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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to John May, 18 February 1800

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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“Feb. 18. 1800.
“My dear Friend,

“Your last letter entered into an interesting subject. A young man entering into the world is exposed to hourly danger—and what more important than to discover the best preservative? To have a friend dear enough, and respectable enough, to hold the place of a confessor, would assuredly be the best; and if the office of confessor could always be well filled, I would give up half the Reformation to restore it. In my moments of reverie I have sometimes imagined myself such a character—the obscure instrument in promoting virtue and happiness, but it is obvious that more evil than good results from the power being, like other power, often in improper hands. I have wandered from the subject. It is not likely I shall ever gain the confidence of my brothers to the desired extent: whatever affection they may feel for me, a sort of fear is mixed with it; I am more the object of their esteem than love: there has been no equality between us; we have been rarely domesticated together, and when that has been the case, they have been
accustomed, if they were faulty, to understand my silent disapprobation.* No;
—— will never intrust his feelings to me: and as to precepts of warning, indeed I doubt their propriety; I doubt lest, from the strange perverting power of the mind, they should be made to minister to temptation. Indirect admonition, example,—are not these better means? Feelings almost romantically refined were my preservation, and with these I amalgamated afterwards an almost stoical morality. . . . .

“My health fluctuates, and the necessity of changing climate is sadly and sufficiently obvious, lest, though my disease should prove of no serious danger, the worst habits of hypochondriasm fasten upon me and palsy all intellectual power. I look with anxiety for my uncle’s letter; and think so much of Lisbon, that to abandon the thought would be a considerable disappointment. It would highly gratify me to see my uncle, and I have associations with Lisbon that give me a friendship for the place—recollected feelings and hopes, pleasures and anxieties—all now mellowed into remembrances that endear the associated scenes. But that my uncle should approve,—that is perhaps little probable; a few weeks will de-

* In later life, in his intercourse with his children, to whom he was indeed “the father, teacher, playmate,” his own beautifully expressed wish was fully realised:—

“And should my youth, as youth is apt I know,
Some harshness show,
All vain asperities I day by day
Would wear away,
Till the smooth temper of my age should be
Like the high leaves upon the holly tree.”
The Holly Tree: Poems, p. 129.

cide; and if I do not go to Portugal, I have no choice but Italy, for Madeira is a prison, and the voyage to the West Indies of a terrifying length. This detestable war! if they would make peace upon motives as light as they made war, there would be cause enough, because I want to cross from Dover to Calais: it would save me some sea-sickness, and the wealth and blood of the nation into the bargain.

“I have busied myself in idleness already in the History of Portugal, and the interest which I take in this employment will make me visit the field of Ourique aod the banks of Mondeyo and the grave of Inez. The Indian transactions are too much for an episode, and must be separately related. The manners and literature of the country should accompany the chronological order of events. I should disturb the spiders of the Necessidades, and leave no convent library unransacked. Should Italy be my destination, no definite object of research presents itself: the literature of that country is too vast a field to be harvested by one labourer; the history split into fifty channels; the petty broils of petty states infinitely perplexed, infinitely insignificant.

“You have heard me mention Rickman, as one whose society was my great motive for taking the cottage at Burton. He is coming to Bristol to assist me in an undertaking which he proposed and pressed upon me,—an essay upon the state of women in society; and its possible amelioration by means, at first, of institutions similar to the Flemish beguinages. You will feel an interest in this subject. I shall be little more than mason in this business, under the
master architect. Rickman is a man of uncommon talents and knowledge, and political economy has been his favourite study: all calculations and facts requiring this knowledge he will execute. The part intended to impress upon the reader the necessity of alleviating the evil which he sees enforced, will be mine; for Rickman would write too strictly and too closely for the public taste. You probably know the nature of the beguinages; they were female fraternities, where the members were engaged in some useful employments, and bound by no religious obligations. The object is to provide for the numerous class of women who want employment the means of respectable independence, by restoring to them those branches of business, which the men have mischievously usurped, or monopolised, when they ought only to have shared.

“O! what a country might this England become, did its government but wisely direct the strength, and wealth, and activity of the people! Every profession, every trade, is overstocked; there are more adventurers in each, than possibly can find employment; hence poverty and crime. Do not misunderstand me as asserting this to be the sole cause, but it is the most frequent one. A system of colonisation, that should offer an outlet for the superfluous activity of the country, would convert this into a cause of general good; and the blessings of civilisation might be extended over the deserts that, to the disgrace of man, occupy so great a part of the world! Assuredly, poverty and the dread of poverty are the great sources of guilt. . . . . That country cannot be well regulated where marriage is imprudence, where children
are a burthen and a misfortune. A very, very small portion of this evil our plan, if established, will remove; but of great magnitude if separately considered. I am not very sanguine in my expectations of success, bat I will do my best, in examining the evil and imposing a remedy. God bless you!

Yours affectionately,
Robert Southey.”