1156. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 February 1806

1156. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 February 1806 ⁠* 

Dear Harry –

I have taken some steps about your graduating expences – let me know what sum they require, & by what time, – & I will arrange matters with John May.

Wynn is made Under Secretary of State in the Home Office, which introduces him to public business in the pleasantest manner possible, & gives him 1500£ a year. I am in a fair way of getting whichever of the two situations I want shall first be vacated; – of course you will say nothing of this to any person whatever. it is asked for me, & I have the interest of Lord & Lady Holland besides, who have both promised to second the application. – Another good thing from this change is that my Uncle is very likely to get something – tho unluckily it must be in the very worst country in Europe. And I do not think it impossible that Tom may be benefitted thro James Losh, to whom I think of writing in his behalf. [1]  The Devil has not often done so good a job as when he took his majestys minister to himself. [2] 

There is no saying where Syphilis first appeared, because it was not noticed till it became alarmingly general. [3]  There were no medical journals in those days, & no histories of singular cases. The disease excited no attention till it was spread over Europe after the siege of Naples. [4]  Roscoe you may see thinks Charles had it himself on the way there. [5]  Bernal Diaz may very likely mention the Bubas – but I not caring about the subject when I read his work, have no references to it, & the book is at Bristol. [6]  The late translation would probably have the passage, if it be worth looking after. [7] 

I knew a Mr Browne [8]  at Lisbon very slightly, but do not conceive that he has left the place, for he was in business there.

The account which you give of your health is but an unpleasant one. take care of yourself, & remember that we have all of us more chance of consumption than a good estate. I shall be glad to hear that you are better.

My eyes are troublesome, tho the disorder every time it returns abates in strength. I have for this fortnight past been obliged to go to cards for the sake of sparing them, & in the course of that time have given Mrs Coleridge some severe bastings. But last night she invited me to such a baste as perhaps never was equalled in the history of Quadrille. Had it not been for me who made the called [sic] King, & by leading another of the same suit enabled her to make a little trump, there would have been a vote against us. She must never laughx at you again – I told her you should hear of it.

My reviewing will be finished on Monday week next, after which I shall never review again, except it be a chance article as a volunteer. this is a great comfort. Next winter I shall be in Portugal, & whether I be there in an official situation or not – my employment will be the same. My anxiety is to finish the work, as for printing it that will be a pleasure but it would be still pleasanter to have good reasons for delay. [9]  Don Manuel [10]  will occupy the a month after the review-work is over, & then I go to London meaning to be absent from home six weeks, one of them at Norwich, unless Wm Taylor should be in London. It is very long since I have heard from him.

I sent the MS. to Walter Scott last week, [11]  & by post apprized him of it. In my letter I spoke a good word for Duppas book, which will I suppose soon be published. [12]  – James Grahames is the last book which I have reviewed; [13]  it is certainly of very high merit, tho full of faults, or rather faulty throughout in diction & arrangement, – but he has the true heart & soul of a poet. If you are in the habit of seeing him tell him that somebody should do for the Cameronians what Walter Scott has done for the Borderers, – the subject matter is better inasmuch as liberty of conscience is nobler than cow-stealing. [14]  I cannot conceive finer or nobler matter for poetry than their intrepid & unconquerable heroism affords – Were I a Scotchman these are the countrymen of whom I should be proud. Malcolm Laings history of that period is one of the most provoking books which I have ever read. [15]  The He gives you the spirit of the things instead of the things themselves – & you get an opinion from his book without an[y] of the specific facts whereon it should be founded.

The young one gets on more rapidly with her tongue than you would conceive. no letters from Tom by the last packet – the ship was probably cruising.

God bless you


Feby 11. 1806. –


* Address: To/ H. H. Southey Esqr/ to be left at Mr Guthrie’s. Bookseller/ Nicholson Street/ Edinburgh./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FEB/ 1806/ 11
Endorsement: 1806
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d.3. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey expected that his friend James Losh would be able to influence Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB) on his brother Tom’s behalf, as he had been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in the new administration. Losh and Grey were friends based on their common interests as residents of Northumberland, members of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, and a shared concern to bring about parliamentary reform. BACK

[2] Southey is referring to William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), the Prime Minister, whose second term of office ended with his death on 23 January 1806. BACK

[3] Henry Southey was soliciting information from his brother for his university dissertation to graduate as MD. This was on the origins and course of syphilis, in which he suggested an American origin for the disease. BACK

[4] In 1495 French forces under Charles VIII (1470–1498), occupied Naples. Some sixteenth century writers argued that these troops spread the disease, which had recently reached Italy on ships returning from America. BACK

[5] Roscoe, in a footnote to p. 162 of volume 1 of The Life and Pontificate of Pope Leo X, 4 vols (Liverpool, 1805), attributes the origin of the syphilis epidemic to Charles VIII’s licentiousness. BACK

[6] Southey owned a copy of the first edition of Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492–1585), Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva Espana (1632). Díaz describes how the Aztecs were devastated by an epidemic disease, thus rendering them vulnerable to conquest by Cortes and his men. The disease is usually thought to have been smallpox. BACK

[7] Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The True History of the Conquest of Mexico (1800), trans. Maurice Keating (d. 1835). BACK

[8] A Lisbon merchant. Dates unknown. BACK

[9] Southey’s plans to return to Portugal to finish his ‘History of Portugal’ did not materialise and his work remained unfinished. BACK

[10] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[11] See Southey to Walter Scott, 4 February 1806, Letter 1152. Southey had been sent a manuscript volume containing rare medieval metrical romances belonging to a Mrs Sherbrook (first name and dates unknown), and was consulting Scott on the possibilities of its publication on her behalf; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 January 1806, Letter 1146. BACK

[12] Richard Duppa, The Life and Literary Works of Michael Angelo Buonarotti, with his Poetry and Letters (1806). Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 411–425. BACK

[13] Southey reviewed James Grahame (1765–1811; DNB), The Sabbath (1805), in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 588–591. BACK

[14] The Cameronians were followers of Richard Cameron (d. 1680), who in 1666 separated from the Scottish Presbyterian church, holding religious assemblies in fields, after his tradition of preaching. In 1680 they rejected the authority of Charles II (1630–1685, King of England, Scotland and Ireland 1660–1685; DNB), declaring war on him as a tyrant and usurper, which led to Cameron’s capture and execution. The Borderers, or Reivers who inhabited the land on either side of the Scottish-English border, engaged in lawless activities such as cattle-rustling. BACK

[15] Malcolm Laing (1762–1818; DNB), was a Scottish advocate and historian, who published The History of Scotland, from the Union of the Crowns on the Accession of King James VI to the Throne of England, to the Union of the Kingdoms in the Reign of Queen Anne, with Two Dissertations, Historical and Critical, on the Gowrie Conspiracy, and on the Supposed Authenticity of Ossian’s Poems in 1800. BACK