1246. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 21 December 1806

1246. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 21 December 1806 ⁠* 

Sunday. Dec 21. 1806.

My dear Tom

I promised to write by this post, & writing you see I am, tho how the letter is to be filled, unless the mail brings me any tidings to communicate, is more than I can guess. The Doctors rascally hand writing indeed might easily enable me to do it, but it is more <as> provoking to receive a sheet scrawled over with a mouthful of meaning than <as> to call for spruce beer when one is thirsty & get a glass full of froth.

All Friday morning before you came from Brathay I devoted to the papers of poor Henry White, – being too uncomfortable for any other employment. [1]  I resumed them after you were gone, – the additional ones came that evening, & that evening I fairly overhauled the whole. I have marked for transcription such as should be published & have desired that they may be transcribed each on a separate paper, for the convenience of arrangement. They are numerous, & many of them very beautiful. If his family will supply me with as full materials as I have requested for an account of him, I shall do what remains to be done with great pleasure. Poor fellow – his industry was at least equal to Chattertons [2]  – his genius in my judgement nothing inferior, – & his life seems to have been without spot or stain. – The papers go back tomorrow to his brother, that he may see to the transcription. – Edith is copying for you his remarks on Thalaba. [3] 

Last night I thought of you at Bridgewater Arms, [4]  & that when you were in that huge warehouse-looking room you would be thinking of me. you will now have left Birmingham & must now be in the coach for a second nights journey. Tis a dismal distance! & heartily glad I shall be to hear you are at the safe end of it. [5] 

The Quaker books from Kendal came <arrived> this morning – they will enable me to review Clarkson, [6]  & to make up Espriellas Letter. [7]  Of Espriella I expect to report progress very rapidly. Only 70 pages remain to be written – if I write more it will be labour thrown away, 70 being enough – so I will limit myself to that number – they will soon be done as that & reviewing will be my sole employments till it is done <finished> – then Palmerin [8]  comes again in turn – In little more than two months I hope to compleat them all, & have nothing to hinder me from falling tooth & nail upon Brasil. [9]  – I have no letter yet from London in answer to the business.

We miss you. your place in the room seems to want its occupier. I must put your box of water colours out of sight – & send away the plate & teacup – still lying under the sideboard – which you used when colouring Barcia Hist. [10]  & not that out of sight, is, can, or ought be out xx out of mind, but there is something in having these things always in sight which is like being haunted. I have heard of men who when their wives have died left the <suffer> every thing belonging to the dead precisely to remain precisely as she left <left it> for years & years, – the music book open – the shawl thrown across the chair, – the fan or the parasol on the table – & this till they died themselves. This is insanity, but one can understand how its nature & growth. If ever I should become insane it will not be in this way – There is the same excuse for drunkenness & debauchery as for over–sensibility. Twelve years ago I carried Epictetus [11]  in my pocket till I had my very heart was ingrained with it as a pigs bones are made red by feeding him upon madder. And the longer I live, & the more I learn, the more am I convinced that Stoicism, properly understood, is the best & noblest system of morals. If you have never read the book buy Mrs Carters translation of it whenever it comes in your way. [12]  Books of morals are seldom good for any thing – the Stoical books are an exception. In morals as in every thing else one should aim high.

What a difference has one week made in this house. Nurse [13]  gone – old xx Love-God & be chearful as C. calls her. Coleridge & Job gone – & now you also. I tell Mrs C & make her half angry by the name I have given her,

The only society I have left now
Is Bumble-cum-tumble & Doggy-bow-wow

Meaning her & the Heir to the Books. However we have a black cat come to us & every body says that is the luckiest thing in the world. – You are gone at the wrong time. To day has been fine weather – it is the shortest day, & it is always a joyful thing to turn the corner & begin lengthening time again. The col frost ought to be setting in, & probably will, – we shall have the Lake frozen & I shall want a companion in my walks.

Betty [14]  is coming for ‘the Letters’ – I must have done, which is well having nothing to write about – so now to finish Capt BurneyEdiths love. Your niece is in bed – I tell her you are going to be in a great ship upon the great waters – & she says when I have done ‘sing it again.’ – Sarah says her Pappa is not pretty, but that her Uncle Southey is pretty – oh very pretty – And my daughter you know looks in my face & says you is a beauty – have I not reason to be vain?

God bless you


You will of course write directly – I will hunt for Sarah Cottles [15]  name & send it you, that you may call on her & carry news for of us – or you might learn it by enquiring at Mr Tuckers [16]  where you called with us.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Lieutenant Southey/ Post-Office/ Plymouth Dock/ <HMS Callas/ Torbay> Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ DEC24/ 1806; E/ DEC24/ 1806
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 398–401 [in part]. BACK

[1] These had been sent to Southey by Henry Kirke White’s brother Neville; see Southey to Neville White, 24 November 1806 (Letter 1238) and 20 December 1806 (Letter 1245). Southey published The Remains of Henry Kirke White: with an Account of his Life in 1807. BACK

[2] The Bristol poet, Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). BACK

[3] Southey included White’s praise of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in The Remains of Henry Kirke White ...: with an Account of his Life, 2 vols (London, 1807), II, 284–285. BACK

[4] A coaching inn in Manchester. BACK

[5] Tom was travelling from Keswick to Plymouth, to join his ship. BACK

[6] Southey reviewed Thomas Clarkson, A Portraiture of Quakerism, as Taken From a View of the Moral Education, Discipline, Peculiar Customs, Religious Principles, Political and Civil Œconomy, and Character, of the Society of Friends (1806), in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 594–607. BACK

[7] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). Letter 57 discusses the Quakers. BACK

[8] Southey published an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[9] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[10] Andrés González de Barcia (1673–1743), Historiadores Primitivos de las Indias Occidentales (1749). BACK

[11] Epictetus (AD 55–AD 135): Stoic philosopher. BACK

[12] Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806; DNB) published the first English translation of Epictetus’s works in 1758. BACK

[13] The identity of the Greta Hall children’s nurse is untraced. BACK

[14] The Southeys’ servant. BACK

[15] Sarah Cottle, Joseph’s sister (dates unknown), married in 1804, John Saunders, a solicitor of Plymouth. BACK

[16] A Plymouth acquaintance, possibly connected to the Mr Tucker with whom Southey lodged in Exeter in autumn 1799; see Southey to William Taylor, [started before] 1 September [1799], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 430. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)