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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 2 April 1816

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“Keswick, April 2. 1816.
“My dear Turner,

“You will shortly, I trust, receive my Pilgrimage, the notes and title-page to which would have been at this time in the printer’s hands, if I had not been palsied by the severe illness of my son, who is at this time in such a state that I know not whether there be more cause for fear or for hope. In the disposition of mind which an affliction of this kind induces, there is no person whom I feel so much inclined to converse with as with you.

Ætat. 42. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 155

“I have touched, in the latter part of my poem, upon the general course of human events, and the prospects of society. But perhaps I have not explained myself as fully and as clearly as if I had been writing in prose. The preponderance of good, and the progressiveness of truth and knowledge and general well-being, I clearly perceive; but I have delivered an opinion that this tendency to good is not an over-ruling necessity, and that that which is, is not necessarily the best that might have been, for this, in my judgment, would interfere with that free agency upon which all our virtues, and indeed the great scheme of Revelation itself, are founded.

“Time, my own heart, and, more than all other causes, the sorrows with which it has been visited (in the course of a life that, on the whole, has been happy in a degree vouchsafed to few, even among the happiest), have made me fully sensible, that the highest happiness exists, as the only consolation is to be found, in a deep and habitual feeling of devotion. Long ere this would I have preached what I feel upon this subject, if the door had been open to me; but it is one thing to conform to the Church, preserving that freedom of mind which in religion, more than in all other things, is especially valuable; and another to subscribe solemnly to its articles. Christianity exists nowhere in so pure a form as in our own Church; but even there it is mingled with much alloy, from which I know not how it will be purified. I have an instinctive abhorrence of bigotry. When Dissenters talk of the Establishment, they make me feel like a high Churchman; and when I get among
high Churchmen, I am ready to take shelter in dissent.

“You have thrown a new light upon the York and Lancaster age of our history, by showing the connection of those quarrels with the incipient spirit of Reformation. I wish we had reformed the monastic institutions instead of overthrowing them. Mischievous as they are in Catholic countries, they have got this good about them, that they hold up something besides worldly distinction to the respect and admiration of the people, and fix the standard of virtues higher than we do in Protestant countries. Would that we had an order of Beguines in England! There are few subjects which have been so unfairly discussed as monastic institutions: the Protestant condemns them in the lump, and the Romanist crams his legends down your throat. The truth is, that they began in a natural and good feeling, though somewhat exaggerated,—that they produced the greatest public good in their season, that they were abominably perverted, and that the good which they now do, wherever they exist, is much less than the evil. Yet, if you had seen, as I once did, a Franciscan of fourscore, with a venerable head and beard, standing in the cloister of his convent, where his brothers lay beneath his feet, and telling his beads, with a countenance expressive of the most perfect and peaceful piety, you would have felt with me how desirable it was that there should be such institutions for minds so constituted. The total absence of religion from our poor-houses, alms-houses, and hospitals, is as culpable in one way as the excess of superstition is in
Ætat. 42. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 157
another. I was greatly shocked at a story which I once heard from
Dr. Gooch. A woman of the town was brought to one of the hospitals, having been accidentally poisoned. Almost the last words which she uttered were, that this was a blasted life, and she was glad to have done with it! Who will not wish that she had been kissing the crucifix, and listening in full faith to the most credulous priest! I say this more with reference to her feelings at that moment, and the effect upon others, than as to her own future state, however awful that consideration may be. The mercy of God is infinite; and it were too dreadful to believe that they who have been most miserable here, should be condemned to endless misery hereafter.

“But I will have done with these topics, because I wish to say something respecting your second volume. You have surprised me by the additions you have made to our knowledge of our own early poetry. I had no notion that the Hermit of Hampole was so considerable a personage, nor that there remained such a mass of inedited poetry of that age. The Antiquarian Society would do well to publish the whole, however much it may be. You are aware how much light it would throw upon the history of our language, of our manners, and even of civil transaction;—for all these things I should most gladly peruse the whole mass. St. Francisco Xavier is not the Xavier who wrote the Persian Life of Christ. In p. 3. you mention some novel verses which relate to Portuguese history. If the Scald Halldon’s poem be not too long, may I request you to translate it for me, as a document for my history. Observe, that
this request is purely conditional, as regarding the extent of the poem. If it is more than a half hour’s work, it would be unreasonable to ask for time which you employ so well, and of which you have so little to spare.

“Remember us to Mrs. Turner, Alfred, and your daughter. We are in great anxiety, and with great cause, but there is hope. My wish at such time is akin to Macbeth’s, but in a different spirit—a longing that the next hundred years were over, and that we were in a better world, where happiness is permanent, and there is neither change nor evil.

“God bless you!

Yours very affectionately,
R. Southey.”