1719. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2 December 1809

1719. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2 December 1809 ⁠* 

Saturday. Dec. 2. 1809. Keswick.

My dear Danvers

These vile things from Bristol are not yet arrived, & I begin to fear they never will, because there are a set of thieves scattered thro these northern counties who have made the waggon warehouses their object, & are said to have plundered to a prodigious amount. [1]  Paracelsus [2]  will not be much in their way, but my shoes may be likely enough to fit some of their feet. At any rate I must trouble you to make enquiry at Bristol, – for if the parcel be only delayed, they ought to have some trouble given them for delaying it so long.

We have <had> the loveliest autumn that ever was remembered in this country. Our garden was in full flower till the middle of November.

Your information concerning my Uncle was not quite accurate, – the choice of those two livings has been offered him, – it appears that he cannot xxx xxx either with his present preferment, & tho Streatham is 1000£ a year he does not think it worth his while to give up 600£ in one of the finest parts of Herefordshire in exchange for it. This was my latest account from him. He was then about to leave London for Marydown, the seat of his wifes father Mr Wither, [3]  – & there he meant to make up his mind upon the subject. It would be pleasanter for me to have him at Streatham than at Staunton, – nevertheless I think the latter the best place for him.

Pople is provokingly slow with my book, [4]  which ought to have <been> published ere this. I scarcely get a sheet a week from him. This looks as if he were at present in full employ. The Register [5]  keeps me close at work, – a business of more profit than pleasure, – but I am nearly thro the heaviest part of it, & shall then get on with more alacrity. The Scotchmen are not a little astonished at a certain way I have of speaking plain. – I have made minced meat of the arguments for Catholick Emancipation, [6]  & sung out stoutly to the tune of ‘Fight on my merry men all’. [7]  One thing I am sure of, – which is that you will feel the opinions expressed in this book to be perfectly consistent with my old, unaltered, unalterable, Jacobinical principles, – if you & any body else chuses to call them so. By whatever name they may be christened mine they are, & I shall always be as ready to acknowledge them, as any body can be to father them upon me. I have spoken of all parties with bitter contempt, as it becomes an Englishman to do.

Kehama is finished. [8]  the concluding stroke was put to it last Saturday (this day week) – & to day I have begun Pelayo. [9]  Huzza! – I wish you well thro it Mr Southey! – There is nothing like having enough to do, Sir Charles, & with a history of my own, a history of the booksellers, & a long poem in hand in hand <at once>, besides a few stray etceteras, I am not likely to yearn for want of something to think about. Pelayo is in blank verse, – it is a noble subject, – the foundations are laid well, & I hope & trust (if it please God that I live & do well) to raise a goodly superstructure. By way however of not losing time it is my intention to begin Robin Hood also, [10]  as soon as a good beginning suggests itself. This will be in rhyme, & in the sort of time which you expect from the title. The difficulties of the story (for it had great ones) are I think well overcome, – & when the opening scene is once hit upon, xxx xxx – when I have once got fairly under weigh, it will be smooth sailing to the end of the voyage.

We are not quite xxx easy about Bertha, who is on the point of getting her first upper teeth. – will you read this to King, – she is subject to very frequent obstructions of bile, – that is to say the fæces are often white or clay coloured, a dose of calomel [11]  xxx makes them very green & fœtid, – but things are hardly set right before they get wrong again in the same way. And after the calomel has been taken about two hours it has the effect of vomiting her. – I am somewhat alarmed at this because Emma died of some anomalous liver complaint, tho it was not preceded by these symptoms. Nothing is more common among infants in this country than slight attacks of jaundice, – but in this case the derangement occurs far more frequently than I have seen in any other instance

Are you not astonished at Coleridges regularity? [12]  As for that shocking story in the 13th number [13]  I can only say as the old woman did about the transactions on Good Friday that I trust in God’s mercy there is not a word of truth in it; & I have convinced myself that there cannot be. The specific madness form of madness on which the fiction (as I take it to be) is founded, really did exist some fifty years ago in Denmark, – as I well remember to have read, – & was put a stop to by condemning such fanatics to perpetual imprisonment instead of death. Their practise was to kill children, in order to be put to death for it. [14] 

The M Magazine [15]  tells me that Bristol is become quite a literary city. I am sorry however that some body there has forestalled me in a selection of George Withers poems, [16]  – which I am sure he will not make with either half the pains, or half the advantages, that I should have done.

What a misfortune not to be in London during the war of Covent Garden!! [17] 

God bless you

RS. O. P.  [18] 


* Address: To/ Charles Danvers Esqr/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The box arrived on 17 December; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 14 December 1809, Letter 1721. BACK

[2] The name coined for himself by Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493–1541) a Swiss alchemist, writer and physician, who was the author of numerous treatises propounding his theories, many of which were published posthumously. BACK

[3] Lovelace Bigg (b. 1741) who assumed, on inheriting the Wither estates, the surname of the family. BACK

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

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

[6] The campaign for Catholic empancipation, which took place largely during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries in Britain and Ireland, aimed to reduce or remove restrictions on Roman Catholics that had been introduced by the sixteenth and seventeenth- century Acts of Uniformity and the Test Acts. BACK

[7] A line which occurs in both the broadside ballad ‘John Armstrong’s Last farewel’ (c. 1701) and ‘The Ballad of Chevy Chase’ (first recorded in the 15th century). BACK

[8] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. BACK

[9] Southey’s poem Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[10] Southey had begun to plan a romance on this subject in 1804; it was not until 1823 that he began drafting the verse, in collaboration with Caroline Bowles. The poem remained unfinished, and was published posthumously as a fragment in an edition by Bowles: Robin Hood: a Fragment by the Late Robert Southey and Caroline Southey, with other Fragments and Poems (1847). BACK

[11] The common name for mercury chloride, which was taken for various ailments, including syphilis. BACK

[12] Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was published in 26 instalments from 1 June 1809 to 15 March 1810. BACK

[13] The thirteenth number was dated 16 November 1809 and included the story of Maria Eleonora Schoning, which Coleridge claimed to have read on his visit to Germany in 1798–1799. See Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend; A Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper (London, 1809), pp. 194–208. See S. T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1969), II, pp. 172–183. BACK

[14] The story of this sect is given in the ‘History of Europe’ in the Annual Register for the Year 1767 (1768), 164. BACK

[15] The Monthly Magazine. BACK

[16] The journalist and author, John Mathew Gutch (1776–1861; DNB) who in 1803 moved to Bristol to become the owner and printer of Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal. He was an active member of the Bristol Philosophical and Literary Society during the twenty years he resided there. Gutch’s edition of George Wither’s (1558–1667; DNB) Poems, was published (with the assistance of his friend Charles Lamb), in 1820. BACK

[17] Southey is referring to the ‘Old Price Riots’ of 1809 which were caused by rising prices at the new theatre at Covent Garden after the previous one had been destroyed by fire. The riots began 18 September 1809 and lasted three months, ending with the theatre-manager, John Philip Kemble (1757–1823; DNB) being forced to make a public apology. BACK

[18] The Old Price disturbances were known as the OP. riots. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 2 times)
Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)