Jump to Content
Jump to chapter

William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth

The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 6: The Later Years: Part III: 1835–1839 (Second Revised Edition)

Find Location in text

Main Text

pg 5801243. W. W. to H. C. R.

  • Address: H. C. Robinson Esqre, 2 Plowdens Builds, Temple.
  • Postmark: 9 May 1838.
  • Stamp: Old Broad St.
  • Endorsed: May 1838: Wordsworth, opinion of Clarkson and Wilberforce. Copyright Bill.
  • MS. Dr. Williams's Library.
  • Morley, i. 360.

[In M. W.'s hand]

[c. 5 May 1838]

My dear Friend

I should have written to you some time since, but I expected a few words from you on the prospects of the Copy-right bill, about which I have taken much pains, having written (which perhaps I told you before) scarcely less than 50 letters and notes in aid of it. It gives me pleasure that you approve of my letter to Sergeant Talfourd. From modesty I sent it to him with little hope that he would think it worth while to publish it, which I gave him leave to do. He tells me, as you do, that it was of great service. If I had been assured that he would have given it to the world, that letter would have been written with more care, and with the addition of a very few words upon the policy of the bill as a measure for raising the character of our literature,—a benefit which, heaven knows, it stands much in need of. I should also have declared my firm belief that the apprehensions of its injurious effect in checking the circulation of books, have been entertained without due knowledge of the subject. The gentlemen of your quondam Profession, with their fictitious rights, their public rights, their sneers at sentiment and so forth, and the Sugdenian1 allowance of 7 years, after the death of the Authors, pg 581have indelibly disgraced themselves, and confirmed my belief that in many matters of prime interest, whether with reference to justice or expediency, laws would be better made by any bodies of Men than by Lawyers.

But enough of this. My mind is full of the subject in all its bearings and if I had had any practice in public speaking, I would have grasped at the first good opportunity that offered, to put down one and all its opponents—not that I think any thing can come up to the judgment and the eloquence with which the Sergeant has treated it.

What you say of the Wilberforces and Mr C.1 I thoroughly sympathize with—there is nothing in my judgment in the slightest degree discreditable to Mr C. in what you report. We all know how his health was shattered by his labours—his private fortune, I heard either from himself or Mrs C. long ago never exceeded £8000, of which full one half was spent in the service. He gave all his time to it, thro the course of many years—till he came into Westd a complete wreck of what had been a most robust Man. Whether religious scruples prevented him from taking duty in the Church to which he was ordained Deacon, I do not know for a certainty, but I rather think so, at all events, had the state of his health allowed him to follow any other profession or calling—his previous ordination was an insuperable bar. If ever any man was entitled to a subscription for public services that man was Mr Clarkson. Then as to his Brother,2 if he were really a Man of desert, as I never heard pg 582anything to the contrary, What harm was there in his applying to Mr W. to have his Brother's claims attended to in high quarters—Could it have been proved, that he made any sacrifice of truth or principle with these views? Or that he laid claim to more credit than he was fairly entitled to in respect to his motives; even then the publication of such letters could have answered no good purpose but as the matter stands, the conduct of the Wilberforces admits of no palliation, and Mr C. either by himself or others will be vindicated at their cost. We have neither seen the review,1 nor the books nor any extracts from them that at all interested us—except a droll story told to W. by Mr Pitt, of a Frenchman's ever ready cure for his distress, in his dancing Dog.

Now may I presume upon your friendship so far as to beg you to serve me if possible in a little matter of business—Mr Courtney writes me word, that there are a few hundred pounds of mine lying dead in his hands—and asks to know what he is to do with it. I have not answered his letter which came some time since—Will you be so good as to see him and consult with him what is best and safest to do with it. Mr Strickland Cookson (6 Lincoln's Inn) has lodged some money for me which pays 5 per C. with what he believes to be good security—but I am not so anxious for high interest, as for reasonable interest—say not under 4 pr Ct with entire safety. He Mr Cookson might be of use in the matter and would be so I know cheerfully if it be in his power.

If the Railway from London to Preston only had been complete I would have set off before this to see you and my other friends in Town for a fortnight.

We have received volumes of Poems etc from Mr Milnes, Mr Kenyon and Mr Trench—the2 other day only—all of them if we may judge from what we have read, of great merit—but my head has been so full of this C. Rt3 and other matters, that I have only thought myself authorized to write to Mr Milnes to thank him for his attention—hereafter I shall write again—the others are unacknowledged—If you see K. pray report what I have written.

pg 583My poor Sister is much the same—of Dora the accts are pretty good, tho' she has had a severe cold—We expect her at home the beginning of next Month—Dear Mrs Clarkson's letter, tho' written last Aug. was gratefully received—and it was a satisfaction to think that good Mr C. is now so much better in health than when that letter was written.

We expect a call from the Ticknors1 next Wednesday—they have written from Dumfries to that effect—they are steering their course homeward. Next week I mean to go over to see Lord Lonsdale for a few days at Lowther near Penrith where if you should be disposed to favor me with a [letter yo]u2 might write under cover to his Lordship:

  • faithfully yours,    
  • with Mrs Ws and my sister's affectionate regards.    
  • [signed] Wm Wordsworth  

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Sir Edward Burtenshaw Sugden, later 1st Baron St. Leonards (1781–1875), was Tory M.P. for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (1828–30), St. Mawes (1831–2), and Ripon (1837), Solicitor General in 1829–30, and Irish Chancellor under Peel in 1834–5 and 1841–6. He was briefly Lord Chancellor in 1852 in Lord Derby's first cabinet. He had spoken against Talfourd's Bill in the debate on 25 Apr., but stated that he would not oppose an extension of copyright for five or seven years after an author's death, to 'soothe his dying moments by the reflection that, for some time at least, his wife and children would have some little provision'. He took the extreme view that there was no common-law copyright residing in the author, beyond the manuscript when it was written, or while it remained in his possession.
Editor’s Note
1 In his letter of 4 May, H. C. R. had drawn W. W.'s attention to The Life of William Wilberforce, just published by his sons Robert and Samuel (see MY ii. 482), which depreciated Clarkson's part in the abolition movement and cast doubt on the accuracy of his History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (see MY i. 152, 160). To vindicate himself, Clarkson published Strictures on a Life of William Wilberforce, 1838, to which H. C. R. contributed a preface and a supplement; and when this was answered by the Wilberforces in their edition of The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 1840, H. C. R. put out an Exposure of Misrepresentations contained in the Preface to the Correspondence of William Wilberforce. The controversy dragged on till 1843, when the Wilberforces made some belated amends in the new abridged edition of the Life, and withdrew the offending passages. See Earl Leslie Griggs, Thomas Clarkson, the Friend of Slaves, 1936, pp. 169 ff.
Editor’s Note
2 Lieut. John Clarkson (see EY, p. 527). Thomas Clarkson had sought to procure his brother's promotion to the rank of captain through the influence of Wilberforce. See Life of William Wilberforce, ii. 39.
Editor’s Note
1 James Stephen, 'The Life of William Wilberforce', Edinburgh Review, lxvii (1838), 142–80: repr. in Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography. In his letter of 4 May H. C. R. had mentioned the article, which cited W. W.'s sonnet on Thomas Clarkson, but was uncertain who had written it.
Editor’s Note
2 the written twice.
Editor’s Note
3 Copyright.
Editor’s Note
1 The Ticknors had spent the winter in Paris, and were now on their way back to America. According to The Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, ii. 167, the visit to Rydal took place on 9 May, which helps to establish the date of this letter. Ticknor recorded in his Diary: 'Mrs. Wordsworth asked me to talk to him about finishing the Excursion, or the Recluse; saying, that she could not bear to have him occupied constantly in writing sonnets and other trifles, while this great work lay by him untouched, but that she had ceased to urge him on the subject, because she had done it so much in vain…. He said that the Introduction, which is a sort of autobiography, is completed. This I knew, for he read me large portions of it twenty years ago. The rest is divided into three parts, the first of which is partly written in fragments, which Mr. Wordsworth says would be useless and unintelligible in other hands than his own; the second is the Excursion; and the third is untouched. On my asking him why he does not finish it, he turned to me very decidedly, and said, "Why did not Gray finish the long poem he began on a similar subject? Because he found he had undertaken something beyond his powers to accomplish. And that is my case."'
Editor’s Note
2 MS. torn.
logo-footer Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. Access is brought to you by Log out