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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Henry Taylor, 31 December 1825

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, Dec. 31. 1825.
“My dear H. T.,

“I have pursued so little method in my own studies at any time of my life that I am in truth
very little qualified to direct others. Having been from youth, and even childhood, an omnivorous reader, I found myself when I commenced man with a larger stock of general information than young men usually possess, and the desultory reading in which I have always indulged (making it indeed my whole and sole recreation), has proved of the greatest use when I have been pursuing a particular subject through all its ramifications.

“With regard to metaphysics I know nothing, and therefore can say nothing. Coleridge I am sure knows all that can be known concerning them; and if your friend can get at the kernel of his ‘Friend’ and his ‘Aids to Reflection,’ he may crack peach-stones without any fear of breaking his teeth. For logic—that may be considered indispensable, but how far that natural logic which belongs to good sense is assisted or impeded by the technicalities of the schools, others are better able to determine than I am, for I learnt very little, and nothing which I ever learnt stuck by me unless I liked it.

“The rules for composition appear to me very simple; inasmuch as any style is peculiar, the peculiarity is a fault, and the proof of this is the easiness with which it is imitated, or, in other words, caught. You forgive it in the original for its originality, and because originality is usually connected with power. Sallust and Tacitus are examples among the Latins, Sir T. Brown, Gibbon, and Johnson among our own authors; but look at the imitations of Gibbon and Johnson! My advice to a young writer is, that he should weigh well what he says, and not be anxious
Ætat. 51. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 241
concerning how he says it: that his first object should be to express his meaning as perspicuously, his second as briefly as he can, and in this everything is included.

“One of our exercises at Westminster was to abridge the book which we were reading. I believe that this was singularly useful to me. The difficulties in narration are to select and to arrange. The first must depend upon your judgment. For the second, my way is, when the matter does not dispose itself to my liking, and I cannot readily see how to connect one part with another naturally, or make an easy transition, to lay it aside. What I should bungle at now may be hit off to-morrow; so when I come to a stop in one work I lay it down and take up another.

“For a statesman the first thing requisite is to be well-read in history. Our politicians are continually striking upon rocks and shallows, which are all laid down in the chart. As this is the most important and most interesting branch of knowledge, so also is it one to which there is no end. The more you read the more you desire to read, and the more you find there is to be read. And yet I would say this to encourage the student, not to dismay him, for there is no pleasure like this perpetual acquisition and perpetual pursuit. For an Englishman there is no single historical work with which it can be so necessary for him to be well and thoroughly acquainted as with Clarendon. I feel at this time perfectly assured that if that book had been put into my hands in youth it would have preserved me from all the political errors which I have outgrown. It may be
taken for granted that —— knows this book well. The more he reads concerning the history of those times the more highly he will appreciate the wisdom and the integrity of Clarendon. For general histories of England,
Hume’s is not ranked higher than it deserves for its manner, and the perpetual presence of a clear intellect. Henry may be classed with Rapin as laborious and heavy. I have never had an opportunity of reading Carte, in whom I believe there is much good matter. For matter and research Turner’s is very much the best, as far as it goes. But were your friend, as an exercise in composition, to undertake the history of a single reign, it would surprise him to find into how wide a field of reading he would be led, and how much he would discover that has been overlooked.

“The advice I would give any one who is disposed really to read for the sake of knowledge, is, that he should have two or three books in course of reading at the same time. He will read a great deal more in that time and with much greater profit. All travels are worth reading, as subsidiary to reading, and in fact essential parts of it: old or new, it matters not—something is to be learnt from all. And the custom of making brief notes of reference to everything of interest or importance would be exceeding useful.

“Enough of this. Do you know who wrote that paper in Blackwood which you sent me? for I should like to know. Whoever the author be, I very much agree with him. But when you say that conciliation and comprehension should be the policy of the Church, I agree only as to the latter. Compre-
Ætat. 51. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 243
hension is the principle upon which the Articles were framed, but for conciliating enemies, Heaven bless those who attempt it! There are two things which may endanger the Church. The Catholic Question is one, scandalous promotions are the other. Its safety just now consists in public opinion acting upon the Government in both cases, and in some degree controlling it. The bigotry which is in the Church is hurtful enough, but not so hurtful as the promotion of unworthy men who take the bigoted party just as they would take the strongest side in case of danger. . . . .

“A humorous French criticism upon the Tale of Paraguay has found its way into the Westmoreland Gazette, that I have shown off my professional knowledge too much in dwelling upon vaccination and the cow-pox. This I get by my doctorship.

“God bless you!

R. S.”