1481. Robert Southey to [Miss Lawrence], 16 July 1808

1481. Robert Southey to [Miss Lawrence], 16 July 1808 ⁠* 


July 16. 1808

I am afraid, Miss Laurence, you will have set me down in your mind for one of those persons who forget promises as readily as they make them: – but the truth is that I have been waiting till some stray Franker [1]  should come to net among our summer shoals. – & this is the first who has made his appearance.

The verses are good for little. They were thrown off immediately after reading the newspaper account. & my hand whole frame was indeed shaking when I began to write. I sent them to the Morning Post where they did not find admittance: they were afterwards inserted in the Norwich Iris, [2]  where William Taylor had before expressed the same opinion upon the subject.

I had the pleasure of an hours talk with Mr Shepherd [3]  on Friday last. his party were in great haste, & there was no persuading them to prolong their stay & pass an evening with us.

Derwent has a letter upon the stocks for you, I learn, upon making enquiry if Mrs Coleridge had any thing to say. [4]  Have the goodness to remember me to my Liverpool friends. & believe me

yours with respect

Robert Southey.

Lines written immediately after reading the account of Robert Emmets trial.  [5] 


‘Let no man write my epitaph, .. let my grave
‘Go uninscribed, my memory be at rest,
‘Till other times come on, & other men, ..
‘They who will do me justice!’ ... Emmet no!
No withering curse hath dried my spirit up
That I should now be silent, .. that my soul
Should from the stirring inspiration shrink
Now when it shakes her. & withold her voice, ..
Of that divinest impulse never more
Worthy, if impious I witheld it now,
Hardening my heart. Here, here, in this free Isle,
To which in thy young virtues erring Zeal
Thou wert so perilous an enemy,
Here in free England shall an English hand
Build thy imperishable monument,
O, to thine own misfortune & to ours
By thine own deadly error so beguild! ..
Here in free England shall an English voice
Raise up thy mourning song; .. for thou hast paid
The bitter penalty of that misdeed.
Justice hath done her unrelenting part,
If she in truth be Justice who drives on,
Bloody & blind, the chariot-wheels of Death.
So young, so glowing for the general good,
Oh what a lovely manhood had been thine,
When all the violent workings of thy youth
Had past away, .. hadst thou been wisely spar’d, ...
Left to the slow & certain influencies
Of silent feeling & maturing thought!
How had that heart, that noble heart of thine,
Which even now had snapt one spell, which beat
With such brave indignation at the shame
And guilt of France & of her miscreant Lord,
How had it clung to Britain! with what love,
What pure & perfect love return’d to her,
Now worthy of thy love, the Champion now,
For Freedom, yea the only Champion now,
And doom’d to be the Avenger! .. But the blow
Hath fallen, & the devouring grave closed in
Youth, genius, valour, virtue. – Oh shame, shame!
Deaf to the past & to the future blind
Ye Rulers of the World, .. have ye to learn
Ye who so sternly claim the forfeit life.
How lightly life is staked? have ye to learn
With what a deep & spirit-stirring voice
Pity doth call Revenge? have ye no hearts
To feel & understand how Mercy tames
The rebel nature, maddened by old wrongs,
And binds it in the gentle bands of love.
When steel & adamant were weak to hold
That Samson-strength subsued!
‘Let no man write
‘My epitaph!’ .. Emmet nay! thou shalt not go
Without thy hymn of death! O young & brave,
And wise, tho erring here, .. thou shalt not go
Unhonour’d, nor unsung! And better thus
Beneath that undiscriminating stroke
Better to fall, than to have lived to mourn, ..
As sure thou wouldst have mourn’d in agony,
Thine own disastrous triumph! .. to have seen, ..
If the Almighty at that aweful hour
Had turn’d away his face, .. wild Ignorance
Let loose, & frantic Vengeance, & dark <blind> Zeal,
And all bad Passions tyrannous, & the fires
Of Persecution once again ablaze!
How had it sunk into thy soul to see,
Last curse of all, the ruffian slaves of France,
In thy dear native country lording it!
Far happier, thus in that heroic mood
Which takes away the sting of Death, to die,
By all the good & all the wise forgiven;
Yea in all ages by the wise & good
To be remembered, mourn’d & honour’d still.


* MS: Brotherton Library, Leeds University. ALS; 6p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] That is, someone who could frank the letter for him. BACK

[2] They were published as ‘A Lamentation’ in The Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser, 12 November 1803. BACK

[3] The Rev. Dr William Shepherd (1768–1847; DNB), pastor at the English Presbyterian Chapel, Gateacre, Liverpool; he also ran a boarding school with his wife Frances (d. 1829). BACK

[4] Derwent’s earliest extant letter is of 15 January 1811 to Lawrence. BACK

[5] The verses are written on separate sheet, enclosed in the letter. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)