3421. Robert Southey to [Henry Crabb Robinson], 18 January 1820

3421. Robert Southey to [Henry Crabb Robinson], 18 January 1820⁠* 

My dear Sir

I shall not easily get your letter out of my thoughts. [1]  Some years ago I dined with Elton Hammond at Gooch’s & perfectly remember his quiet, melancholy, meditative manner. The two letters which he addressed to me respecting his papers were very ably written, & excited in me a strong interest. [2]  Of course I had no suspicion who the writer could be; but if I had endeavoured to trace him (which probably would have been done had I been in town) Gooch is the person whom I should have thought most likely to have helped me in the enquiry. The school which you indicate is an unhappy one. [3]  I remember seeing a purblind man at Yarmouth two & twenty years ago, [4]  who seemd to carry with him a contagion of such opinions wherever he went. Perhaps you may have known him – his name I think was Harley. [5]  The morbific matter was continually oozing out of him; & where it passes off in this way, or can be exploded in paradoxes & freaks of intellect as by William Taylor, the destructive effect upon the heart is lessened or postponed. But when it meets with strong feeling, & an introspective, introactive mind, the Aqua Tofana [6]  is not more deadly.

Respecting the papers I can only say at present that I will do nothing with them that can be either injurious to the dead or the living. When I receive any application upon the subject I shall desire them to be deposited at my brothers, to wait my arrival in town, where I expect to be early in March, & to continue about two months, some ten days excepted. Before that time I could not command leisure for inspecting them to any purpose, – & it is better that they should be in London, where I can consult with you. You will see by his letters to me (which I will take with me to town) what his wishes were. Consistent with those wishes, with his honour, & with the feelings of his friends I hope it may be possible to record this melancholy case for wholesome instruction. He says to me ‘You may perhaps find an interest in making a fair statement of opinions which you condemn, when quite at liberty, as you would be in this case, to controvert them in the same page. I desire no gilt frame for my picture, & if by the side of it you like to draw another, & call mine a Satyr, [7]  & your own Hyperion, [8]  you are welcome. A true light is all that I require; a strong light all that I wish.”

Having no suspicion of his intentions, I supposed him to be in the last stage of some incurable disease, & addressed him as one who was upon the brink of the grave. If one [MS obscured]ts pencil sentences which you have transcribed, were written since February last, it would show that my last letter had made some impression upon him, – for I had assured him of my belief in Ghosts, & rested upon it as one proof of a future state. – There was not the slightest indication of insanity in his communications to me, – & there was an expression of humility, under which I should never have suspected that so very different a feeling was concealed. – God help us, frail creatures that we are!

As my second letter was not noticed by him, I had supposed that it was received with displeasure & perhaps with contempt. It rather surprizes me therefore that he should have retaining the intention of committing his papers to my disposal, little desirous as I was of the charge. Nevertheless I will execute it faithfully, – & the best proof proof that I can give of a proper feeling upon the subject is, to do nothing without consulting you. [9] 

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs with much esteem

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 18 Jany. 1820.


* Endorsement: H. C. Robinson Esq: 3 Kings Bench Walk Temple
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Thomas Sadler (ed.), Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson, 3rd edn, 2 vols (London, 1872), I, pp. 341–342 [dated ‘January 20’]. BACK

[1] Robinson’s letter contained the news that Elton Hamond had killed himself on 1 January 1820. BACK

[2] In early 1819 Hamond had asked Southey to act as his literary executor. For the latter’s replies, see Southey to Elton Hamond, 5 February 1819, Letter 3240; and Southey to Elton Hamond, 2 March 1819, Letter 3256. BACK

[3] Religious scepticism. BACK

[4] i.e. May 1798, when Southey had visited the Norfolk coastal town of Great Yarmouth. BACK

[5] Cornelius Girling Harley (c. 1768–1843). Henry Crabb Robinson had visited Great Yarmouth in 1797; the ‘main inducement’ for the visit ‘was to read to Harley, a blind man I became acquainted with through Miss Maling. An interesting man in humble circumstances’, Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson, ed. Thomas Sadler, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 42. Sarah Jane Maling (c. 1780–1839), later Wimbridge, was an old friend of Robinson’s. Harley had also been an early friend of Robert Gooch, who grew up in Great Yarmouth – Gooch left Harley £100 in his will – and he was well known to William Taylor. The best description of Harley is in Charles John Palmer, The Perlustration of Great Yarmouth, with Gorleston and Southtown, 3 vols (Great Yarmouth, 1872), I, pp. 225–227. BACK

[6] A strong poison reputedly widely used in Naples and Rome in the late seventeenth century. BACK

[7] In Greek mythology, creatures who were companions of the god Dionysus and addicted to physical pleasure. BACK

[8] In Greek mythology, one of the Titans, and father of the deities of the sun, the moon and the dawn. He could thus be thought of as a celestial opposite to an earth-bound satyr, as in Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2, line 140. BACK

[9] After this consultation Southey decided not to edit Hamond’s writings. BACK

People mentioned

Gooch, Robert (1784–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Hamond, Elton (1786–1820) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Yarmouth (mentioned 1 time)