1736. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 29 January 1810

1736. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 29 January 1810 ⁠* 

Dear Senhora

My daughter & I have each to thank you for a letter, – both very good ones in their kind. I have as you may suppose had many things said to me concerning the Friend, [1]  but nothing so much to the purpose as what you have remarked. It is not a little extraordinary that Coleridge who is fond of logic, & who has an actual love & passion for close, hard, thinking, – should write in so rambling & inconclusive a manner, – while I who am utterly incapable of that toil of thought in which he delights, never fail to express myself perspicuously & to the point. I owe perhaps something of this to the circumstance of having lived with him during that year in my life which was most likely to give my mind its lasting character. [2]  Disliking his inordinate love of talking, I was naturally led to avoid the same faults, – when we were alone & he talked his best (which was always at those times) I was pleased to listen, – & when we were in company & I heard the same things repeated, – repeated to every fresh company, seven times in the week if we were in seven parties, – still I was silent, – in great measure from depression of spirits at perceiving those vices in his nature which soon appeared to be incurable, – When he provoked me into an argument, I made the most of my time, & as it was not easy to get in more than a few words, took care to make up in weight for what they wanted in measure. His habits have continued & so have mine.

C. requested me to write him such a letter upon the faults of the Friend as he might insert & reply to. [3]  I did so, – but it was not inserted, & therefore I am sorry I did not copy it. It described the fault you have remarked as existing in Burke & having prevented him from ever persuading anybody to his opinions, – for B. made no proselytes, except such as wanted an excuse for professing to change their party. You read his book, [4]  you saw what his opinions were, but they were given in such a way, evolving the causes of everything, & involving the consequences, that you never knew from whence he set out, nor where he was going. So it is with C. he goes to work like a hound, nosing his way, turning & twisting & winding & doubling – till you get weary with following the mazy movements. My way is when I see my object, to dart at it like a grey hound.

Never was anything so grievously mismanaged as the Friend. Because he would have all the profits (having taken it in his head that I was cheated by my publishers ) he would publish for himself, – thus has he the whole trouble of collecting his money, – the whole responsibility instead of having a publisher to look to, – & the expense of postage will far – very far exceed – any publisher’s per centage. Then he writes to the Public about all his difficulties, & his projects, – as if they wanted to know anything about them, – not perceiving that this is lowering himself in the eyes of the foolish, & certainly does not raise him in the judgment of the wise. And certainly of all modes of publication that could be devised, nothing could be so ill adapted for such materials as a weekly form. Had he brought out these same papers in a body, either as a system or as so many Essays, [5]  – they would have commanded more attention, he would have been saved the whole anxiety of periodical exertion, & people would have had no reason to complain because they found something altogether different from what they expected. However we must be glad to get some part of what is in him out of him, in any way, – Satyrane is himself, – tho if you are versed in Spenser, you will think the name marvellously inappropriate. [6] 

Mrs. C. takes on herself poor Jackson’s house, [7]  – in expectation that C. will one day come back, – & still more because he will have a place to which he may come whenever he likes as if it were his own house, – a thing which of course cannot be with my establishment, ought not, & shall not. Mrs. Wilson lives there & will do so as long as she lives, & we go on as usual in everything at present except in the division of rent. – But the truth is that in my own mind I look on to your coming here, almost as if it were a settled thing, from the great fitness that it should be so settled. My worldly concerns are in an improving way. If this engagement for the Register [8]  continues three or four years, it will set me above the world, that is to say, it will clear off all accounts with Longman, & my income will exceed my expenditure. For while it last, that & my pension [9]  will supply all current demands, & everything else of past or present labour forms a sinking fund, which would ere long clear my way, – & enable me to lay something by. I am already on the point of insuring my life for 1000£, – this is securing something. & in case of my death I have prepared directions for a subscription edition of my collected works, – which, if only a thousand copies were subscribed for, would produce not less than 3200£, – leaving still the contingent profits & the copyrights untouched as long as the law allows them. This property (if I do not much overrate myself & my good name) is of a good kind, – & it is yearly accumulating. I believe more than 1000 names may be procured with little exertion when I am dead, – not improbably twice the number, – & I have no fears whatever about the worldly fortunes of those whom I may leave behind.

The Printers use me ill, but they do not vex me, because I am not vexable by such things. – Send me a story about mad-dogs & goose dung, of which I remember the substance but forget the particulars. – Do you see the Quarterly Review? – I am likely to do more in it than I have yet done. there are materials before me for another set-to at the Evangelicals. [10]  my intention is not to be angry with them. but only to dissect them alive. Kehama [11]  is at the printers & I am every evening disappointed of the first proof sheet. – Pelayo [12]  is begun, tho not advanced above the first 90 lines. It promises well. – I hoped to have sent you my first vol. of Brazil [13]  long ago, – it is the Printers who delay it.

My uncle has the living of Streatham & removes to it in the summer.

God bless you.


Jan. 29. 1810.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 334–338
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 188–191. BACK

[1] The Friend was a weekly periodical published by Coleridge, 1 June 1809–15 March 1810. Mary Barker was a subscriber. BACK

[2] Southey and Coleridge had shared lodgings in Bristol in February–August 1795. BACK

[3] Coleridge to Southey, 20 October 1809, E. L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (London, 1956–1971), III, pp. 253–254. Southey’s reply was not printed; see Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [28 October 1809], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1704. BACK

[4] Probably Edmund Burke (1729–1797; DNB), Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791). BACK

[5] The Friend was reprinted as a three volume series of essays in 1818. BACK

[6] The letters signed ‘Satyrane’ in The Friend appeared in numbers 14 (23 November 1809), 213–224; 16 (7 December 1809), 241–256; 18 (21 December 1809), 276–288; and 19 (28 December 1809), 300–303. Satyrane is a character in Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), Faerie Queene (1590–1596), especially Books I and III. He is half-human and half-satyr and represents the best of humanity without the influence of Christianity. BACK

[7] William Jackson had died in September 1809 and Sara Coleridge moved into his half of Greta Hall. BACK

[8] The Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[9] Southey had been granted a government pension in 1807 of £160 p.a. BACK

[10] Southey’s next assault on the evangelicals was his review of Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[11] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[12] ‘Pelayo’ appeared in 1814 as Roderick, the Last of the Goths. BACK

[13] The first volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)


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