899. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 19 February 1804

899. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 19 February 1804 ⁠* 

Greta Hall, Feb. 19. 1804

Parson-son, [1]  the Piscis Piscium sive Piscissimus, [2]  left us to-day.                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .                      He is piping-hot from Bristol, and brimful of admiration for Beddoes, who, indeed, seems to have done so much for Mrs. C., that there are good hopes of her speedy recovery. He is in high spirits about the Slave Trade, for the West India merchants will not consent to its suspension for five years, to prevent the importation of hands into the newly conquered islands; and what from that jealousy, and from the blessed success of the St. Domingo negroes, [3]  I believe we may hope to see the traffic abolished.                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .

If I were a single man and a Frenchman, I would go as a missionary to St. Domingo, where a world of good might be done in that way: the climate may be defied by any man in a high state of mental excitement. I know not whether I sent you some curious facts respecting vivaciousness, but I have met with enough to lead to important physiological conclusions, and in particular to explain the sufficiently common fact of sick persons fixing the hour of their death, and living exactly to that time; the simple solution is, that they would else have died sooner. In proceeding with my History, [4]  I continually find something that leads to interesting speculation: it would, perhaps, be better if there were always some one at hand, to whom I could communicate these discoveries, and who should help me to hunt down the game when started; not that I feel any wish for such society, but still it would at times be useful. It is a very odd, but a marked, characteristic of my mind, – the very nose in the face of my intellect, – that it is either utterly idle, or uselessly active, without its tools. I never enter into any regular train of thought unless the pen be in my hand; they then flow as fast as did the water from the rock in Horeb, [5]  but without that wand the source is dry. At these times conversation would be useful. However, I am going on well, never better. The old cerebrum was never in higher activity. I find daily more and more reason to wonder at the miserable ignorance of English historians, and to grieve with a sort of despondency, at seeing how much that has been laid up among the stores of knowledge, has been neglected and utterly forgotten.

Madoc goes on well; the whole detail of the alteration is satisfactorily completed, and I shall have it ready for the press by Midsummer. [6]  I wish it could have been well examined first by you and William Taylor; however, it will be well purged and purified in the last transcription, and shall go into the world, not such as will obtain general approbation now, but such as may content most men to read. I am not quite sure whether the story will not tempt me to have a cross in the title-page, and take for my motto, In hoc signo.  [7]                       .                      .                      .                      .                      .

If Μακρος Αυθρωπος [8]  agrees with me about the Specimens, it will oblige me to go to London. Perhaps we may contrive to meet.                     .                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .                      .

I am sorry, sir, to perceive by your letter that there is a scarcity of writing-paper in London; perhaps, the next time you write, Mr. Rickman or Mr. Poole will have the goodness to accommodate you with a larger sheet, that you may have the goodness to accommodate me with a longer letter; and if, sir, it be owing to the weakness of your sight that you write so large a hand, and in lines so far apart, there is a very excellent optician, who lives at Charing Cross, where you may be supplied with the best spectacles, exactly of the number which may suit your complaint.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient humble servant,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 263–265 [in part]. BACK

[1] Thomas Clarkson, son of the Reverend John Clarkson (1710–1766). Southey is perhaps also punning on clerk, or cleric. Clarkson, the campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, a friend of the Wordsworths, Coleridge and Southey, moved to the Lake District in 1794 and lived in retirement near Ullswater, until 1806. BACK

[2] Meaning ‘the fish of fish, or biggest fish’. BACK

[3] Having defeated French forces in November 1803, the black general and former slave Jean Jacques Dessalines (1758–1806) declared independence for the French colony of Saint-Domingue on 1 January 1804, renaming it Haiti. BACK

[4] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Exodus 17: 6. BACK

[6] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[7] Meaning ‘in this sign’, alluding to the early Christian tradition that the Emperor Constantine I (272–337) had a vision of the sun with a cross above it and the words ‘εν τούτῳ νίκα’ (meaning ‘by this, may you conquer’), which is often translated in Latin as ‘In hoc signo vinces’. Constantine adopted the phrase for his battle standards. It did become the motto for Madoc. BACK

[8] ‘Long Man’ in Greek. Longman did publish Southey’s Specimens of the Later English Poets in 1807. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Ullswater (mentioned 1 time)