3151. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 13 June 1818

3151. Robert Southey to John Kenyon, 13 June 1818 ⁠* 

Keswick. 13 June 1818

My dear Sir

Your letter to Mrs Coleridge, which has this day arrived, enables me to thank you for Dobrizhoffer, [1]  & for the good old Huguenot Jean de Lery. [2] The American by whom the latter was sent to my brothers, has not yet made his appearance at the Lakes; – when he comes, I will provide him with an introduction to Wordsworth, if he should not bring one from London; & if he is particularly desirous of seeing live poets, he shall have credentials for Walter Scott. I suppose an American enquires for them as naturally as you or I should do in America for a skunk or an opossum. They are becoming marvellously abundant in England, so that publications which twenty years ago would have attracted considerable attention, are now coming from the press in shoals, almost unnoticed. This makes it the more remarkable that America should be so utterly barren, – since their revolution they have not produced a single poet who has been heard of on this side of the Atlantic. Dwight & Barlow [3]  both belong to the Revolution, & well was it for the Americans, taking them into the account, that we could not say of them tam Marte quam Mercurio [4] 

I am very sorry that your friend Ritchie should have gone upon an adventure which has proved fatal to every one who has yet undertaken it, & which I think the amateur geographizing ‘gentlemen of England who sit at home at ease’ are altogether unjustifiable in pursuing at such a cost of valuable lives. [5]  The object is not tantamount, as it is in a voyage of discovery. In such voyages too men are only exposed to some additional risque in the way of their profession, & the reward if they return safe is certain & proportionate, – but here, – Mungo Park went upon his second expedition literally because he could not support his family after the first. [6]  – If however Ritchie should live to accomplish his object I am noways apprehensive that his reputation will be eclipsed by his intended rival Ali Bey, [7]  that solemn professor of humbug having made less use of his opportunities than any other traveller, always excepting Browne of Darfur. [8] 

If you go thro Cologne (as I suppose you will) do not fail to visit St Ursula & the Eleven Thousand Virgins, whose relics form the most extraordinary sight that the Catholic superstition has to display. [9]  You will also find the Three Kings in the same city [10]  well worthy a visit to their magnificent shrine. – From thence to Mentz & Frankfort you will see every where the havoc which the Revolution has made: – farther I cannot accompany your journey. We came to Frankfort from Heidelberg & the Black Forest.

During the winter & what should be the spring I have been closely employed, chiefly upon the history of Brazil & a life of Wesley, which is in fact a history of Methodism. [11]  Both will be compleated about the fall of the leaf. – Summer came upon us suddenly, & we have had four or five weeks of continual sunshine, – giving us the heat & drought of a hot climate, without any of the compensations. Today for the first time, we are rejoicing in the clouds & rain, & of these, we shall probably as usual have a full share before the season is over. – I do not know where General Peachy is, except that he is in motion; – his island is in its greatest beauty & I do not believe that he has ever seen it at this season. Senhouse has taken a house in Buckinghamshire for twelve months. A year or two hence perhaps, if we both live so long, we may talk of another expedition together, [12]  as far as Rome & Naples, & then I shall be content to chew the cud of recollection for the rest of my life. You do wisely to lay in a larger stock at a more convenient age.

The Ladies [13]  all desire to be remembered

Yrs most truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Kenyon Esqre/ Aix la Chapelle
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: F 18/ 230
Watermark: B.E. & S. BATH 1814
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, 1996.5.232. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 305–306 [in part]. BACK

[1] The account of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay by Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariae Natione (1784), no. 843 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. He needed the book for his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[2] By the time of his death, Southey’s library contained two editions (1578 and 1585) of Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Histoire d’un Voyage faict en la Terre du Bresil, nos 1709–1710 in the sale catalogue of his library. Léry had been part of the failed French colony in Brazil and was later a Protestant Minister in France. BACK

[3] Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), academic, theologian and author of the first American epic, The Conquest of Canaan (1785); he served as a chaplain in the American War of Independence 1777–1778. Joel Barlow (1754–1812) was the author of the American epic Vision of Columbus (1787), revised as the Columbiad (1807). He was also a chaplain in the War of Independence and later Consul at Algiers 1795–1797 and Minister Plenipotentiary to France 1811–1812. Barlow’s radical views and advocacy of friendship with France earned him Southey’s disapproval. BACK

[4] Proverbial, meaning ‘As well qualified for diplomacy as for war’. BACK

[5] Joseph Ritchie (c 1788–1819; DNB), a surgeon and naturalist, had been recruited by John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), the Second Secretary of the Admiralty 1804–1806, 1807–1845, to be a member of an expedition to explore the course of the Niger and the location of Timbuktu. Leaving in 1818, Ritchie died in the Sahara the following year. Southey had dined with Kenyon and Ritchie in Paris on 20 May 1817, on his continental tour. To illustrate his disapproval of the expedition, Southey quotes part of the opening line from a popular ballad: ‘Ye gentlemen of England, who sit at home at ease/ How little do you think upon the dangers of the seas’. BACK

[6] Mungo Park (1771–1806; DNB), having narrowly survived his first expedition to the Niger river in 1797, went on a second journey there in 1805, never to return. BACK

[7] Ali Bey al-Abbasi was the name adopted by Domingo Badía y Leblich (1766–1818), the Spanish explorer, during his travels in North Africa and Arabia. His narrative appeared in England as Travels of Ali Bey: in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, Between the years 1803 and 1807 (1816). Southey reviewed the book in Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 299–345. BACK

[8] William George Browne (1768–1813; DNB), the African explorer, spent the years 1793–1796 in detention in Darfur, Sudan. On his return, he published Travels in Africa, Egypt and Syria, from the Years 1792 to 1798 (1799). He was killed in Iran during an expedition to Samarkand. BACK

[9] The church of St Ursula in Cologne contains an enormous reliquary in which supposedly lie the bones of this fourth-century British saint who, according to legend, was killed, with her eleven thousand virginal handmaids, on a pilgrimage to Cologne, by the Huns besieging the city. The reliquary is extraordinary because, in addition to its size, it displays the bones arranged in patterns and so as to form letters and words. Southey had seen the church on his continental tour of 1817. BACK

[10] A reliquary in Cologne Cathedral supposedly contains the bones of the magi who visited the infant Christ in Bethlehem, Matthew 2: 1–12. BACK

[11] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) and The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[12] Southey and Senhouse travelled to Europe together again in 1838, but only to France. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)