3751. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 29 November 1821

3751. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 29 November 1821⁠* 

Keswick, Nov. 29. 1821.

My dear Neville,

... ... What you relate of William Taylor is quite characteristic of the manner in which he abuses his own powers, playing the mere sophist, and disregarding the opinions and feelings of others; careless how he offends and hurts them, though as incapable as man can be of giving intentional pain, or doing intentional wrong. He was not serious, for he knows very well that to call for proof of a negative is an absurdity, and that reason and discourse of reason are very different things. If he misleads some, his example operates as a warning upon others. They see how he has squandered his abilities, and that the hereditary blindness [1]  which he has some cause to apprehend, and of which he lives in fear, is not the darkest evil in his prospect. There is no rest but in religious faith, and none know this more feelingly than they who are without it.

It would not surprise me if an expert Roman Catholic priest (were he to come in his way) should ensnare him in a spider’s web of sophistry, more skilfully constructed than his own, and of a stronger thread. The pleasure of defending transubstantiation would go a long way towards making him believe in it.

What a state is Ireland in at this time! [2]  The horrors of the Irish massacres [3]  may be credited in their whole extent, because we see that the same temper is exhibited at this time, and the same atrocities perpetrated in retail, opportunity being all that is wanted for committing them upon the great scale. The state of things in that country is a reproach to human nature, and our Government has much to answer for. They must know that such a people ought to be kept under military law till they are fit for anything better; that they stand in need of Roman civilisation, and that no weaker remedy can possibly suffice. Cromwell’s government, [4]  if it had lasted twenty years longer, would have civilised that island. His tyranny was as useful there and in Scotland as it was injurious in England, because they were barbarous countries, and he introduced order and despotic justice into both. But in England we had order and justice before his time. The rebellion [5]  dislocated both, and it was not possible for him to repair the evil in which he had been so great an agent. ...

God bless you, my dear Neville!

Yours affectionately,



* 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. 100–101 [in part]. BACK

[1] Sarah Taylor, née Wright (d. 1811), William Taylor’s mother, had been blind in later life. BACK

[2] Severe disturbances in the west of rural Ireland had begun in October 1821 and continued for the next two years. The Cabinet called on troops from England and the Empire to try and enforce order, with little immediate success. BACK

[3] The massacre of Protestant settlers in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Estimates of the numbers killed varied wildly, from 4,000 to 200,000, depending on the point of view of the person making the estimate. BACK

[4] Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; Lord Protector 1653–1658; DNB). He had conquered Ireland in 1649–1650 and Scotland in 1650–1651. BACK

[5] The civil wars of 1642–1651. BACK

People mentioned

Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)