3611. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 19 January 1821

3611. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 19 January 1821⁠* 

My dear Sir

I could not send you the accompanying letters before, because Edith-May who officiates as scribe, was absent from home, on a visit to Miss Hutchinson at Rydale. The transcripts are made for you, as you will probably like to possess a correspondence of which you have been unwittingly the occasion. Shelley has not yet replied to my second letter. [1]  I have heard that he is in miserable health. Wordsworth has been told that he denies having written Atheist after his name in the Album, & that he suspects me of having done it for him! [2]  But I do not believe that he would deny having done it himself, – & am very sure that he could never dream of imputing such a fraud to me.

You will perceive that a great deal has been left unsaid in my letters, – which were written like mere letters, hastily, & with no more consideration than a man who is much occupied can bestows upon his chance correspondence. There is enough however to rouse reflections which he will not find it easy to subdue. – You are right about his poetry; – it is too obscure to carry any danger with it, [3]  & guilty as he is, he is not wicked enough to be so flagitious a writer as his friend Lord Byron. – I have some intention of touching upon Don Juan in the preface to my hexameters, – of which the two first proofs are now on my table. [4]  You will receive them I hope in about three weeks.

I would write more at length if proofs, preface &c &c did not just now require all my time.

yrs very truly


Keswick. 19 Jany. 1821.


* Endorsement: 1821/ Janry 23d/ RS. Keswick –
MS: British Library, Add MS 47553. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: W. Braekman, ‘Letters by Robert Southey to Sir John Taylor Coleridge’, Studia Germanica Gandensia, 6 (1964), 118–119.
Note on MS: The letter was accompanied by an enclosure; this comprised transcripts, in the hand of Edith May Southey, of Shelley’s letters to Southey, 26 June and 27 August 1820, and Southey’s replies, [c. 29 July 1820] (Letter 3517) and 12 October 1820 (Letter 3538). BACK

[1] Southey to Percy Bysshe Shelley, 12 October 1820 (Letter 3538). This had condemned Shelley’s conduct as proceeding directly from his atheism. As the final paragraph of this earlier letter had brought an ‘end’ to their correspondence, Southey’s comment about Shelley’s failure to reply is surprising. BACK

[2] On 26 June 1817 Southey had seen the signatures of Shelley and his party in a visitors’ album at Montanvert in Switzerland. The names had been bracketed together with a Greek inscription – εκαςοί αθεοί (‘atheists all’); see Southey to John May, 1 August 1817, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3005. The ‘atheists’ inscription had become public knowledge after it was mentioned in the review of Leigh Hunt’s Foliage; or, Poems Original and Translated (1818), Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 329. The article’s author was John Taylor Coleridge. BACK

[3] Sentiments expressed by John Taylor Coleridge in his review of Shelley’s Laon and Cynthna, or the Revolution of the Golden City (1817) and The Revolt of Islam. A Poem, in Twelve Cantos (1818) in Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 460–471 (esp. 460, which described Shelley as the least ‘pernicious’ of his poetic ‘brethren’). BACK

[4] Byron’s Don Juan (1819–1824). While the ‘Preface’ to A Vision of Judgement (London 1821) did not name Byron or his poem, it described the ‘publication of a lascivious book’, which Southey believed Don Juan to be, as ‘one of the worst offences which can be committed against the well-being of society’ (p. xviii). It also named and shamed the ‘Satanic school’, of which Byron was, by implication, a leading light (pp. xx–xxi). BACK

Places mentioned

Rydal Mount (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)