855. Robert Southey to John King, 19 November 1803

855. Robert Southey to John King, 19 November 1803 ⁠* 

Nov. 19. 1803. Keswick.

Dear King

I could find in my heart to begin this letter in hearty good anger if there was not a good reason for beginning it with something else. It will be delivered to you by Mr – once the Reverend Thomas – Clarkson, [1]  a man whose name will hold an honourable place in the History of England, who began the discussions concerning the Slave Trade in this country, & who by the indefatigable & prodigious exertions which he made, well nigh ruined his health as well as his fortunes. his wife is a woman of superior understanding, from the neighbourhood of Norwich. God grant that Beddoes may save her life. Clarkson has renounced his cloth from scruples of conscience, & now inclines to the Quaker principles. he is writing a book about them.

Danvers gives me but sad accounts of Mrs King, [2]  tho they come with the word better. she has had a dreadful period of suffering, & yours must have been even worse. for one makes up a sort of comfort from enduring bodily pain bravely. the last news I saw of you was in Beddoes’s pamphlet [3]  – how you have a new Institution on the Quay. [4]  Is there not a possible evil to be apprehended from the dreadful pictures which he delineates of consumption? Carlisle once said so to me & my own feelings confirm it. Of this I am certain that were any consumptive symptoms to manifest themselves in me Dr Beddoes description of the progress & termination of that disease would dwell upon me & haunt me & probably do me more mischief than all his remedies could obviate.

By this time you have probably seen & detected William Taylors articles in the Annual Review. [5]  I am hard at work for my next years quantum, killing & slaying, or rather in your way anatomizing the dead. One most compleat scoundrel has been by Gods judgement consigned over to my tribunal. some fellow who writes under the assumed name of Peter Bayley Junr Esqr . [6]  he has stolen from Wordsworth in the most wholesale way & most artfully, − & then at the end of his book thinks proper to abuse Wordsworth by name. I mean to prove his thefts one by one & then call him rascal. Godwins Life of Chaucer [7]  is to be sent me. Poor Godwin is a man whom I only abuse confidentially, because in public he is abused without cause. We were talking of some credited absurdity of xx him the other evening in Coleridges bed room – he being ill in bed & I having the commodious utensil before my eyes shot out this illustration of the Philosophers xxxx head – Mr Godwin is like that close-stool pan. generally empty, & when empty less offensive than when full.

A Book of Bristol printing is come to me which you should read – Davis’s Travels in America. [8]  it should rather have been called Memoirs of his life in America. he is a vain man, & I should distrust his moral feelings, but most undoubtedly a man of great talents. by all means read his book. it will affect you in parts, & you will easily pardon the faults of a self-taught man struggling with poverty, & consoling himself by pride.

My brother Harry is removed to Edinburgh where I suppose he will soon blaze as the Comet of the Medical Society. [9]  he will be a shining man, having great talents & as much emulation as possible – a very good thing in the way of the world & for making way in the world – but a very bad thing in every other point of view. I recollect nothing in the history of my own feelings with more satisfaction than the complacency with which I let so many a dull fellow stand above me in my form, & the perfect resignation with which I wrote worse Latin than any body who could write Latin at all. A coxcomb Etonian was once fawning about Coleridge at Cambridge on occasion of some prize, blarneying (Mrs King will explain the word) & assuring him that he must get it, till Coleridge growled out at last xx No Mr Frere, [10]  − the boot fits you, − I can’t get my leg in.

Coleridge is now in bed with the lumbago. never was poor fellow tormented with such pantomimic complaints. his disorders are perpetually shifting, & he is never a week together without some one or other. He is arraying materials for what if it be made will be a most valuable work, under the title of Consolations & Comforts, [11]  which will be the very essential oil of metaphysics; fragrant as atter of roses, & useful as wheat, rice, port-wine or any other necessary of human life. For my own proceedings Danvers will have told you how Madoc [12]  comes on – I have since taken a spell at history [13]  & shall now again return to the poem & run my race. My last labour has been the discovery of India & the first proceedings of the Portugueze there – to the amount of about the quarter of a quarto volume. This is a very interesting period of history, & the facts related by the contemporary historians lead to some curious corollaries, which will justify a view of society in those ages somewhat different from what has heretofore been presented. I see prodigious mischief produced by the Portuguese conquests. much consequent barbarism, & perhaps the very preservation of civilized society thus wrought, & only thus possible.

If it were not for my unhappy eyes I should have no bodily grievance to complain of. they teaze me, tho now better than when last I wrote. I have this day been staining paper with tobacco an infusion of tobacco, to render candle-light writing more tolerable.

Remember me kindly to Mrs King.


God bless you.

R S.


* Address: To/ Mr King/ Dowry Square./ Hot Wells./ Bristol./ by favour of Mr Clarkson
Seal: [illegible]
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 244-247. BACK

[1] Though ordained as a deacon, Clarkson renounced his orders in 1795 and was sympathetic to Quakerism. BACK

[2] John King had married Emmeline Edgeworth (1770-1847) in 1802. She had been very ill before and after the birth of their first child, Zoe (1803-1881). BACK

[3] King’s experiments had been described in Thomas Beddoes’s Observations on the Medical and Domestic Management of the Consumptive (1801). BACK

[4] In 1802, the Pneumatic Institute had been renamed the Preventive Medical Institution for the Sick and Drooping Poor. BACK

[5] Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[6] Peter Bayley (1778-1823; DNB), Poems (1803). This was not an assumed name. The penultimate poem in the collection, ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, could be read as a parody of Wordsworth and lines 115-119 had a Note, ‘The simplicity of that most simple of all poets, Mr Wordsworth himself, is scarcely more simple than the language of this stanza. Absit invidia dicto [let ill will be absent from these words].’ Southey contributed a coruscating review of the book to Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 546-552. BACK

[7] William Godwin, Life of Chaucer, the Early English Poet (1803), reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462-473. BACK

[8] John Davis (1775-1854), Travels of Four and a Half Years in the United States of America, During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801 and 1802 (1803), reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 54-59. The book was printed by R. Edwards of Broad St, Bristol. BACK

[9] The Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, founded in 1737. BACK

[10] John Hookham Frere (1769-1846; DNB), diplomat and author. Educated Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, 1792-1795. Contributor to the Anti-Jacobin 1797-1798 and Minister-Plenipotentiary to Portugal 1800-1802, where Southey had encountered him. BACK

[11] This idea eventually became Coleridge’s periodical The Friend, 1809-1810. BACK

[12] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[13] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

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