979. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [early–c. 22 October 1804]

979. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [early–c. 22 October 1804] ⁠* 

Dear Coleridge

Three letters from you since your arrival at Malta have reached England – One to Sara – one to Sarah Hutchinson & one to me – for one it must be called to make the arithmetic of the sentence right & avoid small fractions. Ere this you also must have heard from us – or should have heard – but letters out are never so safe as letters home. All well. the books about which you have been dreaming are safely piled in the wing room of the old house, for your study has just undergone its transmogrification. The box which so disappointed you by its not containing letters was sent off while you were yet in England, & receiving news faster than it could travel by waggon, & this I suppose you soon recollected after your disappointment. Having thus dispatched the business of this epistle a clear sheet lies before me. Moses goes to school & hath received from me his volunteer Godfather the new name of Job, because he is to be so patient [1]  – a name which Job doth not take patiently. I leave to his mother the task of Boswellizing [2]  him to you, which if she does not do she is to blame. Derwent a few days ago amused himself by swallowing seventeen shillings & sixpence – in the shape of a half guinea, & a seven shilling piece. Sara came up to me in terrible alarm, which was somewhat relieved by my immediately remarking that there would be work for a gold-finder. & Harry proposed to her to farm him out –, offering either sixpence a chance, or half a crown a day till the money was recovered. & to be at the expence of recovering it. Both pieces having been scalded & scrubbed are carefully wrapt up in paper & preserved in Saras pocket as relics. Sariola runs about & improves in speech – I call her Queen Alfred from her exceeding likeness to Alfred Estlin. [3]  The Edithling is a great tyrant, a very Bonaparte, suffering nobody to be at peace till she has had her way – but baiting the sleeplessness or rather restlessness at night as quiet & as good tempered as heart could wish. Edith herself is growing fat, & has a better proportion of flesh to bone than at any period since I have known her – Sara as you left her, in excellent good health. & Mary just in the same diseased state of body & mind as usual.

Now then for the outside of the house – the scaffolding is not yet taken down, but the wall is compleated, your room has now only one window in front, & that ugly chasm which threatened disruption horrible in some high wind, is filled up – like the sutures in a skull. This has been done too late for plaistering, so the outside & the in will remain ragged till next summer. – Harry continues here about a month longer, & Duppa is now with us. We have found pleasant neighbours in the Islanders – the Colonel being very good natured & his wife & her sister truely womanly women. [4]  A ball has been mustered at Woods [5]  chiefly by Harrys generalship. There are also more strollers here & there has been a riot at the theatre. the General [6]  & Colonel & their party having been driven out by the townspeople, who would not suffer places to be kept for them. luckily we were too late to be involved in the fray, for tho we should perhaps have turned the scale, it was better to have been out of it. A good deal was certainly owing to White the bellygerent, [7]  who endeavours all he can to make the people insult Mrs Peché, [8]  & certainly if what I have heard of him had come from any other quarter than Jackson, I should have felt myself bound to inform the General that he might prosecute him –

Eight & twenty sheets of Madoc are printed. twelve more are in the printers hands – Ballantyne of Edinburgh – & I just now stuck in the mud in the last insertion of new story, being the sixteenth section of the second part. [9]  however the compleat leisure of a week will carry me on a long way, & if no untoward accident intervene the whole of my l will be done before this can reach Malta. You will instruct me accordingly as you regulate your movements, whether to send out a copy or not – perhaps my plans may in some degree influence you. I certainly intend, if not prevented by any public or private events, to remove to Lisbon about this time twelvemonths, with the intention of remaining there two or three years – the longer the better. If you do not return home in the summer this will induce you to touch at Lisbon. Of myself there is nothing more to communicate save that I have resolved upon adding a History of the Monastic Orders or Monachism to my other historical labours  [10]  – & that I succeed in keeping diabetes under by vigorous exercise.

Orator Bellew [11]  is dead, he has left behind him his travels nearly fit for the press, & a huge heap of common place books which had they gone to his heirs Theophilus Swift [12]  instead of his executor Sharon Turner, would have been published to the great annoyance of all his acquaintance – for it was the Orators custom to record all his conversations with the literati of his acquaintance, & to comment upon their characters. The poor orator had a very flatulent sort of an intellect, yet his collection may one day be curious. he will have recorded a curious anecdote of me, how I sent him to search <in the Vatican> for the writings of Porphyry against the Xtian religion [13]  – & he will not have discovered that in making Taylor the Pagan [14]  set him upon this quest I was only amusing myself with both.


Since this letter was begun – which has lain some fortnight in my desk, a transaction which you as well as I have long foreseen & foretold – has taken place. Jackson has sold the house to the Belly-gerent [15]  for £2400, & we shall all be unkennelled at Whitsuntide. Poor Jackson had not the heart to tell me this himself, & the thought of it broke his rest for many nights. he offers to build us another house in poor Banks’s field, [16]  to look out some place for us till it be done – to lend us furniture – money – anything for our accommodation. Tho I meant to take flight in the autumn it is not very convenient to have my nest taken in the spring, & I am certainly confoundedly puzzled & perplexed: for these rumours of war, & that accursed fever which it seems is got to Gibralter [17]  & which I fear will sooner or later extend over the whole of the Spanish peninsula, if not over the whole of Europe, make me think of Lisbon with a sort of prudent fear, nor in fact should I be prepared with ways & means for removing in May instead of October, were there no other obstacle. For you the inconvenience is less – or perhaps it ought to be regarded as a fortunate circumstance that you should be thus compelled to leave a situation manifestly injurious to your health, & yet so suited to your inclination that you would probably never have mustered up courage to leave it. Sara will travel southward paying visits, with little inconvenience, & little if any increased expence – till we can get a house. We must go somewhere into lodgings, & I shall make a desperate effort to raise a couple of hundreds for furniture – for it is time that I & my books were gathered together. perhaps before our settling take place you may be in England, but do not you in the slightest degree hasten your return on that account. – Wordsworth too is unsettled – his house is too small for a growing family, & for one who wants a room to retire to out of the reach of domestic noise. I suppose we shall all ultimately draw near London.

Montague is at Grasmere, unless he should yesterday have left it. he brought George Dyer down with him [MS torn] Dyer came here for three days, & then set off to join Montague fearing he should else be left behind, but Montague came over himself the next day & remained three days also leaving George at Ambleside. I thought it might be possibly of some use to poor White (the Nottingham poet) who is gone as a sizar to St Johns to get Montague to notice him & befriend him, & this he has promised to do. I should have told you that I wrote to the poor boy & received from him a very interesting letter. [18]  the Methodists have caught him, & allow him 30£ per year from their fund which is in Thorntons [19]  hands for the purpose of educating Evangelical minors in the establishd church. So long as his own opinions accord with those of his unknown benefactors as he calls them, it is well that their money should be so employed. meantime I will from time to time learn how he goes, & be ready to give him a lift when he has outgrown them.

My rascally brother Edward having been once more sent to sea has either again left his ship, or been turned out of it, & is sharping about the country once more. I had a bill sent here from Plymouth, from a brothel I suspect by the penwomanship & female orthography. he must now be left to his fate, which if it be short of the gallows xxx xxxxx xxxx will be better than he deserves. this is an evil, but not of the first magnitude – a scratch in the extremities. I shall not suffer it to disturb me. – Wet – cold – & wintry already (Oct 19) & for this week past, while you are enjoying the fruits & the sunshine of a Mediterranean climate. In spite of the Lakes & Mountains this is not a place to winter in, & if you were here now you would reconcile yourself to relinquishing this spot, lovely as it is to the Great Bellygerent. [20] 

I am just beginning my campaign against the books of the year. [21]  Could you see the ponderous pile before you you would groan in compassion. & the proportion of good to bad is even less than in former years. One work however of sterling merit there is – Barrows Travels in China, [22]  a most excellent & important volume. he tells us that the best Commentaries on the Chinese Laws, in the manner of Blackstone [23]  were soon to be published in a translation – by Sir G. Stanton [24]  of course, a young man of whom great things are evidently to be hoped. – Of the annual poetry all is bad; x one volume entitled the Shepherds Boy by William Day, [25]  beats the Shepherds Farewell [26]  hollow. Miss Sewards Life of Darwin [27]  is one of the most womanising productions of the year. tho in such English! – –

Our summer visitors are all past away. Harry is going & I shall soon be left quietly to my winter operations. Yet a little while & Madoc will be done. only 2 ½ of the old books remain to be corrected. On the whole I have not satisfied myself in the poem. the experiment has quite satisfied <convinced> me of the impolicy of being very long about anything. As soon as it is done I must set hard to money making – for this poem will have slow return if any, some praise it may possibly procure – but no solid pudding. it does not please me much – & will assuredly profit me but little. – All well here & at Grasmere. I had just bought a Jack Ass before this catastrophe of the house – had christened John, & meant to have created him a Knight of the most ancient order of the thistle.

God bless you Coleridge! do not come home before you have got well – but get well as fast as you can – & above all be attentive to your diet – i.e. be regular in it.



* Address: To/ Mr J C Mottley/ Portsmouth/ for S. T. Coleridge Esqr.
Postmark: E/ OCT22/ 1804
MS: University of Kentucky Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Dating note: The postmark is 22 October 1804, but there is an internal reference to the letter being started two weeks before this, and the date cited in it of ‘Oct 19’. BACK

[1] The biblical character, Job, who remained steadfast to God despite the extreme tests sent to try his patience. BACK

[2] James Boswell (1778–1822; DNB) was the friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK

[3] Alfred Estlin (dates unknown): solicitor of Burnham, Somerset, the second son of John Prior Estlin (1747–1817), the Unitarian minister who was Southey’s and Coleridge’s friend in Bristol. BACK

[4] Miss Charter (first name and dates unknown), whose visit to stay with the Peachys is referred to in Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 September 1804, Letter 978. BACK

[5] The Queen’s Head, Keswick, owned by George Wood (d. 1812). BACK

[6] John Peche, who had served in the East India Company’s army, gazetted as Colonel in 1796 and Major-General in 1798. BACK

[7] Mr White (dates unknown), a local man who negotiated to buy Greta Hall from the builder and owner of the house, William Jackson. ‘Belly gerent’ because he was both aggressive and fat. BACK

[8] The wife of General Peche; her first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[9] Southey was correcting proofs of Madoc (1805) even while still revising the sections of the manuscript not yet sent to the printer. It was completed in October 1804. BACK

[10] Southey’s plans for such a history were not realised. BACK

[11] Christopher Kelly Bellew (d. 1804), of Bath, died at Clifton, Bristol. BACK

[12] Theophilus Swift (1746–1815), barrister and author whose poetical works include The Gamblers (1777), The Temple of Folly (1787), and The Female Parliament (1789). BACK

[13] Porphyry (234?–305?) a Neoplatonist philosopher born in Tyre in Phoenicia, whose many writings included commentaries on Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus (204/5–270) and Ptolemy (90–168) as well as Against the Christians. The Vatican was unlikely to yield Against the Christians to anyone, since the book was burnt by order of the Christian Roman emperor Constantine (272–337). BACK

[14] Thomas Taylor (1758–1835): ‘the Pagan/the Platonist’– translator and editor of many neoplatonic philosophers including Porphyry, Plotinus and Proclus (412–485). BACK

[15] See note 7. BACK

[16] Untraced. BACK

[17] Yellow fever killed an estimated 60% of Gibraltar’s population in 1804. BACK

[18] White had written to Southey on 9 July 1804 seeking advice about publishing his verse. His letter is reprinted in The Remains of Henry Kirke White of Nottingham, ed. Robert Southey, 2 vols (London, 1808), I, pp. 125–128. BACK

[19] John Thornton (1720–1790): a rich merchant and Anglican who supported evangelical causes, sponsoring John Newton (1725–1807) as well as Kirke White. BACK

[20] See note 7. BACK

[21] Southey means his reviewing work for the Annual Review. BACK

[22] John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), Travels in China: Containing Descriptions, Observations and Comparisons Made and Collected in the Course of a Short Residence at the Imperial Palace of Yuen-min-yuen, and on a Subsequent Journey from Pekin to Canton (1804). Southey reviewed the book in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 69–83. BACK

[23] Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780), author of the Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769). BACK

[24] Sir George Thomas Staunton, 2nd Baronet (1781–1859), translated the Fundamental Laws of China (1810). BACK

[25] William Day (dates unknown), The Shepherd’s Boy: being Pastoral Tales (1804). Southey reviewed the book in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 567–568. BACK

[26] Richard Roderick (bap. 1710–1756), ‘The Shepherd’s Farewell to his Love’, a popular eighteenth-century song. See A Collection of Poems in Three Volumes. By Several Hands (London, 1748), II, pp. 311–314. BACK

[27] Southey reviewed Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 488–493. BACK

Places mentioned

Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 3 times)
Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)