3059. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 27 December 1817

3059. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 27 December 1817⁠* 

I was just about to send you the names of the Ship & Captain, when your second letter arrived; & I was also going to make enquiry concerning a box from of books from Milan, [1]  when tidings came that they were safely lodged in London.

This evening I have received a letter from your brother about the Latin poems, & have in consequence written to Longman to know if he will undertake the publication; in that case the impression will be forwarded to him without delay. So you may strike out the Oxford printers from the black list. [2] 

Perhaps the Lugano Gazette [3]  may not have given you the great news from the North which excites much more interest in me than any thing which is going on at present in the political world. The Greenlandmen last season got as far as 84, & saw no ice in any direction; – they were of opinion that if they could have ventured to make the experiment, they might have reached the pole without any obstruction of this kind. [4]  The coast of East Greenland, which had been blocked up for four or five centuries was open. It is believed that some great convulsion of nature has broken up the continent of ice which has during those centuries been accumulating; & it is certain that the unnatural cold winds which were experienced throughout the whole of May last from the S. & S.W. were occasioned by this ice floating into warmer latitudes. This effect is more likely to have been produced by volcanic eruptions than by earthquakes alone, – because for the last two years the fish have forsaken the Kamtschatkan [5]  coast, so that the Bears (xxxx ιχθυοφαξοι [6] ) tho at xxxx xxxxxxx) have been carrying on a civil war among themselves, & a war plus quam civile [7]  with the Russians. Earthquakes would not discompose their fish much, but they have a great objection to marine volcanoes. We are fitting out four ships for a voyage to the pole, & the N West passage. [8]  We shall have some curious facts about the needle, – possibly even our climate may be improved, – & trees will grow large enough for walking sticks in Iceland.

The Amusements of Como [9]  may very probably become the amusement of England ere long. – in that case the Knight will have a plenary absolution for all those offences which in old times were punished with brimstone; [10]  – the assassin will be as popular among our Liberals as Buonaparte [11]  – (why not?) & the other worthy will be a red letter Saint in the Morning Chronicle. [12]  – This I think a likely consequence from the death of the P. Charlotte. [13]  In the lamentation upon this subject there has been a great deal of fulsome canting, & not a little faction; – still among the better part & the better classes of society, there was a much deeper & more general grief than could have been expected or would easily be believed. Two or three persons have told me that in most houses which they entered in London the women were in tears

Tis not the public loss which hath imprest
This general grief upon the multitude
And made its way at once to every breast
The old, the young, the gentle & the rude; –
Tis not that in the hour which might have crown’d
The prayers preferrd by every honest tongue,
The very hour which should have sent around
Tidings where with all churches would have rung
And all our echoing streets have pealed with gladness,
And all our cities blazed with festal fire,
That then we saw the high-raised hope expire
And Englands expectation quenched in sadness.
This surely might have forced a sudden tear
Yet had we then thought only of the State,
Tomorrows sun which would have risen as fair,
Had seen upon our brows no cloud of care.
It is to think of what thou wert so late,
O thou who liest clay cold upon thy bier!
So young, & so beloved, so richly blest
Beyond the common lot of royalty, –
The object of thy worthy choice possest, –
The many thousand souls that prayed for thee
Hoping in thine a nations happiness,
And in thy youth, & in thy wedded bliss,
And in the genial bed, – the cradle drest,
Hope standing by, & Joy a bidden guest,
Tis this that from the heart of private life
Makes unsophisticated sorrows flow,
We mourn thee as a daughter & a wife
And in our human natures feel the blow. [14] 


Have you succeeded in getting sight of the aspide? [15]  In Cyprus they stand in such dread of this serpent that the reapers have bells fixed to their sides & their sickles, κουφι [16]  they call it there, – one traveller names it the asp, & another asks an veterum aspis? [17]  so I suppose it to be your neighbour. I do not know if your the venom of your serpent produces death (as some others do) by paralysing the heart, but it may be worth knowing that in that case the remedy is to take spirit of hartshorn [18]  in large doses, repeating them as long as the narcotic effect is perceived. A surgeon in India [19] xx saved himself in this manner by taking much larger doses than he could have prescribed to any other person, – because he understood his own sensations & proportioned the remedy accordingly. He took a tea spoonfull of the Spiritus Ammoniæ compositus [20]  in a Madeira glass-full of water, every five minutes for half an hour, & seven other such doses at longer intervals, (according to the symptoms) before he considered himself out of danger, – in the whole a wine glass full of the medicine. This is a very valuable fact, the medicine having lost its repute in such cases because it was always administered in insufficient doses. And so may St Abondio [21]  bless the prescription. I owe that saint a good turn for the delicious shelter that he afforded me in a hot-day. [22] 

God bless you


27. Dec. 1817.


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Como/ Italy/ <Como>
Postmarks: PAID/ 31 DE 31/ 1817; [partial] MIL
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 30. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 286–289 [in part; misdated 17 December 1817]. BACK

[1] The books Southey had sent Landor earlier in the year had now reached him, obviating the need to make further enquiry after them; the books that Southey had purchased in Milan on his continental tour of 1817 had now arrived in Britain. BACK

[2] Southey had asked Longman if they would be prepared to publish Landor’s Idyllia Nova Quinque Heroum atque Heroidum (1815), as Landor was deeply unhappy with Joseph Munday (c. 1773–1844), the Oxford bookseller, printer and publisher, and the edition he had produced in 1815. BACK

[3] Gazzetta di Lugano (1814–1821), a weekly liberal newspaper, widely read in Switzerland and northern Italy. BACK

[4] Reports of events in the Arctic were widespread in British newspapers, e.g. Morning Chronicle, 22 November 1817, which coincides closely with Southey’s information. BACK

[5] British newspapers had recently carried a number of extracts from Hamburg papers, e.g. Morning Chronicle, 8 December 1817. One of the extracts reported that in the Kamchatka peninsula ‘in the course of last winter an incredible number of bears have left the woods, frequently entered the houses of the Kamtschdales; in many places have attacked and devoured the inhabitants; nay traces have even been found of their having killed and devoured each other; at the end of the winter many bears were found who had perished of hunger. In several settlements they have killed from two to three hundred bears, the oldest Kamtschadales do not remember ever to have seen so many bears so savage and blood-thirsty. The cause of this savageness and of their hunger is, that for these two years past there has been an entire want of fish in the Kamschatka sea, and fish, as is well known, are the chief food of the bears, which being usually so abundant in those waters, they easily contrive to catch. A couple of shocks of an earthquake have been lately felt in the Peninsula.’ BACK

[6] ‘Fish eaters’ BACK

[7] ‘More than civil’. BACK

[8] Newspaper accounts (e.g. Morning Chronicle, 22 November 1817) reported that the Royal Society was pressing the government to mount an expedition to search for the North West passage and offering fishermen a bounty to explore the area. Two Royal Navy expeditions were made. In April 1818 one commanded by David Buchan (1780–1838; DNB) and John Franklin (1786–1847; DNB) explored the Arctic sea around Spitsbergen; another commanded by John Ross (1777–1856; DNB) sought a North West passage around Baffin Island. Neither was successful. BACK

[9] Landor had given Southey a rather confused account of the scandal concerning another expatriate resident of Como, the estranged wife of the Prince Regent, Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1768–1821; DNB), detailing the insolent behaviour of Bartolomeo Pergami (1783/4–1842), her major domo, with whom Caroline was rumoured to be having an affair. The Princess’s behaviour was the subject of much gossip and in 1820 the government unsuccessfully introduced a Bill of Pains and Penalties to dissolve her marriage. BACK

[10] In Genesis 19: 24, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God with ‘fire and brimstone’ for the sinfulness of their inhabitants. The sin primarily associated with Sodom in Christian traditions was homosexuality, so Southey is implying that one of Caroline’s attendants was homosexual. Again, this information is merely local gossip and it is not possible to identify this member of Caroline’s household. BACK

[11] The ‘assassin’ and the ‘other worthy’ were members of Princess Caroline’s household, but Landor’s account is too jumbled to identify them with certainty. Southey suggests they would become radical heroes as associates of Princess Caroline, who was popular with the opposition as an antagonist of the Prince Regent. Thus they would join Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815), another radical hero. BACK

[12] The Morning Chronicle (1769–1862) was a Whig daily newspaper opposed to the government. In medieval Catholic liturgical books the days sacred to important saints were printed in red letters. BACK

[13] Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, after 18 months of marriage, on 6 November 1817. Popular grief (and dislike of the Prince Regent) was increased by the belief that she had been ill-treated by her father in the past, and that news of her death had been kept by him from her mother, Princess Caroline. BACK

[14] These ‘Lines Written Upon the Death of the Princess Charlotte’ were not published until they appeared in The Amulet, or Christian and Literary Remembrancer (London, 1829), pp. 91–92. BACK

[15] Vipera asperis, a venomous species of viper, found in Italy. BACK

[16] ‘Deaf’. BACK

[17] ‘Is this the ancient asp?’ The former traveller is Alexander Drummond (1698–1769; DNB), Travels through the Different Countries of Germany, Italy, Greece, and Parts of Asia, as Far as the Euphrates, with an Account of what is Remarkable in their Present State and their Monuments of Antiquity (London, 1754), p. 143; the latter is the botanist, John Sibthorp (1758–1796; DNB), extracts from whose journal of his tour in Cyprus in 1787 were published in Robert Walpole (1781–1856), Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey, 2 vols (London, 1817–1820), I, p. 285; no. 3098 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. These are probably references to the Blunt-nosed viper, Macrovipera Lebetina, though, rather than Vipera asperis. BACK

[18] Ammonium carbonate, originally derived from shavings of the horns of red deer. It was much used as smelling salts to revive people who were feeling faint. BACK

[19] Dr John Macrae (dates unknown), a Surgeon of the East India Company at Chittagong, who reported he had cured himself of the effects of a cobra bite by this method on 12 May 1809; see Asiatick Researches; or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for Inquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature, of Asia, 11 (1810), 309–317; no. 77 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[20] Compound of spirit of ammonia, or hartshorn. BACK

[21] Saint Abundius (d. 469), Bishop of Como c. 448–469 and patron saint of the town. BACK

[22] Southey had visited the 11th century Basilica of Sant’Abbondio, Como on 19 June 1817, when he was staying in the town to visit Landor. Saint Abondius’s relics are preserved in the church. BACK