1696. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 18 October 1809

1696. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 18 October 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

I forgot to answer your question about Herberts feet, – he has quite out grown the defect, whatever it was, & walks as well as can be. You know my ingenuity for inventing causes for kissing, – I have lately struck out one in addition to all the others which I hope will meet your approbation, – after the Fathership & Son ship & all the other ships have been exhausted, there now comes a kiss for that good Ship the Dreadnought where Uncle Tom lives. [1]  I hope also you will approve of a description of the water at Lodore, made originally for Edith & greatly admired by Herbert. in my mind it surpasses any that the Tourists have yet printed. Thus it runs – ‘Tell the people how the water comes down at Lodore! – Why it comes thundering & floundering, & thumping & flumping & bumping & jumping, & hissing & whizzing, & dripping & skipping, & grumbling & rumbling <& tumbling>, & falling & brawling, & dashing <& clashing> & splashing, & pouring & roaring, & whirling & curling, & leaping & creeping, & sounding & bounding, & clattering & shattering, with a dreadful uproar, – & that way the water comes down at Lodore. [2] 


I begin to be somewhat uneasy at not having heard from you for so long time – Your last is of Aug 31st seven weeks ago, – old enough for a creole letter. My late letters told you of new employments – which I am sure would interest you, & to which – as they asked for specific matter of information to my purpose, I am sure you would have replied. There must be some of your answers kicking to windward, – or perhaps picked up by a French privateer.

Last night the first sheet of the Register came for to be corrected. [3]  Ballantyne requests some half dozen passages to be expunged, or softened, – & this being done there remains a bolder chapter of contemporary history than any body else would have produced. It is like Mr Southeys strong beer, wholesome, strong & stingo. [4]  I have written out the castrations fairly to be inserted in my own copy, & rise up in judgement for me hereafter.

I half suspect that my second Chapter which goes off by this nights post will frighten the Scotchmen, for I have laid down therein my principles about tyrannicide, & the necessity of carrying on the war personally against Bonaparte, that is to say, proclaiming that we are at any time ready to make peace with France, but never while he retains his power, nor under any circumstances with him.

You had a book of Kehama [5]  sent off about a fortnight ago, – the poem still remains unfinished, which is more Berthas fault than mine – for I require eight hours sleep, & if she wakes me at five & keeps me waking till six, – it does not do then to begin my days work at seven. However I am very near the end – Kalyal is down at the gates of Padalon. I am transcribing for the Press, & you will find the first sections materially improved by numberless little alterations. You objected to the falling <shooting> star, [6]  – it is perfectly allowable to use popular language for popular purposes, – for instance the Sun is constantly spoken of in poetry as moving, – this must be the case done, because it is the business of poetry to represent things as they appear. The passage in question is not worth a defence, & will most likely be altered, – but the principle is not faulty. The rhyme to which your Admirals objects [7]  did not offend my ear, or it would not have been there, – but I dare say something may be substituted which will not offend his, & xx when there is no reason for retaining an expression, it is reason enough for its rejection if any body dislikes it.

The Times is sent me now to be filed for the Register, – so we have two papers instead of one. Both side strongly with Ld Castlereagh against Canning. I do not see any thing in the business which concerns the public, except the gross indecency of two Cabinet ministers fighting a duel, & thereby setting an example of breaking the laws. [8]  It remains to be seen what part M Wellesley will take, – unless he joins the administration it seems hardly possible that they can stand; – & the misery is that where you will you can find no better, – bad as they are they are not bad as Whitbread [9]  & Earl Grey [10]  & the peace mongers. The danger is that they will make peace for the sake of a temporary popularity.

I have been trying to get you promoted, with little hope of success, – yet it was best to try. Wynn urged me to do so, – & this I am glad of, because it is sufficient proof that he will do what he can for x us himself whenever he comes in again, – an event fully to be expected whenever the King dies: [11]  Accordingly I have written to Sir G Beaumont requesting his interest with Ld Mulgrave, [12]  – with whom he is very intimate. There is the double probability of his making an excuse <to me>, & of Ld M’s making one to him, – however I have tried, – & if nothing comes of it there is no other harm done than that I shall have asked a favour without obtaining it. They are afraid to take Ld Melville [13]  in, or I should then have a better chance thro W Scott, who I am sure has very sincere wish to do any thing which could be of use to me.

I want you ashore here, – the boat is not well manned, & here are more books to be gilt. The first summer that you are [? adrift] let loose I have made up my mind to a six weeks journey in Scotland, – which will not be very expensive to us, because we will go Duking, carry half a knapsack full of letters, & live at free quarters wherever they are to be had.

Pople is rather slow in his progress. 488 pages are printed, & to my sorrow the volume will run close upon 700, – tho I should postpone the bibliologs to the xx end of the work. [14] 

How is that your Admiral does not get the Quarterly, – his brothers name was in the last which was sent me confidentially of the expected helpmates therein. [15]  Have you yet had your numbers? unless you get them sooner by ordering them yourself, you had better let me send them, xx instead of the old Annual. My reason for not having so done was a supposition that you would get them from Plymouth as regularly as xx xx <Steels> List [16]  – which is I know as regular a part of a sailor[s] pocket furniture as his pocket handkerchief.

God bless you


Oct 18. 1809.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock
Endorsement: Capt Southey/ Lyra
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; PLYMOUTH DOCK/ 220
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927, fols 158–159. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 168–171. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey’s ship HMS Dreadnought was the flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[2] Southey published this poem as ‘The Cataract of Lodore’ in Joanna Baillie’s (1762–1851; DNB) anthology, Poems, Chiefly Manuscript, and from Living Authors (London, 1823), pp. 280–283. BACK

[3] From 1810 to 1812 Southey contributed to the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810 in James Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[4] Meaning sharp or strong liquor. BACK

[5] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. BACK

[6] The phrase ‘falling meteor’ appears in The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 7 ‘The Swerga’, line 109. BACK

[7] See note 1. BACK

[8] George Canning had held the office of Foreign Secretary in the government since 1807, but he threatened to resign several times in 1809 over the progress of the war with France. His disputes with Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (1769–1822; DNB) led to a plan to expel Castlereagh from the War Office, and when Castlereagh discovered the plan he challenged Canning to a duel. This took place on 21 September 1809, and though both men survived, but there was much public outrage over their behaviour. BACK

[9] Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB), brewer, Whig politician and advocate of a negotiated peace with Napoleon. BACK

[10] Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB), Prime Minister 1830–1834 and leading Whig. BACK

[11] George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[12] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): First Lord of the Admiralty from 1807; diplomatist and politician. For the letter to Beaumont, see Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 12 October 1809, Letter 1692. BACK

[13] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. From 1802–1805 Melville’s use of public funds when Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was investigated by a Royal Commission. On 9 April 1805 Melville was censured in the House of Commons for allowing the misuse of public funds. He resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him, but he was cleared of nearly all the charges in June 1806. Melville did not hold a government position again. BACK

[14] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810). BACK

[15] See note 1. BACK

[16] David Steel (d. c. 1810) produced many updates of his ‘navy list’ including monthly and quarterly versions, but the most extensive publication of it in 1809 was the nineteen-volume Steel’s Original and Correct List of the Royal Navy (1782–1809). BACK

Places mentioned

Lodore (mentioned 2 times)