Robert Southey

Herbert Knowles to Robert Southey, 28 December, 1816; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 4:223-26.

Gomersal, near Leeds, Dec. 28, 1816.

My dear Sir,

I have duly received your two last letters, both of which have filled me with pleasure and gratitude, not so much for the solid advantage which your kindness affords and has obtained for me, as for the tender manifestation which it gives me of your concern for my welfare.

And now, my dear Sir, I will freely state to you my feelings and my sentiments at the present hour. Upon reading the Life of Kirke White, I was struck with surprise at the distinguished success which he met with at the University; and from his inordinate anxiety and immoderate exertions to obtain it, I was insensibly led into the opinion, not that his success at college was considered as a sine qua non for the benevolence of his patrons, but that that benevolence was given under the impression, and accompanied with the expectation, that he would make a corresponding compensation in the credit reflected upon them from his distinction at college.

I will not deceive. If I thought the bounty of my friends was offered under the same impression, I would immediately decline it. Far be it from me to foster expectations which I feel I cannot gratify. My constitution is not able to bear half the exertion under which Kirke White sunk; double those exertions would be insufficient to obtain before October next his attainments, or insure his success at St. John's. Two years ago I came to Richmond, totally ignorant of classical and mathematical literature. Out of that time, during three months and two long vacations, I have made but a retrograde course; during the remaining part of the time, having nothing to look forward to, I had nothing to exert myself for, and wrapped in visionary thought, and immersed in cares and sorrows peculiarly my own, I was diverted from the regular pursuit of those qualifications which are requisite for University distinction....

I need not say much more. If I enter into competition for University honours, I shall kill myself. Could I twine (to gratify my friends) a Laurel with the Cypress, I would not repine; but to sacrifice the little inward peace which the wreck of passion has left behind, and relinquish every hope of future excellence and future usefulness in one wild and unavailing pursuit, were indeed a madman's act, and worthy of a madman's fate.

Yet will I not be idle; but as far as health and strength allow, I will strive that my passage through the University, if not splendid, shall be respectable; and if it reflect no extraordinary credit on my benefactors, it will, I trust, incur them no disgrace.

I am at a loss to convey to you the high sense I feel of your proffered kindness, and that of your friends. The common professions of gratitude all can use, and extraordinary ones are unnecessary. Suffice it, then, to say, I thank you from my heart; let time and my future conduct tell the rest.

I know not how I should act with respect to Lord Spencer and Mr. Rogers. Will you direct me? Should I write to them? If so, will you give me their respective addresses? With the highest esteem for your character, profound veneration for your talents, and the warmest gratitude for your kindness, I have the honour to be,

My dear Sir,

Affectionately yours,