1496. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 16 August 1808

1496. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 16 August 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

Landor is gone to Spain! to fight as a private in the Spanish army, & he has found two Englishmen to go with him. A noble fellow this is something like the days of old as we poets & romancers represent them, something like the best part of chivalry, – old honours, old generosity, old heroism are reviving, – & the career of that cursed monkey nation is stopt, I believe & fully trust, now & for ever. A man like Landor cannot long remain without command, – & of all things in this world I should most rejoice to hear that King Joseph [1]  has fallen into his hands: – he would infallibly hang him upon the nearest tree, first as a Bonaparte by blood, secondly as a Frenchman by adoption, thirdly as a King by trade.

It is vexatious that he did not get the second batch of Kehama [2]  before his departure, – which he would have done had you been here to have copied it. I get on regularly, an hour in the morning before breakfast, slow & sure. The 10th Section (a very long one – 358 lines) is finished, & I am 50 lines on in the next, – in all 1933 – an increase of something more like 1000 since the poem has been resumed. I am about the Enchantress who helps Arvalan to his travelling air-car, for which in my conscience I think I deserve a patent, the invention being wholly my own. In the course of a week I hope to rib him in ice at the North Pole, & then I shall proceed to revolutionize the Swerga. [3] 

The first proof of the Appendix with Freres translation reached me last night, – it will fill about three sheets & a half. [4]  In a fortnight the book may be expected to make its appearance, & then your copy will set off for Plymouth. King Arthur is deposed from the Annual Review. – I am as you know, xx very well disposed to see such personages cashiered when they misbehave. Thomas Rees, a dissenting clergyman, brother to the Rees of [MS obscured]eeds in his stead, [5]  – a change greatly for the better, & with which I am [MS obscured] pleased.

Miss Sewards criticism has appeared in the Gentlemans Magazine, [6]  – her verses have not been inserted in the Courier, which is rather odd. She reads Madoc to all her acquaintance, & must be the means of selling several copies.


Another Island came up on Saturday last which I shall visit the first fine day, probably with Jackson & Jonathan Ottley, [7]  who is going to measure it, & catch a bottle of the gas, – Jonathan being as you know our Keswick philosopher. We are having a spell of wind & rain.

We have got the prettiest kitten you ever saw, – a dark tabby, & we have christened her by the heathenish name of Dido. You would be very much diverted to see her hunt Herbert all round the kitchen, playing with his little bare feet, which she just pricks at every pat, & the faster he moves back, the more she paws them, while he squealls & fights, & cries naughty Dido, & points to his feet & says hurt – hurt – naughty Dido, – presently he feeds her with poppin bits, which Dido plays with awhile, but soon returns to her old game. You have lost the amusing part of Herberts childhood, – just when he is trying to talk, & endeavouring to say every thing.

Jackson is making a bathing-house down there at the bottom of the orchard, – which I suppose nobody will ever use. I have been in the water very seldom since you went, – but the last time I accomplished the great job of fairly swimming on my back, – which is a step equal to that of getting ones first commission. We drank tea out a few nights ago with the Wolseleys, [8]  – & they were so well pleased with it that we shall probably take them again when the weather permits.

I boggle at your third section of Kehama, because that must be turned into rhyme. the two first are transcribed, – the first with many alterations, & I have written (by this post) to Bedford, [9]  to know whether I cannot contrive to frank by his means, thro his friend Herries, & Perceval, – for the second inclosures may perhaps make them above weight for an ordinary frank, & till Parliament meets I have no way of procuring xx Imperial ones. [10]  – The story opens upon me in its progress, – every seed & bud in the embryo plan ripening, & blossoming fairly out. – I hope too that the opening of Pelayo [11]  is pretty well arranged, but I will not begin upon it till I come to a stop in Kehama. You will not perhaps be surprized to hear that two of my old dreams are likely to be introduced with powerful effect in this poem: – good proof that it was well worth while to keep even the imperfect register which I have. The fact is that what happens to Nebuchadnezzar is perpetually happening to me, – I forget my dreams, & have no Daniel to help out my recollection; [12]  – & if by chance I do remember them, unless they are instantly written down, the impression passes away, almost as lightly as the dream itself. – Do you remember the story of Mickle the Poet [13]  who always regretted that he could not remember the poetry which he composed in his sleep, – it was, he said, so infinitely superior to any thing which he produced in his waking hours. – One morning he awoke, & repeated the lamentation over his unhappy fortune, that he should compose such sublime poetry – & yet lose it for ever! – what, said his wife, who happened to be awake, – were you writing poetry? – yes, said he <replied>, – & such poetry that I should give the world to remember it. Well then, xx said she, I xx did luckily hear the last lines, & I am sure I remember them exactly – they were –

by Heaven I’ll wreck my woes
Upon the cowslip & the pale primrose.

This is one of Sharpes stories, it is true, – & an excellently good one it is. – I am not such a dreamer as Mickle, for what I can remember is worth remembering, – & one of the wildest scenes in Kehama will prove this.

God bless you


Aug. 16. 1808.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey./ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock/ or elsewhere
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 162–164 [in part]. BACK

[1] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). BACK

[2] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, which he was sending to Landor in instalments. BACK

[3] Events in The Curse of Kehama, Book 11. BACK

[4] Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid. BACK

[5] Thomas Rees, Unitarian minister and writer on theological history, brother of Owen Rees, partner with Longman, publisher of the Annual Review. BACK

[6] ‘A Letter written by Anna Seward to one of her Literary friends, Feb. 15, 1806, on the subject of Mr. Southey’s “Madoc” and before she had any acquaintance, personal or by pen, with that gentleman’ appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine, 78.2 (1808), 577–581. BACK

[7] Jonathan Otley (1766–1856), geologist, clockmaker, map maker, mountain guide. BACK

[8] Reverend Robert Wolseley (d. 1815), son of William Wolseley, 6th Baronet (1740–1817). The family seat was at Wolseley Park, Rugeley in Staffordshire. BACK

[9] For this, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 August 1808, Letter 1494. BACK

[10] That is, franks obtained through Rickman, who worked in the office of the ‘Emperor of the Franks’ Speaker of the House of Commons Charles Abbot. BACK

[11] An early name for the poem which became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[12] In the Book of Daniel 2, Daniel is alone able to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. BACK

[13] William Mickle (1735–1788; DNB), poet and translator from the Portuguese of the Lusiads of Luís Vaz de Camões (c. 1524–1580), The Lusiad, or, The Discovery of India (1776). BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)