2987. Robert Southey to William Wordsworth [fragment], [begun before and continued on] 5-8 May [1817]

2987. Robert Southey to William Wordsworth [fragment], [begun before and continued on] 5–8 May [1817]⁠* 

My dear Wordsworth

This morning I have seen Morgan. Coleridge wrote me a note requesting that I would appoint a time for seeing him (S.T.C.) & came accordingly on Tuesday morning: [1]  – he arrived before any person but myself had come down stairs, & finding me alone began immediately – a discussion upon Animal Magnetism. When he went away he said he should go into the North with me when I returned.

Some eight weeks ago when I wrote to him, [2]  I asked him to come to Cumberland. I have done many foolish things in my life, & this was one of them, – but there is yet time for repairing it. – I gather from Morgan that Gilman [3]  has not fallen in love with C. & been ‘bewitched by his tongue’ as M. expresses it – but that he is speculating upon him & hoping to ride upon his reputation into notoriety & practice: that C. is engaged to pay five guineas per week to him, – that all the money which C has had in various ways (amounting to a considerable sum) has gone in this way – that C. is largely in debt to him. – that his habits of opium-taking are the xxxx xx cost, & that if he goes away without paying the apothecary which M. supposes he intends to do, the Apothecary will arrest him. Now if C. is to be pursued by bailiffs, they had better find him anywhere than at Keswick. – His habits of opium are as bad as ever & he has turned his back upon the Morgans, – after all the unexampled sacrifices personal & pecuniary which they have made for him – & this has manifestly cut Morgan to the heart. – What they tell me of Hartley during his stay at Calne, is to the last degree unfavourable & ominous.

All this will rather grieve than surprize you. And you will not be much surprized to hear in the present flagitious state of the press that some person has printed in the Examiner an account of Coleridges conversation respecting me in a Coffee House at Bristol! [4] Morgan believes that it came from Elton. [5] Hazlitt is said to be in a deplorable state of health, – & Hunt with all his family is on a visit to – Shelley, – & in a fair way of becoming as infamous in his domestic conduct. [6] 

Monday 5 May. I have seen yesterdays Examiner, – Hazlitts scurrility is so drest up that it xxxx all who are capable of understanding it must needs loath it, – to the ignorant it is almost as unintelligible as Coleridge’s philosophy. [7]  But there is a rich panegyric by Hunt upon Paganism in opposition to Xtianity, as the religion of ‘the Loves & Luxuries’ [8]  & these fellows are making proper use of the rope which is given them.

My Billet Doux [9]  has done its work effectually. I went to the dinner of the R Academy [10]  that I might meet my correspondent face to face, & examine his forehead. [11]  The dose has been bitter but he has swallowed it, & as Wynn tells me, has given up his intention of making any reply, I have had two letters of abuse, – one of compliments, – & congratulations from all my friends & acquaintances But nothing has pleased me better than the hearty expression of Mrs Piozzi in a letter to one of her acquaintance ‘Oh how glad I am to see him trample upon his enemies.’ [12] 

Today I am to meet your brother at Sir G.B’s. Friday we start. Stoddart spoilt the sale of my letter by printing the whole except three pages in his paper. [13]  I hope you received it in an Admiralty frank – nearly 2000 have sold, & Murray thinks more will still be called for. but if Stoddart had not thus given the public three dozen oysters by way of a whet, many thousands would have been called for.


Thursday. 8 May.

You see by the hurried manner of this letter at what scraps of time I write. I have seen Haydon & his picture, [14]  & am much taken with both. – I have determined upon purchasing the house &c – & John May will write to you about it when all the previous arrangements are made. [15]  We start tomorrow but get no farther than Chatham where Pasley will give us a sup & a dinner & beds. [16]  I am abundantly provided with directions, books, letters &c. – it is not true that I was in the Gallery when the Slander Smith received a wipe from Peel: – I was at Sir Georges at the time. He turned pale as a whited wall (a dirty one) when the sore subject was touched on. [17]  You will see that he has declared his intention of taking the dose quietly. [18]  And you will be glad to see that Cannings defence has been as compleat as mine. It is said that no speech is ever rememberd to have produced such an effect in the house. [19] 

Remember me to all your household. I shall think of you often upon my way & of our own Lakes & Mountains.

[MS missing]


* Address: To Wm Wordsworth Esqre/ Rydal Mount/ Ambleside/ Kendal
Postmark: [partial] Y/ 17
Seal: red wax; removed
MS: Wordsworth Trust, WL MS A Southey 6. AL; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 155–157.
Dating note: The letter was begun between 30 April and 4 May 1817; probably after 30 April as Coleridge’s visit of 29 April is referred to as ‘Tuesday morning’ and not ‘yesterday’. BACK

[1] i.e. Tuesday 29 April 1817. BACK

[2] Southey’s letter appears not to have survived. BACK

[3] James Gillman (1782–1839) and his wife Anne (1779–1860) had taken Coleridge into their house in Highgate in 1816; he would continue living there, under their supervision, until his death. BACK

[4] The offending article, ‘Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey’, Examiner, 484 (6 April 1817), 211, was a riposte to Coleridge’s Courier writings in defence of the beleaguered Poet Laureate. It reported how ‘on a visit to Bristol … publicly, before several strangers, and in the midst of a public library, … [Coleridge turned] into the most merciless ridicule “The dear Friend” whom he now calls Southey the philologist – Southey the historian – Southey the poet of the Thalaba, the Madoc, and the Roderic! Mr. Coleridge recited an Ode of his dear Friend, in the hearing of these persons, with a tone and manner of the most contemptuous burlesque, and accused him of having stolen from Wordsworth images which he knew not how to use … after this disgusting display of egotism and malignity, he observed, “Poor fellow, he may be a Reviewer, but Heaven bless the man if he thinks himself a Poet”’. BACK

[5] The poet, translator, theologian and occasional reviewer for the Quarterly Review, Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853; DNB). Elton, like Southey, was Bristol-born. BACK

[6] In 1814 Shelley had left his first wife, Harriet (1795–1816; DNB) for Mary Godwin (1797–1851; DNB) and then travelled to Switzerland with her and her step-sister Clara Mary Jane Clairmont (1798–1879; DNB). Or, as Southey, more elegantly told John May, 1 August 1817, (Letter 3005): ‘Shelley … left his wife (to drown herself) & lived with two of Godwin’s daughters’. Hunt had a scandalous secret, which Southey knew about. Hunt and his sister-in-law Elizabeth Kent (1790–1861; DNB) were in love with each other and Kent had, in consequence, tried to drown herself in Hampstead pond in February 1817. BACK

[7] Examiner, 488 (4 May 1817), 284–287, published the first of three essays by Hazlitt triggered by Southey’s A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[8] Examiner, 488 (4 May 1817), 275, argued that Paganism ‘dealt in loves and luxuries, in what resulted from the first laws of nature, and tended to keep humanity alive’, whilst Christianity ‘dealt in angry debates, in intolerance, in gloomy denouncements, in persecutions, in excommunications, in wars and massacres, in what perplexes, outrages, and destroys humanity’. BACK

[9] An ironic description of Southey’s A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817), which was anything but a love letter. BACK

[10] The Royal Academy’s Anniversary Dinner on 3 May 1817; Southey was invited as Poet Laureate. BACK

[11] Southey had threatened to brand Smith on the forehead with ‘the name of SLANDERER’; see A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (London, 1817), p. 28. BACK

[12] Southey had been shown a manuscript letter of 29 April 1817 from Hester Thrale Piozzi (1741–1821; DNB) to Reynold Davies (1752–1820), Herbert Hill’s Curate at Streatham. In it, Piozzi declared ‘To The Amusement of the Literary World, our Laureate has contributed by his Spirited Letter, admired by People of all Opinions; because if they accuse his Poetry of Mistiness or Mysticism – his Prose has been so clear and explicit – nor can his Meaning be mistaken: – Oh I am so glad to see him trample down his Enemies!’, The Piozzi Letters: Correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi (formerly Mrs Thrale), eds Edward A. Bloom and Lillian D. Bloom, 6 vols (Cranbury NJ and London, 1989–2002), VI, p. 87. BACK

[13] John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB) reprinted large sections of A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. in the pro-ministerial New Times, which he edited. BACK

[14] The painting was Haydon’s Christ’s Entry Into Jerusalem, which he worked on between 1814–1820. It included a portrait head of Wordsworth. BACK

[15] Greta Hall was about to be put on the market, owing to the bankruptcy of its owner. BACK

[16] Southey was beginning his second tour of the continent in two years with a visit to Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), whose Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810) he admired. Pasley, an officer in the Royal Engineers and expert on siege warfare, was Director of the School of Military Fieldworks at Chatham. BACK

[17] In the debate in the House of Commons on 5 May 1817 on the Report of the Finance Committee, Peel had responded to an intervention of William Smith’s with the riposte that he ‘was not a little surprised, upon a question of consistency, to hear a gentleman speak who a few days ago had most unjustifiably brought a charge of the same kind against a private individual, founded merely upon an anonymous publication. It was singular, too, that he should be the man to complain of the use of coarse epithets, when he had himself branded the same individual, who had no means of personal vindication, as guilty of the basest and most corrupt inconsistency’. BACK

[18] In a House of Commons debate on 7 May 1817 on a case of potential breach of privilege, Smith had said: ‘he had always considered it to be a kind of duty in every member to withhold himself from defence out of doors of any expressions he might have used within. On that duty he had acted strictly and bona fide.’ This might be interpreted as a declaration by Smith that he would not respond to Southey’s A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. BACK

[19] The opposition had moved a vote of censure on 6 May 1817 concerning the costs of Canning’s role as Ambassador to Portugal in 1814–1815. He had defended himself robustly and the opposition’s motion was lost by 270–96 votes. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)