1157. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 15 February 1806

1157. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 15 February 1806 ⁠* 

Feby 15. 1806.


Once more, my dear Tom, to the hopeless task of writing to one who never gets any of my letters! – Yours of Dec. 1. is just arrived – very long, as you perceive after date but that is to be attributed I suppose to its mode of conveyance, as it does not come by packet, & is not marked ship letter, but bears the London post mark.

A world of events have taken place since last I wrote, – indeed so as almost to change the world here. Pitt is dead, [1]  Fox & the Grenvilles in place, [2]  Wynn Under Secretary of State in the Home Office. [3]  I have reason to expect something, – of the two appointments at Lisbon which would suit me, whichever falls vacant first is asked for me. both are in Fox’s gift, & Lord Holland as well as Lady H. speak for me. It is likely that one or other will be vacated ere long, & if I should not succeed there, Wynn will look elsewhere. Something or other will certainly turn up ere it be very long. – I hope also something may some way or other be done for you. a brother of the Duke of Bedford is one of the Lords of the Admiralty [4]  – to whom I have given my Uncle a hint to apply thro the Duke. Gray is first Lord, [5]  – & it is not impossible that he may be got at thro James Losh. [6]  – You are mistaken about Tobins death – it is John Tobin who is dead, [7]  – I was promised letters from James to his brother long ago, & conclude they have been written, but will apply again when I see James which will probably be very soon. You shall lose nothing for want of application on my part.

St Vincent supersedes Cornwallis in the Channel Fleet. [8]  Sir Samuel was made Admiral in the last list of promotions. [9]  As for peace or war one knows not how to speculate. If I were to guess any thing it would be that by way of getting all parties out of the scrape with credit, Bonaparte may offer us Malta which he cannot take, as an indemnification for Hanover which we must lose. I should be glad this compromise were made. – You have news enough here to set you in a brown study for the rest of the day – I will only add an anecdote which I believe is not in the papers, & which sailors will like to know. The flag of the Victory was to be buried with Nelson, [10]  but the sailors when it was lowering into the grave tore it to pieces – to keep as relics. His reward has been worthy of the country, a public funeral of course & a monument, besides monuments of some kind or other in most of the great cities by private expence subscriptions. his widow made Countess with 2000 £. a year [11]  – his brother an Earl with an adequate pension, & 200,000 £ to be laid out in the purchase of an estate, never to be alienated from the family. [12]  Well done England!

They have made it a custom to give every Captain who is killed in a general action a monument, & a very foolish custom it is. Why has not Captain Hood as good a claim as if he had fallen on the first of June? [13]  & if Captains in the navy why not Colonels in the army? – it is making the honour too common. If a great column or pyramid were erected, on which their names were to be inscribed as on a marble gazette it would be very well. But upon this plan St Pauls will be turned into a mess room in the course of a war or two more. When you are fourscore you must contrive to go off in a blaze xxx & get there, – because by that time I shall be gone before you, & as I have a sneaking sort of a notion that by & by I may have a monument there myself, <one of these days> it will be very awkward if to find myself among so many sailors if I do <unless> you are xxx there to introduce me.

As several of my last letters have been directed to St Kitts [14]  I conclude that by this time one or other of them may have reached you. Yours is good news so far as relates to your health, & to the probability of going to Halifax, better summer quarters than the Islands. If you should go there such American books as you may fall in with will be curiosities in England – the New York publications I conclude travel so far north. Reviews & Magazines, novels or poetry, any thing of real American growth I shall be glad to have. Keep a minute journal there & let nothing escape you

I have long been hard at reviewing, & have this day begun my last article – which is upon the authenticity of Ossian, concerning which all the evidence has at last been produced, – & the question is as much at rest as any such question ever can be. Macpherson has forged nineteen twentieths of the whole, & altered the other half t half-title. Of this you will be satisfied when you see my statement in the fourth Annual, [15]  – but there will always be a set of people whom it is impossible ever to convince of what they do not chuse to believe. With this my reviewing concludes – I trust – for ever: except any occasional article which I may volunteer for a friends books or upon a favourite subject –but as a regular employment I have done with it. It took up more time than any other species of composition, because it was the least interesting of all. Next winter it would have been impossible for me to bear a part in the volume, as I shall be abroad; & as things now promise, I shall either remain abroad with an appointment which will supersede the necessity of publishing at all for the sake of the profits, or shall return from thence with the first volumes of my History in a state for immediate publication. [16]  At present then my engagements stand thus – in the course of a week this reviewal will be finished. A month will then be given up to finish Espriellas letters [17]  as far as they can be finished here – after which I go to London, to compleat them, & to compleat also the Specimens over which Bedford – to my sore vexation, sore inconveniences, & loss of gain, has dawdled two whole years. [18]  I shall remain a month there with Rickman, – see the Spaniard fairly in the press, from whence he will not be very long coming out in two or three pocket volumes, full of miscellaneous & stimulating matter. If Wm Taylor does not meet me in London, I have promised to go to xxx Norwich out of my way home & stay a week with him. At all events I shall be home (barring accidents) by the end of May. Early in October is the time fixd in my own mind for my voyage to Lisbon, – I may be sent sooner by good fortune – or prevented by the expulsion of the factory from going at all, [19]  – but if nothing occur either way, then I go. During the summer my history will be my employment, & to fit for the press the Life of the Cid. [20]  Do you meantime continue to write here, which is a safe direction, from whence your letters will be forwarded, if Edith should not be here to receive them first, for if I go with the probability of soon returning she will not accompany me – & indeed there is some reason for supposing that she will not be able.

You have now all I know of myself & of my own plans. Harry is preparing for his examination in April which will enable him in June to receive his title, & touch the pulses & pockets of his majesty’s subjects. [21]  You ask always about Edward – & I as constantly repeat bad news – nothing have I heard since the story that he affects to have turned Roman Catholick – a farce which will last no longer than it serves to dupe somebody or other. If ever there was a thorough rogue it is our unlucky brother, he is utterly without any feeling of common honour or common honesty. – To turn to better subjects you would delight in my daughter who is all life & quickness. she is very stout & strong being larger in all her limbs than her cousin Sarah who is twenty months older. She has the Southey jig, [22]  is very passionate, but neither peevish nor obstinate, & a look of displeasure makes her cry. You would soon love her very dearly, for she is a favourite with every body. Here she comes – as usual every evening – to see the print of the Arabian Nights Entertainments in the Novelists Magazine, [23]  before she goes to bed.

Did I tell you that I have promised to supply the biography <lives> of the Spanish & Portugueze authors in the remaining volumes of Dr Aikins great General Biography? [24]  This will not interfere with my own plans & is for the most part <where it does it is> little more than printing the skeleton of what is hereafter to be enlarged. I can tell you nothing of the sale of Madoc, except that Longman has told me nothing, which is proof enough of slow sale, – but if the edition goes off in two years or indeed in three, it will be well for so costly a book. [25]  There is a reaction in these things, my poems make me known first, & then I make the poems known, – as I rise in the world the books will sell. – I have occasional thoughts of going on with Kehama now when my leisure time approaches, to keep my hand in, & to leave it for publication next winter. [26]  Not a line has been added to it since you left me.

Danvers goes on comfortably at Bristol, living with the two Maddox’s in Park Street. [27]  King as usual always in a hurry, – he has two little girls, who, unhappy children! have been christened or rather heathenized, the one Zoe to please her mother, [28]  the other Psyche to please her grandfather! [29]  I make regular enquiries after Joe, & preserve your right & title to him by paying the tax: you have learnt by my former letters if any have reached you, poor Cupids disgraceful end, the consequence of his evil courses. [30]  poor fellow – I do not think of him, & of his family grin, without sorrow. No news yet of Coleridge – we are seriously uneasy about him, it is above two months since he ought to have been home – our hope is that finding the continent overun by the French he may have returned to Malta. –  [31] 

Ediths love – God bless you Tom



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Amelia/ St Kitts./ or elsewhere/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ FEB 19/ 1806
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 25–27 [in part]. BACK

[1] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB) had become Prime Minister for the second time on 10 May 1804 and died in office on 23 January 1806. BACK

[2] The ‘Ministry of all the Talents’, established in February 1806, included William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville, as Prime Minister 1806–1807, and Charles James Fox as Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons until his death in September 1806. BACK

[3] Southey expected to benefit from the change in office as his friend and patron Charles Watkin Williams Wynn was appointed Under Secretary of State in the Home Office under his uncle, Lord Grenville. BACK

[4] William Russell (1767–1840), brother of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB), was appointed a Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the new administration. BACK

[5] Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB), was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty under the new administration. BACK

[6] James Losh and Grey were friends based on their common interests as residents of Northumberland, members of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, and a shared concern to bring about parliamentary reform. BACK

[7] John Tobin (1770–1804; DNB), brother of James Webbe Tobin, was a London solicitor and playwright. BACK

[8] John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent (1735–1823; DNB), took command of the Channel fleet in HMS Namur in 1800. He was replaced by Sir William Cornwallis (1744–1819; DNB) in February 1801 when St Vincent became First Lord of the Admiralty. BACK

[9] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), who had been in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served until 1805. BACK

[10] Horatio, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté (1758–1805; DNB), who died at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. BACK

[11] Frances Herbert (Fanny) Nisbet, née Woolward (1761–1831; DNB), Viscountess Nelson was granted an annual pension on her husband’s death of £2000 for life. BACK

[12] William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson (1757–1835), Church of England clergyman. After his brother’s death he succeeded as Baron Nelson of the Nile and shortly after Viscount Merton and Earl Nelson of Trafalgar and Merton, as well as Duke of Bronté (in Sicily). He was granted an annual pension of £5000 as well as £100,000 to purchase an estate (Stanlynch Park, near Downton in Wiltshire, which was renamed Trafalgar House). BACK

[13] Captain Alexander Hood (1758–1798) died of a wound to the thigh sustained when his ship HMS Mars engaged the French ship Hercule off the coast of Brittany. BACK

[14] St Kitts, part of the Leeward Islands group, in the West Indies. BACK

[15] James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB), Scottish writer, who published Fragments of Ancient Poetry Collected in the Highlands of Scotland (1760). The success of this work prompted Macpherson to publish two epic poems, Fingal (1762) and Temora (1763), which he claimed were translations of works by a 3rd century bard named Ossian. Controversy about the authenticity of the poems emerged when the original manuscripts could not be located, and after Macpherson’s death it became evident that although some legitimate manuscript sources were used, the poems had principally been written by him. A committee had been established to investigate the controversy and published its findings in 1805. Southey reviewed several works on this topic in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806): Malcolm Laing (1762–1818; DNB), The Poems of Ossian, Containing the Poetical Works of James Macpherson in Prose and Verse, with Notes and Illustrations (1805), 615–620; Archibald Macdonald (1739–1814; DNB), Some of Ossian’s Lesser Poems Rendered into Verse [from Macpherson]; with a Preliminary Discourse, in Answer to Mr. Laing’s Critical and Historical Dissertation on the Antiquity of Ossian’s Poems (1805), 620; Henry Mackenzie (1745–1831; DNB), Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland, Appointed to Inquire into the Nature and Authenticity of the Poems of Ossian (1805), 679–699. BACK

[16] Southey’s plans to return to Portugal to finish his ‘History of Portugal’ did not materialise and this work remained unfinished. BACK

[17] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[18] The jointly-edited project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[19] The British merchants based at the Lisbon factory were forced from Portugal by the coming invasion by Napoleonic forces, which occurred in November 1807. BACK

[20] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid was published in 1808. BACK

[21] Henry Herbert Southey graduated as MD on 24 June 1806. BACK

[22] Southey describes this family trait in an earlier letter: ‘I was in a passion … & this was accompanied by an angry jig or stamping which I inherited, & which my maternal relations call the Southey jig’; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 30 September 1797, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 259. BACK

[23] The Novelists’ Magazine, 18 (1785) printed a translation of Antoine Galland’s (1646–1715) French rendition of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. BACK

[24] John Aikin’s General Biography: or, Lives, Critical and Historical, of the Most Eminent Persons of all Ages, Countries, Conditions, and Professions, Arranged According to Alphabetical Order was published in 10 volumes between 1799–1815. According to Kenneth Curry (New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, p. 403) Southey contributed the following entries to volumes VI (1807), VII (1808) and VIII (1813): Volume VI: ‘Vasco Lobeira’, 314–317; ‘Francisco Rodrigues Lobo’, 318; ‘Fernam Lopez’, 340; ‘Gregorio Lopez’, 340; ‘Francisco de Losa’, 344–345; ‘Joam de Lucena’, 371–372; ‘Miguel de Luna’, 388; ‘Fr. Francisco de Santo Agostinho Macedo’, 434–435, ‘El Enamorado Macias’, 437–438; ‘P. Fr. Pedro Malon de Chaide’, 506; ‘D. Jorge Manrique’, 523–524; ‘Don Juan Manuel’, 529–530; ‘Ausias March’, 542–543; ‘Juan de Mariana’, 555–557; ‘Vicente Mariner’, 558; ‘Luis de Marmol Carvajal’, 569; ‘P. M. Fr. Juan Marquez’, 574–575. Volume VII: ‘Juan de Mena’, 28–30; ‘Don Inigo Lopez de Mendoza’, 37–38; ‘D. Diego Hurtado de Mendoza’, 38–39; ‘Menezes’, 41–42; ‘Christoval de Mesa’, 59–60; ‘George de Montemayor’, 174–175; ‘Ambrosio de Morales’, 194–198; ‘Alonso de Castro Nunez’, 466; ‘Antonio de Naxara’, 469; ‘Abraham Nehemias’, 469; ‘Florian de Ocampo’, 471–472; ‘Fr. Diego de Olarte’, 487; ‘Fr. Andres de Olmos’, 497; ‘Jerome Osorio’ [with Thomas Morgan (1752–1821)], 530–533; ‘Alonso de Ovalle’, 548; ‘Andres de Oviedo’, 555–556; ‘Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo’, 556–557; ‘Lorenzo de Padilla’, 578; ‘Pedro Paez’, 578–580; ‘D. Juan de Palafox y Mendoza’, 585. Volume VIII: ‘Josef de Ossau, Salas y Pellicer’, 25–26; Bartholomé Pereira’, 46; ‘Luys Pereyra’, 46; ‘Antonio Perez’, 46–47; ‘Ruy de Pina’, 173; ‘Juan de Pineda’, 175; ‘Fernam Mendes Pinto’, 178–179; ‘Thome Pires’, 182–184; ‘Fernando de Pulgar’, 385. BACK

[25] Southey’s poem Madoc was published by Longman in 1805, in a luxurious quarto, costing two guineas. BACK

[26] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[27] Charles and John Maddox (or Madox; dates unknown) of Park Row, Bristol. BACK

[28] Emmeline King, née Edgeworth (1770–1817). BACK

[29] Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817; DNB). BACK

[30] Cupid and Joe were dogs: Joe belonged to Thomas Southey; Cupid had been Southey’s. Both were looked after by Danvers. In a previous letter, Southey reported that Cupid ‘has been hung at last for robbing a hen-roost’; see Southey to Thomas Southey 1–5 January 1806, Letter 1140. BACK

[31] Coleridge was in the process of returning from Malta via the continent and reached England in August 1806. BACK