876. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 December 1803

876. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 December 1803 ⁠* 


Tom – (you see my hand slipt down too soon after the address to the place for beginning the letter.) I have just received yours & regret that I did not write sooner upon a reasonable calculation that convoys are even more uncertain than packets. A letter per bottle, I see by the newspapers, thrown in on the way to the West Indies. – if I recollect right in Lat. 47 – has found its way by the Isle of Sky, having travelled five miles per day against prevalent winds – therefore a current is certain. [1]  I will send into town for the paper & send you the particulars if not in this in my next. do not spare bottles on your passage, & be sure that I have a letter from the Western Isles.

I hope you will received my last time enough to save Henry [2]  – for it will be seized at any English Custom House.

Of Edward & his Exeter friends & Exeter creditors I have heard nothing more. I also like you am vexed – perhaps more vexed than you, being more hopeless of the boy, & more convinced that there is some radical & incurable defect in his nature. that total want of all diffidence – of all shame which has been apparent in him even from his infancy, is to me something frightful & monstrous. it is as much a defect in moral organization as it is in the bodily frame to be born without head or feet, & God knows a thousand-fold worse in its consequences. No doubt he is returned to his infamous Aunt. you need be under no uneasiness for his immediate fate. but that such a boy can ever turn out well & occasion any thing but grief & shame to his relatives, or obtain any thing but sorrow & shame for himself is according to all my foresight utterly impossible.

For Gods sake adapt your mode of living to the climate you are going to, & abstain almost wholly from wine & spirits. General Peché, [3]  an East Indian Officer here, with whom we dined on Xmas day, told me that in India the officers who were looking out for preferment – as a majority &c. & who kept lists of all above them, always marked those who drank any spirits in a morning with a X & reckoned them for nothing. One day, said he, when we were about to march at day break, I & Capt Somebody were in my tent & we saw a German of our Regiment – so I said we’d try him. We calld to him – said it was a cold morning & asked him if he would drink a glass to warm him – I got him a full beaker of brandy & water & egod – he drank it off. when he was gone, I said – Well – what dy’e think? We may cross him, may’nt we? oh yes – said he – cross him by all means. And the German did not live twelve months. Spice is the stimulus given by nature to hot countries, & eaten in whatever quantities can do no harm. But the natives of all hot countries invariably abstain from spirits as deadly. eat fruits plentifully – provided they do not produce flux. animal food sparingly in the hot season – fish will be better than meat. do not venture to walk or ride in the heat of the sun, & do not be ashamed of a parasol – it has saved many a mans life. I am sure all this is very physical & philosophical sense. But I will desire King, who knows the West Indies to write out to you a letter of medical advice. this is certain that bilious people fare worst – & nervous people – for fear predisposes for disease. from those causes thank God you are safe.

Edith will go on with Madoc for you, & a letter full shall go off for Barbadoes this week. my last set you upon a wide field of inquiry. I know not what can be added, unless you should be at St Vincents, where the Caribs [4]  would be well worthy attention, making the same queries, of & to them as to the Negroes. of course there are no Spanish books except at the Spanish islands – Oh that I were at Mexico for a hunt there! – could you bring home a live alligator? a little one of course, from his hatching to six feet long – it would make both me & Carlisle quite happy, for he should have him. & pray – pray some live land crabs that they may breed, & any other monsters. birds lose their beauty, & I would not be accessory to the death of a humming bird for the sake of keeping his corpse in a cabinet. but with crocodiles, sharks & land crabs it is fair play – you catch them or they you. Your own eyes will do all that I could direct them. how unfortunate that neither of us can draw! I want drawings of the trees.

Thompson the friend of Burns; whose correspondence with him about songs fills the whole fourth volume – has applied to me to write him verses for Welsh airs. [5]  of course I have declined it – telling him that I could as soon sing his songs as write them & referring him to Harry whom he knows, for an estimate of that simily of disqualification. Still I am at reviewing – but ten days, thank God, will lighten me of that burthen & then huzza for history [6]  & huzza for Madoc [7]  for I shall be a free man again! – I have bought Pinkertons Geography [8]  after all – for the love of the maps, having none; it is a useful book & will save me trouble.

We shall not think of holding any part of St Domingo. [9]  what has been done can only have been for the sake of what plunder was to be found, & perhaps also to save the French army from the fate which they so justly deserved – God Almighty forbid that ever English hand be raised against the Negroes in that Island. poor wretches – I regard them as I do the hurricane & the pestilence, blind instruments of righteous retribution & divine justice; & sure I am that whatever hand be lifted against them will be withered. Of Spanish politics I can say nothing – nor give even a surmise. here at home we have the old story of invasion – my notion is that the newspaper editors set up God save the King in their offices, upon which the types naturally range themselves into a very alarming & loyal leading paragraph. Let him come, say I, it will be a fine thing for bell ringers & the tallow chandlers.

I trust this will reach you before your departure. write immediately on your arrival & afterwards by every packet – for any omission will make me uneasy. I will not be remiss on my part, & Madoc will furnish a pretty large cargo. I design to print it this summer & have already told my friend to procure me subscribers – but this is done rather to give me a satisfactory answer to them who say why do you not publish by subscription – than with any hopes of success.

God bless you. Ediths love.

– A happy new year & many returns! R S.

Dec. 31. 1803.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Galatea/ Cove of Cork/ or elsewhere./ Single.
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 244-248 [in part]. BACK

[1] It was widely reported in the press (e.g. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 26 December 1803) that a bottle thrown overboard on 9 September 1802 had been recovered on the Isle of Skye on 23 February 1803 BACK

[2] Robert Henry (1718-1790; DNB), The History of Great Britain, 6 vols (Dublin, 1789), no. 1316 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] John Peché (d. 1823), Major-General in the East India Company’s Army. BACK

[4] St Vincent was one of the few West Indian islands on which the native Carib people had been able to survive. BACK

[5] George Thomson (1757-1851; DNB), A Select Collection of Welsh Airs Adapted for the Voice, United to Characteristic English Poetry (1809-1817). The correspondence with Robert Burns (1759-1796; DNB) can be found in James Currie (1756-1805; DNB), The Works of Robert Burns: With an Account of His Life (1800). BACK

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

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

[8] John Pinkerton (1758-1826; DNB), Modern Geography (1802), no. 2333 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] The French army sent to re-conquer its colony of Haiti was being worn down by disease and defeat in 1803. The ex-slaves’ success at the Battle of Vertieres on 18 November 1803 paved the way for a formal declaration of Haiti’s independence on 1 January 1804. British forces in the West Indies had captured the French islands of St Lucia and Tobago, and intervention in Haiti seemed possible. BACK

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