3592. Robert Southey to Thomas Thompson, 27 December 1820

3592. Robert Southey to Thomas Thompson, 27 December 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 27th Decem.r 1820.


I am obliged to you for your letter and for the memoir of that good man Anthony Benezett. [1] 

You cannot be more willing nor more desirous than I am to give Edwd Burroughs [2]  full praise for his great qualities and his good ones, nor more disposed to distinguish in all cases, as far as my judgement enables me, between the character of the individual and the spirit of the times. At present I am much better acquainted with the writings of the Quakers, [3]  than with those of their antagonists; in what I have seen of the latter, I have found much bitterness of spirit, much credulity, and I have no doubt, some calumny, but yet no specimens of pure railing, that is railing per se, unaccompanied with any kind of reasoning. Do not however suppose that effervescences of this kind proceeding in such times from a thoroughly honest heart would weigh with me more than a feather in the scale in the general estimate of an eminent character.

Your extracts from Ralph Farmer are good in their kind. I have never seen his book. Calamy calls it a good one. [4]  I suspect therefore that it is written in a fierce puritanical spirit (for the author was a puritan) but not without some ability. I have one of Bugg’s works and only one – his Pilgrims Progress, by which it appears that hard words were liberally used on both sides. [5]  But these things are altogether unimportant as affecting principles on either side.

To conclude then, my intention in writing the Life of your Founder and the Rise and Progress of your Society, is to do it diligently, faithfully and charitably, in a Christian Spirit not dissembling my own opinions, but rendering ample justice to the opinion of others. If I commit any unintentional errors, let them be pointed out and I will correct them thankfully. If I reason falsely let me be confuted – if I wilfully misrepresent any thing, let me be exposed and put to shame.

I remain, Sir yours with respect.

Rt Southey.


* MS: Haverford College, Thomas Thompson Letter Book, MC.975.02.024. An undated copy in an unidentified hand. The original letter seems not to have survived. TR; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Roberts Vaux (1786–1836), Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet (1817). Benezet (1713–1784) was a French Protestant who converted to Quakerism in 1727 and emigrated to America, devoting his life to abolitionism and the promotion of education. BACK

[2] Edward Burrough (1634–1663; DNB), early Quaker and polemicist. BACK

[3] Southey was planning to write a biography of George Fox (1624–1691; DNB), founder of Quakerism; this project was not realised. BACK

[4] Ralph Farmer (d. 1670) was Presbyterian Minister at St Nicholas, Bristol, and a determined foe of the Quakers. He was praised by Edmund Calamy (1671–1732; DNB), An Abridgement of Mr. Baxter’s History of His Life and Times: with an Account of the Ministers, &c. who were Ejected after the Restauration, of King Charles II, 2 vols (London, 1713), II, p. 609, no. 132 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library: ‘He wrote a good Book call’d, The Mystery of Godliness and Ungodliness, against the Quakers, in 4to. 1653.’ BACK

[5] Francis Bugg (1640–1727; DNB), Pilgrim’s Progress from Quakerism to Christianity (1700), no. 393 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK


Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)