1770. Robert Southey to Richard Sharp, 11 April 1810

1770. Robert Southey to Richard Sharp, 11 April 1810 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

I have a double reason for troubling you with a letter. First to request that you will consign the sheets of Kehama [1]  to the Twopenny Post, directed to the Parsonage, Streatham, – my Uncle having just taken up his abode there. The second requires a longer explanation, of it such as I trust will carry with it its own apology.

A youth of Bristol died about a year & half ago at the age of nineteen. He spent the last weeks of a hopeless consumption in arranging & putting together his poems, & left them to two of his friends [2]  to be by them published for the benefit of an only sister, [3]  of whom (like Chatterton) [4]  he was exceedingly fond, & to whom he had nothing else to bequeath. Circumstances have rendered this poor bequest of more importance <necessary> than he foresaw. – His father [5]  had been a brewer, had failed, & obtained a situation in the Customs, of little emolument, but sufficient with the profits of a lodging house, & with the sons salary from a Bank (70£) to maintain the family in decent comfort. Since his death the father has been rendered helpless by an apoplectic stroke, has lost his place in consequence, & the family, a mother, grandmother, & daughter, are, I believe it may be said, in want.

William I. Roberts (such was his name) was a youth of very great promise. His verses are as good as a youths of that age can be, where there is no prematurity. I will not say that I should have advised their publication under other circumstances, – in these it is not a matter of choice; – with a selection from his letters & a prefatory Memoir they will form a volume sufficiently attracting for common readers & capable of affecting those of a higher class. They will be edited by James of Birmingham, a Banker, the author of those very pretty stanzas upon the Otaheitean Girl which were quoted in the third Quarterly Review. [6]  We are very solicitous to raise such a sum by subscription, for this volume (a half-guinea book) as may suffice to place Eliza Roberts in a situation where she may support herself & her parents in respectably – accustomed as they have been to better days, their minds are not broken down to their fortunes. – Poor fellow the first wish of his heart was to provide for his sisters comfort, & he did not know that the support of the family would soon depend entirely upon her. The will in which he bequeathed his verses to be published for her benefit was written a few days only before his death, & will I am sure affect you when you see it. – I will not say any thing about their merits – (& yet they are extraordinary relics) – if the book were worse a bad one I think you would not be unwilling to give me your assistance in obtaining subscribers for it. Tell the story to some of your friends, for the love of charity rather than of literature, – & when the book appears I hope you will find that I have might have ventured to say more in its commendation.

believe me my dear Sir

Yours truly & with respect

Robert Southey.

Keswick. April 11. 1810.


* Address: To/ Richard Sharp Esqr M.P./ 17. Mark Lane/ London
Postmark: FREE/ 14 AP 14/ 1810
MS: British Library, Add MS 46362. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Martine Braekman, ‘An Unpublished Philanthropic Letter by Robert Southey’, Notes and Queries, 51.2 (June 2004), 144–146. BACK

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

[2] Edward Hogg and Paul Moon James. Their edition of Roberts appeared in 1811. BACK

[3] Eliza Roberts (dates unknown). BACK

[4] The Bristol-born Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB), whose poems Southey and Cottle had edited in 1803. BACK

[5] William Roberts (dates unknown), a Bristol brewer who went bankrupt in 1793. BACK

[6] ‘The Otaheitan Mourner’: ‘Peggy Stewart, daughter of an Otaheitian Chief, and married to one of the Mutineers of the Bounty. On Stewart’s being seized and carried away in the Pandora Frigate, Peggy fell into a rapid decay, and in two months died of a broken heart, leaving an infant daughter, who is still living’, published in Monthly Magazine, 26 (December 1808), 457–458. Two stanzas were quoted by Southey in his ‘Transactions of the Missionary Societies in the South Sea Islands’, Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 50 n*. BACK

People mentioned

James, Paul Moon (1780–1854) (mentioned 2 times)
Hogg, Edward (1783–1848) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)