405. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 9 May 1799

405. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 9 May 1799 ⁠* 

Thursday. May 9. 99. Brixton

Your letter my dear Edith reached me not till late last evening – & it could hardly have arrived more opportunely – for it was on my return from a visit to a Mr Boltby [1]  here that I found it. we had dined there. Harry Bedford Carlisle & I with fourteen people all of whom were compleatly strange to me & most of whom I hope & trust will remain so. there were some blockheads there one of whom chose to be exposed by engaging in some classical & historical disputes with me. another gave as a toast General Suwarrow [2]  – the man who massacred men women & children for three successive days at Warsaw – who slew at Ockzakow thirty thousand persons in cold blood – & thirty thousand at Ismael. I was so astonished at hearing this dæmons name as only to repeat it in the tone of wonder, but before I had time to think or to reply Carlisle turned to the man who gave the toast & said he would not drink General Suwarrow – & off we set, describing the mans actions till xx they gave up all defence & asked for some substituted name & Carlisle changed him for Count Rumford. [3]  it was a hateful day – the fellows would talk politics of which they knew nothing; I only said enough to expose their ignorance & come away with Carlisle the first of the company. after five hours so put to the torture your letter was doubly welcome – I read it & forgot the asses whose braying had made my head ache.

I have not seen Mr Peacock. [4]  he lives with a brother, who seems a staid old merchant looking man. today I went to town, walked to breakfast there with Carlisle, whom I find as friendly & good humourd & attentive as ever – & entre-nous I have found out why Grosvenor is estranged from him. But this when we meet. Stuart paid me my quarter – & Hamilton [5]  will settle with me soon. G. Dyer is foraging for my almanac [6]  & promises pieces from Mrs Opie, [7]  Mr Mott of Cambridge whom you remember, & Miss Christall. [8]  I then went to Arch, [9]  a pleasant place for half an hours book-news. you know he purchased the edition of the Lyrical Ballads – he told me he believed that he should lose by them as they sold very heavily. I ordered your Florian there the 14 volumes to be bound in 7 – plainly in vellum than which nothing can be handsomer or neater. [10]  my books sell very well. other book news have I none - except indeed that John Thelwall God help him! is writing an epic poem [11]  – & Samuel Rogers who is a banker & contrives to make his rhymes pass current for poetry, as his paper goes for cash, is also writing an epic poem [12]  – I do not say God help him too, for he has not claim on respect like poor Thelwall. George Dyer also hath similar thoughts. I laughed at all this when George told me so & said they would make a supplement to my obscure epic writers one of these days.

The Almanach shows me a lucky mistake in my calculations. I shall be home on the 28th instead of the 29th.

I do little here but read. for Stuart I have written one only letter [13]  – he has luckily news enough to want little from me. here are abundance of books, & tho my stall hunting has been more than usually succesful I abstain from those dainties & feed on what I cannot carry away. Wm Taylor has written to me from Norwich & sent me Bodmers Noah [14]  the book which I wanted to poke thro & learn German by. he tempts me to write upon the subject & take my seat also with Milton & Klopstock [15]  – the third of the trinity. & in my todays walk so many noble thoughts for such a poem presented themselves that I am half tempted, [16]  & have the Deluge floating in my brain with the Dom Daniel [17]  & the rest of my unborn family.

Carlisle has some fine speculations that I must not talk about. he has a pupil [18]  resident in his house. you would be surprized to see how fat he is grown, & how well he looks. as we went to dinner yesterday a coachful of women drew up to the door at the moment we arrived there. it rained merrily – & he offered his umbrella, but the prim gentry were somewhat rudely shy of Carlisles him & me too – for his hair was a little ragged & I had not silk stockings on. he made them ashamed of this at dinner. never did you see any thing so hideous as their dresses. they were pink muslin with white-pocket-handkerchief-round-little spots. waists down God knows how far – & xx buttoned from the neck down to the end of the waist – with a bosom protuberance before as ugly as the old fortifications – or merry thoughts – or what-dye callums that made the women drink over the shoulders. I could have kickd them for their fool fashions.

Well Edith – here have I written you a letter full of nothing – nor have I ought to say save the endless repetition that I am home sick – that I want to be with you – & often as this has been repeated I believe you are as little weary of hearing as I am of repeating it. the news of the day is that Buonaparte is doing wonders, & the Pacha who wrote that letter to denounce his vengeance on “Buonaparte, whom God curse.” as he said, has been by the Turks own account “miserably defeated.” [19]  Horne Tookes letter to the Income Commissioners [20]  has amused me very much. he had stated his under sixty pounds a year. They said they were not satisfied – & his reply begins by saying he has much more reason to be dissatisfied with the smallness of his income than they have.

I look for another letter from you. there is pleasure in expecting, in receiving & in remembering one. supper time now approaches & then thank God comes bed time – & I have had walk enough to be somewhat sleepy. to my mother I will write & to Cottle. I have also Carlisles advice for Wm Reid. [21]  about St Pauls you already know my judgement if you have received my last which stupidly enough I had franked to Bristol. but probably it will follow you remember me to your sister & to Moses whom I should very gladly see again, but God knows when that will be.

God bless you

yr Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ with Mrs Coleridge/ Stowey/ near Bridgewater/ Somersetshire/ Single
Postmark: MA/ 19/ 99
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 15–17 [in part]. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov (1729–1800), Russian general. When his troops conquered the fortesses of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) in the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792) the inhabitants were massacred. Similarly, about 20,000 civilians were killed when his troops entered the Warsaw suburb of Praga in December 1794. This action effectively ended Polish resistance to the partition of the country. In 1799 he was leading Russian forces in a successful campaign against French troops in northern Italy. BACK

[3] Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753–1814; DNB). BACK

[4] Mr Peacock had been Southey’s landlord in London at 20 Prospect Place, Newington Butts in February to May 1797. BACK

[5] The Critical Review, for which Southey was working, was owned 1793–1804 by the brothers Archibald (fl. 1790s) and Samuel (fl. 1790s-1810s) Hamilton. BACK

[6] Southey’s Annual Anthology. BACK

[7] She contributed the following to the Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799): ‘To Mr. Opie’, p. 38; ‘Stanzas Written on the Seashore’, pp. 77–78; ‘Song’, pp. 118–119; ‘On the Approach of Autumn’, p. 142; ‘To Twilight’, pp. 202–204. BACK

[8] Probably the Mr Mott (dates unknown) of Cambridge whose poetry appeared in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (December 1796), 889; Monthly Magazine, 3 (January 1797), 55; Monthly Magazine, 4 (July 1797), 50–51; and the poet Anne Batten Cristall (c. 1769–1848; DNB). Neither contributed to the Annual Anthology. BACK

[9] John and Arthur Arch (fl. 1792–1838), publishers, booksellers and stationers, whose premises were at this time at 23 Gracechurch St, London. BACK

[10] Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794). Probably the edition of his Oeuvres published in Paris in 1792 and listed as item 1042 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] ‘Specimens’ of John Thelwall’s ‘The Hope of Albion; or, Edwin of Northumbria’ were included in his Poems Chiefly Written in Retirement (Hereford, 1801), pp. [175]–202. BACK

[12] Samuel Rogers, whose fragmentary Columbus was privately printed in 1808. BACK

[13] i.e. a letter containing poems for the Morning Post. BACK

[14] Johann Bodmer (1698–1783), Noachide (1752). Southey thought it was a ‘bad poem’; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 2. BACK

[15] Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), author of the epic Der Messias (1748–1773). BACK

[16] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (1849–1850), IV, p. 2. BACK

[17] The early working-title for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul, 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814) was advancing into Palestine from his base in Egypt. Both the Sun, 8 May 1799, and The Oracle, 9 May 1799, carried a gloomy report from Constantinople on Napoleon’s progress, including an admission from the local Ottoman commander, Ahmed al-Jazzar Pasha (1708/20–1804), who was in charge of the defence of Acre, that his troops had been ‘miserably defeated’. BACK

[20] John Horne Tooke’s (1736–1812; DNB) correspondence with the Income Tax Commissioners was widely published, for example, in The Oracle, 7 May 1799. BACK

[21] William Reid (dates unknown), a Bristol insurance broker and acquaintance of Southey’s. BACK

People mentioned

Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 7 times)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 3 times)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Opie, Amelia (1769–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Thelwall, John (1764–1834) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Norwich (mentioned 1 time)