902. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, February 1804

902. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, February 1804 ⁠* 

Feb. 1804

I am not sorry that you gave Godwin a dressing, [1]  and should not be sorry if he were occasionally to remember it with the comfortable reflection ‘in vino veritas;’ [2]  for, in plain truth, already it does vex me to see you so lavish of the outward and visible signs of friendship, and to know that a set of fellows whom you do not care for and ought not to care for, boast every where of your intimacy, and with good reason, to the heat of their understanding. You have accustomed yourself to talk affectionately, and write affectionately, to your friends, till the expressions of affection flow by habit in your conversation, and in your letters, and pass for more than they are worth; the worst of all this is, that your letters will one day rise up in judgment against you (for be sure, that hundreds which you have forgotten, are hoarded up for some Curl or Philips [3]  of the next generation), and you will be convicted of a double dealing, which, though you do not design, you certainly do practise. And now that I am writing affectionately more meo, [4]  I will let out a little more. You say in yours to Sara, that you love and honour me; upon my soul I believe you: but if I did not thoroughly believe it before, your saying so is the thing of all things that would make me open my eyes and look about me to see if I were not deceived: perhaps I am too intolerant to these kind of phrases; but, indeed, when they are true, they may be excused, and when they are not, there is no excuse for them.

______ [5]  was always looking for such things, but he was a foul feeder, and my moral stomach loathes anything like froth. There is a something outlandish in saying them, more akin to a French embrace than an English shake by the hand, and I would have you leave off saying them to those whom you actually do love, that if this should not break off the habit of applying them to indifferent persons, the disuse may at least make a difference. Your feelings go naked, I cover mine with a bear-skin; I will not say that you harden yours by your mode, but I am sure that mine are the warmer for their clothing. . . . . . . . It is possible, or probable, that I err as much as you in an opposite extreme, and may make enemies where you would make friends; but there is a danger that you may sometimes excite dislike in persons of whose approbation you would yourself be desirous. You know me well enough to know in what temper this has been written, and to know that it has been some exertion; for the same habit which makes me prefer sitting silent to offering contradiction, makes me often withhold censure when, perhaps, in strictness of moral duty, it ought to be applied. The medicine might have been sweetened perhaps; but, dear Coleridge, take the simple bitters, and leave the sweetmeats by themselves.

That ugly-nosed Godwin has led me to this. I dare say he deserved all you gave him; in fact, I have never forgiven him his abuse of William Taylor, and do now regret, with some compunction, that in my reviewal of his Chaucer, [6]  I struck out certain passages of well-deserved severity.                   .                    .                    .                    .                     Two days of S. T. C.’s time given to ______. [7]  Another Antonio! [8]  If we are to give account for every idle hour, what will you say to this lamentable waste? Or do you expect to have them allowed to you in your purgatory score?                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                     If he had not married again, I would have still have had some bowels of compassion for him; but to take another wife with the picture of Mary Wollstonecroft in his house! Agh! I am never ashamed of letting out my dislikes, however, and, what is a good thing, never afraid; so let him abuse me, and we’ll be at war.

I wish you had called on Longman. That man has a kind heart of his own, and I wish you to think so: the letter he sent me was a proof of it. Go to one of his Saturday evenings; you will see a coxcomb or two, and a dull fellow or two: but you will, perhaps, meet Turner and Duppa, and Duppa is worth knowing; make yourself known to him in my name, and tell him how glad I should be to show him the Lakes. I have some hope, from Rickman’s letter, that you may see William Taylor in town; that would give me great pleasure, for I am very desirous that you should meet. For universal knowledge, I believe he stands quite unrivalled; his conversation is a perpetual spring of living water; and then in every relation of life so excellent is he, that I know not any man who, in the circle of his friends, is so entirely and deservedly beloved.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from 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. 266–268 [in part]. BACK

[1] For more in this incident; see Southey to John King, [1]–5 March 1804, Letter 904. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘in wine [there is] truth’. BACK

[3] Edmund Curl (c. 1675–1747), unscrupulous bookseller and publisher, and Ambrose Philips (1674–1749), pastoral poet published by Curl, were both mocked as dunces by Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) in The Dunciad (1728–1743). BACK

[4] The Latin translates as ‘going on in my own way’. BACK

[5] Thus in text. Unidentified. BACK

[6] Southey reviewed William Godwin, Life of Geoffrey Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462–473. BACK

[7] Thus in text. Unidentified. BACK

[8] The friend of Sebastian in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night who proves unable to tell him apart from Cesario. BACK

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