1723. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, [started before and continued on] 22 December 1809

1723. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, [started before and continued on] 22 December 1809 ⁠* 

The box arrived last night in a deplorable condition, broken to pieces, & held together only by one cross cord. I hope & believe nothing is lost, – the Noticias [1]  is not there, – you talked of sending it, – I do not however think it could have slipt out, – the box appearing full, – & I do not want it.

Pople’s promise to you was too outrageous to be credible, – Printers are as bad as ministers in these things. I have had but one proof as yet of the last chapter, [2]  & it will fill seven or eight. The notes for the first 400 pages are in his hands.

Kehama [3]  goes to Edinburgh by the next carrier, – that is to say the first quarto of it. Tell my Aunt xxxx I have devised means of sending it to her sheet by sheet, in the hope that being read in this way it may have some thing of the sweetness of stolen waters & bread eaten in secret. I will get Sharp to receive it in London & frank it on. Wynn is not stationary,–& my two Emperors of the Franks, [4]  the Speaker & Perceval, are got at thro second covers which one cannot trust to a Printer to remember.

This ponderous life of Nelson is consigned to me for the Quarterly, Gifford offers me twenty guineas per sheet to review it, & hopes I will fill three sheets. [5]  You will think it somewhat curious to offer me this sum when they know that just half would have satisfied me, & the thing have been done as well. The meaning I take to be this, that it to their interest to give this price for the sake of saying they give it, – it being the humour of our countrymen to appreciate every thing by its market-rate & not its intrinsic value.

You probably remember an absurd set of queries sent by Stanier Clarke [6]  to his booksellers, & by them forwarded to me at Lisbon. I am sorry that they were applied to the base purpose for which only they were fit, xxx <now that> this Arch Ignoramus by dint of impudent quackery has made himself so conspicuous. The Nelson papers he obtained by mere importunity, after he had proved himself a blockhead by his history of Maritime Discovery. That history came under my lash in the Annual, being without exception the worst book in proportion to its pretensions that I have ever seen. [7]  He revenged himself by abusing Madoc in the Monthly; [8]  – my reviewal was known by its reference to Portugueze authorities, his by his leaden seal of dullness. Gifford requests me to chastise him for laying unhallowed hands on such a subject as the Life of Nelson. It is a sort of national disgrace, – for the book has been in a stile of splendour to give it the appearance of a national work.

I got yesterday in a box from Bristol among a few other books from a provincial Catalogue a vol. of miscellanies by your old schoolmaster Collins, [9]  blackguard enough in some parts, & bad enough in all. I find my old school master Williams lampooned there, [10]  – & one anecdote worthy of preservation, – that there were Jacobites some threescore years ago who would not take K William’s half-pence. [11]  Williams when he had a glass or two in his head, used to warm into good nature, & tell stories, in school, – I remember one of this very Collins, – that in mending or making the road his garden wall had been thrown down: – he complained to the surveyors, & they told him it was not worth complaining of, for it was but an old wall. True Gentleman, said he, but it served my purpose as well as a new one, – however I shall have no objection to your putting me a second-hand wall in its place – Is there not a volume in the College Green by this man called Hell Gates Open to all Men? [12] 

I have just looked enough at your papers to be astonished at the time & labour which they must have xx cost you. The box came when I had a sick head-ache, a complaint to which ever since my return from Lisbon I have been about as subject as you are, but in a less violent degree. The effects are not yet gone off owing to the tremendous storm last night which prevented me from sleeping, – so that head-ache has made me idle away the day, – & this letter is one of the fruits of idleness.

I shall visit you more conveniently at Streatham than at Staunton, & you will be at hand to give an eye to the Catalogues, – these are the conveniences which reconcile me to your change of residence. – that & the neighbourhood to Mrs Gonne whom I verily believe to be one of the sweetest women that ever God made. If you settle yourself there in the summer I shall probably make you a visit towards the close of autumn, having my town-bed at Rickmans, when I dine in London.


Dec. 22.

D’Anville’s paper [13]  communicates but little information, – the comment is of more value, & the maps might probably be improved from it, if your Professors hand were not such as to defy all attempts at deciphering his proper names, when they happen to be new ones. I wish the Papel Forte [14]  had reached me sooner. it should in three or four instances have been quoted in some of the latter chapters. [15] 

My Preface will be very short – in the form of an advertisement, chiefly to say that I am in possession of numerous MSS – documents, – & that an account of all the materials will be given in an appendix. The regular Preface must be reserved for the Hist. of the Mother Country. – I think of giving a list of the few books which I want; – it will be very likely to procure some of them.

Tom has got for me the American Madoc which was published in numbers at Boston. [16] 

There is nothing amiss in the Life of Nelson, except its being called a Life, for it consists of almost wholly of extracts from his Letters & Journals, given to such an extent & in themselves so minute, that it would have been far better to have called the book the Nelson Papers, & added the little xx original matter as notes & brief introductions – in short, xx xxxx for Mr Clarke & his coadjutor to have been Editors & not authors. As a collection of documents it is valuable, – but certainly as a Life too bulky & in nine parts out of ten too minute to be read upon unimportant subjects to be read.

Ld Grenville ought not to have been Chancellor, – but they look to him as X soon to be x minister & maker of Bishops Deans & Chapters. [17]  The Catholick question provokes me from its absurdity, – I think you will be pleased to see how I have exposed it in the Register. [18] 

Have you seen that a party are travelling from the Cape to Mozambique, xx xxx to explore the country? [19]  they are said to have found wild camels. the first, I believe that have been seen wild.



* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Staunton upon Wye/ Hereford/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Unclear. Southey several times refers in his History of Brazil to the Noticias do Brazil manuscript as a valuable source (e.g. I, p. 312). The sale catalogue of Southey’s library records that he came to own a manuscript that had been Hill’s: ‘Noticias do Lago Xarayes’ bound in with other miscellaneous manuscripts in one volume (no. 3849). BACK

[2] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil, printed by Pople and published in 1810. BACK

[3] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[4] Southey’s jokey term for his friends who had power to frank mail on his behalf. BACK

[5] Southey’s review of John Charnock (1756–1806; DNB), Biographical Memoirs of Lord Viscount Nelson, &c., &c., &c.; with Observations, Critical and Explanatory (1806); James Harrison (d. 1847), The Life of Lord Nelson (1806); T. O. Churchill (fl. 1800–1823), The Life of Lord Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronté, &c (1808); and James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB) and John McArthur (1755–1840; DNB), The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, K.B. from his Lordship’s Manuscripts (1809), in the Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. It was later expanded into a full-scale Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[6] See note 5. BACK

[7] Southey reviewed Clarke’s The Progress of Maritime Discovery, from the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, Forming an Extensive System of Hydrography (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 12–20. BACK

[8] It was actually John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB) who reviewed Madoc (1805) in the Monthly Review, 48 (October 1805), 113–122. BACK

[9] Emanuel Collins (dates unknown), Miscellanies: in Prose and Verse (1762). Collins was a clergyman who kept a school in Shannon Court, Corn St, Bristol. BACK

[10] William Williams (dates unknown), the Welsh schoolmaster who taught Southey in Bedminster, Bristol. Possibly in the poem ‘A Modern Encouragement to Learning’, Collins, Miscellanies: in Prose and Verse (Bristol, 1762), pp. 11–13. BACK

[11] Collins, Miscellanies: in Prose and Verse (Bristol, 1762), pp. 25–27. BACK

[12] Hell-Gates Open to All Men: or, An Invitation to Persons of Every Age, Sex and Quality, to a Residence in the Infernal Regions. By Lucifer (1751). BACK

[13] Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697–1782), geographer and cartographer, who was appointed ‘géographe du roi’ to King Louis XV (1710–1774). His manuscripts, housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, remain largely unstudied. BACK

[14] The Jesuit missionary, diplomat and writer Antonio Vieira (1608–1697) published Papel Forte in 1648 urging the cession of Pernambuco to the Dutch as the only means of obtaining peace in the war between Portugal and the Netherlands of 1634–1654. BACK

[15] Southey is referring to his History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[16] Madoc: A Poem was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1806. BACK

[17] Oxford University had elected Lord Grenville as its chancellor hoping that he would, if he became the next Prime Minister, use his powers to grant clerical preferment to fellows of the university. BACK

[18] For Southey’s anti-emancipation views see the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), especially 131–133. BACK

[19] Dr Alexander Cowan (dates unknown) and Lieutenant E. D. Donovan (dates unknown) were sent on an expedition by the British Governor of the South African Cape Colony to the Portugueze settlement at Mozambique on the eastern coast. They left Capetown in September 1808 and reached the Molopo River (between South Africa and Botswana) by 24 December 1809, after which nothing further was heard of them. It is believed they died of malaria in the Limpopo valley, where the remains of what may have been their expedition were found in the 1850s. BACK

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)
Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)