3628. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 February 1821

3628. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 February 1821⁠* 

My dear Harry

The book shall be sent you in its Court dress, & you will deliver it to Sir Wm K. with as civil a message on my part as you may be pleased to compose for the occasion. [1]  I would write to him myself, – but it is better that the matter should seem to be your doing than mine. There are plenty of persons who would be glad to present it, – but your thought had occurred to me also.

Why the printing is delayed I cannot conceive. It is more than three weeks since I corrected the last part of the poem, & they have not yet sent me proofs of the notes & preface. In the latter I have made friendly mention of Wm Taylor, in reference to his hexameters. [2]  I shall be abused on all sides, which will be very entertaining.

There is an amusing account of my Life of Wesley [3]  in the last Evangelical Magazine, it treats me with sovereign contempt for my ignorance of theology & ecclesiastical history, & very kindly consigns me to damnation at the end. [4]  This is the best six penny worth that I have had for some time. – The Wesleyan Green-bag has perplexed me, & made me (which is not unusual) quite undecided what to believe. [5]  Had the evidence been compleat, I must certainly have published the fact, giving the letter at length & the proofs, – & it would have gone off like a powder-barrel in the midst of the Methodists. But upon any thing short of what would be legal evidence I cannot but hesitate in fixing upon such a man as Wesley a spot that must blacken his reputation. Now it seems the original letter is not in Mr Wilsons possession, [6]  what Mrs Wesley gave his mother was a copy only: had it been the original it might have been possible to identify the handwriting. As it is, I am inclined to suspect that it was a scheme of Mrs Wesleys to blast her husbands character, for she told Mrs Wilson that she considered her life to be in her danger from him, & a woman who could say that would not scruple at producing a supposititious letter. [7]  So I shall let the matter rest, till a new edition of the life be wanted: by that time it is possible that some new light may appear upon the subject, – & (what is more likely) the story will find its way into the world thro some other channel, & I shall only have to repeat it, & express the grounds of my hesitating to accredit it. [8] 

Miss Tyler is in her 82 year. I wish my Uncle may reach that age, provided he continues as capable of enjoying life as he is at present. I shall be very anxious to hear what has taken place there. What is to be feared is that he may be hurt by the journey.

My Aunt Mary is in good health & spirits, & finds continual amusement in Cupn, whom she humours as much as ever poor Wilsey would have done. – We are now performing the last offices of our executorship to that good woman. I believe you know that she left each of the girls five pounds, & inserted Cuthberts name, in the place of his poor brothers, for ten. – One of these days I shall lay these legacies out for each of them in some lasting memorial.

Our love to all. God bless you.

Yrs affectionately


7. Feby. 1821.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ 15. Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 10 FE 10/ 1821
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, Misc 3537. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The volume was a specially bound copy of A Vision of Judgement (1821), to be presented to George IV. BACK

[2] In the ‘Preface’ to his poem, Southey had cited Taylor’s metrical experiments of the 1790s as proof of ‘the practicability of the hexameter’, A Vision of Judgement (London, 1821), p. xxvii. The experiments were Taylor’s translations from Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), Der Messias (1748–1773), published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (July 1796), 489–90; 8 (November 1799), 806–807; 10 (November 1800), 317–320; 10 (December 1800), 423–426; and 11 (January 1801), 501–505; and Taylor’s own composition ‘The Show, an English Eclogue’ in Robert Southey (ed.), The Annual Anthology, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799–1800), II, pp. 200–210. BACK

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

[4] Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle, 29 (February 1821), 65–68. It attacked Southey’s ignorance (67) and concluded: ‘Mr. Southey … writes like “a man of the world,” to please the world: and he will have his reward – “the world will love its own.” But the great question is – Will God be pleased? Will the writer receive the plaudit of the great Judge at the last day? Will he say to the author of this work – “Well done! good and faithful servant?” The conscience of the writer and the judgment of the reader will answer the question’ (68). BACK

[5] Southey had been sent potentially damaging information about an inappropriate relationship between John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), the founder of Methodism, and a younger female follower, Elizabeth Briggs (1751–1822); see Southey to James Everett, 7 February 1821, Letter 3626. Two green bags, one for the House of Lords and one for the House of Commons, had contained the evidence (much of it highly salacious) in support of the Bill of Pains and Penalties to deprive Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB) of her title of Queen and dissolve her marriage to George IV. BACK

[6] Southey had been informed that the letter containing evidence of John Wesley’s impropriety was in the possession of Glocester Wilson, and had written to him for more information; see Southey to [Glocester Wilson], 29 December 1820. However, the letter Wilson possessed was only a copy. He had received this from his mother and she had, in turn, been given it some years before by Wesley’s estranged wife, Mary (1709/10–1781). BACK

[7] Mary Vazeille was a widow at the time of her marriage to John Wesley in 1751. Their relationship was troubled, and on 23 January 1771 Mary left her husband for the final time. BACK

[8] Southey never made public use of this information about Wesley. BACK

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