428. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 20 August 1799

428. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 20 August 1799 ⁠* 

August 20. 99.

My dear Danvers

I write to you from Stowey & at the same table with Coleridge. this will surprize you – I know not whether you will be equally surprized to hear that Lloyd reported as many unfavourable accounts of me to Coleridge – as he did of Coleridge to me – & manufactured conversations & speeches wholly out of his brain. for this I have the authority of Poole – & his own Letters. they believe him mad – I wonder & learn to be sceptical.

However here I am, & have been some days wholly immersed in conversation. in one point of view Coleridge & I are bad companions for each other, without being talkative I am conversational, the hours slip away & the ink dries upon the pen in my hand.

Edith is very much better. I have seen Ilfracombe & find its beauty consists wholly in the shore scenery – the country is wild open & naked, so we shall go to the South of Devon at once – & set out on Monday or Tuesday next to Sidmouth. the Coleridges are going to Ottery, which is only five miles from Sidmouth so we travel together.

I have seen the Valley of Stones. imagine a vale, almost narrow enough to be called a coombe running between two ranges of hills. on the left the hills are covered with turf. the vale is sprinkled with stones among fern, only in one place piled grotesquely or at any height – yet presenting a singular appearance. the magnificence lies on the Northern side – the hills here are without turf or soil, stript of their vegetable earth – compleatly naked – the very bones of the earth. here the bare stones assume a thousand strange shapes of ruins. I ascended the highest point. at the summit two huge stones inclining against each other formed a portal. in this I lay down. a little platform of level turf – the only piece I saw spread before me. about two yards long, & then the eye fell immediately upon the sea, a giddy depth. you cannot conceive a spot more strange, more impressive. I never before felt the whole sublimity of solitude.

What could have been the origin of this valley? the valley itself is very high above the sea – but if it be the effect of water, & I can conceive no other possible agent, the same inundation which bared the summit of these heights must necessarily have flooded all the lower lands in the kingdom. but even the opposite hills to which I could have shot an arrow are clothed with soil & vegetation. possibly a water spout might have produced this effect. As a poet I could form hypotheses in plenty, but to my shame I am no naturalist. I could learn no tradition – the people do not even suspect the Devil of having had any hand in it.

At the alehouse in the adjoining village I met with the father of Lean – your reading-society man. [1]  he claimed acquaintance with me, on the score of his sons knowing me! I found him a plain unaffected intelligent old man, he gave me a good deal of local information, showed me several of the best points of view, & invited me to his home at Wivelscombe – he is a seller of all things – & travels twice or thrice a year round Exmoor with a cart full of goods. these villages which are shut out from all the world & inaccessible by carriages have no shops to supply themselves from & when Lean enters one of them his arrival is proclaimed in form at the church door.

Lymouth a village about a mile from the Valley of Stones is a place of unequalled beauty. excepting the Arrabida & Cintra I have seen nothing superiour to it. two rivers – you know the down-hill rivers of Devonshire – that make one long water-fall all the way – two rivers from two coombes join at Lymouth, & where they join enter the sea, & the sea makes but one murmur roar with the rivers. the one coombe is richly wooded – the other naked & stoney. from the eminence which juts out between them is one of the noblest views I ever saw – the two coombes & their rivers – their junction – the little village of Lymouth & the sea – here boundless & with the variety of sea colours. the road down to Lymouth is dreadful a narrow path more than a mile in descent on the brink of a precipice with the sea below. a mound of earth about two feet high secure the foot traveller but it is gloriously terrific.

I have no time to day to write to my mother or Cottle. desire Cottle to send me down three small anthologies here immediately, & for Mr Poole in the same bx parcel Bayntons book on Ulcers. [2]  desire him too when a frank comes for me not to inclose it again & make me pay double for what would else cost nothing. if he has left out the word “Annual” the title page shall be cancelled. it is the one word needful, but I hope you have prevented him.

God bless you. remember us affectionately to your mother.

yrs truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ 9. St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol./ Single
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 78–80 [in part]. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] Three copies of the Annual Anthology (1799), and a new edition of Thomas Baynton’s (1761–1820) Descriptive Account of a New Method of Treating Old Ulcers of the Legs, first published in 1797, but reissued in Bristol in 1799. BACK

People mentioned

Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 2 times)
Poole, Thomas (1766–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 1 time)