Medicine, the "manufacturing system," and Southey's Romantic conservatism
Like Wordsworth and Coleridge, Southey has traditionally been vulnerable to the charge of political apostasy, and yet recent studies of his political writings emphasize the consistency of his social thought. David M. Craig’s 2007 monograph, Robert Southey and Romantic Apostacy, claims “strong continuities” between Southey’s “‘radical’ sympathies of the 1790s” and is “conservatism of the 1820s” (215), which he suggests are mediated by a providentialist religious position akin to Unitarianism (125, 212). David Eastwood’s useful survey in his 1989 article, “Robert Southey and the Intellectual Origins of Romantic Conservatism,” emphasizes the kinship of Southey’s repeated expressions of foreboding at the high social costs of industrialism with the mid-nineteenth-century Tory radicalism of Thomas Carlyle and the Young England movement (315, 331), and identifies his “preoccupation with the well-being of the poor” as a “legacy of Southey’s early Jacobinism” (325). Whilst not taking issue with these accounts, in this essay I would like to draw attention to a strand in Southeyan social thought which seems to have been overlooked by modern commentators: Southey’s deployment of a specifically medical vocabulary of “stimulants,” “excitement” and “irritability” in his analysis of social problems.