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Southey’s “New System”: the monitorial controversy and the making of the “entire man of letters”

  • Tom Duggett

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  • Tom Duggett
    Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

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He … contrives to make punishment a matter of diversion and laughter for the spectators; having heard perhaps of the good effects which result from making an auto-da-fe a raree-show for the people, and the beneficial consequences arising to an English mob from regarding an execution as a holiday, which, in their own expressive language, they call hang-fair. When a boy gets into a singing tone in reading, he is hung round with matches, ballads, or dying speeches, and marched round the school with some boys before him, crying “matches, last dying speech, &c. – exactly imitating the dismal tones with which such things are hawked about the streets in London.”

QR 6:11 [1811], 283; NSE 89

This was Robert Southey’s characteristically colorful description of the schoolroom discipline of the dissenting schoolmaster and educational theorist Joseph Lancaster. The context of Southey’s remarks was the controversy surrounding plans for a national system of education, based on the so-called monitorial method for the elementary instruction of the poor. As Southey’s lurid imagery of vulgar spectacle, religious persecution and mob justice suggests, popular education was a highly charged issue. In his October 1811 Quarterly Review essay, republished as a pamphlet on The Origin, Nature, and Object, of the New System of Education in 1812, Southey explained that “the calamitous effects of the French Revolution” had left education “regarded now with fear.” “[I]nstead of perceiving that all these evils had arisen from half-knowledge acting upon ignorance,” many supporters of the Establishment had instead fallen “into the grievous error of supposing that the ignorance of the subject was the best security of the government” (QR 6:11 [1811], 292-3; NSE 125). Back in 1807, indeed, Southey had abominated Evangelical efforts to obstruct Lancaster’s “tried and … successful” system (AR 5 [1807], 278; Craig 97). Against the background of efforts to legislate for a national schools network based on Lancaster’s non-denominational approach, Southey in 1807 had pointedly called Lancaster’s “plans ... of great national importance” (AR 5 [1807], 278, 281-2). From 1808 onwards, however, a complex of personal, professional, and ideological factors led Southey (and the other Lake poets) to turn against Lancaster, a Quaker, and towards another variant of the monitorial method developed in Madras, India, in the 1790s by the Anglican clergyman Dr. Andrew Bell. This essay sets out to explore that change, in the context of Southey’s contemporary self-construction as a systematic public writer. By repeatedly writing on the origins of the “New System,” I argue, Southey effectively begs the larger question of system, and provides a case-study in vital issues of originality, Romantic historiography, and authorial integrity.

Monitorial education, popular at the time, is best remembered today in the Victorian shape of Thomas Gradgrind’s school of “hard facts”; an identification anticipated in Southey’s 1816 reference to the system as an “intellectual steam-engine” (QR 15:29 [1816], 227). (The inscription on Bell’s tomb also refers to the machine-like power of a system “founded upon the multiplication of power, and the division of labour, in the moral and intellectual world”[1]). It was first explained in Bell’s 1797 Experiment in Education, republished and expanded in 1805 and 1808. Bell detailed how the temporary use of monitors in lieu of teachers at the Egmore orphanage in Madras had led to the discovery that “tuition by the scholars themselves” actually accelerated learning (Bell 1808, 2). Wordsworth and Coleridge proclaimed the “life and spirit in knowledge” “extracted” and “appropriated” from “truths scattered for the benefit of all” (WPW 2: 8). But Bell proved it in practice, as his pupil-teacher brought any “difficulty … down to the level of his schoolfellows’ capacities,” and learned the lesson “far more effectually than if he had not to teach it to another” (1808, 45-6, 23). The system was both highly regimented and highly mobile. “[I]n a school as in an army,” Bell claimed, “discipline is the first, second, and third essential,” and pupils were “promoted or degraded from place to place or class to class, according to … proficiency” (11, 15). The overall result of its “studied” “concatenation” of parts (88-9) was a massive (theoretical) gain in economy and efficiency. Trumping Lancaster’s boasted ratio of one to a thousand, Bell claimed that the Madras “engine” would allow a single “able and diligent” master to “conduct ten contiguous schools, each consisting of a thousand scholars” (Lancaster 1805, 23; Bell 1808, 2). Because it thus seemed to contain an exponential principle, and was military-disciplinary in nature, this was an educational system for the industrial and colonial age.

But although fitness for the new social conditions explains why Southey (and Wordsworth and Coleridge) supported monitorial education in general, it does not account for their support of Bell and opposition to Lancaster’s broadly similar system. The Bell versus Lancaster argument has sometimes been cast as a farce, a “difference … / Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee” (Salmon xxvii). De Quincey made mock-epic fun of it. “[D]ull” and “fishy” Bell was “taken up” by the “Westmoreland people”; “Southey with his usual temperate fervor,” while Coleridge seized upon this “scarecrow” for his “monomaniac likings” and “heated himself to such an extent, that people, when referring to that subject, asked each other, ‘Have you heard Coleridge lecture on Bel and the Dragon?’” (De Quincey 2: 278). Recent criticism has converged on a broadly ideological explanation.[2] Bell’s explicitly Anglican system, formulated in relation to what the evangelical Sarah Trimmer called the “good old paths” laid down at the Reformation (Trimmer 15), made a clear contrast with Lancaster’s anti-sectarian and allegedly “Jacobin” scheme. Drawing on a concept of the national Church that would also inform Coleridge’s idea of the “permanent, nationalized, learned order” of the “clerisy” (CCS 68-9), Southey envisioned education and religion as inextricable. “[A] system of national education” based on the Lancasterian “principle that the children shall not be instructed in the national religion” was, he claimed, “palpably absurd” (QR 6:11 [1811], 289; NSE 106-7). Coleridge’s Constitution of the Church and State (1830) similarly conceived the “national clerisy or church” in specific contrast to such educational shows of London as “Lancasterian schools,” “mechanics’ institutions,” and new-university “lecture-bazaars” (CCS 69). Highlighting the alleged “absurdity” of non-sectarian national education enabled these self-consciously medievalizing poets to shift political orientation, repair broken continuities in their own careers, and to become – in Marilyn Butler’s phrase – “champion[s] of the old order ... in an ideal form” (Butler 165).

Southey did not, however, start in this position. His 1807 piece on Lancaster for the Annual Review specifically targeted “Mrs. Trimmer” and the rest of her “set” for the “calumnious bigotry” of their claims “that the tendency of Joseph Lancaster’s system is to make converts from the Church of England, and to murder the Christian religion, body and soul” (AR 5 [1807], 278-82). Southey’s change of posture to make common cause with an evangelical movement that he elsewhere reviled as a moral and constitutional evil – the London Corresponding Society and Spanish Inquisition in one – is perhaps particularly puzzling.[3]

I. Style and Punishment

Often seen as uninterestingly accidental (Speck 144-5) and/or predictably programmatic (Andrews 55; Craig 97-9), Southey’s writings on monitorial education in fact constitute a critical episode in his self-construction as a public writer. The excessive image of Lancaster “making an auto-da-fe a raree-show for the people” serves the local purpose of highlighting Lancaster’s use of “scorn and mockery as principles of education” (QR 6:11 [1811], 285; NSE 97). But it also captures and crystallizes with strange economy Southey’s concerns across his career: with education, with discipline, with Spain and Portugal, and the (nefarious) practices of Catholicism, and with the proper way of speaking to and for the people. This kind of concision was what Southey was known (and paid) for in his years at the Quarterly Review; as a method of proceeding by “chain of associations” rather than a “chain of reasoning” it drew the reproofs of critics like Francis Jeffrey and Thomas Macaulay (ER 50 [1830], 528; Craig 58, 140). Hazlitt’s sketch in The Spirit of the Age (1825) showed a textual being without the gusto of genius:

However irregular in his opinions, Mr. Southey is constant, unremitting, mechanical in his studies ... The variety and piquancy of his writings form a striking contrast to the mode in which they are produced ... He passes from verse to prose, from history to poetry, from reading to writing, by a stop-watch. He writes a fair hand … sitting upright in his chair, leaves off when he comes to the bottom of the page, and changes the subject for another, as opposite as the Antipodes.

382-3

On this view, the associative manner was an index of apostasy, the stylistic signature of an entirely systematic writer entirely without authorial integrity.

Views of Southey’s peripheral or “exoskeletal” identity are anticipated, however, by his own claims to emergent coherence (see Perry 18-21). He deliberately cultivated an exogenous, “oral” style, maximizing topical connectedness rather than metaphysical depth – which he left to Wordsworth and Coleridge (Craig 139, 127). His maxims for writing were: “say what you have to say as perspicuously as possible, as briefly as possible, & as rememberably as possible, & take no other thought about it. Omit none of those little circumstances which give life to narration, & bring old manners, old feelings, & old times before your eyes” (CLRS letter 1671). This focus on the telling detail, combined with the sheer eclecticism and breadth of his coverage, makes his work readable as a sort of stratigraphical map of the cultural scene.

Southey’s claims to overarching system had a paradoxical intimacy with his anonymous and miscellaneous reviewing. “[T]he great use of reviewing,” he told Bedford in early 1805, “is that it obliges me to think upon subjects on which I had been before content to have very vague opinions” (CLRS letter 1022). By May 1806, he was claiming that his reviews offered the best way to “get at” the true “tone & temper of my mind” (CLRS letter 1188). And by the end of 1808, as the former “Jacobine poet” par excellence prepared to join the Tory Quarterly Review, he spoke to his friends of a compact, “free & fearless,” “Robert Southeyish” prose style (CLRS letter 1557) that allowed all his “opinions” to “hang together”, “tho … all the hanging which they imply does not immediately appear” (CLRS letters 765, 1557, 1540).

Southey thus aligned himself with the strategic miscellaneity of the Romantic periodical, and its modeling of what Isaac D’Israeli called a “subterraneous” mode of cultural transmission (see Duggett 26-7). His substantial contributions to the Annual Review between 1803 and 1809 led to a commission “to write an annual account of English domestic and European politics” for the Edinburgh Annual Register between 1808 and 1813 (Speck 152-3). This comprehensive historiographical work put Southey among such pillars of the annuals as Burke and Godwin. As Speck notes, he took this role as unofficial national historiographer very seriously, building his part to become “commentator … as well as chronicler,” and producing a commercially near-suicidal chronicle of over half a million words on the events of 1809 (142).

The enormous labour of synthesis was pivotal. If reviewing had obliged Southey to think, then the Register made it coherent. Southey reflected in the 1830s that it was at this time that he matured as a writer, from “feelings” based on “sympathy or provocation,” towards “opinions” based on “enquiry and reflection” (see Speck 142). The effort at this time to become systematic is borne out by Southey’s methodical subdivision of his Quarterly essay on monitorial education into “two questions,” “a personal one respecting its author, and a political one respecting its application” (QR 6:11 [1811], 265, 290; NSE 2). In David Craig’s authoritative account, Southey’s support for Bell thus falls under two distinct heads: a dislike of punishments that goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to an educational ethos of self-development poorly served in Lancaster’s schools, and an analysis of the broader social utility of “the Anglican basis of the schools” (Craig 98-9). But as the drift from the “personal” question to the emotive issue of punishment here suggests, these motives were in practice inevitably conflated through his associative mode of proceeding.

Southey’s attack on Lancaster’s punishments had deep roots in bitter personal experience. He was expelled from Westminster in 1792 for a diatribe against corporal punishment in his school-magazine-cum-monastic-chronicle, The Flagellant. Writing under the monkish pseudonym Gualbertus, Southey attacked the Satanic “beasts of the disciplinarians” among the clergy. For the young poet, the issue of punishment activated the whole political scene. “[G]ood god,” he wrote to Bedford with 1792 “expiring,” “how many events have transpird – from the fall of Gualbertus to that of Louis! from my libel upon rod to Paines upon scepters” (CLRS letter 35).

Lancaster’s punishments revived this old complex of associations. The scene of instruction in Lancaster’s schoolroom invited Coleridge’s 1810 likening of it to Newgate and slave ships, and Southey’s 1806 analogy with the “mechanical discipline” of “a Prussian army” (Lancaster 1805, 108; AR 4 [1806], 736; QR 6:11 [1811], 285; NSE 95-6). There was a vigorous regime of pillorying, shackling and yoking for such infractions as idling, talking, and a “singing tone” in reading (Richardson 94; QR 6:11 [1811], 281; NSE 34; Lancaster 1805, 100-103). Hardened recidivists were punished by prolonged hanging, as Lancaster put it, “in a basket, suspended to the roof of the school, in the sight of all the pupils, who frequently smile at the birds in the cage” (Lancaster 102; qtd. QR 6:11 [1811], 283; NSE 88).

Southey’s 1806 Annual Review piece on Lancaster described but made no comment on these punishments, besides observing that large classrooms necessitated “strict method in the minutest cases,” and calling the correspondent system of rewards “utterly inconsistent” with Quaker morality (AR 4 [1806], 735-6). But in the Quarterly and in his 1812 pamphlet, Southey emphasized the inhumanity of Lancaster’s approach compared to Bell’s. This was reflected in what he presented as the Edinburgh Review’s praise for Lancaster “enabling a boy to communicate that to others of which he is ignorant himself, that is, to teach what he has not learnt ... the blind leading the blind!” (NSE 76; ER 17:33 [1810], 74). Lancaster could not be blamed for the follies of the Edinburgh reviewers (NSE 77), but he was self-condemned by his fertility in devising punishments. “However objectionable the rod may be, (and we should be among the first to advise its total disuse),” Southey wrote, “it becomes a wise and humane engine of punishment when compared with the yokes, and shackles, the cords and fetters and cages of Mr. Lancaster” (QR 6:11 [1811], 284; NSE 94). In Bell’s schools, by contrast, “the business of the teachers was to preclude punishment by preventing faults” (NSE 12), and when the system was implemented in the “Kendal Schools of Industry 1798,” “punishment was almost superseded by reward” (NSE 25-7). In contrast with Lancaster's divisive spectacles of "shame and mockery," the Madras school operated a miniature jury trial system based on the weekly reading in assembly of a discreetly compiled “black book” of misdemeanors. “[T]ried by a jury of his peers,” Southey claimed, a boy was thus “trained up in the habitual use of that privilege which is the pride of the English nation,” and with a sense of punishment as determined by “rule and reason” (NSE 52-3). Lancaster’s “tickets” and “yokes” were “desperate quackery” in comparison (NSE 97).

Southey’s central worry about Lancaster’s approach, however, was its ultimate moral and political tendency. With echoes of Wordsworth on urban "uniformity" and "gross and violent stimulants" (LB 744), Southey claimed that Lancaster's mechanical approach, combining an immoral “stimulus of gain” with a dread of ever-varying modes of spectacular discipline, inevitably produced a progressive “deterioration of feeling” (QR 6:11 [1811], 281; NSE 82-84). “[B]odily pain is nothing,” he wrote, “to the sting of shame, nothing to the burning anguish produced by the sense of insult, inhumanity, and injustice.” “[A]s the best boys are always most alive to shame,” this was to “rende[r] punishment more severe precisely in proportion to the good qualities of the offender,” and to inculcate a shameless, “resentful and malicious disposition.” In the Biographia Literaria (1817), Coleridge footnoted his discussion of Wordsworth’s poetic theory with a similar disquisition on Lancaster’s “sophistications of Dr Bell’s invaluable system”: “[T]his soul-benumbing ignominy ... [remedies] one extreme in order to introduce another ... enforcing a semblance of petulant ease and self-sufficiency, in repression, and possible after-perversion of the natural feelings” (BL 2: 60-61).

Sarah Trimmer had in 1805 placed Lancaster’s gimcrack “order of merit” in the ominous context of the “extinction” of aristocracy in France, fearing the consequences if boys became “accustomed to consider themselves as the nobles of a school” (1805, 39). Southey and Coleridge’s more sophisticated analysis of Jacobinism led to a similar conclusion: the shame and resentment produced by Lancasterian punitive education, Coleridge wrote in 1814, led to “a species of Jacobinism, . . . tending to . . . the rage of innovation, and the scorn and hatred of all lasting establishments” (EOT 2: 396). Since, as Southey had noted in his 1807 Annual review, Lancaster’s schools were aimed specifically at the growing “class of children” in large manufacturing centers “unconnected” with “established charity, or parochial schools” (AR 5 [1807], 281-2), their ethos of half-education and mob-justice would foster a revolutionary dynamic in the very urban population that was provoked into Jacobinism by the iniquities of the “manufacturing system” (QR 8:16 [1812], 343-6).

By 1814, then, Southey and Coleridge shared a politicized view of education. Their move to oppose Lancaster on the basis of his moral/disciplinary system models their self-justifying narratives of British politics since the 1790s and their account of the social threat posed by the urban mob. By contrast, they figured Bell’s system as a sort of moral vaccine – a controlled dose of the Reformation administered nationwide by the parochial clergy to pre-empt new revolutionary contagion. Southey declared in the Quarterly that

the invention of printing did not come more opportunely for the restoration of letters, and the blessed work of reformation, than Dr. Bell’s discovery to vaccinate the next generation against the [Jacobin] pestilence which has infected this. The greatest boon which could be conferred upon Britain (and this is of such paramount importance that we cannot enforce it too earnestly, or repeat it too often) is a system of national education, established by the legislature in every parish, as an outwork and bulwark of the national church…

QR 8:16 [1812], 354

Southey became Bell’s greatest advocate: he repeated his call for a nationally regenerative parochial education system into the 1830s – exemplifying in the process his associative and historical approach to system. His 1817 essay “Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection” linked the war of “men of letters” against “the established order of things” back to the historical alienation of the class from the Church, and so from a stake in the nation, at the Reformation (QR 16:32 [1817], 541). This “hostility to the established order” among “men of letters, as a class” was targeted in his 1831 proposal for a state-run national academy of letters, with “literary or lay benefices” of up to £500 per annum; a future version of the unrealized Henrician-era plan, discussed in his Book of the Church (1824), to transform “Monkery” into “establishments for learned men” (see Gilmartin 230, 236; LC 6: 134-5). The Book of the Church was itself conceived in early 1812, between the two waves of Southey’s intervention in the monitorial controversy, as one of a pair of children’s textbooks designed to help materialize the constitution in church and state in Bell’s classrooms (Andrews 57). And ultimately Bell’s schools offered the best way to bind the clerical class back into the church (QR 6:11 [1811], 302-3). “[A]n educated population, – fed from their childhood with the milk of sound doctrine, not dry-nursed in dissent” would redeem the organic national fullness imagined to subsist before the Reformation, but with Protestant virtues rather than “Romish … ceremonials” “dexterously interwoven with the whole habits of their usual life” (QR 19:37 [1818], 87-8).

Southey carried on promoting Bell even after Bell’s death in 1832, and when Bell’s bequest of £1,000 allowed him to scale back his Quarterly work (Speck 216, 220, 229-30), he dutifully devoted his mornings to the “momentous subjects” involved in writing his friend’s biography and editing his correspondence; the work still ongoing when dementia stilled his pen in 1839.[4]

II. Periodical Politics

If Bell’s bequest laid the foundations of financial security that finally allowed Southey to escape from what he figured as literary “serfdom” at the Quarterly (Speck 199), his writings on Bell’s system played a key role in the process by which he – a former Jacobin – became naturalized in this Tory journal in the first place. Motivated by opposition to Catholic emancipation, and by hatred of the Quarterly’s pro-peace Whig rival, the Edinburgh Review, Southey made common, if uneasy, cause with the Quarterly in 1808. He seems to have conceived his first Quarterly assault on Lancasterian education as a sort of rhetorical Trafalgar; an opportunity to demonstrate the extent of his (newfound) duty by battling the Edinburgh enemy, which supported Lancaster’s scheme. But, as he complained, his demonstration of a convert’s zeal was censored by the editor, William Gifford: his article “would have been the heaviest blow the Edinburgh has ever received if all the shot of my heavy artillery had not been drawn before the guns were fired” (CLRS letter 1975). As these comments reveal, the article exposed Southey’s maverick status. Gifford told the Quarterly’s publisher John Murray “I am quite afraid at Southey’s violence and must leave out the passages which attack the ER so personally.” The king’s subscription to Lancaster’s scheme back in 1805 also made Gifford and Murray hesitate. Had Southey’s article not been “made safe” by excising its personal attacks on the Edinburgh editors, and diluting his presumptuous statements about the positions of the monarch on the issue, Gifford was “quite sure we should have terrified our best friends” (QRA: QR 6.11 (1811)).

Murray was nevertheless content to grant an exceptional, precedent-setting, permission for Southey to expand the essay into a pamphlet under his own name. Murray duly published it as the 1812 New System. But why, having already given abundant proof of loyalty to his new “company,” did Southey in 1811-12 still feel strongly enough on the subject of Bell and Lancaster to go to press again? I want to suggest that the subject of educational system held out the prospect of constructing a coherent public platform of his own, in starker opposition to the Edinburgh than the politic Quarterly would allow—a platform on which he could resolve the difficulties in which he had been placed by the Edinburgh and by political developments. On the one hand he was a fervent anti-Catholic, opposed to any policy that would end the civil restrictions placed upon Catholics and allow them to serve as military officers. On the other, after France invaded Spain and Portugal, he was a vociferous advocate of sending British forces in ever increasing numbers to assist the Catholic uprising against Napoleonic rule. These forces, as the Edinburgh pointed out, depended on Catholic soldiers and sailors in their ranks: opposing Catholic emancipation at home while advocating war in Catholic Iberia was thus self-contradictory and potentially self-defeating. Indeed, the November 1810 issue of the Edinburgh that contained Brougham’s latest essay on Lancaster also featured a lead-article on the “Catholic Question” that made precisely this case. The article argued that legal disabilities for Catholics “deprived” the nation of a fifth of the available “talent” in the officer class. And it produced enlistment figures to show that opposing emancipation was opposing “the rights and pretensions of more than a half of our army and our navy” (ER 17 [1810], 2, 35).

The Quarterly’s editorial policy of silence on the Catholic question shielded Southey from the immediate force of the Edinburgh’s critique. But the corollary was a generalized pressure to identify issues and what he called “new … projects” (QR 6:12 [1811], 357) to conduct the religious and political struggle by proxy. In a Quarterly essay of May 1811, also mangled by Gifford (Craig 56), Southey thus promoted Captain Pasley’s “political Bible” and its calls for national mobilization and Britain becoming “a warlike people by land as well as by sea” (qtd. Craig 154). The potential gain in national resources effectively disarmed the logistical argument for Catholic emancipation. Southey told Scott on 2 April 1811 that his “object” in reviewing Pasley was to “convert unbelievers to the true faith,” “fully persuaded that if … the means which we so abundantly possess be … fairly excited we may dictate a peace under the walls of Paris” (CLRS letter 1895).

This context of rhetorical proxy-war with the pro-emancipation Edinburgh explains Southey’s association of the anti-sectarian Lancaster with Catholic intolerance and the “auto-da-fe.” In this context, Southey could scarcely have failed to notice the claims that Bell made for his education system, nor the way he had singed the Edinburgh’s beard by appropriating its analogy between Lancaster’s monitors and the “constant and minute attention” of non-commissioned officers in the military (ER 11 [1807], 65; qtd. in Bell 1808, 25). Turning the analogy around, Bell had described his “engine” as having “the most general and extensive utility,” including giving “new strength and force to our army and navy” (96). Southey’s Quarterly article and New System pamphlet repeat the point, and both versions conclude by drawing together Pasley and Bell in a vision of an irresistible imperial machine:

By bravely defying and confronting the power of France, baffling and defeating the armies of the Barbarian, upon what he was accustomed to consider his own undisputed element, we have raised the name of England upon the continent, as a military power … By the establishment of parochial schools we should make our prosperity at home keep pace with our reputation abroad, multiply our resources, increase our strength, and render it permanent.

QR 6:11 [1811], 303-4; NSE 200

Bell’s system effectively provided the keystone to bridge the gap – as exposed by the Edinburgh – between Southey’s pro-war and anti-Catholic “opinions.” His claim that the pamphlet allowed him to “repay … numerous obligations” (CLRS letter 1975) to the Edinburgh can thus be read as richly ironic. Southey had written the original essay, it is worth recalling, in September 1811 as a warm up for a fresh labour of synthesis on the Annual Register for 1810 (Speck 144). His decision to republish the essay as the New System may therefore mark the precise moment he would later recall from his tenure at the Register, when “feelings” originally “exacted by sympathy or provocation” suddenly cohered into a potentially systematic public position, “taken up upon enquiry and reflection” (qtd. Speck 142).

III. The art of historical book-keeping

I have been arguing that Southey’s turn from championing Lancaster in 1806-7 to condemning him in 1811-12 is closely correlated with his self-reinvention as a systematic journalist, with what Andrews calls “increasingly coherent” “social, political, and religious ideas,” presented from 1809 onwards, on the “prominent platform” of the Quarterly Review (Andrews 47). But as I noted earlier, the accounts of Southey’s career produced by Craig, Speck and Andrews generally see the episode as a simple switch of sides, or, in Andrews’s case, as fully subsumed within concerns on “religious matters” (55). They do not point out – what their excellent work taken together abundantly shows – that the change is egregious, with Southey aware from the start of the issues involved, and arguing equally strenuously on both sides of the issue. I want now to look more closely at these materials, and to bring into focus the implications of Southey’s repeated writings on Bell and Lancaster for larger Romantic issues of system, historicism, and originality.

Between 1807 and 1811, Southey moved from outright hostility to towards alliance with the Evangelical opposition to Lancaster. In his 1807 Annual article, he mocked conspiracy theories about Lancaster’s system making converts from the Church, and quoted Sarah Trimmer’s ally Archdeacon Daubeney claiming that God had so far preserved England from the “remorseless tyrant” Napoleon “‘for the sake of” – gentle reader, what think you? – ‘for the sake of the Church of England’.” Ridiculing this idea, Southey asserted the clear priority of the political constitution:

… not because we are, in spite of such persons as these, still the most enlightened, still the most liberal, and the most religious, and the freest people under heaven, not for the sake of a constitution which, while it remains uninjured by such persons, secures to us the continuance of these blessings, – but for the sake of the church of which Mr. Daubeny is an archdeacon, and which, if it were or could be influenced by Mr. Daubeny [who had tried to shut down the Bath press], would lay claim to papal infallibility, and support the claim by putting in practice that papal intolerance which they already boldly avow.

AR 5 [1807], 278-9

Southey’s 1811 Quarterly Review article and 1812 pamphlet directly reversed this view. The argument runs on the same lines, but in the opposite direction. Southey now taunted the Edinburgh Review for its absurd invective against the “friends of ignorance and persecution” (QR 6:11 [1811], 298; NSE 154). Sarah Trimmer was now not a “bigot” but a “good old lady” who “calmly represented the ill consequences which might arise to the national church, if the children of the laboring classes were not trained up in its doctrines” (QR 6:11 [1811], 288; NSE 103). Religion, politics, and education – previously mutually tolerant – are now fully interfused and homologous:

A state is secure in proportion as the subjects are attached to the laws and institutions of their country; it ought, therefore, to be the first and paramount business of the state to provide that the subjects shall be educated conformably to those institutions; that they should [in the words of King Solomon] be “trained up in the way they should go;” that is, in attachment to the national government and national religion. For the system of English policy consists of church and state; they are the two pillars of the temple of our prosperity; they must stand or fall together; and the fall of either would draw after it the ruin of the finest fabric ever yet reared by human wisdom under divine favour. Now to propose a system of national education, of which it is the avowed and distinguishing principle that the children shall not be instructed in the national religion, is to propose what is palpably absurd.

QR 6:11 [1811], 289; NSE 106-7

Lynda Pratt notes that Southey’s articles for the Quarterly generally show someone “extremely good at saying what he disliked,” but on uncertain ground saying what he “condoned”; an antidotal ethos manifested textually in an habitual use of the double negative (Pratt xxi). His fundamentally oppositionist authorial posture emerges here in phrasing almost comically hedged with negatives, effectively presenting the allegedly unimaginable thing. Encroaching upon the concept of “attachment” to turn a sentiment of loyalty (or absence of disloyalty) into a necessary relation of authority, Southey proceeds as his critics alleged, not by logic but by a rather unstable chain of association.

Speck notes that Southey's “defense of the Church was almost entirely political” (148). A comment of March 1812 nevertheless suggests that it was not Machiavellian, and that Southey was acutely aware of the disjuncture between his strident public defense of the Church and his continued inability to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles: “A man must be content to pay a price for his opinions as well as for his pleasures. I pay the price of not being in the Church” (CLRS letter 2064). His confessional scruples were themselves becoming a conscientious liability. His response to such gathering complexity, however, was a strikingly reductive rhetoric. “[E]ssential to the welfare of the country, & to the very existence of the constitution; – its articles nevertheless exclude me. But I … am ready to stand at the door with a club in my hand, to knock down those who would break it open & rush in for the purpose of destroying it.”

This claim recalls both his 1808 account of the establishment's value in securing “toleration to such hereticks as myself” (CLRS letter 1530) and his anxiety in the 1807 Annual review about a hijack of the constitution through the Church. It also echoes his 1802 image of taking “shelter in the Church that I may not be driven to the Meeting-House," and "roar[ing] aloud" in its defense (CLRS letter 651). Southey’s penchant for reusing an effective figure points here to an underlying continuity beneath his outward conversion to “Church and State” constitutionalism, and his change of sides from Lancaster to Bell. His 1811/12 image of the “finest fabric” plays into a long-standing conservative rhetoric of rejecting reform in view of the deep historical interfusion of the parts of the constitution (Duggett 37-9). But it also pushes the reactionary logic to an extreme where popular education, putatively “Jacobin” in any form, emerges as an active necessity. Bell and the Church replace Lancaster and the Constitution, then, but Southey’s radical 1807 view of the “national importance” of education remains. Moreover, this link with his earlier self is thickly textual – in detail as well as in overall rhetorical structure. Close verbal echoes and parallel sections suggest strongly that Southey systematically reused 1806/7 materials in writing the polemically opposite 1811/12 pieces.[5] On the one hand, this recycling simply reflects his methodical authorial practice: he compiled “writing books” divided into progressively narrowing columns for main and supplementary materials, and further supplemented with an indexed file of miscellaneous notes on “separate bits of paper” allowing “information which is only to be got at piecemeal, and oftentimes incidentally,” to be “brought together … almost imperceptibly,” ready on hand to “insert in their proper places” (CLRS letter 1671). But the visible traces of this "art" or "system" of "historical book-keeping" in the monitorial controversy writings also dramatize Southey’s change of sides: making the 1811-12 writings visible as an encounter with the man in the ideological mirror. When he laments in 1811 that Lancaster’s various falsehoods “past for a time uncontradicted” in print (QR 6:11 [1811], 287; NSE 100), his own articles in the Annual Review are among the guilty parties. Southey’s writing about Bell and Lancaster thus takes place at the (historical) interface of his professional practice as a writer and his identity (or apostasy) as a thinker.

Perhaps the most telling instance of “book-keeping” is Southey’s recycling of historical materials. Craig suggests that Southey’s historical seasoning of his reviews had a credibility-effect (Pratt 107). The Quarterly essay on monitorial education thus deploys the disciplinary prestige of history as part of its case for Bell’s priority over Lancaster, drawing attention to its “being … minute in reference” and its careful assemblage of “recorded and dated facts” (QR 6:11 [1811], 265; NSE 2, 5). But in adopting as historical method an anecdotal approach that “[o]mit[s] none of those little circumstances which give life to narration,” Southey also opened his work to the disruptive potential of historical detail. The 1806 Annual Review piece on Lancaster thus contains a long quotation from “Pietro della Valle,” a writer of “two centuries ago,” outlining the “Indian” practice of learning to write using sand, and, as Southey points out, prefiguring the “new system” of mutual tuition in his report of a group of children saying they needed no teacher to correct them since “it was impossible one difficulty should impede all four at once” (AR 4 [1806], 733-4). This anecdote is repeated in the 1811 article, with minor textual variants (QR 6:11 [1811], 267), and again in the 1812 pamphlet (NSE 181-83). As the rhetorical frame changes, however, so does the effect of the anecdote. In the 1806 piece, Southey follows it with a plain statement that Lancaster’s actual source for the sand-writing practice is “Dr. Bell, of Madras” (AR 4 [1806], 733). In the 1811 Quarterly Review piece, by contrast, the anecdote is not only preceded by another historical nugget about “Pyard de Laval, who began his voyage in 1601,” but followed by the comment that “It appears, from this passage, that even the main principle of the new system might have been discovered in the practice of the Hindoos”. With the “little circumstances” of lively historical narration thus pulling against his overall rhetorical drift towards Bell, Southey is then obliged to row rapidly backwards:

Not that this in the slightest manner affects the merit of the discoverer… The person who first introduced into a school the principle, as a principle, of conducting it by means of the scholars themselves, is as much the discoverer of that principle, as Franklin of electricity, or Jenner of vaccination. The facts were known before them, but in an insulated and unproductive form; they systematized them, and thus communicated to us a new power.

QR 6:11 [1811], 266-8

The 1812 pamphlet version repeats the same material. But Southey prefaces the point about “principle as principle” with a new note that further complicates the issue of Bell’s originality:

This passage [i.e. della Valle’s account] we had marked as worthy of notice before we had heard of Dr. Bell, or any body had heard of Mr. Lancaster; but it was merely marked among the memorabilia of a desultory reader, and the fact, as to all useful purposes, would have been as unproductive as a seed-vessel in the hortus siccus of a botanist.

NSE 183

Southey’s reference to the priority of his own “book-keeping” historiographical practice is qualified as unproductive and hence, in the “systematic” terms he has developed, unoriginal. But this qualification is undermined by a passage placed later in the Quarterly essay, and repeated earlier in the pamphlet, which suggests a complete disjunction between originality and productivity. Having “publicly suggested” a way “by which a school may teach itself,” Bell

would have been the inventor of the system, whether he had ever carried it into effect, or not; just as the discovery of the true form of the earth is due to Newton, not to those persons who verified his opinion by measuring a degree at the equator; or as the great improvement in navigation was made by him who discovered the polarity of the needle, not by the man who first sailed by the compass.

QR 6:11 [1811], 297; NSE 151

Southey positions Bell as the artist to Lancaster’s “productive” artisan; natural philosopher to his mechanic. Even on the face of it, this seems oddly self-defeating, since it cedes to Lancaster the putatively “national” ethos of pragmatism, applied science, and “production”. The analogies used seem almost willfully self-undoing: the divorce of theory from practice in the case of the “needle” and “compass” precisely contradicts the previous insistence that true discovery consists in the practical introduction of principle as principle.

This was to make Bell’s “discovery” appear vanishingly thin. Indeed, the logic of Southey’s literary-historical “originality” argument for Bell ultimately reduces his claim to the system down to an aesthetic judgment on a specific form of words:

What he meant by the “system” is apparent both from the title and the whole tenour of the pamphlet, not writing in sand, not syllabic reading, nor any of the improvements in detail, but the main principle and main-spring of the whole, by which a school or family may teach itself, under the superintendance of the master or parent, the “new mode of conducting a school through the medium of the scholars themselves”– p. 10.

QR 6:11 [1811], 270; NSE 24

Whereas Lancaster is seen as multiplying dubious local improvements that are incoherent in sum, Southey suggests here, and repeatedly throughout the 1812 pamphlet, that Bell’s elegant phrasing of the system is itself the system. In the 1808 Madras School, Bell had relegated this passage, along with the rest of the text of the 1797 Experiment, to an appendix. From three lines near the start of a short pamphlet of forty-eight pages, it was reduced to a mere two at the back of a book of three hundred more (1808, 157). Southey’s text, however, works in precisely the opposite direction: the language of “school through the medium of the scholars themselves” being quoted or closely paraphrased in no fewer than seven places in the pamphlet.[6] Southey’s punctilious use of the (original) 1797 edition is thus significant in a way that goes beyond simply proving Bell’s temporal priority over Lancaster. Bell’s language is rescued from oblivion by his Southeyish interpreter’s stylistic sense of the “perspicuous,” “brief” and “rememberable” phrase; his system of education recreated in the image of Southey’s own labor-saving “art” of literary production. Originality and systematicity thus turn out oddly to consist less in the practical application of abstract principle than in the cultivation of a choicely selective file of notes – to be a matter of the development of an ideologically flexible “system of book-keeping” out of the “memorabilia of a desultory reader.”

IV. Coda: the Southeyish and the Coleridgean

In October 1809, Coleridge asked Southey to write for him a “lively” reader’s letter “upon the faults of the Friend as he might insert & reply to” (CLRS letters 1704, 1736). Southey obliged, but as his personal postscript revealed, “[i]t was against the grain,” the “jest” rapidly turned “earnest,” and “the Sir & the Mr Friend” barely masked what was in effect “a real letter from me to you” (CLRS letter 1704). “You have told me that the straightest line must be the shortest,” Southey reminded “Mr Friend,” “but do not you yourself sometimes nose out your way hound-like in pursuit of truth, turning & winding & doubling & running roundabout, when the same object might be reachd in a tenth part of the time by darting straight forward, like a greyhound, to the mark?” Coleridge never used the letter, preferring criticism of his own devising. Perhaps Southey had cut too deep “against the grain.” Certainly, the “darting greyhound” Southey had in mind was patently none other than himself. Southey wrote to Mary Barker about the unused letter in early 1810, noting the paradox that whereas Coleridge’s intellectual rigor produced only “rambling & inconclusive” writing, “I who am utterly incapable of that toil of thought … never fail to express myself perspicuously & to the point… My way is when I see my object, to dart at it like a grey hound” (CLRS letter 1736). In drawing this contrast, Southey was reframing and repaying Coleridge’s feeling, dating back to their 1790s collaboration, that Southey’s writing ultimately lacked “wholeness,” and “that toil of thinking” which, he told Thelwall, “is necessary in order to plan a Whole” (CL 1: 294).

Coleridge’s later reference to Southey’s “impressive way,” as he urged him in 1812 to face down the print Jacobinism of the Hunts and Cobbett, might usefully be understood in the context of this difference over system and style (CL 3: 410). In Coleridge’s rhetoric, Southey is a sort of geological surveyor wandering the landscape of modern print culture, taking impressions across the range of discursive formations, haunted by the sound of underground streams that only men of deeper science can explore. Whereas the (ideally state-subsidized) core of the "clerisy" serves “science itself,” enlarging its "precincts" and "deepening ... it’s foundations,” popular essayists – “I had almost said Southeys” (CCS 74n) – work above ground, “to distribute and popularize the stores of knowledge already existing,” and hence “look for their own remuneration to the Public” (CL 6: 864).

And yet the Coleridgean and Southeyish writer were not simply poles apart. Deep within Southey’s New System, they become mirror images of each other when Southey’s rhetorical difficulties uneasily transform him into an idealist political theorist of the Coleridgean kind—as when he embraces the Coleridgean “constitutional idea” (CCS 31) of the ideal interdependency of church and state. But the idea sits awkwardly with the historical detail to which he is ostensibly—and usually—committed. As the younger Southey had well known, and as Macaulay would repeat forcefully in his criticisms of similar claims in Southey’s Colloquies (ER 50 [1830] 547-53), the process of historical development since the Reformation had been precisely to allow “hereticks” to “take shelter in the Church,” or not, and to make imaginable “a system of national education, of which it is the avowed and distinguishing principle that the children shall not be instructed in the national religion.” The pillars of church and state had in fact been pushed apart, and the public writer – Coleridge’s ranks of “Southeys” – had materialized within the vacated space. Where else, after all, did Southey imagine himself standing when he spoke of being doctrinally excluded from the Church but of standing guard outside its door “essential to the Constitution”? Southey’s apparently straightforward support for Bell – with its homeopathic logic of upholding Church and State through an education system modeled on and hosted in the Church – is ultimately premised on an unacknowledged sense (which returns in the figure of the auxiliary writer himself) of the Church as irretrievably hollowed-out. Idealization of public writers as a non-clerical clerisy, and reinvention of the clergy as a “race of … school-master[s]” (QR 6:11 [1811], 303) could reframe but not alter this basic fact. Continued practical dispossession – what Southey called the need to write for bread (QR 16:32 [1817], 538) – was, it turned out, the price payable for the systematic defense of the old order in ideal form.

Appendices