3760. Robert Southey to Neville White, 11 December 1821

3760. Robert Southey to Neville White, 11 December 1821⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 11. 1821.

My dear Neville,

When the Life is reprinted, I can modify the passage which expresses an essential difference of opinion upon religious subjects with Henry. [1]  That difference is certainly not now what it was then, but it is still a wide one; though, had Henry lived till this time, I believe there would scarcely have been a shade of difference between us. I am perfectly sure that, with a heart and intellect like his, he would have outgrown all tendency towards Calvinism, and have approached nearer in opinion to Jeremy Taylor than to the Synod of Dort. [2] 

You wrong the Government with regard to Ireland. They neither now have, nor ever have had, a wish to keep the savages in that country in their state of ignorance and barbarity; and it would surprise you to know what funds have been established for their education. [3]  I know Dr. Bell was surprised at finding how large the endowments were, and felt that on that score it was not means that were wanting, but the just direction of them. How to set about enlightening such a people as the wild Irish is one of the most difficult duties any government was ever called upon to perform, obstructed as it is by such a body of priests, who can effectually prevent any better instruction than they themselves bestow. I want more information concerning certain parts of Irish history than I possess at present; but in one or more of the works which I have in hand I shall trace the evils of Ireland to their source. [4]  Meantime, this I may safely assert, as a general deduction from all that I have learnt in the course of history, that the more we know of preceding and coexisting circumstances and difficulties, the more excuse we shall find for those men and measures which, with little knowledge of those circumstances, we should condemn absolutely. This feeling leads not to any thing like indifference concerning right and wrong, nor to any lukewarmness or indecision in opinion; but certainly to a more indulgent and charitable tone of mind than commonly prevails.

God bless you, my dear Neville!

And believe me 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. 103–105. BACK

[1] The ‘Life’ included in Southey’s Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, 2 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. [1]–58. The passage in question was: ‘Of this fervent piety, his letters, his prayers, and his hymns, will afford ample and interesting proofs. I must be permitted to say, that my own views of the religion of Christ Jesus differ essentially from the system of belief which he had adopted; but, having said this, it is, indeed, my anxious wish to do full justice to piety so fervent. It was in him a living and quickening principle of goodness, which sanctified all his hopes, and all his affections; which made him keep watch over his own heart, and enabled him to correct the few symptoms, which it ever displayed, of human imperfection’ (I, p. 57). Southey did not modify this passage. BACK

[2] The Church of Ireland bishop and religious writer, Jeremy Taylor (c. 1613–1667; DNB), was a great favourite of Southey’s. His writings contained many criticisms of the theology of Jean Calvin (1509–1564), especially the idea that God had ordained the salvation or damnation of all souls before the beginning of the world. The Synod of Dort (1618–1619) had produced a definitive statement of Calvin’s theology. BACK

[3] There were a great many organisations providing Protestant education in Ireland at this time, but they did not reach many pupils. Church of Ireland parochial schools educated only 36,498 children in 1823, with diocesan schools catering for a further 419 by 1831 and royal grammar schools in Ulster only 343 in that year. The Incorporated Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland (‘charter schools’) educated less than 2,000 children by the mid-1820s. The most successful body was the Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland (the ‘Kildare Place Society’), which offered non-denominational education and reached 26,474 pupils in 1820. This Society had a government grant from 1815 onwards; but the Irish Catholic bishops were becoming increasingly hostile to its activities. BACK

[4] See, for example, Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829), I, pp. 262–302. BACK

People mentioned

White, Henry Kirke (1785–1806) (mentioned 2 times)
Bell, Andrew (1753–1832) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)