991. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 21 November 1804

991. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 21 November 1804 ⁠* 

Old Brathay. Wednesday. 21 Nov. 1804

We return on Sunday – or Monday at latest.

Dear Hutton  [1] 

Your prize question seems oddly worded for in the common acceptation of civilization Hindostan is a highly civilized country. Who proposes the question? & to whom is it proposed? if to men of only your standing, it will be your own fault if you do not win it. – Send me the official language of the question – the more I think of it the less intelligible does it appear. if it means how are the Hindoos to be brought to the standard of European civilization, that is, how are they to be converted, I can furnish you with some valuable facts on such a subject, & shall probably in the necessary course of my reading meet with more. The Hindoos can never advance till the system of Casts be destroyed, & that system can only be destroyed by introducing a new religion – in other words by converting them. You should first describe the system & its consequences, then show that the common opinion of the unconvertability of this people is ill founded, because they have heretofore been converted in great numbers, & lastly enquire what is the best method of attempting it. the more of anecdote you can introduce the better, & I can supply some of exceeding importance which it is not likely any of your competition should have met with.

I do beseech you mend your xx uglyography! As a proof how rascally a hand you xxxx <write> every proper name in the Ballad which you transcribed for the Iris [2]  was misprinted except Coimbra which Wm Taylors geography enabled him to understand. Urraia, Alfonso – Alsinger for Alangner. You use but three characters – one for all those letters that are of the middle size, another for <all> the tall ones, & the third for all that have tails to them. Whenever you print a book you will find this unpardonable carelessness considerably expensive. the printers must compose by guess & you will be obliged to pay for the time spent in correcting their mistakes, perhaps even to doubling the expense <cost>. I believe no man who ever wrote to any good purpose with a bad hand. the trouble of understanding your own MSS. will seriously impede you if ever they should multiply – & moreover NB. Mr H. H. H. H. H. I have weak eyes & it better behoves you to mend them than to make them worse.

Frost spoils potatoes by making them sweet. is there then a formation of sugar? if this have not been investigated it may be worth while to make some experiments, – to see what quantity of sugar can be obtained from equal quantities of the same root in its sound state, & when frost-bitten. the modus operandi might involve some important discovery, & it is not impossible but some useful practical utility might arise from it. perhaps as in malt the sweetness is produced by destroying the life – the germinating power of the root. It should be tried also upon the more saccharine roots.

I write from Lloyds where we have been some days. the parcel arrived – I was made pay 5/– 2 carriage – & know not how to detect the imposition, whether at Penrith or Carlisle. – Kenyon [3]  is gone. Eldridge has written me a letter of thanks, in which he mentions that Colonel & Mrs Peachey had called on him in London. – I sent off one cargo of books before we left home, & wish myself back again that I might kill off another. [4]  your Aubrey [5]  will do well. the sooner you let Ballantyne have the note from the Cambrian Register [6]  the better.

Here I have read Lady Wortleys letters [7]  with exceeding delight – a real & valuable acquisition to English literature. for excellent good sense, & exquisite purity of language they are almost unequalled. here too I have looked thro Richardsons correspondence <papers>. [8]  the letters of Klopstocks wife are very interesting, nor do I ever remember having been more deeply affected than by the termination of that correspondence. [9]  As for the rest of the books it is quite as worthless as Mrs Barebalds prefatory prittle-prattle, in other words as bad as bad can be. I pray you look at what that presbytari presbyterian in petticoats has the modesty to say of Sidneys Arcadia, [10]  in a sentence [MS torn] three thats instead of one which, & asserting a plump lie into the bargain. She calls my Amadis elegant, [11]  – happy epithet! Lloyd takes in the British Critic – a precious Review. its praise is milk & water, & its censure sour small-beer. My Uncle thinks the Annual too severe. I begin to think so too & shall mend upon Wm Taylors model – always excepting Malthus & the Methodists [12]  – if they come in my way.

We left John [13]  well – he would I am sure desire his fraternal remembrances if he knew I were writing to you. – Mr Worgan [14]  & I pun against one another with great glory. Alas what will not the world lose for want of a Boswell! [15]  I think I should outshine Mr Miller if I had but an honest chronicler. [16]  – Why is Sir Cloudesly Shovel like Werter? – because he was felo-de-sea. [17] 

I was accurate about the Galatea. [18]  no official accounts have yet arrived but Bedford saw a long letter at the Admiralty from one who had been in the action. it was very particular, & Toms name never occurred in it. we have therefore reason to hope he may have escaped. but the loss has been very serious.

As soon as you tell me more about this prize question I will write to you upon the subject, give you all my materials to think upon, & direct you to the books which may most instruct you. you have no right to calculate that the best essay will win – but you may be sure the most amusing will. It will lead you to old travels, which are very delightful & very instructive. I am thoroughly acquainted with the subject, not only as my history has led me to it, but also from the quantity which I have read for the sake of Kehama. [19]  God bless you.


* Address: To/ H. H. Southey Esqr/ to be left with Mr Guthrie. Bookseller./ Nicholson Street/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: NOV/ 1804/ 24
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.56. AL; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 284–287. BACK

[1] A joke at the expense of Henry’s illegible handwriting. BACK

[2] Southey’s ‘Queen Urraca and the Five Martyrs of Morocco’ had been published, with a misprint in the Queen’s name, in the newspaper that William Taylor edited, The Iris, on 3 November. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt (London, 2004), V, pp. 406–413. BACK

[3] John Kenyon (1784–1856), friend of Coleridge and benefactor of Robert Browning (1812–1889; DNB) and Elizabeth Barratt Browning (1806–1861; DNB), who in 1838 went on a tour of France with Southey. In 1826 Southey solicited votes on behalf of Kenyon to enable him to be elected to the Athenaeum Club. BACK

[4] That is, finish his reviewing for the Annual Review. BACK

[5] Southey and his brother Harry were reviewing Robert Charles Dallas (1754–1824), Aubrey: a Novel (1804) for the Annual Review. However the review of this work (which appeared in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 551–553) was not by Southey, according to letter 1093 of this edition, which states his article was suppressed. BACK

[6] There is a note in Madoc, Part 1, book 1, line 31, which is derived from the Cambrian Register. See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 574. BACK

[7] The letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762; DNB) were published by James Dallaway (1763–1834; DNB), in The Works of the Right Hon. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ... Published, by Permission, from her Genuine Papers, 5 vols (1803). BACK

[8] The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1804). BACK

[9] Margaretha (Meta) Moller (1727–1758) married the German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803) in 1754; her correspondence with Richardson ended with her untimely death aged thirty-one. Her last letter is full of hopes concerning her as-yet unborn first child; it ends with her determination not only to mother but also to nurse it herself. BACK

[10] Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586; DNB), The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590). Barbauld said of this work, ‘it is a book that all have heard of, that some few possess, but that nobody reads’ in The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, 6 vols (London, 1804), I, p. xviii. BACK

[11] Barbauld terms Southey’s Amadis of Gaul (1803) ‘an elegant abridged version’, in The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, I, p. xii. BACK

[12] Southey’s review of Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) appeared in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301; his review of William Myles (1756–1828), A Chronological History of the People called Methodists ... With an Appendix, Containing Two Lists of the Itinerant Preachers ... With the Last Will and Testament of the Rev. J. Wesley (1803) appeared in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 201–213. BACK

[13] Probably a joky reference to the ass, named John, which Southey had bought and kept at Greta Hall. BACK

[14] Richard Worgan (1759–after 1812): almoner, musician, resident of a cottage at Storr’s Hall, Windermere, who composed A Set of Sonnets (1810), and hymns, one of which, ‘Windermere’, was included in George Worgan’s (b. 1802) collection Gems of Sacred Melody (1841). BACK

[15] James Boswell (1778–1822; DNB), friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK

[16] Joseph Miller (1684–1738), was a popular comic actor on the London stage from 1709 until his death. In 1739 Joe Miller’s Jestbook was published, a joke-book compiled by the hack writer John Mottley (1692–1750). Many further editions appeared, and ‘a Joe Miller’ became shorthand for a bad joke. BACK

[17] The eponymous hero of the novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers) (1774/1787) who killed himself; Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Cloudesley Shovell (1650–1707; DNB), was full of the sea because he drowned in a notorious naval disaster off the Scilly Isles. BACK

[18] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, was a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, which on 14 August 1804, had made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission, 65 were killed or wounded, and Southey suspected that Tom was among the dead. BACK

[19] For Southey’s voluminous reading as he wrote The Curse of Kehama (1810), see the notes to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), IV. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)