472. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [started before and continued on] 1 January 1800

472. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [started before and continued on] 1 January 1800 ⁠* 

I will transcribe the books of Thalaba & send them up. [1]  to trust the single copy to stage coach risque would not be wise – moreover transcribed they must be for correction & for the press. – A History of the Levelling Principles [2]  – or Jacobinism – if it be a prettier title – I am able & willing to undertake, – if a publisher chuses to engage me. I have no objection so to colour the dose or flavour it as to disguise its medicinal virtue from sight & taste. my name I would not affix – nor would a wise bookseller require it – the indelible epithet character of republicanism sticks to it. The history should commence with the agrarian governments – & conclude with the death of the principle in France – where it now lies with little hope of a joyful resurrection. [3]  One might make a grave & good chapter in examining the principle & confuting it only upon the ground of original sin.

You have not understood my travelling plans. certainly to settle somewhere – probably at Trieste, but from thence, if I had a companion to make occasional excursions of some length, certainly once thro Hungary to Constantinople.

I like your Carol much – & the ode – tho the why of the latter is not quite so palpable as it should be. [4]  if my memory play me not false, the Austrian did not fall beneath the shaft of Tell [5]  – supposing the tale to be true which assuredly it is not. howbeit let that pass. tis a good story & fit ‘to make a song of.’ [6]  my correspondents increase. the Anthology [7]  is a very favourite scheme of its mine & very disinterestedly. it cannot bring me in more than twenty pounds a volume – but it is a sort of focus – a something on which so many of those whom I have <some> regard for feel an interest that I should be loth to have it drop.

I have found Jeremy Taylors sermons at an old shop here – they contain incomparably finer passages than any I remember in his Holy Living. [8]  the Ductor Dubitantum is not a book of powerful eloquence – it does not admit of it – but the sermons have more poetry than 12 of the great volumes of Andersons 13. [9]  Did I tell you that Mackintosh every where praises the old Bishop? [10]  I strongly suspect that he talks after you. Mackintosh is here – I have no inclination to see him – by the by you should not abuse him Scot as he is, in common company – people bottle up your sayings & retail them, & God knows there is no occasion for making an enemy.

How like you Gobwins novel? [11]  it is at times powerfully written – but it is dilated or diluted. St Leon always acts so like a fool that his conduct is the most unbelievable part of the volume & Gobwin is always exposing himself in a posture which says ‘come kick me.’ the passage in the first volume about voluptuousness, which recommends a course of brothel studies, is very exceptionable, & Gobwin ought to have recollected what allusion his enemies would immediately make. [12]  I was quite paind & irritated at the mans folly.

The Baptist Library [13]  here – I have got access to, & the privilege of carrying home its books. this is of importance to me. the books relating to Oriental matters are many & good. Do you know that they have missionaries in the East Indies? Ryland [14]  showed me a little God whom they had just sent over – the primitial spoils I suppose. twas an ugly brass epicene-looking God sitting cross-legged upon a peacock. Should not you like to hear a controversy between a Baptist & a Bramin?

Jany. 1. 1800. I have made some progress in transcribing Thalaba. the notes need not be sent. suffice it that they will be numerous, & explanatory of every out-of-the-way word or allusion in the text.

The Gentlemen of the Literary Fund [15]  are about to commence a review I hear – now these Gentlemen write books themselves – & when one Gentleman reviews another Gentlemans poetry – what pretty gentlemanlike criticism we shall have! [16]  there is Boscawen who did Horace into English [17]  – as probably his bookseller has most reason to remember. & W. J. Fitzgerald who wrote rhymes upon Marie Antoinette – a dying speech & confession poet. [18]  & Mister Pye who makes his country ashamed of Naval Dominion, & who also has fallen foul upon Alfred! [19]  God have mercy on his soul – Blackmore [20]  first – & then Henry James Pye – & twenty four books besides! [21]  – but these Gentlemen Critics who will be so civil to one another must vary their review by a little severity – & that must fall upon the poor writers who are not Gentlemen.

Estlin is coming to London. I supped there on Monday – they produced Cartwrights Armine & Elvira [22]  for me to read aloud, after some half hours superlative praises upon its merit. I read a little on the hand gallop – for an easier pace would have put me to sleep – & when I had done you never witnessed such a dead flatness as ensued. Danvers cried out – & I gave such a conscientious half-scruple of praise – that the next day they laid all the poor poems failure upon my bad reading – I murdered it – which would have been like killing dead small beer.

Davy is expecting to hear from you. George is on trial at Savarys. [23]  Poole has sent me some Laver, & I have a thought for a poem on its origin. [24] 

God bless you –

yrs Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Coleridge/ 21. Buckingham Street/ Strand/ London./ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JAN. 1800; B/ JAN 2/ 1800
Watermark: [obscured]
Endorsement: 45=974
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 122. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: National Review, 19 (1892), 704–706; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 212–214. BACK

[1] Coleridge had offered to treat with the publishers Longmans on Southey’s behalf and see what terms he could secure for the publication of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) (Coleridge to Southey, 28 December 1799, E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 553). BACK

[2] Coleridge had suggested this project in his letter to Southey, 28 December 1799, E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 554. BACK

[3] France had adopted the Constitution of the Year VIII on 24 December 1799. It concentrated power in the hands of three Consuls and limited popular participation in government. BACK

[4] In his letter to Southey of 28 December 1799, Coleridge had enclosed copies of his ‘Christmas Carol’, Morning Post, 25 December 1799, and ‘Ode to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’, Morning Post, 24 December 1799. Both were included in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 79–82, 212–216. BACK

[5] A refrain within Coleridge’s ‘Ode to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’. William Tell was a legendary fourteenth century hero in the struggle for Swiss independence. Southey, though, was incorrect. In most versions of the Tell legend he did kill Hermann (or Albrecht) Gessler, the Bailiff of Altdorf and local representative of Austria. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Annual Anthology (1799) and Annual Anthology (1800). Further volumes were planned, but never appeared. BACK

[8] Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667; DNB), Anglican theologian. The book may well have been XXVIII Sermons Preached at Golden Grove (1654), no. 2783 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey versified part of Sermon XXV ‘The Miracles of Divine Mercy’ in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 8, lines 226–237. He openly preferred the Sermons to Taylor’s more famous The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) and Doctor Dubitantum, or the Rule of Conscience (1660). BACK

[9] Robert Anderson (1749–1830; DNB), A Complete Edition of the Poets of Great Britain, published in thirteen volumes between 1792 and 1795; a fourteenth volume was added in 1807. BACK

[10] William Taylor to Southey, 18 October 1799 (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 298) revealed that James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB), author of Vindiciæ Gallicæ: A Defence of the French Revolution and its English Admirers (1791,) had enthusiastically praised the works of Jeremy Taylor during his visit to Norwich. BACK

[11] William Godwin, nicknamed ‘Gobwin’ by Southey, had just published his new novel, St Leon (1799). BACK

[12] William Godwin, St Leon, 4 vols (London, 1799), I, pp. 81–82; Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) had condemned marriage as a form of legalised prostitution. Moreover, Southey is probably also recalling the controversy over Godwin’s portrayal of Mary Wollstonecraft in Memoirs of the Author of a ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1798). BACK

[13] The Library at Bristol Baptist College, which trained Baptist Ministers and could trace its history back to 1679. The Baptist Missionary Society, founded in 1792, which promoted missions abroad, was closely connected to the College. BACK

[14] John Ryland (1753–1825; DNB), leading Baptist and President of Bristol Baptist College, 1793–1825. BACK

[15] The Royal Literary Fund, founded in 1790 to help writers in financial difficulty. BACK

[16] The reference is obscure. It could relate to the proposed involvement of David Williams (1738–1816; DNB) in a projected loyalist periodical, the Imperial Gazette. It might also relate to the Royal Literary Fund’s decision, announced later in 1800, to produce a history of its actitivities, eventually published as the Claims of Literature (1802). BACK

[17] William Boscawen (1752–1811; DNB), translator of The Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Secularae of Horace (1793) and The Satires, Epistles and Art of Poetry of Horace (1797). His unfortunate bookseller was John Stockdale (1750–1814; DNB). BACK

[18] William Thomas Fitzgerald (1759–1829; DNB), author of numerous patriotic verses, including The Tribute of an Humble Muse to an Unfortunate Captive Queen, the Widowed Mourner of a Murdered King (1793), about Marie Antoinette (1755–1793; Queen Consort of France 1774–1792). BACK

[19] The Poet Laureate, Henry James Pye ( 1745–1813; DNB), Naucratia, or Naval Dominion (1798) and Alfred, an Epic Poem in Six Books (1801). BACK

[20] Richard Blackmore (1654–1729; DNB), author of Alfred, an Epick Poem. In Twelve Books (1723). BACK

[21] Joseph Cottle’s Alfred (1800) outdid Blackmore and Pye by taking up 24 Books. BACK

[22] Edmund Cartwright (1743–1823; DNB), clergyman, inventor of the power loom and author of Armine and Elvira – a Legendary Poem (1770). BACK

[23] George Fricker had been placed in the Bristol bank of John Savary (d. 1831) after efforts on his behalf by Southey and Coleridge. BACK

[24] Laver is a type of edible seaweed. Southey did not write a poem on its origin, but see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 21 for his note on the possibility of a poem on ‘Laver; how it was ambrosia’. BACK

People mentioned

Godwin, William (1756–1836) (mentioned 3 times)
Fricker, George (1785–1813) (mentioned 2 times)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Poole, Thomas (1766–1837) (mentioned 1 time)