592. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 25 July [1801]

592. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 25 July [1801] ⁠* 

July 25.

In about ten days we shall be ready to set forward for Keswick; where, if it were not for the rains, and the fogs, and the frosts, I should, probably, be content to winter; but the climate deters me. It is uncertain when I may be sent abroad, or where, except that the south of Europe is my choice. The appointment [1]  hardly doubtful, and the probable destination Palermo or Naples. We will talk of the future, and dream of it, on the lake side.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             I may calculate upon the next six months at my own disposal; so we will climb Skiddaw this year, and scale Etna the next; and Sicilian air will keep us alive till Davy has found out the immortalising elixir, or till we are very well satisfied to do without it, and be immortalised after the manner of our fathers. My pocketbook contains more plans than will ever be filled up; but whatever becomes of those plans, this, at least, is feasible.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             Poor H——, [2]  he has literally killed himself by the law; which, I believe, kills more than any disease that takes its place in the bills of mortality. Blackstone [3]  is a needful book, and my Coke [4]  is a borrowed one; but I have one law book whereof to make an auto-da-fé; and burnt he shall be: but whether to perform that ceremony, with fitting libations, at home, or fling him down the crater of Etna directly to the Devil, is worth considering at leisure.

I must work at Keswick; the more willingly, because with the hope, hereafter, the necessity will cease. My Portuguese materials must lie dead, and this embarrasses me. It is impossible to publish any thing about that country now, because I must one day return there, – to their libraries and archives; otherwise I have excellent stuff for a little volume; and could soon set forth a first vol. of my History, [5]  either civil or literary. In these labours I have incurred a heavy and serious expense. I shall write to Hamilton, [6]  and review again, if he chooses to employ me.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             It was Cottle who told me that your Poems [7]  were reprinting in a third edition: this cannot allude to the Lyrical Ballads, because of the number and the participle present.             .             .             .             .             I am bitterly angry to see one new poem smuggled into the world in the Lyrical Ballads, where the 750 purchasers of the first can never get at it. [8]  At Falmouth I bought Thomas Dermody’s Poems, [9]  for old acquaintance sake; alas! the boy wrote better than the man!             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             Pyes Alfred [10]  (to distinguish him from Alfred the pious [11] ) I have not yet inspected; nor the wilful murder of Bonaparte, by Anna Matilda; [12]  nor the high treason committed by Sir James Bland Burgess, Baronet, against our lion-hearted Richard. [13]  Davy is fallen stark mad with a play, called the Conspiracy of Gowrie, which is by Rough; [14]  an imitation of Gebir, [15]  with some poetry; but miserably and hopelessly deficient in all else: every character reasoning, and metaphorising, and metaphysicking the reader most nauseously, By the by, there is a great analogy between hock, laver, pork pie, and the Lyrical Ballads, – all have a flavour, not beloved by those who require a taste, and utterly unpleasant to dram-drinkers, whose diseased palates can only feel pepper and brandy. I know not whether Wordsworth will forgive the stimulant tale of Thalaba, – ’tis a turtle soup, highly seasoned, but with a flavour of its own predominant. His are sparagrass (it ought to be spelt so) and artichokes, good with plain butter, and wholesome.

I look on Madoc [16]  with hopeful displeasure; probably it must be corrected, and published now; this coming into the world at seven months is a bad way; with a Doctor Slop [17]  of a printer’s devil standing ready for the forced birth, and frightening one into an abortion.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             Is there an emigrant at Keswick, who may make me talk and write French? And I must sit at my almost forgotten Italian, and read German with you; and we must read Tasso [18]  together.             .             .             .             .             .            

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. 151-154. BACK

[1] The proposal by Wynn that Southey should become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[2] Probably Joseph Hucks, who had studied law, enrolling at the Inner Temple, London. Hucks had died in 1800. BACK

[3] Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780; DNB), Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769). BACK

[4] Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634; DNB), Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-1644). BACK

[5] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[6] The Critical Review, for which Southey had first worked in 1797, was owned from 1799 to 1804 by Samuel Hamilton (fl. 1790s-1810s). BACK

[7] The collection first published as Poems on Various Subjects (1796). BACK

[8] A second, revised and expanded edition of Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads was published in 1800. The changes included the addition of an entirely new second volume and a substantial ‘Preface’. The only ‘new poem’ added to the first volume was Coleridge’s ‘Love’, which replaced Wordsworth’s ‘The Convict’; see Lyrical Ballads, 2 vols (London, 1800), I, pp. 138-144. BACK

[9] Thomas Dermody (1775-1802; DNB), Poems, Moral and Descriptive (1800), his first publication since Poems (1792). BACK

[10] Henry James Pye (1745-1813; DNB), Alfred (1801). BACK

[11] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[12] Hannah Crowley (1743-1809; DNB), dramatist and poet. She had written poetry in the 1780s under the pseudonym ‘Anna Matilda’. Later she published The Siege of Acre: an Epic Poem (1801), which took as its subject the unsuccessful attempt by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821; First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814) to capture the city of Acre from an Anglo-Turkish force in 1799. BACK

[13] Sir James Bland Burgess (1752-1824; DNB), author of Richard the First: a Poem in Eighteen Books (1801), an epic poem on Richard I (1157-1199; King of England 1189-1199; DNB). BACK

[14] William Rough, The Conspiracy of Gowrie (1800), about an attempt in 1600 to kidnap James VI and I (1567-1625; King of Scotland 1567-1601, King of Great Britain 1601-1625; DNB). BACK

[15] Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). BACK

[16] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and hoped to correct it for publication. A heavily revised version was not published until 1805. BACK

[17] The incompetent doctor in Laurence Sterne (1713-1768; DNB), Tristram Shandy (1759-1769). BACK

[18] Torquato Tasso (1544-1590), Italian poet and author of Jerusalem Liberated (1580). BACK

People mentioned

Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 2 times)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Rough, William (1772/3–1838) (mentioned 1 time)
Hucks, Joseph (1772–1800) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)