1634. Robert Southey to John May, 23 May 1809

1634. Robert Southey to John May, 23 May 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick, May 23. 1809.

My dear Friend,

My last letter told you of the birth of a daughter. [1]  I have now to tell you of the death of one. We have lost Emma; it pleased God to take her after a very short but severe bilious attack. Not half an hour before she expired we were assured there was no danger. Indeed, since I last wrote to you we have had much sickness. Edith was, during one part of her confinement, alarmingly ill, and Herbert has not yet thoroughly recovered his strength after the violent remedies which saved him about three weeks ago, when he was attacked by the croup. The little girl was buried this morning. She was, as our nurse says, ‘as sweet a child as ever woman bore,’ – just sixteen months; and it is not a week ago since I repeatedly remarked in what high health she seemed, and how rapidly she was improving. These losses are but for a time, and this, severe as it is, is far less so than the former. I have now broken ground in the churchyard here, and thus acquired a new tie to the place. Edith is as composed as she should be. It is fortunate for her that she has an infant to take up much of her thoughts.

You asked me about a new Review, which I suppose means the Quarterly, and about which I fancied I had written to you. It was set on foot by Walter Scott, to counteract the politics of the Edinburgh, especially with regard to the subjects of peace with France, and of the Spanish patriots. I was applied to by the editor, who is the ‘Baviad’ Gifford. My answer contained a sort of political confession of faith, stating that so far as such opinions would be tolerated by it I was ready to bear a part. Accordingly, the first number contains a defence of the Baptist Missionaries in India against Scott Waring, &c., and the Edinburgh Review. [2]  It has been a good deal mutilated by the editor, and therefore materially weakened; still it has produced considerable effect, and made the Edinburgh Review very angry. Under cover of a methodistical book written by a certain John Styles, they reply to it in their last number; [3]  and their whole reply consists in calling one part brutal, and another contemptible. Sidney Smith is my antagonist. It is not to be wondered at if I have the better of him; for I plead for what I believe, and he is obliged to affect a belief in what he is in fact attacking. I am afraid, however, that this Review is too much under the immediate influence of the Ministry. One of the publishers was here last week. [4]  He expressed a hope that ‘they would let the Duke of York alone,’ which implied a fear that it was intended to defend him; [5]  and he said also, that George Ellis (who wrote that wretched article about Spain which begins the first number [6] ) “and some other of its privy council, talked of ‘unmuzzling Gifford,’ that is, of letting him set up the old cry of Jacobinism against all who wish for reform. You will, I trust, have anticipated my reply to this – that in either case I must withdraw from the work; and this, I suppose, will be the case. My communications are now franked through the Secretary of State’s office, and this is a bad symptom. [7]  The article upon the Lives of the Painters is by Hoppner; [8]  that upon Sanskreet Grammar by Sharon Turner; [9]  that upon Medals by Barry Roberts, [10]  a man whom I remember at school, and who is cousin to my old friend Bedford. Scott has furnished many of the rest. [11]  On the whole, there is not much to be said for the first numbers; some articles are positively bad in every point of view, especially Ellis’s, which ought to have been the best, and which I declined writing myself, merely because I thought they would get somebody to throw a sort of official importance over the pamphlet which would produce more immediate effect upon the public than my under views of the subject; – in fact, they wanted party politics, and I could only have given them principles. To have defended what has been done would have been degrading myself; and to have shown how a nation may become invincible, and must become so, if there be a general spirit of patriotism, would have been to the Ministry foolishness, or worse than foolishness.

I am, however, likely to have ample opportunities for saying this, and whatever else of importance I wish to say. A plan has been suggested of publishing a Review which should not touch upon contemporary books, but choose its subjects from the whole mass of antecedent literature. It originated in a hint of mine to Walter Scott. [12]  The booksellers have taken it up, and are in treaty with me concerning it. [13] 

My History has reached p. 336. [14]  My poem of Kehama [15]  would have been finished this week had not my hand been palsied by this unexpected stroke. I will crowd in here some lines from that poem (written many months ago), which are applicable to my present state of mind. Whether they will stand in the poem or not is very doubtful: —

They sin who tell us Love can die.
With life all other passions fly:
All others are but vanity.
In Heaven Ambition cannot dwell,
Nor Avarice in the vaults of Hell
Earthly, these passions of low earth,
They perish where they have their birth;
But Love is indestructible.
Its holy flame for ever burneth:
From Heaven it came, to Heaven returneth.
Too oft on earth a troubled guest,
At times deceived, at times opprest;
It here is tried and purified,
And hath in Heaven its perfect rest.
It soweth here with toil and care,
But the harvest time of Love is there.
Oh! when a mother meets on high
The babe she lost in infancy,
Hath she not then for all her fears,
The day of woe, the watchful night,
For all her sorrows, all her tears,
An overpayment of delight? [16] 

God bless you. Remember us to Mrs. May, and believe me

Very affectionately yours,

Robert Southey.


* 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), II, pp. 143–147. BACK

[1] For this, see Southey to John May, 27 March 1809, Letter 1606. BACK

[2] When Sydney Smith (1771–1845; DNB), one of the founders of and leading contributors to the Edinburgh Review reviewed the activities of British missionaries in India negatively, Southey opposed his views in the Quarterly Review. Smith’s review of ‘Ingram on Methodism’ appeared in the Edinburgh Review, 11 (January 1808), 341–362, and he reviewed ‘Indian Missions’ in the next issue 12 (April 1808), 151–181. In the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226, Southey reviewed the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807). BACK

[3] Smith reviewed ‘Styles on Methodists and Missions’, in the Edinburgh, 14 (April 1809), 40–50, responding to Southey’s review in the Quarterly. The subject was John Styles (1782–1849), who had authored Strictures on Two Critiques in the Edinburgh Review on the Subject of Methodism and Missions: with Remarks on the Influence of Reviews in General on Morals and Happiness, in Three Letters to a Friend (1808). BACK

[4] See Southey to John Rickman, 16 May [1809], Letter 1629. BACK

[5] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. In May 1811 the Prince Regent reinstated his brother as Commander-in-Chief of the army, a post which he held for the rest of his life. BACK

[6] George Ellis [with George Canning] reviewed Exposé des Manoeuvres et des Intrigues qui ont Préparé l’Usurpation de la Couronne d’Espagne, et des Moyens Employés par l’Empereur des Francais pour la Mettre á Exécution…; Traduit de l’Espagnol par M. Peltier [alternative title Affaires d’Espagne] (1808) and Pedro Cevallos Guerra (1760–1840), Conféderation des Royaumes et Provinces d’Espagne contre Buonaparte ([1810]) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 1–19. BACK

[7] Because of Southey’s fears that government influence would be put on the Quarterly Review. BACK

[8] John Hoppner (1758–1810; DNB) reviewed Anecdotes of Painters Who Have Resided or Been Born in England: With Critical Remarks on their Productions, by Edward Edwards, Deceased, Late Teacher of Perspective, and Associate, in the Royal Academy; Intended as a Continuation to the Anecdotes of painting by the late Horace Earl of Orford (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 36–49. BACK

[9] Sharon Turner [with John Shore, 1st Baron Teignmouth (1751–1834; DNB)] reviewed Charles Wilkins (bap. 1749–1836; DNB), A Grammar of the Sanskrîta Language (1808); William Carey (1761–1834; DNB), A Grammar of the Sungskrit Language, Composed from the Works of the Most Esteemed Grammarians; to Which are Added Examples for the Exercise of the Student, and a Complete List of the Dhatoos or Roots (1804); and Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765–1837), Grammar of the Sanskrit Language (1805) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 53–69. BACK

[10] Barré Charles Roberts (Bedford’s cousin) reviewed John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), An Essay on Medals; or an Introduction to the Knowledge of Ancient and Modern Coins and Medals, especially those of Greece, Rome, and Britain (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 112–131. BACK

[11] Scott reviewed in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809): Robert Hartley Cromek (1770–1812; DNB), Reliques of Robert Burns, Consisting Chiefly of Original Letters, Poems, and Critical Observations on Scottish Songs (1808), 19–36; John Barrett (1753/4–1821), An Essay on the Earlier Part of the Life of Swift, by the Rev. John Barrett, D. D. and Vice Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. To which are Subjoined Various Pieces Ascribed to Swift, Two of his Original Letters, and Extracts from his Remarks on Bishop Burnett’s History (1808), 162–177. Scott [and William Gifford] reviewed Sir John Carr (1772–1832; DNB), Caledonian Sketches, or a Tour through Scotland in 1807 (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 178–193. Scott also had a hand in William Erskine’s (Lord Kinneder; bap. 1768–1822; DNB), review of John Philpot Curran (1750–1817), Speeches of the Right Honourable John Philpot Curran, Master of the Rolls in Ireland, on the late very Interesting State Trials (1808), 96–107. BACK

[12] For which, see Southey to Walter Scott, 11 March 1809, Letter 1597. BACK

[13] Southey had been approached by James Ballantyne concerning the possibility of his editing a new review, to be called the Rhadamanthus; see Southey to John Rickman, 16 May [1809], (Letter 1629), and Southey to Thomas Southey, [16 May 1809] (Letter 1630). In Greek mythology Rhadamanthus was a wise king who was one of the judges of the dead. Southey’s plans for this periodical were never fulfilled. BACK

[14] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[15] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[16] From Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (London, 1810), Book 10, lines 150–171. The lines were published as ‘Love’ in English Minstrelsy: Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors (Edinburgh, 2010), II, pp. 236–237, and The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), xxxi. BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 3 times)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 3 times)
Ellis, George (1753–1815) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Ballantyne, James (1772–1833) (mentioned 1 time)
Canning, George (1770–1827) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Bertha (1809–1877) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Emma (1808–1809) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)