1712. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 November 1809

1712. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 November 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

You should have told me when you shifted your quarters into the Lyra [1]  whether I were to direct to that ship or to the Dreadnought. [2]  I am very doubtful which, but on the supposition that you must either return to your old ship, or find her in dock at Plymouth, will continue the former direction.

There should be two numbers of Kehama [3]  come to hand before this time, another is on the stocks. I have finished the 23d section to day, & there remains but one more. We are in the very middle of Hell, Yamens [4]  three-legged throne is ready, & tomorrow the Rajah [5]  is to come thundering in in a very unusual manner, – for you must know that Padalon (which is the underground floor of the world) is of an octopus shape, – it has eight gates & eight straight causways leading <from there> to the centre where the city of Yamen stands, & xx Kehama enters by all the gates at once. I leave you to guess how. O Tom you have stranger things to learn than are ever to be met with at sea. I have made a new coach which goes upon one wheel, & then my Hell is such an invention that by the Lord I desire a patent for it.  [6]  You may well suppose that I now long to be at the end of my long journey. The poem thus far contains 4558 lines, – the concluding section will bring it to about 4800, – & I fancy there will be insertions enough in the course of transcription to make up 5000. Longman recommends the Thalaba form [7] Walter Scott advises quarto, [8]  – but he counts a good deal upon the effect which the Register [9]  is to produce, in exciting an increasing demand for my productions. Without calculating upon this, it is most likely that I shall follow his opinion, because no man understands the humour of the public so well, & because it becomes me to keep xx <up that> sort of consequence which is attached to a guinea & half quarto, rather than a xx to smaller volumes of less price & more convenience. You may be sure I am longing for the first proof sheet, especially as in addition to all the other originalities of the book I think of a new mode of printing. Do you know what is called indenting? In printing poetry lines which do not begin upon a perpendicular line up with each other are called indented. Now I have a notion that the page will have a much more beautiful appearance if the indenting be so managed as to make every line bear the same proportion at the end as at the beginning to its regular xx above, – a thing never yet attended to – in short to print the irregular poetry in this respect just as monumental inscriptions are printed. [10] 


I was a good deal alarmed by reading some days ago in the Times that Lieutenant Smith of the Lyra Frigate had been lost in a boat with 14 men, [11]  – being pretty sure there was no Frigate of that name, – & not a little apprehensive that in xx a bad hand writing Southey might be mistaken for Smith. Your letter which has just arrived put me out of suspense, – & to tell you the truth I should not have had heart to finish this & send it off, xx unless till I had known the truth. I wish you were safely out of the Brig, – that I must say, – but you are so well aware of the objections to the boating system, that I am confident you will do nothing which you cannot afterwards upon your pillow approve, – & this was my comfort when I read the paragraph.

You ought to have received sundry letters written since my visit to Lowther, in one there is mention of having applied to G Beaumont to use his interest with Ld Mulgrave [12]  for you. [13]  I asked to have you made Post. [14]  This he told me was impossible. I then wrote again, for the intermediate step, [15]  & am very certain he will make the attempt, – with what success remains to be seen, – be so good as not to get knocked on the head, & you will have your lapells at last; – for if the Grenvilles come in Wynn will xx save us, – & if ever Lord Melville comes in I will ask Walter Scott, in full confidence of obtaining it. Be so good also as to xx steer clear of Verdun, for in this Register I have made war upon Bonaparte upon the old ground of Capt Wright & Palm, [16]  chargd him with direct murder, insisted that upon this ground we ought never to treat with him, & written a sentence upon <concerning> tyrannicide which will make Mr Roscoes  [17]  hair stand on end. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The American Madoc is a prize. [18]  I had heard of it from poor Charles Fox (who is dead at last poor fellow) [19]  – but never saw it. Is it worth while to have a quarto copy sent you when you have the more convenient edition? I should think you had better have it sent here to the dry shelf in the passage. This however is as you please, & perhaps you may like sometime to show me off in my grandeur.

Capt Bouverie [20]  whose invitation you did not accept is married to a sister of John May, – & this was probably the reason why he invited you. Another reason which might have made you like to see him if you had recollected it, is that I believe he is brother to Lord Folkestone Folkestone. [21] 

Mrs Lloyd was here this time fortnight for two nights, with her youngest child but without her husband. You have probably heard from him how narrowly she escaped from a vicious horse by throwing herself off; – she is quite recovered from the effects of the fall, which were very alarming at first & might very easily have been fatal. Lloyd has probably told you that he is printing a novel, [22]  – I disadvised it when he asked my opinion, – tho he has rewritten the book since he sent it to me ten years ago. he asked me to review it; & this I shall request Gifford to let me do, provided it is to be reviewed in the Quarterly at all. If it is to be done I will endeavour that it shall pass thro my hands, but I shall be better pleased if it slips thro them. He makes a feint of this business, & yet prints it at Ulverstone, so that it will be apparent that the author lives in that neighbourhood, – & then his name ought as well be in the title page. The Dapp [23]  has had a paralytic stroke, from which he is much recovered, but nevertheless every body thinks he is going apace, & he is said to think so himself.

Slack of Liswick has built a house for himself near Portinscale, upon the hill above the river, between the bridge & the Lake; a good plain house, so situated as to be a very fine object from hence, & much to improve our pros view.  [24]  We see it with Grisedale [25]  directly behind. It will be well if he does not improve its appearance by whitewashing, otherwise it is really a greater improvement than you could suppose. & Miss Christian, Curwens sister, [26]  has taken a new house in Keswick. I had a letter a few nights since from Colonel Peachey on his return to England, he proposes to send Edith some little memorial of his wife. The Island [27]  he does not talk of parting with, but desires me to replace any trees which may be blown down. I think however that as he anticipates little pleasure in returning to it, a good purchaser will tempt it him to sell it.

Pople is provokingly slow. I scarcely get a sheet a week from him. we have got on 552 pages, & I think shall fill 650 before we come to the notes, – which I must print in double columns & a smaller type to reduce as much as possible the size of the book. [28]  Ballantyne has only printed two sheets of the Register, he has four more in his hands, & I have between three & four in my desk. What I am doing will be xx in great part very dull from its including all the parliamentary proceedings for instance. – when I speak for myself it will be plain pointed & to the purpose. The Scotchmen [29]  are greatly astonished, – & so I dare say many other persons will be. – my politicks are to the tune of Tantara-rara [30]  – or rogues all. I am quite heartless & hopeless about the ins & the outs, – yet full of heart & hope for the country, for if invasion ever takes place, John Bull [31]  will do his work let who will be at the head of affairs, & shall make a glorious finish of it. Peace would certainly bring it to this, – but my cry is war against Bonaparte, against him personally & as long as he lives: no terms, no truce, with him; – call him a tyrant, a villain, a lyar & a murderer, & hang him for one if ever you catch him. Wordsworth says Oh for a single hour of Dundee, in one of his sonnets, [32]  – Oh for a year of Marlborough [33]  or of the Black Prince [34]  say I! – At present we do nothing but injure our allies & disgrace ourselves. Nevertheless the issue must be good.

God bless you


Nov. 22. 1809.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] HMS Lyra was a Royal Navy Cherokee class 10-gun brig-sloop, launched in August 1808. BACK

[2] HMS Dreadnought was a Royal Navy 98-gun second rate ship of the line, launched in 1801, which Thomas Southey had been serving on since July 1808. BACK

[3] Drafts of Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810, were being sent to his brother. BACK

[4] The god of the underworld in Southey’s poem. BACK

[5] Kehama, the villain of Southey’s poem. BACK

[6] See The Curse of Kehama, Book 22 for the car, and 23 for Padalon, the adamantine hell. BACK

[7] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in the cheaper format of octavo. The second edition was published in 1809. BACK

[8] The Curse of Kehama was published in quarto. BACK

[9] From 1810 to 1812 Southey contributed the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810 in James Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[10] The Curse of Kehama was indented in this way for publication. BACK

[11] Lieutenant Smith is untraced. BACK

[12] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): diplomatist and politician who was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1807. BACK

[13] For this, see Southey to Thomas Southey, 18 October 1809, Letter 1696. BACK

[14] That is, promoted to captain, although not necessarily given command of a ship. BACK

[15] For this, see Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 20 October 1809, Letter 1697. BACK

[16] In the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 25, Southey wrote ‘the murder of Palm was an offence committed against all states and people, against all principles of law and justice and social order; it was an act by which he outlawed himself in human society, and, from the hour in which it was committed, he was under the ban of human nature. There is also one crime committed peculiarly against England, which should for ever preclude the possibility of treating with its perpetrator; the murder of Captain Wright, an English officer, put to death in prison’. Johann Philipp Palm (1768–1806) was a bookseller from Nuremberg, Germany, who was executed by a French firing squad on 26 August 1806 for publishing and distributing libellous pamphlets about France and Napoleon. John Wesley Wright (1769–1805; DNB), was a British naval officer. In May 1804 his ship, the Vincejo, was captured off the coast of France by the French navy. Accused of having landed royalist agents, he was imprisoned in Paris, where he died in solitary confinement. He was thought by the British to have been murdered. Hence Tom had better keep clear of the fortified town of Verdun, used by the French to imprison British prisoners of war. BACK

[17] Roscoe had advocated making peace with Napoleon; Southey attacked him for this in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 22–26, although his advocacy of killing Napoleon was toned down to a recommendation that Britain should never enter a treaty with him. BACK

[18] Madoc: A Poem was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1806. BACK

[19] Charles Fox (c. 1740–1809; DNB), a Bristol-based acquaintance of Southey’s whose Poems, Containing the Plaints, Consolations, and Delights of Achmed Ardebeili, a Persian Exile was published by Joseph Cottle in 1797. BACK

[20] Captain (later Admiral) the Honourable Duncombe Pleydell-Bouverie (1780–1850), was a British naval commander and Whig politician. BACK

[21] The politician William Pleydell-Bouverie, Viscount Folkestone, 3rd Earl of Radnor from 1828 (1779–1869; DNB), MP for Salisbury 1802–1828. Folkestone was a Radical critic of the administration. BACK

[22] Lloyd’s novel Isabel, privately printed at Ulveston (a town to the southwest of the Lake District). It was published in 1820. BACK

[23] Southey’s dog, Dapper. BACK

[24] William Slack (1774–1830) of Derwent Hill, Portinscale, a village south of Keswick on the shore of Derwentwater. Lissick, Slack’s former residence, is near Bassenthwaite lake, just to the north of Keswick. BACK

[25] Grisedale Pike, a fell to the west of the Newlands valley, visible from Greta Hall. BACK

[26] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), agriculturist and politician who was the Whig MP for Carlisle. His sister, who became a friend of the Southeys after her move to Keswick, was Mary Christian (1759–1831). BACK

[27] Derwent Isle in Derwentwater. BACK

[28] Southey is referring to the first volume of his History of Brazil published in 1810. BACK

[29] Southey means John and James Ballantyne, the publishers of the Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[30] Southey’s parlance for the noise and hot air produced by party spirit on the benches of the House of Commons. Tantara-rara, Rogues All was the title of a 1786 play by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB); see The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), III, pp. 349–90. ‘Tantara-rara, Fools All Fools All’ was a popular song from Henry Fielding’s (1707–1754; DNB) play The Lottery (1732). BACK

[31] A common personification of Britain, or more particularly England. BACK

[32] Line 11 of Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘In the Pass of Killiecranky’ (1803), referring to John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee (known as Bonnie Dundee; 1648?–1689; DNB), Jacobite army officer. BACK

[33] John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB), victor of the battle of Blenheim. BACK

[34] Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658?–1735; DNB), renowned for his daring tactics in an earlier war in Spain. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)