951. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 11 June 1804

951. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 11 June 1804 ⁠* 

June 11. 1804, Keswick.

Dear Coleridge,

The first news of you was from Lamb’s letter, which arrived when I was in London. I saw, also, your letter to Stuart, and heard of one to Tobin, before I returned and found my own. Ere this you are at Malta. What an infectious thing is irregularity! Merely because it was uncertain when a letter could set off, I have always yielded to the immediate pressure of other employment; whereas, had there been a day fixed for the mail, to have written would then have been a fixed business, and performed like an engagement.

All are well – Sara and Sariola, Moses and Justiculus, Edith and the Edithling. Mary is better.

I was worn to the very bone by fatigue in London, – more walking in one day than I usually take in a month; more waste of breath in talking than serves for three months’ consumption in the country; add to this a most abominable cold, affecting chest, head, eyes, and nose. It was impossible to see half the persons whom I wished to see, and ought to have seen, without prolonging my stay to an inconvenient time, and an unreasonable length of absence from home. I called upon Sir George unsuccessfully, and received a note that evening, saying he would be at home the following morning; then I saw him, and his lady, and his pictures, and afterwards met him the same day at dinner at Davy’s. As he immediately left town, this was all our intercourse; and, as it is not likely that he will visit the Lakes this year, probably will be all.

I went into the Exhibition merely to see your picture, which perfectly provoked me. Hazlitt’s does look as if you were on your trial, and certainly had stolen the horse; but then you did it cleverly, – it had been a deep, well-laid scheme, and it was no fault of yours that you had been detected. But this portrait by Northcote looks like a grinning idiot; and the worst is, that it is just like enough to pass for a good likeness, with those who only know your features imperfectly. Dance’s drawing has that merit at least, that nobody would ever suspect you of having been the original. [1]  Poole’s business will last yet some weeks. As the Abstract is printed, I can give you the very important result: one in eight throughout Great Britain receives permanent parish pay; – what is still more extraordinary, and far more consolatory, one in nine is engaged in some benefit society, – a prodigious proportion, if you remember that, in this computation, few women enter, and no children. [2] 

I dined with Sotheby, [3]  and met there Henley, [4]  a man every way to my taste. Sotheby was very civil; and as his civility has not that smoothness so common among the vagabonds of fashion, I took it in good part. He is what I should call a clever man. Other lions were Price, the picturesque man, [5]  and Davies Giddy, [6]  whose face ought to be perpetuated in marble for the honour of mathematics. Such a forehead I never saw. I also met Dr. —— [7]  at dinner; who, after a long silence, broke out into a discourse upon the properties of the conjunction Quam. Except his quamical knowledge, which is as profound as you will imagine, he knows nothing but bibliography, or the science of title-pages, impresses, and dates. It was a relief to leave him, and find his brother, the captain, at Rickman’s, smoking after supper, and letting out puffs at the one corner of his mouth and puns at the other. The captain hath a son, – begotten, according to Lamb, upon a mermaid; and thus far is certain, that he is the queerest fish out of water. A paralytic affection in childhood has kept one side of his face stationary, while the other has continued to grow, and the two sides form the most ridiculous whole you can imagine; the boy, however, is a sharp lad, the inside not having suffered.

William Owen lent me three parts of the Mabinogion, [8]  most delightfully translated into so Welsh an idiom and syntax, that such a translation is as instructive (except for etymology) as an original. I was, and am, still utterly at a loss to devise by what possible means, fictions so perfectly like the Arabian Tales in character, and yet so indisputably of Cimbric growth, should have grown up in Wales. Instead of throwing light upon the origin of romance, as had been surmised, they offer a new problem, of almost impossible solution. Bard Williams communicated to me some fine arcana of bardic mythology, quite new to me and to the world, which you will find in Madoc. [9]  I have ventured to lend Turner your German Romances, which will be very useful to him, and which will be replaced on your shelves before your return, and used, not abused, during your absence. I also sent him the Indian Bible, because I found him at the Indian grammar, for he is led into etymological researches. [10]  That is a right worthy and good man; and, what rarely happens, I like his wife as well as I do him. Sir, all the literary journals of England will not bring you more news than this poor sheet of Miss Crosthwaite’s letter-paper. [11]  I have proposed to Longman to publish a collection of the scarcer and better old poets, beginning with Pierce Ploughman, [12]  and to print a few only at a high price, that they may sell as rarities. This he will determine upon in the autumn. If it be done, my name must stand to the prospectus, and Lamb shall take the job and the emolument, for whom, in fact, I invented it, being a fit thing to be done, and he the fit man to do it. [13] 

The Annual Review succeeds beyond expectation; a second edition of the first volume is called for. Certain articles respecting the Methodists and Malthus are said to have contributed much to its reputation. [14]  By the by, that fellow has had the impudence to marry, [15]  after writing upon the miseries of population. In the third volume I shall fall upon the Society for the Suppression of Vice. [16] 

Thus far had I proceeded yesterday, designing to send off the full sheet by that night’s post, when Wordsworth arrived, and occasioned one day’s delay. I have left him talking to Moses, and mounted to my own room to finish. What news, you will wish to ask, of Keswick? The house remains in statu quo, except that the little parlour is painted, and papered with cartridge-paper. Workmen to plaster this room could not be procured when Jackson sent for them, and so unplastered it is likely to remain another winter. A great improvement has been made by thinning the trees before the parlour window, – just enough of the lake can be seen through such a framework, and such a fretted canopy of foliage as to produce a most delightful scene, and utterly unlike any other view of the same subject. The Lakers begin to make their appearance, though none have, as yet, reached us. But Sharpe has announced his approach in a letter to W. We are in hourly expectation of Harry; and in the course of the year I expect Duppa to be my guest, and probably Elmsley.

God bless you!

R. S.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, 290–295. BACK

[1] William Hazlitt painted portraits of Coleridge and Wordsworth on his visit to the Lakes in autumn 1803. Southey had previously singled that of Wordsworth out for criticism in his letter to Richard Duppa dated 14 December 1803, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 868. The whereabouts of the portraits is now unknown. James Northcote (1746–1831; DNB) painted Coleridge in 1804; this portrait is presently at Jesus College Cambridge; George Dance (1741–1825; DNB) drew Coleridge in profile in 1804; the drawing is presently owned by The Wordsworth Trust; see Morton D. Paley, Portraits of Coleridge (1999). BACK

[2] Information from the ‘Poor Law Abstract’ of 1804, or more correctly titled ‘Abstract of Returns Relative to the Expense and Maintenance of the Poor’ (printed by order of the House of Commons, 1804). BACK

[3] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB): poet and translator of Virgil’s Georgics. Southey commented on Sotheby’s descriptive verse about Wales in his letter to Mary Barker, 3 March 1804 (Letter 906). BACK

[4] Probably Samuel Henley D.D. (1740–1815; DNB): clergyman, antiquarian, man of letters and regular contributor to the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[5] Uvedale Price, 1st Baronet (bap.1747–1829; DNB), Herefordshire Whig squire and landscape gardener, author of the Essay on the Picturesque, As Compared With The Sublime and The Beautiful (1794). BACK

[6] Davies Giddy (later Gilbert) (1767–1839; DNB): a friend of Humphry Davy, engineer, antiquarian, and High Sheriff of Cornwall. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1791 and served as its President from 1827 to 1830. BACK

[7] Charles Burney, Junior (1757–1817; DNB): a classical scholar, brother of novelist Fanny Burney (1776–1828; DNB) and James Burney. BACK

[8] Southey drew on William Owen Pughe’s edition of The Heroic Elegies and Other Pieces of Llywarc Hen (1792) for his poem Madoc, published in 1805. Southey was reading Pughe’s translation of the Welsh romances dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, collected in fourteenth-century Welsh manuscripts and known as the Mabinogi. These translations appeared in the journal he edited, The Cambrian Register (1796, 1799), where they are entitled The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances. BACK

[9] Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg; 1747–1826; DNB): a Welsh poet, editor, antiquarian and reviver of the Bardic movement, who probably first met Southey in the late 1790s. Southey used Williams’s information about bardic ceremonies when describing a gorsedd in Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 11. BACK

[10] Books left by Coleridge at Greta Hall when he departed for Malta. What the German romances were is not clear; the Indian Bible and grammar may have been those translated by William Carey and published from Serampore (1761–1834; DNB), The New Testament in the Bengalee Language (1801), or possibly the first volume (The Pentateuch, 1801) of The Bible Translated from the Original Tongues, 5 vols (1801–1809). The Indian grammar would have been A Grammar of the Bengalee Language (1801). BACK

[11] Southey bought his writing paper from Mary Crosthwaite (b. 1771), the daughter of Peter Crosthwaite (1735–1808), a Keswick inventor, mapmaker and showman, who established a museum there in 1780, at which his daughter assisted. BACK

[12] William Langland (c. 1325–c. 1390; DNB), Piers Plowman (written c. 1360–1387). BACK

[13] Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare, published by Longman in 1808. BACK

[14] Southey’s reviews of the Methodists and Malthus appeared in The Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804): William Myles (1756–1828), A Chronological History of the People called Methodists ... With an Appendix, Containing Two Lists of the Itinerant Preachers ... With the Last Will and Testament of the Rev. J. Wesley (1803), 201–213; Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the future improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), 292–301. BACK

[15] Thomas Malthus married his cousin Harriet Eckersall (dates unknown), on 12 April 1804, and had three children, despite his argument that sexual abstinence (‘moral restraint’) should be exercised to prevent population increase from outstripping food supply. BACK

[16] Southey reviewed Part the First of an Address to the Public, from the Society for the Suppression of Vice (1803) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 225–231. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)