618. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, [c. 16 October 1801]

618. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, [c. 16 October 1801] ⁠* 

If you have not seen Danvers on your way to town, you will be surprized to receive a letter from me dated at Dublin. the wind of fortune has shifted & driven me here. [1]  I came by Rickmans invitation to a birth somewhat similar to his own, in which capacity in a very few weeks I shall remove to London, & be your neighbour once again. in June I return here, & Rickman wants me to bring you over in your leisure. the government here have purchased the first collection of minerals in the world, the Leskean collection. [2]  this is one bait. of the chemistry here he sends a specimen herewith. here is a noble city, an odd people, & the map promises glorious lakes & mountains – things which, in spite of Tobin, I never will believe you can cease to love as devoutly as I love them.

It is since we parted at Bristol that I read the Gowrie, [3]  & indeed after what you had said, I read it with astonishment. you had praised it, & your praise passed current with me – perhaps because I had received so much of it myself, but still more because on other subjects I had never heard it ill bestowed. the Gowrie I thought very, very bad. there were imitations from all writers – a leading dash of the Gebir [4]  running thro the whole. no character, no feeling, no truth of nature. metaphor heaped upon metaphor, an eternal reasoning – soliloquizing conversations about nothing. Rough promised much when a school boy, but I am satisfied that he never will perform any thing great. his first book was feeble – this is turgid, the palsy – & the dropsy. he has not a healthy genius.

I now remember who the author of Gebir is. he was a contemporary of mine at Oxford – of Trinity, & notorious as a mad Jacobine. his Jacobinism would have made me seek his acquaintance but for his madness. he was obliged to leave the University for shooting at one of the Fellows thro the window. all this I immediately recollected on getting at his name. – how could you compare this mans book with Roughs? the lucid passages of Gebir are all palpable to the eye – they are the master touches of a painter – there is power in them, & passion, & thought & knowledge.

I was travelling in Wales, thro the country of Madoc, [5]  when Rickman summoned me hither. Upon that poem I meant to have employed myself, & to have laboured at it, compleatly recasting the metal. now I know little what leisure will be left me, but there is no reason to fear unremitting task work. in common prudence the offer could not be refused, & there were also feelings of a higher order which left me no choice. What little I have heard of the rulers here is very favourable. they are encouragers of science & literature, laborious in removing old grievances, wash cleaning away the old corruption, & anxious to improve the country & the people.

Direct to me, if in the course of a week you can find leisure to write under cover to

Right Honble

Isaac Corry

&c &c &c


I give you the address in its due form. your hand writing Davy I shall be glad to see – still more so to see you when I reach London. times have changed since we first became intimate, & we also must have changed. you probably more than me, for mine are older & riper habits. I do not love to think of this – for the world cannot mend the young man whom I knew before the world knew him [MS torn] very spring & blossom of his genius & his goo[MS torn]

God bless you Davy!

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Davy
Seal: Red wax, three female figures
Endorsement: Southey
MS: Royal Institution, London, Davy MSS. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Davy (ed.), Fragmentary Remains, Literary and Scientific, of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart. (London, 1858), pp. 47-48.
Dating note: The letter was written from Dublin. Similarities between this and letters to Edith Southey and John May of 16 October 1801 (Letters 616 and 615 respectively), giving Southey’s postal address, suggest that this was written around that time. Southey left Dublin on 23 October 1801. BACK

[1] Southey had accepted the position of private secretary to Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer. BACK

[2] The Leskean collection of 7,331 mineralogical specimens, which had been acquired by the Dublin Society in 1792. BACK

[3] William Rough, The Conspiracy of Gowrie (1800). Rough had been a schoolboy at Westminster with Southey in 1786-1792. His first book was Lorenzino di Medici, and Other Poems (1797). BACK

[4] Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). He attended Trinity College, Oxford 1793-1794, when Southey had been at Balliol. He had to leave after an altercation with some fellow students led him to fire a shotgun at the closed shutters of a window. BACK

[5] Southey had finished a version of Madoc in 1797-1799, but was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 3 times)
Rough, William (1772/3–1838) (mentioned 2 times)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Dublin (mentioned 2 times)
Balliol (mentioned 1 time)