either unwilling or afraid to exert the laws in defence of the institutions of the country.

I have a book in progress upon the state of the country, its existing evils, and its prospects. [9]  It is in a series of dialogues, and I hope it will not be read without leading some persons both to think and to feel as they ought. In more than one instance I have had the satisfaction of being told that my papers in the Quarterly Review have confirmed some who were wavering in their opinions, and reclaimed others who were wrong …

God bless you, my dear Neville!



* 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), V, pp. 52–54 [in part]. BACK

[1] A Vision of Judgement (1821), prompted by the death of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[2] A Vision of Judgement (1821), Canto 11, lines 68–73, where Henry Kirke White appeared among the ‘Young Spirits’. BACK

[3] This was not quite accurate. The first of the New Year Odes Southey produced in his capacity as Poet Laureate – Carmen Triumphale – had been published in 1814. BACK

[4] Southey had commemorated the following: the visit of the allied sovereigns in June 1814 (Congratulatory Odes (1814)); the marriage of Princess Charlotte of Wales (The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816)); and the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 (The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816)). He had, however, not been required to write a Birthday Ode for the monarch until the accession of George IV in 1820, and he did not go on to commemorate the coronation of 1821. BACK

[5] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), Poet Laureate 1616–1637, whose writings included twenty court masques. BACK

[6] The ‘madness’ related to Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, who had returned to London on 6 June 1820. Her arrival and the series of events that followed, as attempts were made to deprive her of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King, made her a figurehead for radicals, and also triggered public protests in her support across the country. BACK

[7] Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales had died in childbirth on 6 November 1817. Sir Richard Croft, 6th Baronet (1762–1818; DNB), the man-midwife and one of the physicians who had attended the Princess, was much criticised for not intervening earlier in the delivery. In January 1818, while attending a similar case, Croft shot himself. At the inquest that followed, it was revealed that a copy of Love’s Labour’s Lost had been found in the room with his corpse, and that it was opened on the page containing the line ‘Good God, where is the Princess?’. BACK

[8] In Daniel 13, Susannah is a virtuous wife who is falsely accused of sexual misconduct. BACK

[9] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)