916. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [25 March–]2 April [1804]

916. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [25 March–]2 April [1804] ⁠* 

Dear Danvers

I wrote to you thirteen days ago by Clarkson  [1]  – which letter perhaps has not yet reached you. in yours per-pocket-book you speak of a letter which perhaps has not reached me – at least by your mention of Danvers & White, [2]  I conclude that this is your new firm, & infer that you had told me so, in one which has miscarried, an accident which has before happened to your letters.

The Review of Thalaba [3]  I have not yet seen – for expecting to receive it from Bristol I did not order it from London, & have now no parcel to come. no matter – I shall see it in town, whither, as my last tells you, I am bound next month. William Taylor asks me how I bear such amicable dissection, which he says is like tooth-drawing gratis. I can only answer him as yet, by saying that I take tooth drawing gratis very coolly, as King can testify.

What you say of some great work undertaken by Coleridge is Greek & Hebrew to me. he is by this time at Portsmouth, bound for Malta, & so near going that he has paid the greatest part of his passage-price. his last letter was written just after a violent bowel attack which had nearly killed him – it was of course very short, but he therein stated that, if able, he should set out for Portsmouth as on Friday last.

Madoc in the Press is in the prophetic-present-future-tense of publishers language, a lie at present – only so far differing from xxxxxx common lies that it will last to be true. [4]  It has been promised him for the press by Midsummer day, & not an hour sooner can he have it; & if I live & do well he shall have it to the hour. the present state of progress is this. the first part, containing 3691 verses – done, & some progress made in the transcript for the printers. Of the second part little more than 600 lines is written. I am now writing the new part which intervenes between the cidevant books 7. & 8. & which <will> take me perhaps ten days or a fortnight to finish. But tho thus only half way thro the poem, I am more than two thirds thro the work, for in all the latter books there is little to alter, & not much to inweave. You have learnt from high authority that an Author is the best judge of his own works. – I cannot however tell you what my judgement is upon this said poem, because it is sometimes in favour & sometimes out of it – & I suspect its merit more than I ever did the merits of either Joan of Arc [5]  or Thalaba. I am convinced that it has been a disadvantage to have had the story so long in my head – that I am working upon a plan sketched ten years ago – in parts indeed fourteen years ago, which of necessity cannot be so good as it would have been had I taken up the story with maturer powers. [6]  I see also great & inherent defects in the story – particularly that, in which it resembles the Odyssey, – that the first & second parts differ so greatly. This want of unity is a grievous fault. But when I take up my eye-delighting little manuscript, & walk about the room, & preach a passage to myself, then I get into good humour & assure my friend Mr Robert Southey that his poem is a very excellent poem, & then I have a great regard for his genius.


Monday. April 2.

This has lain unfinished in my desk far over-long as we say in Cumberland. Meantime the new news is – that Coleridge was at Portsmouth on Wednesday March 28, expecting to sail next day – that no letter has yet arrived from Rex, royal promises being proverbial – & that old Lovell has left Robert fifty pounds – to be paid after the death of his widow! supposing I presume to cheat the Devil by this precious legacy. Mr Frank, [7]  as Executor, apprized me of this, & proposed that the boy should for some years be supported by his mothers relations (meaning me) till he be old enough for his fathers friends to push him forward in life. I have written him a very decisive answer, assuring the Lovells, one & all, that I can not & will not be burthened with all their debts of duty, & that if they are determined to abandon the child to common charity, a subscription for his education shall be set on foot among the Quakers. I am out of all patience!

My box from Liverpool is arrived, with the additional comfort of having been smuggled. you may guess how happy the cargo has made me my eyes still plague me at times – & at times I am still ‘a fountain of running waters’’. [8]  all this is rather general debility than local disease – but general debility is even a worse general than the Duke of York, [9]  & woe be to the Constitution wherein either should get the upper hand. I got sulphate of iron in no very good state, but it answers its end. Exercise I do not take for want of a companion, & because I am soon to have a thorough spell – for as soon as Edith is in bed & safe by Gods blessing [10]  – I shall take my departure for the Great City, & then as you know shall travel over more ground day by day than a twopenny postman.

The concrete acid is certainly, & most certainly, mineral, if it be possible to exhibit mineral acid in such a shape. I will swear to it by the unerring test of my tongue & teeth. [11] 

It vexes me to hear that you cannot walk fast. by all means if the pain in your side proves obstinate, find occasion to go yourself on business to Porto, & take Lisbon as the shortest way, which in time it would probably be. If you do not get quite well in the summer, I shall rather hear of your embarkation than see you here, much as we have built upon seeing you. –

A letter last night from Tom written at sea, sixteen days on his passage & expecting in 18 or 20 to reach Barbadoes. he writes in good spirits, having that day left off grog & taken physic to prepare for heat. he has put plenty of letters in the Post Office Atlantic Post Office General. [12]  Scape-grace is in Herefordshire at board & lodging under the eyes of Dr Thomas. [13]  I am trying to ship him again – & wish he was on his way to the West Indies instead of poor Tom, who is far too good for the Land Crabs.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ Bristol/ Single
Stamped: [partial] KESWICK/ 8
Postmark: [partial] E/ APR 5 MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: Clearly this letter was begun earlier than 2 April (the date given in the middle of the letter). Given Southey’s statement that it was started ‘thirteen days’ after the letter sent via Thomas Clarkson (Southey to Charles Danvers, 12 March 1804, Letter 912), this letter was most likely begun on 25 March. BACK

[1] Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 12 March 1804, Letter 912. BACK

[2] Danvers’ firm of wine merchants with his partner, who has not been identified. BACK

[3] William Taylor reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

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

[5] Southey’s poem Joan of Arc (1796; 2nd edn 1798). BACK

[6] On the genesis of Madoc over a period of ten years see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, introduction. BACK

[7] Untraced. BACK

[8] Song of Solomon 4: 15. BACK

[9] The Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827): second son of King George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB), he was notorious for his ineffectual generalship in Holland in 1799, which gave rise to the rhyme ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’. BACK

[10] Edith Southey gave birth to Edith May on 30 April 1804. BACK

[11] See Southey to Charles Danvers, 1 March 1804 (Letter 905) and Southey to John King, [1]–5 March 1804 (Letter 904). BACK

[12] Southey had agreed with his brother Thomas, whose ship had been posted to defend the West Indies from French fleets, that he should send messages in bottles – several of which did indeed reach Keswick. For an account of these experiments; see Southey to the Editor of the Athenaeum, [April 1807], Letter 1314. BACK

[13] A native of Hereford (first name and dates unknown), he was the father of William Bowyer Thomas (d. 1802). He was involved in the management of Herbert Hill’s business affairs. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)