904. Robert Southey to John King, [1–]5 March 1804

904. Robert Southey to John King, [1–]5 March 1804 ⁠* 

May it please your Majesty

It does not please me that in the course of six months you have never written me one letter – & if I had not a favour to ask by way of atonement I should have waited some time longer before I had written you another.

You know by Danvers how it is settled that Madoc is to be published next winter. [1]  now there are to be vignettes to it, some in copper, some in wood, according to the subject, & when I have explained to you of what kind these are to be, & for what purpose designed, you will see the fitness of the letter & how you can do for me what no one else can do.

What I aim at (besides making the book sell, which prints do by making it expensive, for the rich think whatever is dear must be good) – is to elucidate the costume, the antiquities, & the natural history of the poem, so as to make a dull eye see, what a dull imagination could never comprehend. Thus for the first vignette I shall have a ship – copied from William Conquerors tapestry. [2]  – in another Queen Emma in the Saxon dress of her age, from Strutt, [3]  &c. The one which I wish you to do for me relates to natural history – & is, a Water Spout. There are prints of two four in Nicholsons Journal, [4]  & I remember Tobin told me his father had a drawing of one. Now will you at your leisure, any time between this & midsummer make from either of these such a drawing as will best suit these lines, or enable me to make a better description, for this is no great thing,

Heaven too had there
Its wonders, . . . from a deep, black, heavy cloud,
What shall I say? a shoot . . . a trunk . . . an arm
Came down, – yea like a Demons arm it seized
The waters; Ocean smoked beneath its touch
And rose like dust before the whirlwinds force. [5] 

For the size let it be a fit vignette or tail piece for a common quarto, such as the great half-read which tho an uncommon poem, is of the common size, [6]  & I should think the subject will look better in wood than in copper, wood giving a greater blackness. Longman will spare no expence in employing the best artists.

I do not ask you for any thing more, but if you have any studies of tropical scenery which you think will suit this purpose, I know they will be better than any I can get elsewhere, & you know I shall be very thankful for your help. A group of cocoa trees on the beach, or of mangoes, any thing of the kind characteristic of the country.

Clarkson (who has brought back with him a due share of admiration for his surgeon as well as his physician) put me upon a plan of making something like soda water which did not succeed at all. I put the acid which Danvers sent me  [7] into a glass of water, with a double quantity of supercarbonated kali, [8]  & the acid was instantly neutralized, but no effervescence produced whatever, not even the slightest. perhaps his receipt was wrong, do you send me the right one, for I am as desirous of making potable razors as ever the old chemists were of making potable gold, [9]  & do send me some directions which may be useful to Tom in the West Indies. I advised him, to drink no spirituous liquors, to eat less animal food than he does here, & to use fruit as freely as his bowels would permit him, & the more spice the better. Poor fellow he has promised to try & bring home some live Land Crabs for me – & I have besought him to add a live alligator to the party – for Carlisle to dissect – but the Land-Crabs I will keep myself as pets for the parlour. [10] 

This place has agreed with me unaccountably well, but I am by no means disposed to fix here, the distance from London is too inconvenient, a parcel by the waggon is a month reaching me. It is certain that I must draw nearer London so as to be within reach of the museum, [11]  for I find myself daily in want of documents which are only to be found there or in the University Libraries. – Have you Godwins most despicable & catchpenny Life of Chaucer? It fell unhappily to my lot to review it, [12]  & I, with a sort of unconscientious conscience about abusing a man whom it is my lot to meet sometimes in company & to speak to in the streets, did spare the lash when it ought to have been more – yea most heavily laid on. Godwin however it seems had somewhat less management about me. one night at Lambs lately, he took it in to his fools head to say something very disrespectful of me to Coleridge of all men living, who just gave him a decent set down, & thought he had done. [13]  Gobwin [14]  walks off requesting Coleridge not to go till he returned & promising to be back in half an hour. he stays an hour & half & then makes his appearance with his wife [15]  Mrs Fenwick [16]  & a party of young women, meantime had Coleridge been drinking more punch than he was aware of, & Gobwin [17]  in a most unhappy hour for himself, for a reason which you shall hear anon, thought proper to renew the conversation & abuse me once more. Coleridge beggd him not to provoke him but in vain. he did go on, & did provoke him, till Coleridge fell on him & in the presence of all the company anatomized him alive. He gave him so very xxx <severe> & unmerciful a lecture, & made the philosophicide (as he calls him) look so utterly contemptible, that in the morning his heart relented, & he thought himself in decency bound to write an letter of extenuation & contrition – very foolishly as the upshot proved, for the ugly-nosed metapothecary with his usual Godwinism confessed afterward to Lamb that he had provoked him because his wife twitted him for being afraid of Mr Coleridge! So Jerry took heart upon the occasion – & actually went from the Temple to Somers Town to fetch Mrs Sneak [18]  that <she might> see how he would argufy with Coleridge, & prove that he was not afraid! – IS not this an excellent good story? – Tis a comfort to think that in reviewing Malthus [19]  I have called him a dog by implication – having mentioned his album græcum. [20] 

God bless you. remember me kindly to Mrs K.

yrs very truly


March 5. 1804.


* Address: To/ John King Esqr/ Dowry Square/ Hot Wells/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ MAR 8/ 1804
Endorsements: July 1803 £1. Bank of Engl No 6661/ April 1803. do 1686; Mrs Burney/ Burney/ Mr Davies, Charles/ Temple Manning/ left hand Temple
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 353–355.
Dating note: In his letter dated 1 March 1804 (Letter 905), Southey tells Danvers that he has begun a letter to King. Therefore this letter was started on (or before) 1 March but not completed until 5 March. BACK

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

[2] The Bayeux tapestry; for Southey’s complaint that the illustrator Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821) had spoilt the image by drawing a too-modern ship; see Southey to Joseph Cottle, 25 August 1805, Letter 1097. BACK

[3] Emma of Anjou (b. c. 1138) was the illegitimate half-sister of Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) who married Dafydd (in English, David), King of Gwynedd, son of Owain Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB). She is described in Madoc, Part 1, Book II and her Saxon costume was probably to have been copied from Joseph Strutt, (1749–1802; DNB) A Complete View of the Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, etc. of the Inhabitants of England, from the Arrival of the Saxons till the Reign of Henry VIII (1775–1776). BACK

[4] William Nicholson (1753–1815; DNB) began publishing his Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts in 1797. It was generally known as ‘Nicholson’s journal’ and was the earliest work of its kind in Britain, continuing to publish original research papers, reviews and summaries of other journals until 1814. Engravings of tornadoes, seen from Nice, feature in Volume 1, 583. BACK

[5] Madoc, Part 1, Book 5, lines 104–109. BACK

[6] Joseph Cottle’s Alfred: An Epic Poem (1800). BACK

[7] See Southey to Charles Danvers, 1 March 1804, Letter 905. BACK

[8] A form of sodium bicarbonate. BACK

[9] Known in Latin as ‘aurum potabile’, this was a solution of gold particles in oil and alcohol that was believed to bestow eternal life upon the drinker. BACK

[10] Although Thomas did bring some land crabs back with him, the last of these died on the return journey; see Southey to Richard Duppa, 5 August 1806, Letter 1206. BACK

[11] The British Museum. BACK

[12] 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

[13] See Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, February 1804, Letter 902. BACK

[14] Southey’s habitual misspelling of William Godwin’s name was meant to suggest his mouthiness. BACK

[15] Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin (1766–1841). She married Godwin in December 1801. BACK

[16] Eliza Fenwick (1766–1840): wife of Godwin’s friend and fellow radical John Fenwick (d. 1820), friend of Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles and Mary Lamb, Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867). Fenwick was an author, best known for her Jacobin novel Secresy; or The Ruin on the Rock (1795). BACK

[17] See note 12. BACK

[18] Jerry Sneak and Mrs Sneak are London characters in a play by Samuel Foote (bap. 1721–1777; DNB), The Mayor of Garratt: A Farce, first performed in 1763. BACK

[19] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

[20] Dog excrement that has become white through exposure to air. BACK

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