279. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 24 December 1797

279. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 24 December 1797 ⁠* 

London. 24 Dec. 1797.

I thank you for the letter & the extracts which it contained. they have their place among the notes, where old Edmond Howes makes a very respectable appearance. [1]  I have regretted that I did not extract his history of the fashions &c which he remembered; if you can find room in your trunk when you come to town & will stow the old book there, I should like to redeem this negligence. may we not expect soon to see you in London? the chance of seeing friends who live far away is the among the few advantages this detestable city offers. as yet I know not where you will find me, for we are about to quit our present situation. but you shall know our new situation as soon as we are settled in it, & should you come arrive before that, you may always learn at Johnsons. [2]  in the interim direct under cover to C W Williams Wynn No 5. Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn. he is now out of town for a few days, or the borough of Old Sarum should have saved you seven pence.

Warner [3]  got himself into a scrape at Bath by a foolish & false assertion from the pulpit respecting the death of poor Mary Godwin. he publicly acknowledged that he had been mistaken, & this ought to have satisfied every body. but when I left Bath, an anonymous pamphlet was expected against him, & it is rumoured (I know not with what truth) that Godwin himself means to notice the circumstance. I am sorry for all this. no person could have been more angry with Warner than I was, had I heard his sermon I would have contradicted him in the church, but his confession that he had been mistaken satisfied me & should have satisfied every body.

My book proceeds very slowly owing to the printers delay. this has in one view been advantageous to me, as the new knowledge I am constantly acquiring collateral to the subject, is not too late to be made use of. There is a Library in Red Cross Street, belonging to the Dissenters, from which by permission of Dr Towers, one of the Trustees, I am permitted to take what books I want. [4]  I have found considerable pleasure in disturbing the dust & the cobwebs, & have got much dirt there & much information.

I am now engaged in the poetical department of the Critical Review. nothing of mine has appeared yet, & the next number will only contain some articles in the Monthly Catalogue. I have mentioned this, as Mr Willis [5]  takes the Review, & you may perhaps feel inclined to see my criticisms. you would be astonished at the load of trash they send me.

Among my employment I must not forget the most important — Coke. [6]  I am obediently diligent in reading this mans commentaries — but I am not obedient enough to think it a good book for the young student. it is so compleatly unmethodical that I think it should only be read after a man was a tolerable lawyer. for my own part I find I know something of every thing, but have no arranged knowledge. it is like reading Wanleys Wonders [7]  or Sewards anecdotes [8]  to x learn history. I envy you who have done with these things, & often wish myself again at Burton. certainly I deem some regular employment necessary for most men — some professional study to fix them, but for myself I am so thoroughly fond of literary pursuits, that it is not by this principle I can reconcile myself to law. luckily there is a stronger motive, & unluckily that motive applies to me.

remember us to your Mother Rickman &c. & Miss Barnes. [9] 

God bless you.

Yrs truly

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ near Ringwood/ Hampshire
Stamped: HOLBORN
Postmark: ODE/ 25/ 97
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 156–157. BACK

[1] Southey used Edmund Howes (fl. 1602–1631; DNB), The Annales, or Generalle Chronicle of England, Begun First by Maister John Stow, and After Him Continued and Augmented with Matters Forreine and Domesticall unto the End of Yeare 1610, by E. H. (1611) in the notes to the second edition of his Joan of Arc, published in 1798. BACK

[2] The shop of the London publisher Joseph Johnson (1738–1809; DNB). BACK

[3] Richard Warner (1763–1857; DNB), antiquarian and officiating minister of St James’s, Bath. BACK

[4] Dr Williams’s Library, London, was established by a bequest from the dissenting minister, Daniel Williams (c. 1643–1716; DNB). The librarian was Joseph Towers (c. 1770–1831; DNB). BACK

[5] Unidentified, but probably a neighbour of Charles Biddlecombe’s. BACK

[6] Edward Coke (1552–1643; DNB), whose Commentarie upon Littleton (1628) was the first part of his four part Institutes of the Laws of England (1628–1644). BACK

[7] Nathaniel Wanley (1632/3–1680; DNB), The Wonders of the Little World, or, a General History of Man (1678), a compendium of human prodigies. BACK

[8] William Seward (1747–1799; DNB), Anecdotes of Some Distinguished Persons (1795–1797). BACK

[9] Perhaps connected to the Mrs Barnes (first name and dates unknown) whom Southey and his wife had lodged with earlier in 1797. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)