876. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 December 1803

876. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 December 1803 ⁠* 


Tom – (you see my hand slipt down too soon after the address to the place for beginning the letter.) I have just received yours & regret that I did not write sooner upon a reasonable calculation that convoys are even more uncertain than packets. A letter per bottle, I see by the newspapers, thrown in on the way to the West Indies. – if I recollect right in Lat. 47 – has found its way by the Isle of Sky, having travelled five miles per day against prevalent winds – therefore a current is certain. [1]  I will send into town for the paper & send you the particulars if not in this in my next. do not spare bottles on your passage, & be sure that I have a letter from the Western Isles.

I hope you will received my last time enough to save Henry [2]  – for it will be seized at any English Custom House.

Of Edward & his Exeter friends & Exeter creditors I have heard nothing more. I also like you am vexed – perhaps more vexed than you, being more hopeless of the boy, & more convinced that there is some radical & incurable defect in his nature. that total want of all diffidence – of all shame which has been apparent in him even from his infancy, is to me something frightful & monstrous. it is as much a defect in moral organization as it is in the bodily frame to be born without head or feet, & God knows a thousand-fold worse in its consequences. No doubt he is returned to his infamous Aunt. you need be under no uneasiness for his immediate fate. but that such a boy can ever turn out well & occasion any thing but grief & shame to his relatives, or obtain any thing but sorrow & shame for himself is according to all my foresight utterly impossible.

For Gods sake adapt your mode of living to the climate you are going to, & abstain almost wholly from wine & spirits. General Peché, [3]  an East Indian Officer here, with whom we dined on Xmas day, told me that in India the officers who were looking out for preferment – as a majority &c. & who kept lists of all above them, always marked those who drank any spirits in a morning with a X & reckoned them for nothing. One day, said he, when we were about to march at day break, I & Capt Somebody were in my tent & we saw a German of our Regiment – so I said we’d try him. We calld to him – said it was a cold morning & asked him if he would drink a glass to warm him – I got him a full beaker of brandy & water & egod – he drank it off. when he was gone, I said – Well – what dy’e think? We may cross him, may’nt we? oh yes – said he – cross him by all means. And the German did not live twelve months. Spice is the stimulus given by nature to hot countries, & eaten in whatever quantities can do no harm. But the natives of all hot countries invariably abstain from spirits as deadly. eat fruits plentifully – provided they do not produce flux. animal food sparingly in the hot season – fish will be better than meat. do not venture to walk or ride in the heat of the sun, & do not be ashamed of a parasol – it has saved many a mans life. I am sure all this is very physical & philosophical sense. But I will desire King, who knows the West Indies to write out to you a letter of medical advice. this is certain that bilious people fare worst – & nervous people – for fear predisposes for disease. from those causes thank God you are safe.

Edith will go on with Madoc for you, & a letter full shall go off for Barbadoes this week. my last set you upon a wide field of inquiry. I know not what can be added, unless you should be at St Vincents, where the Caribs [4]  would be well worthy attention, making the same queries, of & to them as to the Negroes. of course there are no Spanish books except at the Spanish islands – Oh that I were at Mexico for a hunt there! – could you bring home a live alligator? a little one of course, from his hatching to six feet long – it would make both me & Carlisle quite happy, for he should have him. & pray – pray some live land crabs that they may breed, & any other monsters. birds lose their beauty, & I would not be accessory to the death of a humming bird for the sake of keeping his corpse in a cabinet. but with crocodiles, sharks & land crabs it is fair play – you catch them or they you. Your own eyes will do all that I could direct them. how unfortunate that neither of us can draw! I want drawings of the trees.

Thompson the friend of Burns; whose correspondence with him about songs fills the whole fourth volume – has applied to me to write him verses for Welsh airs. [5]  of course I have declined it – telling him that I could as soon sing his songs as write them & referring him to Harry whom he knows, for an estimate of that simily of disqualification. Still I am at reviewing – but ten days, thank God, will lighten me of that burthen & then huzza for history [6]  & huzza for Madoc [7]  for I shall be a free man again! – I have bought Pinkertons Geography [8]  after all – for the love of the maps, having none; it is a useful book & will save me trouble.

We shall not think of holding any part of St Domingo. [9]  what has been done can only have been for the sake of what plunder was to be found, & perhaps also to save the French army from the fate which they so justly deserved – God Almighty forbid that ever English hand be raised against the Negroes in that Island. poor wretches – I regard them as I do the hurricane & the pestilence, blind instruments of righteous retribution & divine justice; & sure I am that whatever hand be lifted against them will be withered. Of Spanish politics I can say nothing – nor give even a surmise. here at home we have the old story of invasion – my notion is that the newspaper editors set up God save the King in their offices, upon which the types naturally range themselves into a very alarming & loyal leading paragraph. Let him come, say I, it will be a fine thing for bell ringers & the tallow chandlers.

I trust this will reach you before your departure. write immediately on your arrival & afterwards by every packet – for any omission will make me uneasy. I will not be remiss on my part, & Madoc will furnish a pretty large cargo. I design to print it this summer & have already told my friend to procure me subscribers – but this is done rather to give me a satisfactory answer to them who say why do you not publish by subscription – than with any hopes of success.

God bless you. Ediths love.

– A happy new year & many returns! R S.

Dec. 31. 1803.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Galatea/ Cove of Cork/ or elsewhere./ Single.
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 244-248 [in part]. BACK

[1] It was widely reported in the press (e.g. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 26 December 1803) that a bottle thrown overboard on 9 September 1802 had been recovered on the Isle of Skye on 23 February 1803 BACK

[2] Robert Henry (1718-1790; DNB), The History of Great Britain, 6 vols (Dublin, 1789), no. 1316 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] John Peché (d. 1823), Major-General in the East India Company’s Army. BACK

[4] St Vincent was one of the few West Indian islands on which the native Carib people had been able to survive. BACK

[5] George Thomson (1757-1851; DNB), A Select Collection of Welsh Airs Adapted for the Voice, United to Characteristic English Poetry (1809-1817). The correspondence with Robert Burns (1759-1796; DNB) can be found in James Currie (1756-1805; DNB), The Works of Robert Burns: With an Account of His Life (1800). BACK

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

[7] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[8] John Pinkerton (1758-1826; DNB), Modern Geography (1802), no. 2333 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] The French army sent to re-conquer its colony of Haiti was being worn down by disease and defeat in 1803. The ex-slaves’ success at the Battle of Vertieres on 18 November 1803 paved the way for a formal declaration of Haiti’s independence on 1 January 1804. British forces in the West Indies had captured the French islands of St Lucia and Tobago, and intervention in Haiti seemed possible. BACK

People mentioned


JSON What's this?
As you're browsing RC, you might see small buttons scattered on various pages. These buttons let you download that page's content in a ready-to-use data file! Learn more on our RC Data page.