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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Lord Brougham, 1 February 1831

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, Feb. 1. 1831.
“My Lord,

“The letter which your lordship did me the honour of addressing to me at this place, found me at Crediton, in the middle of last month, on a circuitous course homeward. It was not likely that deliberation would lead me to alter the notions which I have long entertained upon the subject that has, in this most unexpected manner, been brought before me; but I should have deemed it disrespectful to have answered such a communication without allowing some days to intervene. The distance between Devonshire and Cumberland, a visit upon the way to my native city which I had not seen for twenty
Ætat. 57. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 133
years, and the engagements arising upon my return home after an absence of unusual lengthy will explain, and I trust excuse, the subsequent delay.

“Your first question is, whether Letters would gain by the more avowed and active encouragement of the Government?

“There are literary works of national importance which can only be performed by co-operative labour, and will never be undertaken by that spirit of trade which at present preponderates in literature. The formation of an English Etymological Dictionary is one of those works; others might be mentioned; and in this way literature might gain much by receiving national encouragement; but Government would gain a great deal more by bestowing it. Revolutionary governments understand this; I should be glad if I could believe that our legitimate one would learn it before it is too late. I am addressing one who is a statesman as well as a man of letters, and who is well aware that the time is come in which governments can no more stand without pens to support them than without bayonets. They must soon know, if they do not already know it, that the volunteers as well as the mercenaries of both professions, who are not already enlisted in this service, will enlist themselves against it; and I am afraid they have a better hold upon the soldier than upon the penman; because the former has, in the spirit of his profession and in the sense of military honour, something which not unfrequently supplies the want of any higher principle; and I know not that any substitute is to be found among the gentlemen of the press.


“But neediness, my Lord, makes men dangerous members of society, quite as often as affluence makes them worthless ones. I am of opinion that many persons who become bad subjects because they are necessitous, because ‘the world is not their friend, nor the world’s law,’ might be kept virtuous (or, at least, withheld from mischief) by being made happy, by early encouragement, by holding out to them a reasonable hope of obtaining, in good time, an honourable station and a competent income, as the reward of literary pursuits, when followed with ability and diligence, and recommended by good conduct.

“My Lord, you are now on the Conservative side. Minor differences of opinion are infinitely insignificant at this time, when in truth there are but two parties in this kingdom—the Revolutionists and the Loyalists; those who would destroy the constitution and those who would defend it. I can have no predilections for the present administration; they have raised the devil, who is now raging through the land: but, in their present position, it is their business to lay him if they can; and so far as their measures may be directed to that end, I heartily say, God speed them! If schemes like yours, for the encouragement of letters, have never entered into their wishes, there can be no place for them at present in their intentions. Government can have no leisure now for attending to any thing but its own and our preservation; and the time seems not far distant when the cares of war and expenditure will come upon it once more with their all-engrossing importance. But when better times shall arrive (whoever may live to see them), it will be worthy the consideration of any
Ætat. 57. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 135
government whether the institution of an Academy, with salaries for its members (in the nature of literary or lay benefices), might not be the means of retaining in its interests, as connected with their own, a certain number of influential men of letters, who should hold those benefices, and a much greater number of aspirants who would look to them in their turn. A yearly grant of 10,000l. would endow ten such appointments of 500l. each for the elder class, and twenty-five of 200l. each for younger men; these latter eligible of course, and preferably, but not necessarily, to be elected to the higher benefices, as those fell vacant, and as they should have approved themselves.

“The good proposed by this, as a political measure, is not that of retaining such persons to act as pamphleteers and journalists, but that of preventing them from becoming such, in hostility to the established order of things; and of giving men of letters, as a class, something to look for beyond the precarious gains of literature; thereby inducing in them a desire to support the existing institutions of their country, on the stability of which their own welfare would depend.

“Your Lordship’s second question,—in what way the encouragement of Government could most safely and beneficially be given,—is, in the main, answered by what has been said upon the first. I do not enter into any details of the proposed institution, for that would be to think of fitting up a castle in the air. Nor is it worth while to examine how far such an institution might be perverted. Abuses there would
be, as in the disposal of all preferments, civil, military, or ecclesiastical; but there would be a more obvious check upon them; and where they occurred they would be less injurious in their consequences than they are in the state, the army, and navy, or the church.

“With regard to prizes, methinks they are better left to schools and colleges. Honours are worth something to scientific men, because they are conferred upon such men in other countries; at home there are precedents for them in Newton and Davy, and the physicians and surgeons have them. In my judgment, men of letters are better without them, unless they are rich enough to bequeath to their family a good estate with the bloody hand, and sufficiently men of the world to think such distinctions appropriate. For myself, if we had a Guelphic order, I should choose to remain a Ghibelline.

“I have written thus fully and frankly, not dreaming that your proposal is likely to be matured and carried into effect, but in the spirit of good will, and as addressing one by whom there is no danger that I can be misunderstood. One thing alone I ask from the legislature, and in the name of justice,—that the injurious law of copyright should be repealed, and that the family of an author should not be deprived of their just and natural rights in his works when his permanent reputation is established. This I ask with the earnestness of a man who is conscious that he has laboured for posterity.

I remain, my Lord,
Yours, with due respect,
Robert Southey.”