3696. Robert Southey to Neville White, 21 June 1821

3696. Robert Southey to Neville White, 21 June 1821⁠* 

Keswick, June 21. 1821.

My dear Neville,

The copyright act as it now stands certainly applies to the “Remains;” the alteration in that act having been intended as a favour to authors, and partly also as a set-off against the hardship of exacting the eleven copies. [1]  The “Remains” are your property as long as you live, or either of your sisters, [2]  considering the work as your joint property.

You have now to consider what materials there are which may be published with the Illustrations. [3]  We acted imprudently in adding anything after the first edition; [4]  nothing was gained by it, and the only effect was to lessen the worth of the first edition, and expend materials which might now have been turned to account. Did I not some years ago examine the MS. volume in my possession with this view, and send you what could be gleaned from it? I seem to recollect so, but am not certain. [5] 

With regard to the portrait of your excellent mother, [6]  there will come a time when both her portrait and yours ought to accompany these “Remains.” The objection which you feel in one instance applies to both, and long may it be before that objection shall cease to exist.

It is a long while since I heard of Wm. Westall; but if he moves northward this year, he is very likely to take Nottingham in his way, certainly could make it so without any inconvenience.

Your weather, it seems, has been like ours, cold and ungenial. I see by the papers that the season has been equally unfavourable in France; unless there be a speedy change, the agriculturalists will not have cause to complain of a plentiful harvest this year as an aggravation of their distresses. [7]  Here we are in great want of rain. We had a few warm days last week, which I made the most of, and took a delicious bath every day up the River Greta, about a mile and a half distant.

I am now closely employed upon the “History of the Peninsular War,” of which the thirty-second sheet is now before me. It is a singularly interesting occupation thus to record a series of events the progress of which I watched so earnestly and anxiously; and now, with the whole before me, to observe wherein I judged rightly at the time, and wherein the opinions which I then formed were erroneous. [8]  I do not find that I was mistaken upon any point of importance, except in expecting good from assembling the Cortes. [9]  The subject is a noble one, and remarkably complete. With the second part of the tragedy I have nothing to do, and God knows what the end will be, or who will live to see it. [10] 

Chauncey Townsend wrote to me for your direction, when he published his volume of poems, [11]  meaning, I believe, to send you a copy. You will be pleased with many of them. They breathe a sweet strain of natural feeling. There is a tale in Crabbe’s manner, which is very well told, but the story is of a kind which excites nothing but pain in the perusal. [12] 

You will doubtless form by degrees a clerical library. They are reprinting “Strype’s Lives” at the Clarendon Press. [13]  The writings of this very useful and laborious man contain the fullest account of whatever concerns the Church of England from the commencement of the Reformation to the beginning of James the First’s reign. [14]  We are promised also from the same press a collection of South’s works – a man of incomparable powers of reasoning and strength of mind, and whom I do not like the worse for his honest acrimony against those who had stirred up these kingdoms to rebellion. [15] Reginald Heber is publishing Jeremy Taylor’s works, [16]  the most eloquent of our divines, perhaps of all our writers, – wise, and gentle, and amiable; but as liable to be led astray by the warmth of his fancy, as South was by the heat of his temper, though in a different direction. They are, however, both safe guides, and sound pillars of our Church; for Taylor errs only in accrediting too easily suspicious legends of the early Romish church, and in admitting, what is and must be mere supposition to assume, in his own mind something like the consistency of belief. You know what the late King said of the divines of that age, – “There were giants in those days.” [17]  God bless you,

My dear Neville,

Yours most affectionately,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 258–260. BACK

[1] The Copyright Act (1814) provided that copyright would last for 28 years from the time of publication, or the lifetime of the author, if that was longer. It also confirmed that 11 public and university libraries were entitled to copies of all published works. Southey’s Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham was first published in 1807. BACK

[2] Frances Moriah White (1791–1854) and Catherine Bailey White (1795–1889). Southey’s allocation of the literary property in the Remains misses out the other surviving sibling, the clergyman James White. BACK

[3] As early as 1812 Neville White seems to have proposed a volume of prints of places celebrated in his brother’s poems. This was intended to complement and capitalise on the popularity of Henry Kirke White’s Remains; see Southey to Neville White, 12 April 1812, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2076. BACK

[4] For example, corrected, expanded fourth and fifth editions of the Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham had appeared in 1810 and 1811. BACK

[5] See Southey to Neville White, 20 September 1812, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2147. BACK

[6] Mary White, née Neville (1755–1833). BACK

[7] The Times, 15 June 1821, printed a letter from Paris of 11 June, reporting: ‘The weather here is really dreadful: constant rain, and at the same time as cold as in the month of February’. The weather in England had been as bad, with snow falling in London in late May. BACK

[8] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832), for which he was able to reuse a good deal of the historical material he had produced for the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813). BACK

[9] The Cortes elected in 1810 to rule those parts of Spain not occupied by France. Southey regarded it as impractical and divisive in its actions. BACK

[10] An army revolt in 1820 had led to the restoration of the liberal Constitution of 1812, but Spain was torn by divisions between reactionaries and liberals. BACK

[11] Townshend’s Poems (1821). BACK

[12] Southey has in mind ‘The Weaver’s Boy. A Tale’ from Townshend’s Poems (London, 1821), pp. 58–76. The comparison is with the poet and clergyman George Crabbe (1754–1832; DNB), whose Tales had appeared in 1812 and Tales of the Hall in 1819. Southey probably found ‘nothing but pain’ in ‘The Weaver’s Boy. A Tale’ as it dealt with the death of a child, and he was still grieving for his son, Herbert Southey, who had died in 1816. BACK

[13] The Anglican clergyman and historian John Strype (1643–1737; DNB), whose lives of sixteenth-century divines were important sources for the study of Church history. Southey took his own advice, acquiring the twenty-three-volume Clarendon Press edition of Strype’s Works (1816–1824), no. 2753 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[14] i.e. a period covering the early 1530s to 1603, when James VI (of Scotland) and I (1566–1625; King of Great Britain 1603–1625) succeeded to the English throne. BACK

[15] The Anglican clergyman and theologian Robert South (1634–1716; DNB), whose High Church, mystical view of religion led him to dislike Dissenters intensely; he also blamed them for the civil wars of 1642–1651. The Clarendon Press issued a seven-volume edition of his Sermons Preached Upon Several Occasions in 1823. Southey owned a copy, no. 2574 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[16] The Church of Ireland bishop and religious writer, Jeremy Taylor (c. 1613–1667; DNB). Heber’s fifteen-volume Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D.: Lord Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, with a Life of the Author and a Critical Examination of His Writings was published in 1822. Southey’s copy was no. 2782 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[17] A paraphrase of Genesis 4: 4 attributed to George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB); see Joseph Taylor (1761/2–1844), Relics of Royalty; or Remarks, Anecdotes & Conversations of His late Majesty George the Third (London, 1820), p. 87: ‘His Majesty was accustomed after hearing a sermon, to walk and discourse with the preacher. On such an occasion speaking to a fashionable preacher, he asked him whether he had had read Bishops, Andrews, Sanderson, Sherlock, &c. The pigmy divine replied, “No, please your Majesty, my reading is all modern. The writers, of whom your Majesty speaks, are now obsolete; though I doubt not they might have been very well for those days.” – The King, turning upon his heel, rejoined with pointed emphasis, “There were giants on earth in those days.”’ BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)