3682. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], 6 May 1821

3682. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], 6 May 1821⁠* 

Keswick, May 6. 1821.

My dear Chauncey,

I received your parcel this afternoon, and thank you for the book, for the dedication, and for the sonnet. [1]  As yet I have only had time to recognise several pieces which pleased me formerly, and to read a few others which please me now.

The stages of your life have passed regularly and happily, so that you have had leisure to mark them with precision, and to feel them, and reflect upon them. With me these transitions were of a very different character; they came abruptly, and, when I left the University, it was to cast myself upon the world, with a heart full of romance, and a head full of enthusiasm. No young man could have gone more widely astray, according to all human judgement; and yet the soundest judgement could not have led me into any other way of life in which I should have had such full cause to be contented and thankful.

The world is now before you; but you have neither difficulties to struggle with, nor dangers to apprehend. All that the heart of a wise man can desire is within your reach. And you are blest with a disposition which will keep you out of public life, in which my advice to those whom I loved would be, – never to engage.

Your Cambridge wit is excellent of its kind. I am not acquainted with Coleridge of King’s; but somewhat intimately so with one of his brothers, now at the bar, and likely to rise very high in his profession. I know no man of whose judgement and principles I have a higher opinion. They are a remarkably gifted family, and may be expected to distinguish themselves in many ways.

The Wordsworths spoke of you with great pleasure upon their return from Cambridge. [2] He was with me lately. His thoughts and mine have for some time unconsciously been travelling in the same direction; for while I have been sketching a brief history of the English Church, and the systems which it has subdued or struggled with, he has been pursuing precisely the same subject in a series of sonnets, to which my volume will serve for a commentary, as completely as if it had been written with that intent. [3]  I have reason to hope that this work will be permanently useful. And I have the same hope of a series of Dialogues with which I am proceeding. [4]  Two of the scenes in which these are laid are noticed in your sonnets, – the Tarn of Blencathra and the Ruined Village. [5] Wm. Westall has made a very fine drawing of the former, which will be engraved for the volume, together with five others, most of which you will recognise. One of them represents this house, with the river and the lake, and Newlands in the distance. [6] 

Are you going abroad? Or do you wait till the political atmosphere seems to promise settled weather? God knows when that will be! For myself I know not what to wish for, when on the one side the old Governments will not attempt to amend anything, and on the other the Revolutionists are for destroying every thing. Spain is in a deplorable state, which must lead to utter anarchy. [7]  If other powers do not interfere (which I rather hope than think they will not), the natural course of such a revolution will serve as an example in terrorem [8]  to other nations. True statesmen are wanted there, and not there alone, but everywhere else; why it is that there has not been a single man in Europe worthy of the name for the last century, is a question which it might be of some use to consider. Burke [9]  would have been one, had he not been always led away by passion and party, and an Irish imagination. It is something in the very constitution of our politics which dwarfs the breed; for we have had statesmen in India.

God bless you!

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey.


* 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. 78–80 [in part]. BACK

[1] A copy of Townshend’s Poems (London, 1821), which was dedicated to Southey ‘IN TOKEN OF GRATITUDE, AND AFFECTION’, and in which Townshend paid ‘public tribute’ to him in a separate dedicatory sonnet (pp. iii–iv). BACK

[2] William and Mary Wordsworth had visited Cambridge in January 1821, on their return from a continental tour. They had stayed with Christopher Wordsworth, who was Master of Trinity College. BACK

[3] Southey’s The Book of the Church (1824) and Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822). BACK

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

[5] Townshend, Poems (London, 1821), p. 310 (‘The Tarn’) and p. 318 (‘The Deserted Village’). The same locations featured in Southey’s Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), II, pp. 153–154 (the tarn); and pp. 155–157 (the Vale of St John’s, the location of the deserted village). BACK

[6] Westall’s engraving of the tarn appeared in Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), before II, p. 153. The other plates of Lake District scenes were: vol. I: ‘Druidical Stones near Keswick’, ‘Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite-water, and Skiddaw, from Walla Crag’, and ‘Derwentwater from Strandshagg’; and vol. II: ‘Crosthwaite Church and Skiddaw’, and ‘Greta Hall, Derwentwater, and Newlands’. BACK

[7] A military revolt in Spain in 1820 had overthrown the absolutist regime and restored the liberal Constitution of 1812; but the country was deeply divided between reactionaries and liberals. France intervened in 1823 and restored royal absolutism. BACK

[8] ‘Into’ or ‘about’ ‘fear’; in legal terminology a warning usually given in hope of compelling an individual to act without the need to resort to a criminal prosecution against them. BACK

[9] The Irish-born politician, philosopher and writer, Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB). BACK

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