1549. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 5 December 1808

1549. Robert Southey to John Theodore Koster, 5 December 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Sir,

My objection to this Prospectus [1]  of Coleridge’s is that it looks as if it realy was extracted from a letter, and that there are some things in it which would be fitly enough said to a friend, but are not so fitly said to the Public. Some few corrections of little importance he has made in it, two of more importance I believe are yet to be made. It is not possible that he can get together the list of his subscribers in time to publish so soon as this paper proposes, and if there should be any number of copies engaged by persons residing either in the country or in small towns, his only way of circulating it will be by post. In that case it must be stamped, and the stamp will only carry a single sheet. Larger paper, however, and smaller type will bring it to the same quantity of contents and the same marketvalue.

You have never seen Coleridge. He is in so many points so far superior to all other men whom it has ever been my lot to fall in with, that I wish you had seen him, tho I know how much you would differ from him, and can guess what you would dislike. If this scheme of his be carried into effect, a greater body of sound criticism and sound philosophy will be given to the world, than modern times have ever yet produced. I have doubts and fears about it, and now that it is too late, believe that monthly or quarterly parts, or even of irregular publications would have been a preferable mode of proceeding for his habits. However, his common-place books are numerous and well-filled, and little more is necessary than to put his loose materials in order.

Wordsworth is busy upon a pamphlet on this cursed Cintra convention. [2]  I shall never think of Cintra without a sickening at heart in consequence of it. We among the mountains here, are as earnest for flinging away the scabbard, as you at Liverpool are for sheathing the sword.

I know not whether I told you that those translations from the Poema del Cid are by Frere. [3]  I hope he will make the best use of his time, and get some transcripts made at the Escurial, of which he was formerly disappointed. As usual we have arranged every thing in the very worst way possible, and yet in spite of our blunders, all that we have made and all that we shall make, – tho Bonaparte will soon be, probably is, at Madrid, [4]  and ere long will reach Lisbon, notwithstanding all this I have the most full and unabated confidence in the eventual success of the Spaniards. Meantime I am carrying on old wars with the Dutch in Brazil, and can tell you a great deal more about the Tapuyas and the Tupinamba’s [5]  than about the Swedes and Russians. My history will set out for the press this week, having waited six months for a reduction in the price of paper.

Mrs. Coleridge desires me to say that she was disappointed in not seeing your daughters at Ambleside, she having looked for them a few days after their departure. This message is to be accompanied with a number of etceteras, which according to the authority of the Latin Grammar may better be understood than expressed, because it would be tedious to write them down.

yours very truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. Dec. 5. 1808.


* MS: Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro; text taken from Sousa-Leão
Previously published: Joaquim de Sousa-Leão ‘Cartas de Robert Southey a Theodore Koster e Henry Koster, anos de 1804 a 1819’, Revista do Instituto Historico e Geografico Brasileiro, 178 (1943), 39–41. BACK

[1] The Prospectus for Coleridge’s self-published journal The Friend, which he produced in 1809 and 1810. For the text see The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton, 1969). BACK

[2] Wordsworth’s Concerning the Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Convention of Cintra (1809) was triggered by the agreement, made on 30 August 1808, of the British generals to allow a defeated Napoleonic army to withdraw from Portugal to France unmolested and with its weapons – a decision he and Southey thought pusillanimous. BACK

[3] Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[4] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, in August 1808, King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). Joseph was forced by a revolt to abandon Madrid and did not return until January 1809, after French reinforcements retook the city. BACK

[5] Amazon tribes with whom the colonists of Brazil came into conflict. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)
Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)