911. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 12 March 1804

911. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 12 March 1804 ⁠* 

Greta Hall, March 12. 1804.

Your going abroad [1]  appeared to me so doubtful, or, indeed, so improbable an event, that the certainty comes on me like a surprise, and I feel at once what a separation the sea makes; when we get beyond the reach of mail coaches, then, indeed, distance becomes a thing perceptible. I shall often think, Coleridge, Quanto minus est cum reliquis versari quam tui meminisse! [2]  God grant you a speedy passage, a speedy recovery, and a speedy return! I will write regularly and often; but I know by Danvers, how irregularly letters arrive, and at how tedious a time after their date. Look in old Knolles before you go, and read the siege of Malta, it will make you feel that you are going to visit sacred ground. [3]  I can hardly think of that glorious defence without tears.                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .

You would rejoice with me were you now at Keswick, at the tidings that a box of books is safely harboured in the Mersey, so that for the next fortnight I shall be more interested in the news of Fletcher [4]  than of Bonaparte. It contains some duplicates of the lost cargo; among them the collection of the oldest Spanish poems, in which is a metrical romance upon the Cid. [5]  I shall sometimes want you for a Gothic etymology. Talk of the happiness of getting a great prize in the lottery! What is that to the opening a box of books! The joy upon lifting up the cover, must be something like what we shall feel when Peter the Porter opens the door upstairs, and says, Please to walk in, sir. That I shall never be paid for my labour according to the current value of time and labour, is tolerably certain; but if anyone should offer me 10,000 l. to forego that labour, I should bid him and his money go to the devil, for twice the sum could not purchase me half the enjoyment. It will be a great delight to me in the next world, to take a fly and visit these old worthies, who are my only society here, and to tell them, what excellent company I found them here at the lakes of Cumberland, two centuries after they had been dead and turned to dust. In plain truth, I exist more among the dead than the living, and think more about them, and, perhaps, feel more about them.                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    . Moses has quite a passion for drawing; strong enough to be useful were he a little older. When I visit London, I will set him up in drawing-books. He was made quite happy yesterday by two drawings of Charles Fox, [6]  which happened to be in my desk, and to be just fit for him. The dissected map [7]  of England gives him his fill of delight, and he now knows the situation of all the counties in England as well as anyone in the house, or, indeed, in the kingdom. I have promised him Asia; it is a pity that Africa and America are so badly divided as to be almost useless, for this is an excellent way of learning geography, and I know by experience that what is so learnt is never forgotten.                    .                    .                    .                    .                    . You would be amused to see the truly Catholic horror he feels at the Jews, because they do not eat pork and ham, on which account he declares he never will be an old clothes man. Sara is as fond of me as Dapper [8]  is, which is saying a good deal. As for Johnny Wordsworth, [9]  I expect to see him walk over very shortly; he is like the sons of the Anakim. [10]  No M. Post [11]  yesterday, none to-day; vexatious after the last French news. I should not suppose Moreau [12]  guilty; he is too cautious a general to be so imprudent a man.                   .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .

God bless you!

R. S.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 271–273 [in part]. BACK

[1] Coleridge travelled abroad to Malta for his health, taking up a temporary post as private secretary to Sir Alexander Ball (1757–1809), the naval officer governing Malta. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘Alas, how much less it is to mix with those who remain than to remember thee’. It comes from William Shenstone’s (1714–1763; DNB) epitaph on Maria Dolman (d. 1754), ‘On an ornamented urn. Inscribed to Miss Dolman, a beautiful and amiable relation of Mr Shenstone’s, who died of the smallpox, about twenty-one years of age’. BACK

[3] Richard Knolles (c. 1545–1610) describes the unsuccessful epic siege of Malta in 1565 by the Ottomans in his Generall Historie of the Turke (1603). BACK

[4] A Keswick carrier; his first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[5] Probably Romances Sueltos en Verso Espanola, which was published in Alicante, Seville and Valladolid, but the date of publication is not known. It was no. 3720 of the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Charles Fox (c. 1740–1809; DNB), a Bristol-based acquaintance of Southey’s whose Poems, Containing the Plaints, Consolations, and Delights of Achmed Ardebeili, a Persian Exile was published by Joseph Cottle in 1797. BACK

[7] What would today be termed a jigsaw-puzzle map. BACK

[8] Southey’s dog. BACK

[9] John Wordsworth (1803–1875), the poet’s eldest son. BACK

[10] The race of long-necked people ‘of great height’ in Numbers 13: 32–33: ‘And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them’. BACK

[11] The Morning Post, a newspaper edited by Daniel Stuart, who employed both Southey and Coleridge to contribute poetry to it. BACK

[12] Jean Moreau (1763–1813) was a French revolutionary general, who was jailed on 15 February 1804, for his supposed involvement in a royalist plot, launched from Britain, against Napoleon Bonaparte. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)


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