2949. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 21 March 1817

2949. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 21 March 1817 ⁠* 

21 March 1817. Keswick

Coleridge, I have no reason to regret the apparition of my Uncle Wat, [1]  since with the recollection of old times, it has brought back some of their feelings also.

You will know the result of my appeal to Chancery sooner than I shall. This step was taken by Wynns judgement, as the measure best becoming me. [2]  The ground of defence which Basil Montagu has taken is such, that if the Chancellor admits it, it exposes them immediately to a prosecution from the Attorney General, if he chuses. [3]  And if he should so chuse what a happy instance would it be of a xxxxxxxxxx rogue being caught in his own snares. I learn also that they have procured a man to perjure himself, & swear that I made a free gift of the manuscript. Who this may be I have not heard, nor is it possible for me to guess, – Basil the Benevolent has doubtless many such “damned souls’ at his command.

I have addressed two letters to Wm Smith, [4]  – perhaps Wynn thro whom I sent them to the Courier may withold the first, – the second is the best – but a better than either might have been made from both. However they will do, & perhaps the less premeditation in such things the better. This is the only direct notice I shall take, unless a plan should be carried into effect concerning which I am at issue with the Grand Murray & some of his privy Council. I want to methodize my political papers which have appeared in the Quarterly, [5]  & with much alteration & addition, if the restoration of such things as were too strong xxxx xxxxx to be administered in that form, reprint them in one volume, in the hope of producing an effect something like what was brought about by Pasley in our military policy. [6]  The Grand Murray vows & protests that I act with far greater advantage thro his darling review, – where the circulation is already prepaid to an enormous extent (10,000 are sold) & where the readers are prepared also to receive & assent. There is some truth in this, – but I should press my opinion upon his with more earnestness if my time & attention were not very much divided by other subjects, this being one to which God knows I have no inclination but in these times the danger & the duty are too plain to be mistaken. Meantime however I carry on the war in the Review, which is unquestionably a strong post. [7] 

Hunts personal hatred to me arises from a letter which I administered to him some years ago thro Dr Gooch, [8]  & which if he had not been wrong at heart, would have produced a directly opposite effect. Gooch told me that I shook him to his very marrow. The occasion was this, – he complained thro Gooch who was then attending him in prison of some allusions which he took to himself in my first paper upon the Poor & the Jacobin Press; – but which in reality was not intended for him, [9]  – & he talked of being hurt the more because they came from one whom he so much respected &c. There happened at the same time to arrive here a chance paper of the Examiner, directed to poor Danvers, – & in this paper was a most scandalous attack upon you. [10]  So I wrote to Gooch demanding what right Mr Hunt could have to complain of any personalities (had any such been intended) – & least of all, with what conscience could he address his complaint to any person in this house where your wife & children were residing – And I then read him a lecture upon the course he was pursuing, pointing out the stages thro which he would pass (unless he retrod his steps in time) till from being at first sincere tho mistaken – he would end at last in a rascal & a traitor, – a prediction which he <has> most fully verified. Gooch has no doubt preserved the letter.

As for Sir Tarquin of the Round Table [11]  if he did not wish to cut my throat, there would be no truth in the old proverb. [12]  Little do these dogs know how little all their yelping is able to disturb me!

I have not heard who was the Resurrection-Man [13]  in Uncle Wats affair, it will come out in due time, & may very possibly be traced to the Old Serpents coterie where in addition to other offences my knowledge of the farce of Phaedra & Hippolytus entitles me to all proper abhorrence.  [14]  – We may as well deny the effect of blood in dogs & horses as in the human species. I never knew but one man who was the son of a whore & xx xxxxxxxx an Atheist, [15]  & this tertium quid [16]  proved to be a hypocrite & a rascal.

And so wishing him a due share of Ernulphus’s maledictions [17]  in this world, & consigning them to the Bottomless Pit in the next, till xxxx xxxx xxx Wm Hazlitt shall be able to determine the exact proportion which the time they have past there bears to Eternity I leave this unworthy subject.

In all this you would see nothing very different from the R.S. of former times. But he is greatly changed. That joyousness of nature which seemed to suspend the effect of time is gone, never to return, – & I was better able twelve months ago to bear the sight of the coffin & the grave than I am xx xx now to endure the daily & hourly circumstances which bring to recollection what I have lost. [18] Xxx I am not deficient in self controul, but this would avail me little were it not for the xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx that the way before me cannot be very long, – & there is the Gate of Heaven at the end of it. – Neither of my parents got beyond fifty. – I am in my forty third year, & have unequivocal xxxxxxx indications that my bodily powers are on the decline – that is that without having any disease I feel myself growing old.

As for political affairs, – your opinions cannot possibly differ from mine – I will only say that I have done my utmost, – & it is not my fault if efficaceous means are not taken to save us from a Jacquerie. Unless the press be checked every thing else is foolery. What I have endeavoured to press upon them show is that transportation should be the punishment for seditious libel: fines & imprisonment are worse than nugatory. The Courier should act in this.

I shall be in town about the 17th of next month, on my way to the continent, with Senhouse & Nash, – who was with me in the Netherlands, & at whose lodgings if you are so disposed (6 George Street, Hanover Square), – you may see a beautiful portrait of your daughter. We mean to see as much of Switzerland as that time will allow, & return by way of the Rhine. On my return I go to press with the history of the Peninsular War. [19] 

We are in fear of some inconvenience about this property – our Landlord is a miserable rogue, playing bo peep with the bailiffs, – he cannot continue this game long, [20]  & if the property be sold as I think it must be, there is great danger that we shall be built out of all comfort for Clark is a bankrupt, & there will be the nursery garden to cut up. [21]  – I should be very loth to move, – having my heart in xxxxxx yonder church yard. – All here send their remembrances. Mrs C has hurt her arm in a fall, so as to impede the use of it in certain actions; – but time will set all to rights.

I have just learnt that my appeal for an Injunction is refused. – Winterbottom having perjured himself, [22]  & sworn that I gave the work to him & D. I. Eaton [23]  – whom I never saw. – I pray you call now upon the Attorney General to prosecute the publishers. [24]  I think this letter is not going upon a forlorn hope – but that I shall hear from you –

God bless you


Your parcel is this moment arrived.


* Address: To/ S. T. Coleridge Esqr/ at Mr Gillmans/ Highgate
Stamped: TwoPyPost/ Xxxxchester
Postmark: 4 o’Clock/ Mxxxx/ 1817
Endorsement: 1817
MS: Collection of Professor Paul Betz; a photocopy is British Library, RP 9236. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838) and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Southey used the term ‘Uncle Wat’ for the play because of his Tyler family connections – he had three uncles with the surname Tyler. BACK

[2] Having taken advice from Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery before John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon (1751–1838; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1801–1806, 1807–1827 so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication of Wat Tyler, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. The case was heard on 18–19 March 1817 and Southey’s application for an injunction was rejected on the grounds that copyright in Wat Tyler was disputed and would have to be determined in a common law court. BACK

[3] Basil Montagu, one of the two defence lawyers, argued that, according to precedent, there could be no copyright in the work because of its ‘libellous tendency’. Southey suggests that if the Court accepted this view, then the publishers could be prosecuted for seditious libel, on the authority of Sir William Garrow (1760–1840; DNB), Attorney-General 1813–1817. BACK

[4] Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 during the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227 with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. In reply, Southey wrote two letters which he originally hoped to publish in the Courier: Southey to William Smith, 17 March 1817 (Letter 2943) and Southey to the Editor of the Courier [19 March 1817] (Letter 2946). These two letters were sent to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, on 17 and 19 March 1817 (Letters 2944 and 2948), for him to forward to the newspaper. In the event, Wynn’s absence from home led to a delay in his receiving the letters. By the time he did so, the public debate had moved on and Southey therefore decided to incorporate them into his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[5] The Quarterly Review. Southey had been considering for some time a plan to expand some of his articles in the Quarterly Review into a book on the ‘State of the Nation’; this project was not realised. BACK

[6] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), An Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810), calling for a determined offensive against France, a co-ordinated global strategy and a policy of annexations (including the whole of Italy). The book won him considerable public acclaim and Southey’s admiration, but it was not a major influence on British strategy. BACK

[7] Southey was writing the ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. BACK

[8] Robert Southey to Robert Gooch, 14 April 1813, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2247. BACK

[9] Hunt served two years (1813–1815) in prison for libelling the Prince Regent. Southey here refers to his ‘Inquiry into the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356, especially 346–347, which stated ‘To slander public and private characters has become a regular trade in England; and miscreants of one description take to it just as miscreants of another to the more dangerous, but not more nefarious, practice of thieving and robbing; they begin upon players and they end upon princes’; and his ‘Lives of the French Revolutionists’, Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 412–438, especially 437–438, which attacked British journalists who were, in Southey’s view, abusing the liberty of the press and thus provoking the possibility of revolution. He compared them to the journalists and revolutionaries Jacques Hébert (1757–1794), Jean-Paul Marat (1743–1793) and the radical politician Pierre Gaspard Chaumette (1763–1794). All three had met violent ends. Southey’s article did not mention Hunt by name, but it did draw clear parallels between revolutionary France and contemporary Britain. BACK

[10] Possibly a reference to the Examiner, 9 (21 June 1812), 387: ‘A love of drinking, especially if it has any gift of talking to work upon, will make a man exceedingly didactic: … he will sometimes deceive his very self into a notion that he is a worthy person, and attribute his bad habits to a vague sort of destiny that besets him, and renders him more to be pitied than blamed. The most didactic and talkative person of the day appears to be one of this description, and wants nothing but his supply of brandy and water to be set a-doling about the “moral feeling” from morning to night.’ BACK

[11] Hazlitt had republished a number of his essays for the Examiner in a book with the Arthurian title, The Round Table (1817). In Arthurian legend, Sir Tarquin was a treacherous knight who fought against his former friends. Southey and Coleridge considered themselves betrayed by Hazlitt, having hosted him at Greta Hall in 1803 and assisted him in escaping from the anger of the townsfolk after he caused a furore in a Keswick inn following an incident with a local woman. BACK

[12] ‘Save a thief from the gallows, and he’ll be the first shall cut your throat’. BACK

[13] A grave-robber who provided corpses to anatomy classes for medical students. BACK

[14] The ‘Old Serpent’ is the Devil, as in Revelation, 12: 9 and 20: 2. This is most probably a reference to the circle of writers around Leigh Hunt. Southey imagines himself abhorred by this circle because he knows its scandalous secret – that Hunt and his sister-in-law Elizabeth Kent (1790–1861; DNB) were in love with each other and that Kent had, in consequence, tried to drown herself in Hampstead ponds in February 1817. In Euripides (c. 480–406 BC), Hippolytus (428 BC), Phaedra kills herself, consumed by an incestuous passion for her stepson, Hippolytus. BACK

[15] Possibly Basil Montagu. He was the son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–1792; DNB), who was a member in his youth of the Hell-Fire Club, which reportedly practiced devil-worship; and of Sandwich’s mistress, the opera singer Martha Ray (1742–1779; DNB). BACK

[16] ‘Third thing’; i.e. the product of the combination of the first two elements. BACK

[17] The famous curse of Ernulf (1040–1124), Bishop of Rochester 1114–1124. A part-translation from the Latin original appears in Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (London, 1759–1767), Book 3, chapter 11: ‘May he be cursed in living, in dying. May he be cursed in eating and drinking, in being hungry, in being thirsty, in fasting, in sleeping, in slumbering, in walking, in standing, in sitting, in lying, in working, in resting, in pissing, in shitting, and in bloodletting!// May he be cursed in all the faculties of his body! May he be cursed inwardly and outwardly! May he be cursed in the hair of his head! May he be cursed in his brains, and in his vertex, in his temples, in his forehead, in his ears, in his eyebrows, in his cheeks, in his jaw-bones, in his nostrils, in his fore-teeth and grinders, in his lips, in his throat, in his shoulders, in his wrists, in his arms, in his hands, in his fingers! May he be damn’d in his mouth, in his breast, in his heart and purtenance, down to the very stomach! May he be cursed in his reins, and in his groin, in his thighs, in his genitals, in his hips, and in his knees, his legs, and feet, and toe-nails!’ BACK

[18] Southey’s son Herbert died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[19] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[20] Greta Hall had suffered from the complicated financial and legal entanglements of its owner, Samuel Tolson Jnr (dates unknown), who was in Carlisle jail for debt by April 1817. BACK

[21] Thomas Clark (dates unknown) rented some of the land next to Greta Hall, which was part of the same estate. He was a nurseryman and had been declared bankrupt on 11 March 1817. BACK

[22] Winterbottom’s affidavit of 15 March 1817, National Archives C31/372 Pt. 2. He claimed Southey had given him the manuscript and copyright of Wat Tyler. BACK

[23] Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753–1814; DNB), a radical author and publisher. BACK

[24] Coleridge further defended Southey and condemned the publication of Wat Tyler in the articles ‘Mr Southey and Wat Tyler. III: Rejected Articles’, Courier, 27 March 1817, and ‘Mr Southey and Wat Tyler. IV: Apostacy and Renegadoism’, Courier, 2 April 1817. But Coleridge retained doubts about the wisdom of Southey’s actions and he did not explicitly call for the publishers of Wat Tyler to be prosecuted. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)