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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John May, 26 June 1797

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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Burton, June 26. 1797

“. . . . . Neither the best friends or the bitterest enemies of Chapelain could have felt more curiosity than I do
to see his poem: good it cannot be, for though the habit of writing satire, as, indeed, the indulgence of any kind of wit, insensibly influences the moral character, and disposes it to sacrifice anything to a good point; yet
Boileau must have had some reason for the extreme contempt in which he held this unfortunate production. I am inclined to think it better, however, than it has always been represented. Chapelain stood high in poetical reputation when he published this, the work on which he meant to build his fame. He is said to have written good odes; certainly, then, his epic labours cannot be wholly void of merit; and for its characteristic fault, extreme harshness, it is very probable that a man of genius writing in so unmanly a language should become harsh by attempting to be strong. The French never can have a good epic poem till they have republicanised their language. It appears to me a thing impossible in their metre; and for the prose of Fenelon, Florian, and Betaube, I find it peculiarly unpleasant. I have sometimes read the works of Florian aloud: his stories are very interesting and well conducted; but in reading them I have felt obliged to simplify as I read, and omit most of the similes and apostrophes; they disgusted me, and I felt ashamed to pronounce them. Ossian is the only book bearable in this style; there is a melancholy obscurity in the history of Ossian, and of almost all his heroes, that must please. Ninety-nine readers in a hundred cannot understand Ossian, and therefore they like the book. I read it always with renewed pleasure.

“Have you read Madame Roland’s Appel a l’im-
Ætat. 23. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 317
partiale Posterite? It is one of those books that make me love individuals, and yet dread, detest, and despise mankind in a mass. There was a time when I believed in the persuadibility of man, and had the mania of man-mending. Experience has taught me better. After a certain age the organs of voice cannot accommodate themselves to the utterance of a foreign pronunciation; so it is with the mind, it grows stiff and unyielding, like our sinews, as we grow older. The ablest physician can do little in the great lazar house of society; it is a pest-house that infects all within its atmosphere. He acts the wisest part who retires from the contagion; nor is that part either a selfish or a cowardly one; it is ascending the ark, like Noah, to preserve a remnant which may become the whole. As to what is the cause, of the incalculable wretchedness of society, and what is the panacea, I have long felt certified in my own mind. The rich are strangely ignorant of the miseries to which the lower and largest part of mankind are abandoned. . . . . The savage and civilised states are alike unnatural, alike unworthy of the origin and end of man. Hence the prevalence of scepticism and atheism, which, from being the effect, becomes the cause of vice. . . . .

“I have lived much among the friends of Priestley, and learnt from them many peculiar opinions of that man, who speaks all he thinks. No man has studied Christianity more, or believes it more sincerely; he thinks it not improbable that another revelation may be granted us, for the obstinacy and wickedness of mankind call for no less a remedy. The necessity of another revelation I do not see myself. What we
have, read with the right use of our own reasoning faculties, appears to me sufficient; but in a Millenarian this opinion is not ridiculous, and the many yet unfulfilled prophecies give it an appearance of probability. . . . .

“The slave trade has much disheartened me. That their traffic is supported by the consumption of sugar is demonstrable: I have demonstrated it to above fifty persons with temporary success; and not three of those persons have persevered in rejecting it. This is perfectly astonishing to me; and what can be expected from those, who will not remedy so horrible an iniquity, by so easy an exertion? The future presents a dreary prospect; but all will end in good, and I can contemplate it calmly without suffering it to cloud the present. I may not live to do good to mankind personally; but I will at least leave something behind me to strengthen those feelings and excite those reflections in others, from whence virtue must spring. In writing poetry with this end, I hope I am not uselessly employing my leisure hours. God bless you. . . . .

Affectionately yours,
Robert Southey.”