3057. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 26 December 1817

3057. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 26 December 1817⁠* 

Richard Rodda [1]  one of Wesleys preachers says, “My mother fell into a deep consumption. She was brought so low that she could not walk across the room. After many things had been tried in vain, she was perfectly <xxx> restored by making a hole in the ground, & breathing into it for a quarter of an hour every morning.

Arminian Magazine. [2]  Vol 7. p. 300


“A friend of mine of good quality living sometime in Virginia was sore troubled for a long time with the Bloody Flux, having tryed several remedies by the advice of his friends without any good effect, at last was induced with a longing desire to drink the fat dripping of a goose newly taken from the fire, which absolutely cured him, who was in despair of ever recovering his health again.

<I believe I have read something of the disease being cured by ghee – clarified butter.>

Josselyns New Englands Rarities. [3]  p. 9.


“I shall conclude this section, says Josselyn, with a strange cure effected upon a Drummers Wife, much afflicted with a Wolf in her breast. The poor woman lived with her husband at a town called by the Indians Casco but by the English, Famouth, where for some time she swaged the pain of her sore by bathing it with strong malt beer, which it would suck in greedily, as if some living creature. When she could come by no more beer (for it was brought from Boston along the coasts by merchants) she made use of Rhum, a strong water drawn from Sugar Canes, with which it was lulled asleep; at last, to be rid of it altogether, she put a quantity of arsenic to the rhum, and, bathing of it as formerly she utterly destroyed it & cured herself: but her kind husband, who sucked out the poison as the sore was healing, lost all his teeth, but without farther danger or inconvenience.

Do p 93


“While the septennial bill [4]  was in agitation, Dr Friend, [5]  the celebrated physician called on Lord Townshend [6]  & informed him that Lord Somers [7]  was at that moment restored to the full possession of his faculties by a fit of the gout, which suspended the effect of his paralytic complaint. Townshend immediately waited upon Somers, who as soon as he came into the room embraced him & said ‘I have just heard of the work in which you are engaged & congratulate you upon it: I never approved the triennial bill, & always considered it in effect the reverse of what it was intended. You have my hearty approbation in this business, & I think it will be the greatest support possible to the liberty of the country.

Coxes Mem of Sir Rob. Walpole. [8]  8vo edition. Vol 1. 130


“my brother had been dangerously ill for a long time. But tho he was attended by Mr F. & a physician from Leeds, & was got a good deal better he was still very feeble. – On catching a fresh cold, his disorder returned; & was attended with so violent a pain in his left side, that it was with the utmost difficulty he drew his breath; & was thought to be in great danger of a Consumption. On this I advised him to apply the Brimstone plaister to his side. He did so on going to bed, & was much better the next morning. This encouraged him to keep it on, & in four or five days (changing it once a day) his pain was entirely gone. Since then his health is amazingly restored. And I never saw any thing have so extraordinary an effect in so short a time. I thought it my duty to give you this information: as you may have frequent occasion to recommend this most excellent medicine to others.

John Pawson. [9]  Arminian Magazine. Vol 9. p 679.

“We observed one of the soldiers rubbing, or rather kneading one of his comrades forcibly on the neck & arms, & pulling his joints. This is the Albanian cure for a cold in the limbs.

Hobhouses Travels [10]  1.36


“They have as singular a remedy for a fever. The patient stretches out his arm, & the Doctor runs his thumb forcibly along the principal artery from the wrist up to the shoulder. This he repeats several times, till he has thrown the man into a profuse perspiration, whom he then covers up warmly, & considers in a fair way of recovery. Nor is he often deceived, as the opening of the pores in such cases must, I suppose but seldom fail of producing a favourable effect. Do p 178


At the modern Orchomanos [11]  there is a shepherd named Demetrius, the fattest man I ever saw, who in the summer passes the hottest hours of the day up to the neck in the neighbouring river. This practice not only does not injure him, but has become by habit so necessary to him, that he declares he should not, without it, be able to support the rage of the summer sun. Do. 270


In the Prophecies of Merlin which were written long before the discovery of the New World [12]  is the following passage. The Lady of the Lake says, ‘Merlin tu fais peche que de coste si belle damoyselle comme je suis tu te couches, et puis avec dautres femmes tu vas gesir donc jen pourroye estre mallada. [13] 

ff 74.


Mr Nash in Malabar has seen the paroxysm of fever stopt by giving a pill of assafoetida [14]  when it is coming on. It is a practice of the natives.


“In cure of sicknesses the Barbary Moors use very plain medicines, & whatever be the disease, cauterizing is first practiced, which they do with no more art or curiosity than with a knife red-hot to gash & cut the place where the pain lies. To cure the head ache they take the root tauz-argent & rosemary, burning them in an earthen pot, over which the diseased holds his head for the fume, then holding the same in a cloth about the head present ease is given. This tauz-argent is a root much celebrated for an excellent & lasting perfume, – there is great store thereof about Salle – the Moors use it in airing & perfuming their rooms.

Lancelot Addisons West Barbary [15] 


Nicholas Hostresham who flourished 1443 wrote a treatise Contra dolorem renum, thus beginning, Lapis quandoque generatus in renibus. [16]  “I observe this the rather, because his practice was wholly at home, (it not appearing that he ever went beyond the sea), & this is contrary unto the confidence of such who have vehemently assumed, that the Stone was never heard of in England until hops, & beer made therewith, (about the year 1516) began to be commonly used”.

Fullers Worthies. [17]  Vol 2. 394. last edition

Elsewhere Fuller calls the Stone ‘the Students disease. [18]  And in some of my dissenting books I find it frequently spoken of as the scourge of dissenting ministers in the beginning of the last century; – this leads me to guess that it has been less frequent since the use of tea. At least it is certainly not the peculiar disease of sedentary students in this age.


An officer (whether his name was Napier or Stanhope [19]  I cannot be certain, – & it is of little consequence) went into the Battle of Waterloo with an abscess forming, & in a most painful state. He had been about to depart for England to have it opened. The extraordinary exertion & animal expenditure of that day were such that absorption took place, & Nature worked a compleat cure. – This I heard from Lady Spencer: [20]  – & as it was one or other of 4 names which I have mentioned, you may possibly find out the farther particulars if you desire them. To me the case seems to bear upon the sweating system <practice> of Lewis & Clarkes, [21] practice; by which the body is almost as violently affected as by salivation, while nothing poisonous is introduced into the system.

My dear Harry

Here are some extracts for you, which may as well be sent off as lie longer in my desk. Some thing or other of this kind is always falling in my way, & it is impossible that I may stumble upon something of real value. – I find that Baxters wife took ‘breast-milk’ for what was supposed to be consumption, [22]  – & that Baxter himself for I know not what complaint took the very expensive prescription of a golden bullet, – (a dear kind of bolus Sir Doctor.) It staid in him so long, that his “praying neighbours” thought their sermons needful, & he past it while they were praying for him. [23]  This is a comical story. At present physicians take the gold themselves instead of prescribing it.

The suspension of paralysis by a fit of the gout is a curious fact.

You will have heard that my box of books from Milan is arrived in London – a real joy, – for I had almost despaired of it. I hope the larger cargo from Brussels will turn up also when they are enquired for.

I am very busy Braziling, reviewing, Wesleyizing, & every now & then a little at the Paraguay Poem, [24]  upon which I shall soon set dens et unguis. [25]  I wait for the third volume of a French book [26]  which Murray has sent me, before I can compleat my introductory chapter to the Peninsular War – it contains the compleat details of xxxxx the system of education established by Buonaparte, [27]  – nothing could ever have been published more precisely in time for my purpose. Love to Louisa & Mrs Gonne – God bless you


26 Dec. 1817.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ 15 Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 29 DE 29/ 1817
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 4. ALS; 6p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Richard Rodda (1743–1815), Methodist preacher and circuit minister from Cornwall. BACK

[2] Arminian Magazine, 7 (June 1784), 300. BACK

[3] John Josselyn (fl. 1638–1675), New England’s Rarities, Discovered in Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of that Country (London, 1672), pp. 9, 93; no. 1531 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] The Septennial Act (1715) lengthened the maximum time between general elections from three years, as fixed by the Triennial Act (1694), to seven years. BACK

[5] John Friend (1675–1728; DNB), physician and Whig supporter. BACK

[6] Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1674–1738; DNB), Secretary of State for the Northern Department 1714–1716, 1721–1730. BACK

[7] John Somers, 1st Baron Somers (1651–1716; DNB), Solicitor-General 1689–1692, Attorney-General 1692–1693, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal 1693–1697, Lord Chancellor 1697–1700, Lord President of the Council 1708–1710. BACK

[8] William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, 3 vols (London, 1800), I, p. 130; no. 752 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] John Pawson (1737–1806), Methodist preacher and ordained Minister; Arminian Magazine, 9 (December 1786), 679. BACK

[10] John Cam Hobhouse (1786–1869; DNB), A Journey Through Albania and Other Provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, During the Years 1809 and 1810, 2 vols (London, 1813), I, pp. 36, 178, 270. BACK

[11] A town in Boeotia, Greece. BACK

[12] Le Compte de la Vie de Merlin et des ses Faiz, et Compte de ses Prophecies (n.d.), deriving from earlier medieval prose texts and gathering together various prophecies attributed to Merlin. Southey drew on it in The Byrth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur (1817). BACK

[13] ‘Merlin you’re committing a sin because you lie with me, a beautiful young lady, and yet I could contract a disease from other women you are going to interact with’. BACK

[14] A gum exuded from the root of the herb Ferula, native to India. BACK

[15] Lancelot Addison (1632–1703), West Barbary, or, A Short Narrative of the Revolutions of the Kingdoms of Fez and Morocco (London, 1671), p. 223. BACK

[16] Nicholas of Horsham (fl. 15th century), Contra Dolorem Renum (i.e. ‘Diseases of the Kidneys’): ‘the stone is sometimes generated in the kidneys’. BACK

[17] Thomas Fuller (1608–1661; DNB), The History of the Worthies of England, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 394; no. 1134 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[18] Fuller, History of the Worthies of England, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 364. BACK

[19] Possibly Lieutenant-Colonel James Stanhope (1788–1825), MP for Buckingham 1817–1818, Fowey 1818–1819, Dartmouth 1822–1825. He fought at Waterloo (18 June 1815), despite being badly wounded at the Siege of San Sebastian (1813). A musket shot could not be removed from near his spine and the constant pain eventually contributed to his suicide in 1825. BACK

[20] Lady Lavinia Spencer, née Bingham (1762–1831), wife of the bibliophile, George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758–1834; DNB). BACK

[21] Meriweather Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, and Across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean, 3 vols (London, 1815), III, pp. 209–210. BACK

[22] Southey noted this fact in his Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), II, p. 111. But he was probably mistaken; Richard Baxter’s (1615–1691; DNB) wife, Margaret (1636–1681), did recover from an illness diagnosed as consumption and followed a diet based on milk; see Richard Baxter, Memoirs of Mrs Margaret Baxter (London, 1826), pp. 8, 98. But it was Baxter who took breast-milk when ill, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London, 1696), p. 82. BACK

[23] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London, 1696), p. 81: ‘I got a Gold Bullet and swallowed it (between 20 s. and 30 s. weight); and having taken it, I knew not how to be delivered of it again: I took Clysters and Purges for about three Weeks, but nothing stirred it; and a Gentleman having done the like, the Bullet never came from it till he died, and it was cut out: But at last my Neighbours set a Day apart to fast and pray for me, and I was freed from my Danger in the beginning of that day.’ BACK

[24] Southey was working on the third volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819), The Life of Wesley; and Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820) and A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[25] ‘tooth and claw’. BACK

[26] Jean Baptist Germain Fabry (1770–1821), Le Génie de la Révolution Considéré dans l’Education ou Mémoires pour Servir a l’Histoire de l’Instruction Publique, Depuis 1789 jusqu’à Nos Jours (1817–1818), required for Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[27] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815. BACK

People mentioned

Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Gonne, Mary (1768-1825) (mentioned 1 time)