816. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 3 August 1803

816. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 3 August 1803 ⁠* 

Bristol, Aug. 3. 1803.

Dear Coleridge,

I meant to have written sooner; but those little units of interruption and preventions, which sum up to as ugly an aggregate as the items in a lawyer’s bill, have come in the way.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            Your plan [1]  is too good, too gigantic, quite beyond my powers. If you had my tolerable state of health, and that love of steady and productive employment which is now grown into a necessary habit with me, if you were to execute and would execute it, it would be, beyond all doubt, the most valuable work of any age or any country; but I cannot fill up such an outline. No man can better feel where he fails than I do; and to rely upon you for whole quartos! Dear Coleridge, the smile that comes with that thought is a very melancholy one; and if Edith saw me now, she would think my eyes were weak again, when, in truth, the humour that covers them springs from another cause.

For my own comfort, and credit, and peace of mind, I must have a plan which I know myself strong enough to execute. I can take author by author as they come in their series, and give his life and an account of his works quite as well as ever it has yet been done. I can write connecting paragraphs and chapters shortly and pertinently, in my way; and in this way the labour of all my associates can be more easily arranged.            .            .            .            .            .            .            And, after all, this is really nearer the actual design of what I purport by a bibliotheca than yours would be, – a book of reference, a work in which it may be seen what has been written upon every subject in the British language: this has elsewhere been done in the dictionary form; whatever we get better than that form – ponemus lucro. [2] 

The Welsh part, however, should be kept completely distinct, and form a volume, or half a volume, by itself; and this must be delayed till the last in publication, whatever it be in order, because it cannot be done till the whole of the Archaeology [3]  is printed, and by that time I will learn the language, and so, perhaps, will you. George Ellis is about it; I think that, with the help of Turner and Owen, and poor Williams, [4]  we could then do everything that ought to be done.

The first part, then, to be published is the Saxon; this Turner will execute, and to this you and William Taylor may probably both be able to add something from your stores of northern knowledge. The Saxon books all come in sequence chronologically; then the mode of arrangement should be by centuries, and the writers classed as poets, historians, &c, by centuries, or by reigns, which is better.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            Upon this plan the Schoolmen will come in the first volume.

The historical part of the theology, and the bibliographical, I shall probably execute myself, and you will do the philosophy. By the by, I have lately found the book of John Perrott [5]  the Quaker, who went to convert the Pope, containing all his epistles to the Romans, &c., written in the Inquisition at Rome; for they allowed him the privilege of writing, most likely because his stark madness amused them. This fellow (who turned rogue at last, wore a sword, and persecuted the Quakers in America to make them swear) made a schism in the society against George Fox, [6]  insisting that hats should be kept on in meeting during speaking, (has not this prevailed?) and that the Friends should not shave. His book is the most frantic I ever saw, quite Gilbertish; [7]  and the man acted up to it.       .       .       .

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. 220-223 [in part]. BACK

[1] Coleridge’s scheme for the ‘Bibliotheca Britannica’; see Coleridge to Southey [July 1803], E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956-1971), II, pp. 955-956. BACK

[2] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), Odes, Book 1, no. 9, line 14: ‘let’s count it as a gain’. BACK

[3] The Myvyrian Archaiology (1801-1807). The first two volumes had been published in 1801, but the third did not appear until 1807. BACK

[4] Edward Williams (1747-1826; DNB), Welsh poet and literary forger known as ‘Iolo Morganwg’. BACK

[5] John Perrot (d. 1665; DNB), Battering Rams against Rome (1661), no. 129 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] George Fox (1624-1691; DNB), founder of Quakerism. BACK

[7] In the manner of William Gilbert. BACK

People mentioned

Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 2 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Ellis, George (1753–1815) (mentioned 1 time)