421. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 July 1799

421. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 July 1799 ⁠* 

Friday. July 12. 99

My dear Tom

I write to you from Danvers’s – where we are & have been since we left Westbury. I have been to Biddlecombes, & surveyed Southey Palace that is to be. we shall not get possession till Michaelmas [1]  – the place will be comfortable – the garden is large but unstocked – well situated – with a fish-pond, & a pigeon-house over the pavilion. my Mother is in the GreenEdith & I are going into Devonshire, first to the North Coast – Minehead – the Valley of Stones & Ilfracombe – the wildest part of the county. perhaps we may cross over to the south – on our way to Burton – I wish to see Lightfoot at Kingsbridge, & there would then be a likelihood of seeing you.

My miscellaneous volume which is to be christened Annual Poems [2]  – comes on rapidly, they are now striking off the eleventh sheet.

Yesterday I finished Madoc, thank God! & thoroughly to my own satisfaction. but I have resolved on one great, laborious & radical alteration. it was my design to identify Madoc with Mango Capac, the legislator of Peru. [3]  in this I have totally failed. therefore Mango Capac is to be the hero of another poem, [4]  & instead of carrying Madoc down the Marañon, [5]  I shall follow the more probable opinion & land him in Florida. [6]  here then instead of the Peruvians who have no striking manners for my poem, we get among the wild North American Indians. on their customs & superstitions facts must be grounded & woven into the work – spliced so neatly as not to betray the junction. these alterations I delay. in the mean time it will I think be laborious for you to copy the poem in its present state – you shall have the remainder – & as you can read it that is enough. it will probably be in a state of emendation till the day of my death. [7] 

So much for Madoc. it is a great work done – & my brain is now ready to receive the Dom Daniel, [8]  the next labour in succession. of the metre of this poem I have thought much & my final resolution is to write it irregularly, without rhymes. for this I could you give you reasons in plenty, but as you cannot lend me your ear, we will defer it till you hear the poem. this work is intended for immediate publication.

My first poems are going to press for a third edition. [9]  by the time they are compleated, I shall probably have a second volume of the Annual Poems [10]  ready – & so I & the printers go merrily on.

Edith is very unwell. the journey, the change of air frequently, & the exercise which new scenes must tempt her to take will I hope with the help of strong tonic medicines relieve her. Edward is well & soon going to Birmingham – my Mother is as she always in the Green – uncomfortable & obstinate in staying there. She will not go with us, tho we travel in chaises & of course it would be no additional expence. Eliza Fricker goes with us, so Edith will not be alone when I am among the rocks & on the shore.

Oh Tom! such a Gas has Davy discovered! the Gazeous Oxyd! [11]  oh Tom! I have ha[MS torn] some. it made me laughed & tingled in every toe & finger tip. Davy has actually invented a new pleasure for which language has no name. oh Tom! I am going for more this evening – it makes one strong & so happy! so gloriously happy! & without any after debility, but instead of it increased strength & activity of mind & body – oh excellent air bag. Tom I am sure the air in heaven must be this wonder working gas of delight.

Ediths love – God bless you. my next will be from God knows where.


Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey/ Sylph Brig./ Plymouth Dock./ Single
Postmark: JUL 15 99
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 20–22 [in part]. BACK

[1] 29 September 1799. BACK

[2] The first volume of the Annual Anthology, published in 1799. BACK

[3] Manco Capac, in legend the first Inca. The connection between Madoc and Capac was suggested in John Williams (c.1732–1795; DNB), The Natural History of the Mineral Kingdom, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1789), II, pp. 424–425. BACK

[4] Southey did not succeed in his plan of making Manco Capac the hero of a poem. BACK

[5] A river in South America. In Madoc (1797–1799) Southey had originally planned for the Welsh settlers to reach Peru by travelling up the Amazon and then its tributary, the Maranon. BACK

[6] For the idea that Madoc settled in Florida, see John Williams (1727–1798), An Enquiry into the Truth of the Tradition, Concerning the Discovery of America, by Prince Madog ab Owen Gwynedd, About the Year, 1170 (London, 1791), p. 48. BACK

[7] A heavily revised version of Madoc was published in 1805. Southey continued to make changes to it until the last lifetime edition of 1838. BACK

[8] The early working-title for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188. BACK

[9] The third edition of Southey’s Poems (1797) appeared in 1799. BACK

[10] The second, and final, volume of the Annual Anthology was published in 1800. BACK

[11] i.e. nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’. Its effects on Southey were described in Thomas Beddoes, Notice of Some Observations Made at the Medical Pneumatic Institution (Bristol, 1799), p. 11; and Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and Its Respiration (London, 1800), pp. 507–509. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 4 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 2 times)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker family (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

College Green, Bristol (mentioned 2 times)
Burton (mentioned 1 time)
Westbury (mentioned 1 time)