459. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 December 1799

459. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 December 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Coleridge

In the Beauties of the Anti-Jacobine [1]  (of course in the Anti-Jacobine itself also) is a note respecting you concluding with these words. “he has quitted England, become a citizen of the world, left his children little ones fatherless & his wife destitute”. now this is a libel of the worst kind – & I advise you “totis viribus” [2]  as such to prosecute the publishers. punishment they deserve – & the damages will not be unacceptable to you. do not reject this idea hastily – consult with your London friends, & with some lawyer of talents. tacked on to this precious sentence is “ex uno disce [3]  his associates Southey & Lamb.” the advice I give you I should follow myself were this also actionable.

I write from Bristol – driven here by illness. a nervous fever much reduced me – but this was temporary & therefore unimportant. here I come because something ails me at heart – I have bad symptoms there, which unless they turn out be to be merely nervous, must be incurable. when you write do not refer to this even by a hint as narrow as the edge of my anatomy – nose, now more razor-like than ever.

To your advice respecting Madoc [4]  I must thus reply. for the last sixteen months my opinion has been fixed upon the subject. I shall finish it & polish it with all convenient speed, so that it may be ready for publication. the longer it is kept, the less faulty will it be, & in case of my death it will be a post-obit bond for my family of considerable value, with only a little trouble on the part of my friends. published now it could not possibly be half so lucrative.

I am about to give up writing for Stuart & shall in my next letter tell him so. [5]  till February I feel bound to continue the employment – but it is now laborious & irksome, & consumes much time for which I have many & more important calls. the Anthology [6]  you view in a worse light than I do, & you also forget that it takes off anonymously all my little ephemeral pieces. My literary views, for these day-dreams will be the last that leave me, are these in succession. Thalaba. of this half the fifth book is written, & my illness at Burton  prevente stopt me when I was full gallop going on. it will be a good poem – I know it will. ten books will not comprize it – it must extend to twelve – & at the end I mean to groupe all notes of digression all the omnium-gatherum that is not merely explanatory of the text. this I expect to print before I leave Bristol – in the course of some four months. how I have not yet determined, but probably at my <own> expence, & then sell the whole edition to a London bookseller. [7]  Longman is going to purchase Alfred thus – & desires it may be printed in quarto. [8]  Thalaba is not quite so popular a name – but he will not be found wanting when weighed in the balance. – Mohammed occupies a corner of my brain – one of the chambers – my heart is in the hexameter business. [9]  I had purposed a prose work – the History of Portugal. [10]  this requires a residence there. perhaps I shall be ordered there for my health. All minor pieces go into the Anthology [11]  unowned, except one or two of the best to lend a name to the volume.

You see here are subjects enough to employ a tolerably long life. I wish you had wintered here instead of at London.

Direct to me at Mrs Roulerights [12] Kingsdown Parade. Edith is well. we arrived here Tuesday night. the herewith-packet has been long lying for you – luckily an opportunity occurs of sending it without expence. Dr Skey, [13]  a quondam friend of Lloyd, will carry it. he examined me yesterday & felt my pulse & my heart & seemed to think it merely nervous. my own opinion is rather otherwise. symptoms in themselves little important are strong corroborants. however I have little pain & spirits as usual about half way up the thermometer, where they ought to be.

God bless you. write & let me know more frequently some where you are. like a Jack-a-lanthern you pop up & down & nobody can follow you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Prosecute – prosecute –prosecute.

December 5. 99.


* Address: To/ S. T. Coleridge
MS: University of Kentucky Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Beauties of the Anti-Jacobin (London, 1799), p. 306 n. 17, where Coleridge is easily identifiable as ‘C-dge’. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘with all [your] strength’. BACK

[3] The Latin translates as ‘From one learn [about]’. BACK

[4] Coleridge had urged Southey to ‘publish nothing till the completion & publication of the Madoc’ (Coleridge to Southey, 10 November 1799, E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 546). BACK

[5] Southey’s sonnet ‘Absence’, which appeared in the Morning Post, 20 December 1799, was the last of his regular contributions. He published nothing further in the Morning Post until ‘O Thou Moor of Moreria’, 18 September 1801. BACK

[6] Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[7] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in London by Longman and Rees. BACK

[8] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem. In Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[9] Coleridge and Southey’s plan for a jointly-written poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam, did not make much progress; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 18–20. A fragment by Southey was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (London, 1845), pp. 113–116; and 14 lines by Coleridge in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, 3 vols (London, 1834), II, p. 68. BACK

[10] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[11] Annual Anthology (1800). Southey only signed ‘The Battle of Blenheim’, pp. 34–37 and ‘The Death of Wallace’, pp. 189–191. BACK

[12] Southey’s landlady; her first name and dates are unrecorded. BACK

[13] Dr Skey (dates unknown). Probably a physician practising in or near Bristol. BACK

People mentioned

Lamb, Charles (1775–1834) (mentioned 1 time)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)
Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)