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William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth

The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 5: The Later Years: Part II: 1829–1834 (Second Revised Edition)

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pg 618764. W. W. to ROBERT SOUTHEY

  • Address: Robt Southey Esqre [delivered by hand]
  • MS. Harvard University Library.
  • LY ii. 649.

[May 1833]

My dear S—

I like your Book1 much, and have only one objection to what I have seen: viz. the notice of Mr Wilberforce2 by name. My wish is that you should adopt it as a general Rule, not to allude (in the mention of public men),—to their private habits, otherwise your book will be so far degraded to the level of the magazine-writers—but probably this may be the only instance, and as it is so good natured there is little or no harm in it. A public man's public foibles are fair game!—The Popes3 allusion is also well struck out—it is astonishing how queerly in these fantastic times the sale4 of a Book may be checked, by what might seem the arrantest trifle.—

I hope you have not forgot what I told you about the puppet-shows of Ingleton5—and that you will notice them in some way or other. The puppets are still to be seen there—which used to travel all England over, the great Master of the art living there.—

We are truly glad that you have had no return of your ugly attack6

ever affectionately yours   

Remember Dr Green7 the famous quack—Doctor of Doncaster, of a gentleman's family and regularly educated, he flourished in the middle of the last century in all the Midland counties and used to prefer itinerancy with a stage and a zany to regular practice. So famous was he and so fortunate that his name was adopted for many years afterwards by many travelling Mountebanks, or rather by all of them, at least in these parts. Relatives of his own name still pg 619reside at Doncaster or near it. Old Wilsy1 knew him well. Wilsy and all the old women used to look back with delight upon his exhibitions, and talk of them with profound reverence also for his medical skill.—

Many thanks for your Pamphlet2                 W. W.

My Sister rather suffers from this raw and uncertain weather.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 A draft of the first two volumes of The Doctor, which were published early in Jan. 1834 (Southey, vi. 226–8). Southey had been compiling the work over many years.
Editor’s Note
2 The reference to Wilberforce, who seems to have kept snuff loose in his pockets, is to be found in The Doctor, i. 22.
Editor’s Note
3 See The Doctor, i. 117, where Southey writes: 'Let not Protestants suppose that Nepotism is an affection confined to the dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church. In its excess indeed it is peculiarly a Papal vice … but like many other sins it grows out of the corruption of a good feeling.' The MS. version of the passage may have been more severe.
Editor’s Note
4 Written sail.
Editor’s Note
5 See The Doctor, i. 213 ff.
Editor’s Note
6 Almost certainly the illness mentioned in Southey's letter to John Rickman of 1 May (Warter, iv. 337), which helps to establish the date of this letter.
Editor’s Note
7 See The Doctor, i. 227, where Southey gives an account of Dr. Green based on W. W.'s letter. See also MY ii. 447.
Editor’s Note
1 Mrs. Wilson, the old housekeeper at Greta Hall, beloved of Hartley Coleridge, who used to call her Wilsy (see EY, pp. 335, 447). She died in 1820. (de Selincourt's note.)
Editor’s Note
2 A Letter to John Murray Esq. 'touching' Lord Nugent, in reply to a letter from his Lordship touching an article in the Quarterly Review, by the author of that article (anon.), 1833. George Nugent Grenville, Baron Nugent (1788–1850), an extreme Whig, one-time M.P. for Aylesbury, now Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, had published towards the end of 1831 Some Memorials of John Hampden, his Party, and his Times. The work was reviewed favourably by Macaulay, but Southey attacked it in the Quarterly Review, xlvii (July 1832), 457–519, comparing it unfavourably with Isaac D'Israeli's Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First. His review developed his favourite parallel between the age of the Civil War and the era of the Reform Bill, and ended by quoting W. W.'s sonnet Upon the late General Fast (see L. 693 above) as evidence that 'old English feeling and old English piety' were not yet dead. Nugent's reply, A Letter to John Murray touching an Article in the last Quarterly Review …, dated 18 Sept. 1832, attacked Southey's interpretation of seventeenth-century history, adverted to his political inconsistency with quotations from Wat Tyler, and described W. W.'s poem as 'a very sorry sonnet'. Southey had now launched his reply to this Letter. The MS. was sent to the printer in mid-February (Warter, iv. 329; Curry, ii. 393); and a month later Lockhart was planning to include it in the next Quarterly (Curry, ii. 396), but it eventually appeared as a separate pamphlet later in the spring (which confirms the dating of W. W.'s letter here). In his pamphlet, Southey castigated Nugent for sacrificing truth to party spirit, for concealing the shortcomings of his hero—and also for failing to identify the author of the sonnet, 'which no one having any pretensions to be conversant with the literature of the present age, could have failed to affiliate rightly'.
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