1576. Robert Southey to John King, 6 February 1809

1576. Robert Southey to John King, 6 February 1809 ⁠* 

My dear King

I expected to hear that Mr Edgeworth was to be the biographer of Beddoes, & that if he declined the task you would undertake it. [1]  How Davy stood with him I know not, yet Davy would have done himself more honour by volunteering upon this service than by waiving it. for not to show respect in this instance, is to manifest a want of it. Peace to the memory of the dead if Dr Stock is to be his biographer write his history! [2]  it will be without feeling & without philosophy, – & the properest frontispiece would be a portrait of the historian putting an extinguisher upon a sepulchral lamp, – which else might burn for ever.

I can & will write an inscription for paper, – but one for marble I have no skill to execute. There is a felicity required for the lapidary style which I have not acquired attained, tho I have more than once unwillingly attempted it. If Coleridge will do any thing he will do this, – for he had the most thorough esteem for Beddoes, & has been very greatly affected by his death, even to a superstitious depression of spirits. I expect to see him in a day or two. About the books it is not in <my> power to be of any use. The London sales by auction usually answer well, – but medical books soon grow stale like drugs, & the library is not of that kind to yield a third part of its value. If Beddoes has a son, it ought not to be parted with. [3] 

You will it is to be hoped write your essays on physical education. From Beddoes I hoped for more good to the human race than from any other individual, & if you have not received his mantle he has taken it with him. This too increases my regret that you are not to be his biographer, for no man living is so competent as yourself to explain his views, & so to develope his principles that they shall be understood, & fairly appreciated – & thus continue in some degree to act their action. Dr Stocks book will answer his purpose very well, that of advertising himself as the successor, but it will not answer any other purpose

Landor is at Bath, but I fear he will go again to Spain.

I have done with the Athenæum because Dr Aikin rejected my articles without either rhyme or reason to make room for other peoples, [4]  & supposing they were dull I had a better right to be dull there than any body else. [5]  But this thing was too pointed for him, & that was too flat, my learning was too old & my speculations too xxxx new; so I have retired in dudgeon, & have a drawer full of omniana ready in despite for the first Magazine that asks for them.

I am in good health, but subject to catarrhs of serious severity. Laudanum would stop them at first, but laudanum has a remarkable effect upon me, it instantly <acts upon> the gall in some strange way, eight drops operate like an aperient, [6]  & the faeces are white & slimy. This is a great evil, because it deprives me of my best, only, & sure remedy against a very troublesome complaint, & indeed with me so severe a one that it would excite some apprehension, if I did not remember that I it is the constitution of my family, & has never done them any harm. The children thrive & promise well.

I have hit upon a passage about x syphilis in so common an author as Piso, [7]  which seems to show that it was an old disease assuming a new form by passing from one race to another. You will see it in my History of Brazil, – where you will see all sorts of things, for I leave nothing to be gleaned after me. [8]  The eleventh proof is now lying before me on the table it is printed just in the manner of the Cid. [9]  I dare say this book will disappoint most readers, for people will fancy that a fine country must have a fine history belonging to it: & this history has the anomalous character of having no <scarcely any> other thread running thro it than that of chronology. However there will be a great mass of information brought together [MS torn] a great deal which will be interesting as a book of travels, a greater body of facts respecting savage life than can be found in any other single work, & what has never yet been given, a perfectly fair account of the Jesuits in Paraguay.


Coleridge has been here. He groaned at the mention of Dr Stock, talked of writing the life himself, & said he would that very night write to offer his services. This of course he has not done, nor if he undertook it is it likely that he would accomplish that – or any thing else. I meant to have asked him about the inscription, but he talked the thoughts of it out of my head, however I will write to him on the next carriers day.

There will be an article of mine in this new Quarterly Review, of which the secret history is that Walter Scott is the projector, & Giffard (the Baeviad & Maeviad G) [10]  the editor. For this years Annual I have done little, & shall do little or nothing for the next. [11]  the day is scarcely long enough for its work, & it is time for me to consider what things of importance I earnestly wish to compleat, & how many of them there will be time for according to the common chances of life. This consideration comes upon me & begins to make me a miser of my hours, – for it will take more years than can be reckoned on to get out of my head all that I have put into it, & alas every days study serves to show me how much I have yet to learn upon those subjects of which it is my duty to know every thing.

Remember me to Mrs King – I shall write speedily to Danvers, – for I forgot to answer a question about books for David in my last. Thank you for your seals, – my daughter thanks you also, having been highly delighted at such a cargo.

yrs very truly

R Southey

Feby. 6. 1809


* Address: To/ John King Esqr/ Dowry Square/ Hot Wells/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Princeton University Library, Robert H. Taylor Collection, tipped into the front of John Edmonds Stock, Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes, M.D. With an Analytical Account of his Writings (London, Bristol, Edinburgh and Dublin, John Murray, J. M. Gutch, William Blackwood and M. N. Mahon, 1811). ALS; 4p. Inscription on title page ‘Maria Edgeworth from Emmeline King – / – July 1811’ and in a second hand ‘And returned to Zoë King by/ her affectionate Aunt/ Maria Edgeworth’
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 192–194 [misdated 6 February 1810 in Warter].
Dating note: written over more than one day and concluded 6 February. BACK

[1] Thomas Beddoes, who died in 1808, had married Anna, the daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817; DNB) in 1794. John King was Beddoes’ brother-in-law, as he was married to Anna’s sister, Emmeline Edgeworth (1770–1817). BACK

[2] John Edmonds Stock (1774–1835), Beddoes’ assistant at his Medical Institution in Hotwells, Bristol, was commissioned by Anna Beddoes to write his biography. This appeared in 1811 as Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes, M.D. BACK

[3] His son was the poet, Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803–1849; DNB). BACK

[4] The short-lived periodical edited by John Aikin, The Athenæum, A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information (1807–1809), to which Southey was a contributor. BACK

[5] It having been a proposal of Southey’s that led to the magazine’s founding by Longman. BACK

[6] A laxative. BACK

[7] Willem Piso (1611–1678), a Dutch physician and author of Historia Naturalis Brasiliæ (1648). BACK

[8] The passage from Piso (II, p. 19) is quoted and discussed in The History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. 328. BACK

[9] The Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[10] In the 1790s Gifford had established a reputation as a verse satirist, in The Baviad (1791) and The Maeviad (1795). BACK

[11] Southey’s last articles for the Annual Review were published this year, in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809): Tour Through Spain and Part of Portugal, Volume 3 of Richard Phillips, A Collection of Modern and Contemporary Voyages and Travels (1805–1810), 56–57; Christian Augustus Fischer (1771–1829), A Picture of Madrid: Taken on the Spot. Translated from the German (1808), 57–60; Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (1808), 127–148; Report of the Committee of the African Institution, Read to the General Meeting on the 15th July, 1807, Together with the Rules and Regulations which were then Adopted for the Government of the Society (1807); Thomas Zouch (1737–1815; DNB), Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sydney (1808), 224–235; Robert Drury (1687–1734?; DNB), The Adventures of Robert Drury, During Fifteen Years Captivity on the Island of Madagascar; Containing a Description of that Island; an Account of its Produce, Manufactures, and Commerce; With an Account of the Manners and Customs, Wars, Religion, and Civil Policy of the Inhabitants: to Which is Added, a Vocabulary of the Madagascar Language. Written by Himself, and now Carefully Revised and Corrected from the Original (1807), 253–263; John Finlay (1782–1810), Scottish Historical and Romantic Ballads: Chiefly Ancient with Explanatory Notes and a Glossary (1808), 457–462; Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (1781?-1851), Metrical Legends (1807), 473–473; Francis Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners: with Dissertations on the Clown and Fool of Shakespeare; on the Collection of Popular Tales entitled Gesta Romanorum; and on the English Morris Dance (1807), 554–562; Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare (1808), 562–570; [Howard Luke (1772–1864)], A Brief Apology for Quakerism, Inscribed to the Edinburgh Reviewers (1808), 354–356. BACK

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