Political Essays (1819)/Mr. Southey's Letter to William Smith
A Letter to William Smith, Esq. M. P. from Robert Southey, Esq. John Murray, Albemarle-street. 1817. Price 2s.
May 4, 1817.
This is very unlike Mr. Burke's celebrated "Letter to the Duke of Bedford." The last is the only work of the Irish orator and patriot, in which he was in earnest, and all that he wanted was sincerity. The attack made upon his pension, by rousing his self-love, kindled his imagination, and made him blaze out in a torrent of fiery eloquence, in the course of which his tilting prose-Pegasus darted upon the titles of the noble duke like a thunderbolt, reversed his ancestral honours, overturned the monstrous straddle-legged figure of that legitimate monarch, Henry VIII., exploded the mines of the French revolution, kicked down the Abbé Sieyes's pigeon-holes full of constitutions, and only reposed from his whirling career, in that fine retrospect on himself, and the affecting episode to Admiral Keppel. Mr. Burke was an apostate, "a malignant renegado," like Mr. Southey; but there the comparison ends. He would not have been content, on such an occasion as the present, with Mistering his opponent, and Esquiring himself, like the ladies in the Beggar's Opera, who express the height of their rankling envy and dislike, by calling each other—Madam. Mr. Southey's self-love, when challenged to the lists, does not launch out into the wide field of wit or argument: it retires into its own littleness, collects all its slender resources in one poor effort of pert, pettifogging spite, makes up by studied malice for conscious impotence, and attempts to mortify others by the angry sense of his own insignificance. He grows tenacious of his ridiculous pretensions, in proportion as they are given up by every body else. His self-complacency riots, with a peculiar and pointed gusto, in the universal contempt or compassion of friends and foes. In the last stage of a galloping consumption, while the last expiring puff of The Courier makes "a swan-like end," in a compliment to his opponents, he is sanguine of a deathless reputation—considers his soreness to the least touch as a proof of his being in a whole skin, and his uneasiness to repel every attack as a proof of his being invulnerable. In a word, he mistakes an excess of spleen and irritability for the consciousness of innocence, and sets up his own egotism, vanity, ill-humour, and intolerance, as an answer in full to all the objections which have been brought against him of vanity, egotism, malignity, and intolerance. His "Letter" is a concentrated essence of a want of self-knowledge. It is the picture of the author's mind in little. In this respect, it is "a psychological curiosity;" a study of human infirmity. As some persons bequeath their bodies to the surgeons to be dissected after their death, Mr. Southey publicly exposes his mind to be anatomized while he is living. He lays open his character to the scalping-knife, guides the philosophic hand in its painful researches, and on the bald crown of our petit tondu in vain concealed under withered bay-leaves and a few contemptible grey hairs, you see the organ of vanity triumphant—sleek, smooth, round, perfect, polished, horned, and shining, as it were in a transparency. This is the handle of his intellect, the index of his mind; "the guide, the anchor of his purest thoughts, and soul of all his moral being;" the clue to the labyrinth of all his tergiversations and contradictions; the medius terminus of his political logic.
——"The ruling passion once express'd,
Wharton is plain, and Chartres stands confess'd."
Once admit that Mr. Southey is always in the right, and every one else in the wrong, and all the rest follows. This at once reconciles "Wat Tyler" and the Quarterly Review," which Mr. William Smith took down to the House, in two different pockets for fear of a breach of the peace; identifies the poet of the "Joan of Arc" and of the "Annual Anthology" with the poet-laureate; and jumps the stripling into the man, whenever the latter has a mind to jump into a place or pension. Till you can deprive him of his personal identity, he will always be the same infallible person—in his own opinion. He is both judge and jury in his own cause; the sole standard of right and wrong. To differ with him is inexcusable; for "there is but one perfect, even himself." He is the central point of all moral and intellectual excellence; the way, the truth, and the life. There is no salvation out of his pale; and yet he makes the terms of communion so strict, that there is no hope that way. The crime of Mr. William Smith and others, against whom this high-priest of impertinence levels his anathemas, is in not being Mr. Southey. What is right in him, is wrong in them; what is the height of folly or wickedness in them, is, "as fortune and the flesh shall serve," the height of wisdom and virtue in him; for there is no medium in his reprobation of others and approbation of himself. Whatever he does, is proper: whatever he thinks, is true and profound: "I, Robert Shallow, Esquire, have said it." Whether Jacobin or Anti-jacobin, Theophilanthropist or Trinitarian, Spencean or Ex-Spencean, the patron of Universal Suffrage or of close Boroughs, of the reversion of sinecure places, and pensions, or of the abolition of all property,—however extreme in one opinion or another, he alone is in the right; and those who do not think as he does, and change their opinions as he does, and go the lengths that he does, first on one side and then on the other, are necessarily knaves and fools. Wherever he sits, is the head of the table. Truth and justice are always at his side. The wise and virtuous are always with him. How should it be otherwise? He calls those "wise and virtuous" who are of his way of thinking; the rest are "sciolists, profligates, and coxcombs." By a fiction of his own making, not by a fiction of the law, Mr. Southey can do no wrong; and to accuse him of it, is a libel on the face of it, and little short of high treason. It is not the poet-laureate, the author of "Wat Tyler" and of the "Quarterly Review," who is to blame for his violence and apostacy; with that portion of self-sufficiency which this author possesses, "these are most virtuous;" but it is the person who brings forward the contradictions and intemperance of these two performances who is never to be forgiven for questioning Mr. Southey's consistency and moderation. All this is strange, but not new to our readers. We have said it all before. Why does Mr. Southey oblige us to repeat the accusation, by furnishing us with fresh proofs of it? He is betrayed to his ruin by trusting to the dictates of his personal feelings and wounded pride; and yet he dare not look at his situation through any other medium. "To know my deed, 't were best not know myself." But does he expect all eyes as well as his to be "blind with the pin and web?" Does he pull his laurel-crown as a splendid film over his eyes, and expect us to join in a game of political blindman's-buff with him, with a "Hoop, do me no harm, good man?" Are we not to cry out while an impudent, hypocritical, malignant renegado is putting his gag in our mouths, and getting his thumbscrews ready? "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale," says Sir Toby to the fantastical steward Malvolio? Does Mr. Southey think, because he is a pensioner, that he is to make us willing slaves? While he goes on writing in the "Quarterly," shall we give over writing in The Examiner? Before he puts down the liberty of the press, the press shall put him down, with all his hireling and changeling crew. In the servile war which Mr. Southey tells us is approaching, the service we have proposed to ourselves to do is, to neutralize the servile intellect of the country. This we have already done in part, and hope to make clear work of it, before we have done.—For example:
This heroic epistle to William Smith, Esq. from Robert Southey, sets off in the following manner:—
"Sir,—You are represented in the newspapers as having entered, during an important discussion in parliament, into a comparison between certain passages in the "Quarterly Review," and the opinions which were held by the author of "Wat Tyler" three-and-twenty years ago. It appears farther, according to the same authority, that the introduction of so strange a criticism, in so strange a place, did not arise from the debate, but was a premeditated thing; that you had prepared yourself for it, by stowing the "Quarterly Review" in one pocket, and "Wat Tyler" in the other; and that you deliberately stood up for the purpose of reviling an individual who was not present to vindicate himself, and in a place which afforded you protection." p. 2.
So that for Mr. William Smith in a debate on a bill for the suppression of all political opinions (as we are told by Mr. Alderman Smith, a very different person, to be sure, and according to Mr. Southey, no doubt, a highly respectable character, and a true lover of liberty and the constitution) for Mr. William Smith on such an occasion to introduce the sentiments of a well-known writer in a public journal, that writer being a whiffling tool of the court, and that journal the avowed organ of the government-party, in confirmation of his apprehensions of the objects and probable results of the bill then pending, was quite irrelevant and unparliamentary; nor had Mr. William Smith any right to set an additional stigma on the unprincipled and barefaced lengths which this writer now goes in servility and intolerance, by shewing the equal lengths to which he went formerly in popular fanaticism and licentiousness. Yet neither Mr. Southey nor his friend Mr. Wynne complained of Mr. Canning's want of regularity, or disrespect of the House, in lugging out of his pocket The Spencean Plan as an argument against Reform, and as decisive of the views of the Friends of Reform in parliament. Nay, Mr. Southey requoted Mr. Canning's quotation, for the purpose of reviling all Reform and all Reformers, in the "Quarterly Review;"—a place in which any one so reviled can no more defend himself than Mr. Southey can defend himself in parliament; and which it seems affords equal "protection" to those who avail themselves of it; for a Quarterly Reviewer, according to Mr. Southey, being anonymous, is not at all accountable for what he writes. He says,—
"As to the "Quarterly Review," you can have no other authority for ascribing any particular paper in that journal to one person or to another, than common report. The "Quarterly Review" stands upon its own merits." [Yet it was for what Mr. Southey wrote in that Review, that The Courier told us at the time that Mr. Southey was made Poet-laureate.] "What I may have said or thought in any part of my life, no more concerns that journal than it does you or the House of Commons." [What Mr. Southey has said publicly any where in any part of his life, concerns the public and every man in it, unless Mr. Southey means to say that his opinions are utterly worthless and contemptible, a piece of modesty of which we cannot suspect him,] "What I have written in it is a question which you, Sir, have no right to ask, and which certainly I will not answer. As little right have you to take that for granted which you cannot possibly know." Now mark. In the very paragraph before the one in which he skulks from the responsibility of the "Quarterly Review," and with pert vapid assurance repels every insinuation implying a breach of his inviolability as an anonymous writer, he makes an impudent, unqualified, and virulent attack on Mr. Brougham as an Edinburgh Reviewer, "This was not necessary in regard to Mr. Brougham ....he only earned the quarrels as well as the practices of the Edinburgh Review into the House of Commons. But as calumny, Sir, has not been your vocation, it may be useful, even to yourself, if I comment upon your first attempt."—p. 3. Such a want of common logic is to our literal capacities quite inexplicable: it is "in the third tier of wonders above wonders."
In page 5, Mr. Southey calls the person who published "Wat Tyler" "a skulking scoundrel," with his characteristic delicacy and moderation in the use of epithets; and says that it was published, "for the avowed purpose of insulting him, and with the hope of injuring him if possible." Perhaps one object was to prevent Mr. Southey from insulting and injuring other people. It was supposed that "Wat Tyler" might prove an antidote to the "Quarterly Review:" that, "the healing might come from the same weapon that gave the wound;" and in this instance it has turned out so. He adds, "You knew that the transaction bore upon its face every character of baseness and malignity. You knew that it must have been effected either by robbery, or by breach of trust. These things, Mr. William Smith, you knew!" [Mr. Southey at least knows no such thing, but he is here in his glory; putting a false statement into epigrammatic phraseology; bristling with horror at antithetical enormities of his own fabricating, and concluding with that formidable and significant repetition of the title, Christian and surname of Mr. William Smith.] The above paragraph concludes thus, with the author's usual logical precision and personal modesty. "And knowing them as you did, I verily believe, that if it were possible to revoke what is irrevocable, you would at this moment be far more desirous of blotting from remembrance the disgraceful speech which stands upon record in your name, than I should be of cancelling the boyish composition which gave rise to it. "Wat Tyler" is full of errors . . . . . . . but they are the errors of youth and ignorance; they bear no indication of an ungenerous spirit, or of a malevolent heart." p. 6. It seems by this passage that any attempt to fix disgrace on Mr. Southey only recoils upon the head of his accuser. "Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit." He says that Mr. W. Smith's disgraceful speech was occasioned by "Wat Tyler." That is not true. It was occasioned by "Wat Tyler" coupled with the "Quarterly Review." He says, "'Wat Tyler' is full of errors." So is the article in the "Quarterly Review;" but they are not "the errors of youth and ignorance; they bear strong indications of an ungenerous spirit and a malignant heart." Let not Mr. Southey mistake. It is not the indiscreet and romantic extravagance of the boy which has brought the man into this predicament: it is the deliberate and rancorous servility of the man that has made those who were the marks of his slanderous and cowardly invectives, rake up the errors of his youth against him.
Mr. Southey next proceeds to a defence of himself for writing "the Wat Tyler." He argues that "it is not seditious, because it is dramatic." We deny that it is dramatic. He acknowledges that it is mischievous, and particularly so, at the present time. To the last part of the proposition we cannot assent. When this poem was written, there was a rage of speculation which might be dangerous: the danger at present arises from the rage of hunger. And the true reason why Mr. Southey was eager to suppress this publication was not what he pretends, a fear that it might inculcate notions of perfect equality and general licentiousness: but a feeling that it might prevent him from defending every abuse of excessive inequality, and every stretch of arbitrary power, the end of which must be to sink "the people" in an abyss of slavery, and to plunge "the populace" in the depths of famine, despair, and misery, or by a sudden and tremendous revulsion, to occasion all that confusion, anarchy, violence, and bloodshed, which Mr. Southey hypocritically affects to deprecate as the consequences of seditious and inflammatory publications. Now we contend in opposition to Mr. Southey and all that servile crew, that the only possible preventive of one or other of these impending evils, namely, lasting slavery, famine, and general misery on the one hand, or a sudden and dreadful convulsion on the other, is the liberty of the press, which Mr. Southey calls sedition, and the firm, manly, and independent expression of public opinion, which he calls rebellion. We detest despotism: we deprecate popular commotion: but if we are forced upon an alternative, we have a choice: we prefer temporary to lasting evils. Mr. Southey has indeed a new-acquired and therefore lively dread of the horrors of revolution. But his passion for despotism is greater than his dread of anarchy; and he runs all the risks of the one, rather than not glut his insatiable and unnatural appetite for the other. Such are his politics, and such are ours. He says, "The piece was written under the influence of opinions which I have long since outgrown, and repeatedly disclaimed, but for which I have never felt either shame or contrition. They were taken up conscientiously in early youth, they were acted upon in disregard of all worldly considerations, and they were left behind in the same strait-forward course, as I advanced in years." The latter part of this statement is not self-evident. Mr. Southey says that while he adhered to his first principles, he acted with a total disregard of his worldly interest; and this is easily understood:—but that his desertion of those principles, so contrary to his worldly views, was equally independent, disinterested and free from sinister motives, is not so plain. Nor can we take Mr. Southey's word for it. And we will tell him the reason. If he had been progressive, as he calls it, in his course, up to the year 1814, we should not have found much fault with him: but why did he become stationary then? Has nothing happened in the three last years,—nothing—to make Mr. Southey retreat back to some of his old opinions, as he had advanced from them, guided, as he professes to be in his undeviating course, by facts and experience? Are the actual events of the last three years nothing in the scale of Mr. Southey's judgment? Is not their weight overpowering, irresistible? What, do not the names of Poland, Norway, Finland, Saxony, Italy, Spain and Portugal, the Pope, the Inquisition, and the Cortes (to say nothing of France, Nismes, and the Bourbons) thrown into the scale of common sense and common honesty, dash it down, with a startling sound, upon the counter, where Mr. Southey is reckoning his well-gotten gains, the price of his disinterested exertions in the cause of Spanish liberty and the deliverance of mankind, making his hair stand on end at his own folly and credulity, and forcing him indignantly to fling his last year's pension and the arrears of the Quarterly in the face of Mr. Murray's shopmen and the clerks of the Treasury, and swear, "in disregard of all worldly considerations," never to set his foot in Downing or Albemarle-street again? No such thing. In advocating the cause of the French people, Mr. Southey's principles and his interest were at variance, and therefore he quitted his principles when he saw a good opportunity: in taking up the cause of the Allies, his principles and his interest became united and thenceforth indissoluble. His engagement to his first love, the Republic, was only upon liking; his marriage to Legitimacy is for better, for worse, and nothing but death shall part them. Our simple Laureate was sharp upon his hoyden Jacobin mistress, who brought him no dowry, neither place nor pension, who "found him poor and kept him so," by her prudish notions of virtue. He divorced her, in short, for nothing but the spirit and success with which she resisted the fraud and force to which the old bawd Legitimacy was forever resorting to overpower her resolution and fidelity. He said she was a virago, a cunning gipsey, always in broils about her honour and the inviolability of her person, and always getting the better in them, furiously scratching the face or cruelly tearing off the hair of the said pimping old lady, who would never let her alone, night or day. But since her foot slipped one day on the ice, and the detestable old hag tripped up her heels, and gave her up to the kind keeping of the Allied Sovereigns, Mr. Southey has devoted himself to her more fortunate and wealthy rival: he is become uxorious in his second matrimonial connexion; and though his false Duessa has turned out a very witch, a foul, ugly witch, drunk with insolence, mad with power, a griping, rapacious wretch, bloody, luxurious, wanton, malicious, not sparing steel, or poison, or gold, to gain her ends—bringing famine, pestilence, and death in her train—infecting the air with her thoughts, killing the beholders with her looks, claiming mankind as her property, and using them as her slaves—driving every thing before her, and playing the devil wherever she comes, Mr. Southey sticks to her in spite of every thing, and for very shame lays his head in her lap, paddles with the palms of her hands, inhales her hateful breath, leers in her eyes and whispers in her ears, calls her little fondling names. Religion, Morality, and Social Order, takes for his motto,
"Be to her faults a little blind,
Be to her virtues very kind"—
sticks close to his filthy bargain, and will not give her up, because she keeps him, and he is down in her will. Faugh!
The above passage is, we fear, written in the style of Aretin, which Mr. Southey condemns in the Quarterly. It is at least a very sincere style: Mr. Southey will never write so, till he can keep in the same mind for three and twenty years together. Why should not one make a sentence of a page long, out of the feelings of one's whole life? The early Protestant Divines wrote such prodigious long sentences from the sincerity of their religious and political opinions. Mr. Coleridge ought not to imitate them.
Gold! yellow, glittering, precious gold
—————The wappened widow,
Whom the spittle-house and ulcerous sores
Would heave the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again,"
A Letter to William Smith, Esq. M. P. from Robert Southey, Esq. John Murray, Albemarle-street. 1817. Price 2s.
"What word hath passed thy lips, Adam severe?"
May 11, 1817.
Has Mr. Murray turned Quaker, that he styles himself John Murray ("Mark you his absolute John?") in the title-page? Or has Mr. Southey resigned his place and his pretensions, that he omits in the same page his honorary titles of Poet-Laureate and Member of the Royal Spanish Academy? We cannot tell; but we should think it some sign of grace, if, without a hint from the Lord Chamberlain, he had for a while laid by his tattered laurel and spattered birth-day suit: if, as the Commander in Chief retired after the droll affair of Mrs. Clarke (we are not such rigid moralists as Mr. Southey) the Poet Laureate had thought proper to veil his blushing court favours during the dramatic representation of Wat Tyler, and did not consider it either prudent or becoming to be seen going to or coming from Carlton-house with the mob, "the reading rabble," at his heels, and with a shower of two-penny pamphlets sticking to the skirts of his turned coat. Poor Morgan, the honest Welchman in Roderic Random, reeking with the fumes of tobacco and garlic, was not more offensive to the sensitive organs of Captain Whiffle, than Mr. Southey must be to the nice feelings of an exalted Personage, reeking with the fumes of Jacobinism, and rolled, as he has been, in the kennel of the newspaper press. A voyage to Italy, a classical quarantine of a year or two, with the Pope's blessing, seems absolutely necessary to wipe out the stains of his Wat Tyler, "as pure as sin with baptism;" and to restore him to the vows of Prince and People as smug as a young novice in a monastery, and sweet as any waiting-gentlewoman.
Mr. Southey says, in continuation of his Defence of Wat Tyler, p. 7, "It was written when republicanism was confined to a very small number of the educated classes:" [Is it more common now among the intended hearers of Mr. Coleridge's Second and Third Lay-Sermons?]—"when those who were known to entertain such opinions were exposed to personal danger from the populace;" [The populace of course were not set on by the higher classes, the clergy or gentry, nor can Mr. S. mean to include the Attorney-General of that day, my Lord Eldon, as one of the populace.] "And when a spirit of anti-jacobinism was predominant, which I cannot characterise more truly than by saying that it was as unjust and intolerant, though not quite as ferocious, as the Jacobinism of the present day"—Why not the anti-jacobinism of the present day? "The collusion holds in the exchange." The business is carried on to the present hour; and though it has changed hands, the principal of the firm is still the same. Mr. Gifford, the present Editor of the Quarterly Review, where Mr. Southey now writes, was formerly the Editor of the Anti-jacobin newspaper, where he was written at. The above passage is however a sly passing hit at Mr. Canning's parodies, who (shame to say it) was as wise and as witty three and twenty years ago as he is now, and has not been making that progressive improvement ever since, on which Mr. Southey compliments himself, congratulates his friends, and insults over his enemies! How nicely this gentleman differences himself from all his contemporaries, Jacobin or anti-Jacobin! No one can come up to him at all points. "The lovely Marcia towers above her sex!"
The Letter-writer goes on to say:—"When therefore Mr. Smith informed the House of Commons that the author of Wat Tyler thinks no longer upon certain points as he did in his youth, he informed that legislative assembly of nothing more than what the author has shown during very many years, in the course of his writings..... that while events have been moving on upon the great theatre of human affairs, his intellect has not been stationary."—[Mr. S. here confounds a change of opinions with the progress of intellect, a mistake which we shall correct presently.]—"But when the Member for Norwich asserts that I impute evil motives to men merely for holding the same doctrines" [No, only a tenth part of the same doctrines] "which I myself formerly professed, and when he charges me with the malignity and baseness of a Renegade, the assertion and the charge are as false, as the language in which they are conveyed is coarse and insulting." p. 9.
Now we know of no writings of Mr. Southey's, in the course of which he had shewn for many years the change or progress of his opinions, but in the Quarterly Review and other anonymous publications. We suppose he will hardly say that his Birth-day Odes, the Carmen Nuptiale, &c. have shewn the progress of his intellect. But in the same anonymous writings, in which the public would find, to Mr. Southey's credit, that his intellect had not been stationary, the Member for Norwich would find what was not so much to his credit, but all that was wanting to make good the charge—that Mr. Southey's moderation and charity to those whose intellects had been stationary, did not keep pace with the progress of his own—for in the articles in the Quarterly, which he claims or disclaims as he pleases, he, the writer of the Inscription on Old Sarum, describes "a Reformer as no better than a housebreaker:" he, the writer of the Inscription at Chepstow Castle, calls all those who do not bow their necks to the doctrine of Divine Right, Rebels and Regicides: he, the author of Wat Tyler, calls those persons who think taxes, wars, the wanton waste of the resources of a country, and the unfeeling profligacy of the rich, likely to aggravate and rouse to madness the intolerable sufferings of the poor, "flagitious incendiaries, panders to insurrection, murder, and treason, and the worst of scoundrels"; he, the equalizer of all property and of popular representation, would protect the holders of rotten boroughs and of entailed sinecures, by shutting up all those who write against them in solitary confinement, without pen, ink, or paper, to answer the unanswerable arguments of Mr. Southey—in short, the author of the articles in the Quarterly Review, if he was not always a base and malignant sycophant, shews himself to be a base and malignant Renegade, by defending all the rotten, and undermining all the sound parts of the system to which he professes to be a convert, and by consigning over to a "vigour beyond the law" all those who expose his unprincipled, pragmatical tergiversations, or would maintain the system itself, without maintaining those corruptions and abuses, which were all that Mr. Southey at one time saw to hold up to execration in the English Constitution, and are all that he now sees to admire and revere in it. This is as natural in a Renegado, as it would be unaccountable in any one else.
We must get on a little faster, for to expose the absurdities of this Letter one by one would fill "a nice little book." In the pages immediately following, Mr. Southey glances at the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, whom he condemns "to bear a gore sinister tenné in his escutcheon," for saying that Mr. Southey does not form an exception to the irritabile genus vatum. He says, that he has often refrained from exposing the ignorance and inconsistency of his opponents, as well as "that moral turpitude," which, our readers must by this time perceive, can hardly fail to accompany any difference of opinion with him. He says that "he has a talent for satire, but that (good soul!) he has long since subdued the disposition." This must be since writing the last Quarterly: we thought there were some shrewd hits there, and we suspect Sir Richard Phillips, whom he laughs at for his dislike of war and of animal food, for pages together, will be of our opinion. He says that "he has been lately employed, while among the mountains of Cumberland, upon the Mines of Brazil and the War in the Peninsula."
"Why man, he doth bestride the world
Like a Colossus, and we, petty men, peep
Under his huge legs."
"His name, in the mean time, has served in London for the very shuttlecock of discussion." Why should not his name be a shuttlecock, when he himself is no better?—"He has impeded the rising reputation of Toby, the Sapient Pig;"—has overlaid the posthumous birth of the young Shiloh, and perhaps prevented Mr. Coleridge's premature deliverance of his last Lay Sermon. After all these misfortunes, the author makes merry with Bonaparte's having been exposed, like Bishop Hatto, to be devoured by the rats! The levelling rogue cares neither for Bishops nor Emperors, but growls grave again in recounting the retrograde progress of his own mind.
"In my youth, when my stock of knowledge consisted of such an acquaintance with Greek and Roman history, as is acquired in the course of a regular scholastic education,"—[The Greek and Roman history is as good as the history of rotten boroughs or the reign of George III.]—"when my heart was full of poetry and romance,"—[Is it so no longer?]—" and Lucan and Akenside were at my tongue's end."—[Instead of the red book and the court calendar]—"I fell into the political opinions which the French Revolution was then scattering throughout Europe:" [We have here a pretty fair account of the origin and genealogy of the opinions of the French Revolution, which opinions of liberty, truth, and justice, neither the French Revolution shall destroy, nor those who destroyed it, because it was produced by and gave birth to those opinions; and does Mr. Southey suppose that the suppression of Wat Tyler is to suppress those opinions, and that a lying article in the Quarterly Review is to persuade us that they who made war on those opinions from the beginning (and by so doing, produced all the evils of those opinions, produced them purposely, in the malice of their hearts and the darkness of their minds produced them to destroy all liberty, truth, and justice, and to keep mankind their slaves in perpetuity by right divine) were right from the beginning, that they deserved well of mankind, that their boasted triumph, the triumph of kings over the species, is ours and Mr. Southey's triumph? Or would he persuade us that the Greek and Roman History has become obsolete, because Mr. Southey left school three and twenty years ago; that poetry and romance were banished from the human heart when he look a place and pension; that Lucan and Akenside will not live as long as Wat Tyler, or the Quarterly Review!—We broke off in an interesting part. Mr. Southey proceeds:] "Following those opinions with ardour wherever they led." [This is an old trick of the author, he is a keen sportsman;] "I soon perceived that inequalities of rank were a light evil compared to the inequalities of property, and those more fearful distinctions which the want of moral and intellectual culture occasions between man and man. At that time, and with those opinions or rather feelings (for their root was in the heart, and not in the understanding) I wrote Wat Tyler as one who was impatient of 'all the oppressions that are done under the sun.'" [Here we must make another full stop. Mr. Southey is incapable of forming any other opinions but from his feelings: he never had any other opinions, he never will have any others, worth a rush. When the opinions he professes ceased to be the dictates of his heart, they became the dictates of his vanity and interest; they became good for nothing. When the first ebullition of youthful ardour was over, his understanding was not competent to maintain its independence against the artifices of sophistry, aided by the accumulating force of "worldly considerations," showy or substantial, the long neglect of which he had felt to his cost. Mr. Southey's pure reason was not steady enough to contemplate the truth in an unprejudiced and unimpassioned point of view. His imagination first ran away with his understanding; and now, that he is getting old, his convenience, the influence of fashion, and the tide of opinion, rush in, and fill up all the void both of sense and imagination, driving him into the very vortex of court-sycophancy, the sinks and common sewers of corruption. Mr. Southey is not a man to hear reason at any time of his life. He thinks his change of opinion is owing to an increase of knowledge, because he has in fact no idea of any progress in intellect but exchanging one error for another. He has no idea that a man may grow wiser in the same opinion by discovering new reasons for the faith that is in him; for Mr. Southey has no reasons for the faith that is in him. He does not see how a man may devote his whole life to the discovery of the principle of the most common truth; for he has no principles of thought, either to guide, enlarge, or modify his knowledge. He has nothing to shew for the wisdom of his opinions but his own opinion of their wisdom: they are mere self-opinions: he considers his present notions as profound and solid, because his former ones were hasty and shallow; asserts them with pert, vapid assurance, because he does not see the objections against them; and thinks he must be right in his premises in proportion to the violence and extravagance of his conclusions. Because when he wrote Wat Tyler, he was "impatient of all the oppressions that are done under the sun," he now thinks it his bounden duty to justify them all, with equal impatience of contradiction. Mr. Southey does not know himself so well as we do; and a greater confirmation of his ignorance in this respect cannot well be given than the rest of the above passage. "The subject of Wat Tyler was injudiciously chosen; and it was treated as might be expected by a youth of twenty, in such times, who regarded only one side of the question." [It is Mr. Southey's fault or his misfortune that at all times he regards only one side of a question.]
"There is no other misrepresentation. The sentiments of the historical characters are correctly stated." [What, of the King, the Judge, and the Archbishop?] "Were I now to dramatize the same story, there would be much to add, but little to alter. I should not express those sentiments less strongly, but I should oppose to them more enlarged views of the nature of man. and the progress of society. I should set forth with equal force the oppressions of the feudal system, the excesses of the insurgents, and the treachery of the government," [Doctors doubt that] "and hold up the errors and crimes which were then committed, as a warning for this and for future generations. I should write as a man; not as a stripling; with the same heart, and the same desires, but with a ripened understanding and competent stores of knowledge," p. 15. Let him do it, but he dare not. He would shew by the attempt the hollowness of his boasted independence, the little time-serving meanness of his most enlarged views; in a word, that he has still the same understanding, but no longer the same heart. What are "the ripened discoveries and competent stores of knowledge" which Mr. Southey would bring to this task? Are they the barefaced self-evident sophistries, the wretched shuffling evasions of common sense and humanity which he contributes to the Quarterly Review, the cast-off, thread-bare, tattered excuses of Paley's Moral Philosophy, and Windham's hashed-up speeches? Why, all the prodigious discoveries which Mr. Southey there details with such dry significance, are familiar to every school-boy, are the common stock in trade of every spouter at a debating society, have been bandied about, hackneyed, exhausted any time these thirty years? And yet Mr. Southey was quite ignorant of them till very lately, they have broke upon him with a new and solemn light; they have come upon him by surprise, after three-and-twenty years; and at 'the last rebound, have overturned his tottering patriotism? Where is the use of Mr. Southey's regular scholastic education, if he is to be thus ignorant at twenty, thus versatile at forty? The object of such an education is to make men less astonished at their own successive discoveries, by putting them in possession beforehand of what has been discovered by others. Mr. Southey cannot, like Mr. Cobbett, plead in extenuation of his change of sentiment, that he was a self-taught man, who had to grope his way from error and prejudice to truth and reason; neither can he plead like Mr. Cobbett, in proof of the sincerity of his motives, that he has suffered the loss of liberty and property by his change of opinion: Mr. Southey has suffered nothing by his—but a loss of character!
A Letter to William Smith, Esq. M. P. from Robert Southey, Esq. John Murray, Albemarle-street. 1817. Price 2s.
May 18, 1817.
Mr. Southey in the next paragraph says, that, "it is a nice question, in what degree he, as the author, partook of the sentiments expressed in the dramatic poem of Wat Tyler;—too nice a one for Mr. Wm. Smith to decide;" and yet he accuses him of excessive malice or total want of judgment for deciding wrong. He then falls foul of the Monthly, and other Dissenting Reviews, for praising his Joan of Arc, and makes it the subject of a sneer at Mr. W. Smith, that his Minor Poems were praised by the same critical authorities on their first appearance. We might ask here, Did not Mr. Southey himself write in these Reviews at one time? But he might refuse to answer the question. "In these productions, Joan of Arc" &.c. Mr. Southey observes, and observes truly, that Mr. W. Smith "might have seen expressed an enthusiastic love of liberty," (not a cold-blooded recommendation to extinguish the liberty of the press) "a detestation of tyranny in whatever form," (legitimate or illegitimate, not a palliation of all its most inveterate and lasting abuses) "an ardent abhorrence of all wicked ambition," (particularly of that most wicked ambition which would subject mankind, as a herd of cattle, to the power and pride of Kings) "and a sympathy not less ardent with those who were engaged in war for the defence of their country, and in a righteous cause"—to wit, the French!
Mr. Southey, however, vindicates with still more self-complacency and success, the purity of his religious and moral character. "For while I imbibed the Republican opinions of the day, I escaped the atheism and leprous immorality which generally accompanied them. I cannot, therefore, join with Beattie in blessing
——'The hour when I escap'd the wrangling crew,
From Pyrrho's maze, and Epicurus' sty;'
for I was never lost in the one, nor defiled in the other. My progress was of a different kind." And Mr. Southey then tells a story, not so good as the story of Whittington and his Cat, how he was prevented from setting off for America to set up the Pantisocracy scheme, and turned back, "from building castles in the air, and founding Christian Commonwealths," to turn Poet Laureate, and write in the Quarterly Review. The above extract is a fine specimen of character. Mr. Southey there thanks God that he is not, and was not, like other men. He was proof against the worst infection of his time. Poor Doctors Price and Priestley, who were Republicans like Mr. Southey, were religious, moral men; but they were Dissenters, and this excites as much contempt in Mr. Southey, as if they had been atheists and profligates. Others again, among Mr. Southey's political compeers, were atheists and immoral; and for this, Mr. Southey expresses the same abhorrence of them, as if they had been Dissenters! He, indeed, contrives to make the defects of others so many perfections in himself; and by this mode of proceeding, abstracts himself into a beau ideal of moral and political egotism—a Sir Charles Grandison, calculated for the beginning of the nineteenth, and the latter end of the eighteenth century, upon the true infallible principles of intellectual coxcombry. It is well for Mr. Southey that he never was lost "in Pyrrho's maze," for he never would have found his way out of it:—that his tastes were not a little more Epicurean, perhaps is not so well for him. There is a monachism of the understanding in Mr. Southey, which may be traced to the over-severity, the prudery of his moral habits. He unites somewhat of the fanaticism and bigotry of the cloister with its penances and privations. A decent mixture of the pleasurable and the sensual, might relieve the morbid acrimony of his temper, and a little more indulgence of his appetites might make him a little less tenacious of his opinions. It is his not sympathising with the enjoyments of others, that makes him feel such an antipathy to every difference of sentiment. We hope Mr. Southey, when he was in town, went to see Don Giovanni, and heard him sing that fine song, "Women and wine are the sustainers and glory of life." We do not wish to see Mr. Southey quite a Don Giovanni, (that would be as great a change in his moral, as to see him Poet-laureate, is in his political character) but if he had fewer pretensions to virtue, he would, perhaps, be a better man,—"to relish all as sharply, passioned as we!" The author, in p. 21, informs Mr. W. Smith, that his early Poems, which contain all the political spirit, without the dramatic form, of Wat Tyler, are continually on sale, and that he has never attempted to withdraw them? Why does he not withdraw them, or why did he attempt to get an Injunction against poor Wat? Some one who does not know Mr. Southey—has suggested as an answer,—By not withdrawing the Poems, he pockets the receipts; and by getting an Injunction against Wat Tyler, he would have done the same thing. In p. 23, Mr. Southey states, that he is "in the same rank in society" as Mr. Smith, which we have yet to learn: and that he and Mr. Smith "were cast by nature in different moulds," which we think was lucky for the Member for Norwich. In p. 25, Mr. Southey rails at "the whole crew of ultra Whigs and Anarchists, from Messrs. Brougham and Clodius, down to Cobbett, Cethegus, and Co.;" and in pages 26, 27, he compliments himself: "I ask you, Sir, in which of my writings I have appealed to the base and malignant feelings of mankind;—and I ask you, whether the present race of revolutionary writers appeal to any other? What man's private character did I stab? Whom did I libel? Whom did I slander? Whom did I traduce? These miscreants live by calumny and sedition: they are libellers and liars by trade." After this, Sir Anthony Absolute's "Damn you, can't you be cool, like me?" will hardly pass for a joke! "For a man to know another well, were to know himself."
But we must conclude, and shall do so, with some passages taken at a venture. "I did not fall into the error of those, who, having been the friends of France when they imagined that the cause of liberty was implicated in her success, transferred their attachment from the Republic to the military tyranny in which it ended, and regarded with complacency the progress of oppression, because France was the oppressor." What does Mr. Southey call that military establishment which is at present kept up in France to keep the Bourbons on the throne, and to keep down the French people? Mr. Southey has, it seems, transferred his attachment from the Republic, not to Bonaparte, but to the Bourbons. They stand Mr. Southey instead of the Republic; they are the true "children and champions of Jacobinism;" the legitimate heirs and successors of the Revolution. We have never fallen into that error—into the error of preferring the monstrous claim of hereditary and perpetual despotism over whole nations, to a power raised to whatever height, (a gigantic, but glorious height) in repelling that monstrous claim; a claim set up in contempt of human nature and human liberty, and never quitted for a single instant; the unwearied, implacable, systematic prosecution of which claim, to force the doctrine of Divine Right on the French people, caused all the calamities of the Revolution, all the horrors of anarchy, and all the evils of military despotism, with loss of liberty and independence; and the restoring and hallowing of which claim, to hold mankind as slaves in perpetuity, Mr. Southey hails as the deliverance of mankind, and "a consummation devoutly to be wished." "O fool, fool, fool!" He cannot go along with France when France becomes the oppressor; nor can he leave the Allies when they become the oppressors, when they return to the point from whence they set out in 1792. He could not accompany the march to Paris then, but he has run all the way by the side of it twice since, with his laurel wreath on his head, playing tricks and antics like a Jack-of-the Green. We explained this before. Mr. Southey was a revolutionary weathercock; he is become a court-fixture. "They (says he, meaning us) had turned their faces towards the East in the morning, to worship the rising sun, and in the evening they were looking eastward still, obstinately affirming that still the sun was there. I, on the contrary, altered my position as the world went round." It is not always that a simile runs on all-fours; but this does. The sun, indeed, passes from the East to the West, but it rises in the East again: yet Mr. Southey is still looking in the West—for his pension. The world has gone round a second time, but he has not altered his position—at the Treasury door. Does the sun of Liberty still rise over the towers of the Inquisition? Is its glow kindled at the funeral pile of massacred Protestants? Does its breath issue in vain from French dungeons, in which all those are confined who cannot forget that for twenty-five years they have been counted men, not slaves to Louis XVIII., under God and the Prince Regent? The doctrine of Divine Right has been restored, and Mr. Southey is still dreaming of military usurpation. The Inquisition has been re-established, and Mr. Southey still talks of the deliverance of Spain and Portugal. The war was renewed to put down Bonaparte as a military usurper, and not, as it was stated, to force the Bourbons as the legitimate Sovereigns, back upon the French nation; and yet the moment he was put down, the Bourbons were forced back upon the French people; (he was the only barrier between them and the delicious doctrine of Divine Right) and yet Mr. Southey says nothing of this monstrous outrage and insult on them, on us, on all mankind: his spirits are frozen up by this word "legitimacy," as fish are in a pond: and yet he does say something—for he dotes, and raves, and drivels about national monuments to commemorate the final triumph over national independence and human rights.
Mr. Southey next gives us his succedaneum to the doctrine of Legitimacy; and a precious piece of quackery it is:—
"Slavery has long ceased to be tolerable in Europe: the remains of feudal oppression are disappearing even in those countries which have improved the least: nor can it be much longer endured, that the extremes of ignorance, wretchedness, and brutality, should exist in the very centre of civilized society. There can be no safety with a populace, half Luddite, half Lazzaroni. Let us not deceive ourselves. We are far from that state in which any thing resembling equality would be possible; but we are arrived at that state in which the extremes of inequality are become intolerable. They are too dangerous, as well as too monstrous, to be borne much longer. Plans which would have led to the utmost horrors of insurrection, have been prevented by the government, and by the enactment of strong, but necessary laws. Let it not however, be supposed that the disease is healed, because the ulcer may skin over. The remedies by which the body politic can be restored to health, must be slow in their operation. The condition of the populace, physical, moral, and intellectual, must be improved, or a Jacquerie, a Bellum Servile, sooner or later, will be the result. It is the people at this time who stand in need of reformation, not the government."
We could not have said most of this better ourselves; and yet he adds—"The Government must better the condition of the populace; and the first thing necessary is"—to do what—to suppress the liberty of the press, and make Mr. Southey the keeper. That is, the Government must put a stop to the press, in order that they may continue, with perfect impunity, all the other evils complained of, which Mr. Southey says are too dangerous, as well as too monstrous to be borne. Put down the liberty of the press, and leave it to Mr. Southey and the Quarterly Review to remove "the extremes of inequality, ignorance, wretchedness, and brutality, existing in the very centre of civilized society," and they will remain there long enough. Remove them, and what will become of Mr. Southey and the Quarterly Review? This modest gentleman and mild reformer, proposes to destroy at once the freedom of discussion, to prevent its ultimate loss; to make us free by first making us slaves; to put a gag in the mouths of the people instead of bread; to increase the comforts of the poor by laying on more taxes; to spread abroad the spirit of liberty and independence, by teaching the doctrines of Passive Obedience and Non-resistance; and to encourage the love of peace by crying up the benefits of war, and deprecating the loss of a war-establishment. The borough-mongers will not object to such a helpmate in the cause of reform. In the midst of all this desultory jargon, the author somehow scrapes acquaintance with Mr. Owen, and we find them disputing about the erection of a chapel of ease on a piece of waste ground. "To build upon any other foundation than religion, is building upon sand," says Mr. Southey, with a sort of Do-me-good air, as if in giving his advice he had performed an act of charity. We did not hear Mr. Owen's answer, but we know that a nod is as good as a wink to that gentleman. Mr. Southey then talks of the Established Church, whom, as well as the Government, in his courtly way, he accuses of having for centuries "neglected its first and paramount duty," the bettering the condition of the people; of Saving Banks; of colonies of disbanded soldiers and sailors; of columns of Waterloo and Trafalgar; of diminishing the poor-rates, and improving the morals of the people, so that they may live without eating; of the glories of our war-expenditure, and of the necessity: of keeping up the same expenditure in time of peace. "Never indeed," he exclaims, "was there a more senseless cry than that which is at this time raised for retrenchment in the public expenditure, as a means of alleviating the present distress." [This senseless cry, however, is either an echo of, or was echoed by, the Prince Regent in his Speech from the Throne. Is there no better understanding between Mr. Southey and the Prince Regent's advisers?]—"That distress arises from a great and sudden diminution of employment, occasioned by many coinciding causes, the chief of which is, that the war-expenditure of from forty to fifty millions yearly, has ceased."—[No, the chief is, that our war-expenses of from forty to fifty millions yearly and for ever, are continued, and that our war-monopoly of trade to pay them with has ceased.]—"Men are out of employ"—[True.] ...; "the evil is, that too little is spent," [Because we have wasted too much ]—"and as a remedy, we are exhorted to spend less." [Yes, to waste less, or to spend what we have left in things useful to ourselves, and not in Government gimcracks, whether of peace or war. Is it better, does Mr. Southey think, that ten poor men should keep ten pounds a-piece in their pockets, which they would of course spend in food, clothing, fuel, &c. for themselves and families, or that this hundred pounds, that is, ten pounds a-piece, should be paid out of the pockets of these ten poor men in taxes, which, added to Mr. Croker's salary, would enable him to keep another horse, to pay for the feed, furniture, saddle, bridle, whip, and spurs? We ask Mr. Southey this question, and will put the issue of the whole argument upon the answer to it. The money would be spent equally in either case, say in agriculture, in raising corn for instance, wheat or oats: but the corn raised and paid for by it in the one instance would go into the belly of the poor man and his family: in the other, into the belly of Mr. Croker's horse. Does that make no difference to Mr. Southey? Answer, Man of Humanity! Or, if Mr. Southey, the Man of Humanity, will not answer, let Mr. Malthus, the Man of God, answer for him! Again, what would go to pay for a new saddle for the Secretary of the Admiralty, would buy the poor man and his family so many pair of shoes in the year; or what would pay for a straw litter for his sleek gelding, would stuff a flock-bed for the poor man's children! Does not Mr. Southey understand this question yet? We have given him a clue to the whole difference between productive and unproductive labour, between waste and economy, between taxes and no taxes, between a war-expenditure and what ought to be a peace-establishment, between money laid out and debts contracted in gunpowder, in cannon, in ships of war, in scattering death, and money laid out in paying for food, furniture, houses, the comforts, necessaries, and enjoyments of life. Let Mr. Southey take the problem and the solution with him to Italy, study it there amidst a population, half Lazzaroni, half Monks: let him see his error, and return an honest man! But if he will not believe us, let him at least believe himself. In the career of his triumph about our national monuments, he has fallen into one; of the most memorable lapses of memory we ever met with. "In proportion," says he, "to their magnificence, also, will be the present benefit, as well as the future good; for they are not like the Egyptian pyramids, to be raised by bondsmen under rigorous taskmasters: the wealth which is taken from the people returns to them again, like vapours which are drawn imperceptibly from the earth, but distributed to it in refreshing dews and fertilizing showers. What bounds could imagination set to the welfare and glory of this island, if a tenth part, or even a twentieth of what the war expenditure has been, were annually applied in improving and creating harbours, in bringing our roads to the best possible state, in colonizing upon our waste lands, in reclaiming fens and conquering tracks from the sea, in encouraging the liberal arts, in erecting churches, in building and endowing schools and colleges, and making war upon physical and moral evil with the whole artillery of wisdom and righteousness, with all the resources of science, and all the ardour of enlightened and enlarged benevolence!"
Well done, Mr. Southey. No man can argue better, when he argues against himself. What! one-twentieth part of this enormous waste of money laid out in war, which has sunk the nation into the lowest state of wretchedness, would, if wisely and beneficially laid out in works of peace, have raised the country to the pinnacle of prosperity and happiness! Mr. Southey in his raptures forgets his war-whoop, and is ready to exclaim with Sancho Panza, when the exploits of knight-errantry are over, and he turns all his enthusiasm to a pastoral account, "Oh what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! What crumbs and cream shall I devour!" Mr. Southey goes on to state, among other items, that "Government should reform its prisons." But Lord Castlereagh, soon after the war-addition to Mr. Croker's peace-salary, said that this was too expensive. In short, the author sums up all his hopes and views in the following sentences:—"Government must reform the populace, the people must reform themselves." The interpretation of which is. The Government must prevent the lower classes from reading any thing; the middle classes should read nothing but the Quarterly Review. "This is the true Reform, and compared with this, all else is flocc, nauci, nihili, pili."
The last page of this performance is "as arrogant a piece of paper" as was ever scribbled. We give it as it stands. "It will be said of him, (Mr. S.) that in an age of personality, he abstained from satire: and that during the course of his literary life, often as he was assailed, the only occasion on which he ever condescended to reply, was, when a certain Mr. William Smith"—[What, was the only person worthy of Mr. Southey's notice a very insignificant person?] "insulted him in Parliament with the appellation of Renegade. On that occasion, it will be said, that he vindicated himself, as it became him to do": [How so? Mr. Southey is only a literary man, and neither a commoner nor a peer of the realm] "and treated his calumniator with just and memorable severity. Whether it shall be added, that Mr. William Smith redeemed his own character, by coming forward with honest manliness, and acknowledging that he had spoken rashly and unjustly, concerns himself, but is not of the slightest importance to me. Robert Southey."
We do not think this conclusion is very like what Mr. Southey somewhere wishes the conclusion of his life to resemble—"the high leaves upon the holly tree." Mr. Southey's asperities do not wear off, as he grows older. We are always disposed to quarrel with ourselves for quarrelling with him, and yet we cannot help it, whenever we come in contact with his writings. We met him unexpectedly the other day in St. Giles's, (it was odd we should meet him there) were sorry we had passed him without speaking to an old friend, turned and looked after him for some time, as to a tale of other times—sighing, as we walked on, Alas poor Southey! "We saw in him a painful hieroglyphic of humanity; a sad memento of departed independence; a striking instance of the rise and fall of patriot bards!" In the humour we were in, we could have written a better epitaph for him than he has done for himself. We went directly and bought his Letter to Mr. W. Smith, which appeared the same day as himself, and this at once put an end to our sentimentality.
- A sarcastic writer, like Mr. Southey, might here ask, whether it was a disappointment in sharing the estate of some rich landed proprietor that made Mr. Southey turn short round to a defence of sinecures and pensions? We do not know, but here follows a passage, which "some skulking scoundrel" in the Quarterly Review appears to have aimed at Mr. Southey's early opinions and character:—"As long as the smatterer in philosophy confines himself to private practice, the mischief does not extend beyond his private circle—his neighbour's wife may be in some danger, and his neighbour's property also; if the distinctions between meum and tuum should be practically inconvenient to the man of free opinions. But when he commences professor of moral and political philosophy for the benefit of the public—the fables of old credulity are then verified, his very breath becomes venomous, and every page which he sends abroad carries with it poison to the unsuspicious reader." Such is the interpretation given by the anonymous writer to the motives of smatterers in philosophy; this writer could not be Mr. Southey, for "he never imputes evil motives to men merely for holding the opinions he formerly held," such as the evils of the inequality of property, &c.
- Not the Editor of this Paper, but the writer of this Article.
- Perhaps Mr. Southey will inform us some time or other, whether in Italy also it is the people, and not the Pope, who wants reforming.
- Dues of Office, we suppose.