997. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [started before 7 December–]16 December 1804

997. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [started before 7 December–]16 December 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Danvers

I began in my turn to wonder at your silence, & when your letter came it alarmed me both for your thumb & my books. the conclusion removed my apprehensions for you, but not for myself. your thumb will grow, but woe th to the poor books if the rats have actually begun upon them. Shall I beg you to give a look at Horts [1]  & see if they be safe there from damp & vermins – I never think of my books without vexation.

By good fortune the purchase of our house is broken off. [2]  Come you therefore in the summer, & send me off some wine with as little delay as may be convenient. four dozen port, three of bucellas or vidonia. [3] 

I am in trouble about Madoc. a packet of notes sent off a fortnight ago has not reached Edinburgh, & should it be lost no alternative remains but to publish the book without them, for it is impossible at this distance from my books to replace them, nor would it be easy were they all at hand. the loss is not certain as yet & so I will yet hope the best. provoking! for the press stands still the while. the whole poem is printed off: a matter as you may suppose of no small satisfaction to me, after so many years. Much of it will be new to you, enough to give it an interest of novelty. Of the old story you will miss little, & that little you will have no reason to regret.


Since this letter was begun I have been in fear & trouble about Tom, nor am I yet thoroughly easy. George had learnt at Lloyds Coffee House that the boats of the Galatea had severely suffered in an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the Lilly; but he could learn no particulars. I wrote to Bedford  [4]  whose youngest brother is in the Admiralty; he in consequence enquired there & saw a private letter from a man who had been in the action, in which Toms name was not mentioned, so that as the account was very particular we considered all was well. No sooner was this over than the news of the hurricane arrived, & in the first account it was said that a frigate was lost at Dominica, [5]  which – if true – must have been Toms ship. Well – this was soon contradicted – but next appears a paragraph in the Whitehaven paper [6]  stating the death of Michael Bircbeck of that town, master of Galatea, killed in attempting to cut out the Lydia, in which unfortunate attempt the First Lieutenant fell, the Surgeon, & the Lieutenant of Marines. – You know I always look if a thing be probable before I admit it to be true – no doubt would have existed in my mind as to the truth of this had not the Surgeon been mentioned, who I was sure could not have gone on such an attempt. I wrote off to Bedford again, [7]  by this time Commodore Hoods [8]  official letter was arrived, & it turned out there was a Lieutenant killed, whose name happily for me was not Southey, – & not one of the persons mentioned in the Whitehaven paper. Upon this I wrote off to the Editor requesting to know on what information he had inserted the paragraph, stating to him what I knew, & inferring a reasonable xxxx <belief> that Michael Bircbeck was safe as well as Tom, which I wished him to communicate to the father. [9]  The Editors answer has just reached me: a private letter from Antigua [10]  brought the tidings which so far as they concern me are evidently erroneous, but I fear not so decidedly so about Bircbeck for it should rather seem that he is the Masters Mate than Master. I am exceedingly interested about him for the poor father was thrown almost into agonies by my letter – it made him feel he said like one raised from the dead – & it would be shocking if after all his son should have been killed – & xxx that he should have the shock to endure a second time – alas what a dreadful aggregate of human wretchedness does human folly occasion! [11] 

The parcel of notes has at last found its way to Edinburgh, & it is to be hoped no farther delay in the printing will take place. Of the four vignettes I have seen two which are both very beautiful, the ship of Madoc in full sail from a design of Pocockes, & a groupe of Aztecan arms with a Welsh xxx harp &c & the shield of Madoc for the title page. the two others will be a cross on a rock with a palm tree above & a spring at its foot [12]  – as an emblem to be upon the leaf with the exordial lines, which run thus – Come listen to a tale of times of old,

Come, for ye know me. I am he who sung
The Maid of Arc, & I am he who framed
Of Thalaba the wild & wonderous song.
Come listen to my lay & ye shall hear
How Madoc from the shores of Britain spread
The adventurous sail, explored the ocean ways,
And quelled barbarian power, & over threw
The bloody altars of Idolatry,
And planted in its fanes triumphantly
The Cross of Christ. come listen to my lay! [13] 

The remaining vignette is for the second part. A huge snake to whom you are to have the pleasure of being introduced, sunning himself at the entrance of a cavern. These four are all. If the books sell well I will have more to another edition, & it may be best to let King finish the waterspout for this, as under that belief he may perhaps get it ready in time. If I had it some months ago it should have been engraved now. – You will find Madoc more Catholic than you will like, but not more so than he must have been. the propriety of preventing any bloody ceremonies by force & christening one generation who know nothing of christianity for the sake of making the next really christians, is my a thing of which I am well convinced – as you may have seen in the Annual Review, [14]  & will see more fully in one of the portions of my history [15]  whenever that shall appear. There is no danger that you should suspect me of believing in the Virgin Mary tho Madoc does, tho very likely some foolish people may.

Call occasionally at Codys [16]  for me & see what travels he has, – I hope to God it will not be very long before I shall be enabled to chuse a settled dwelling place & get my books together. This dreadful pestilence will most likely keep me from Lisbon [17]  – I have some thoughts as soon as my recovery is done of turning to & writing our letters [18]  to raise an immediate sum for the purpose of furnishing a house, which I could get done in the course of the summer or autumn, – & what will please you better seriously think of Bath as a fit place. – We shall see how Madoc turns out, & these Specimens [19]  which are sadly delayed by Bedford & but now just going to press, whereas had I been on the spot they would have been three parts printed.

The Edithling was inoculated yesterday with the cow pock, the small pox being in Keswick. [20]  She does well & is a very sweet child, but so prematurely quick that I much fear we shall not rear her. she has cut two teeth quite easily – this however is no proof that the next will come so too – At first you would not think her pretty, but very soon she would win upon you & you would call her exceedingly interesting. I continue well & Edith grows fat. Take care of yourself this winter. How is Joe & how is Cupid. [21]  I have got an Ass by name John; & he is quite a pet.

God bless you


Sunday 16 Dec. 1804.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] E/ DEC 19
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: The reference to the lost ‘packet of notes’ intended for Madoc, indicates that this letter must have been started before Southey’s letter to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 December [1804], Letter 998. BACK

[1] William Jillard Hort (1764–1849), Unitarian minister and writer, who was one of many storers of books for Southey. BACK

[2] Southey’s landlord, William Jackson, had been negotiating the sale of his house to Mr White (names and dates unknown) of Keswick. BACK

[3] White wines produced in Portugal and Tenerife respectively. BACK

[4] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4 December 1804, Letter 996. BACK

[5] Dominica is an island in the Lesser Antilles group of islands in the West Indies. BACK

[6] The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. BACK

[7] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 December 1804, Letter 1002. BACK

[8] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served. BACK

[9] This letter does not appear to have survived. BACK

[10] Antigua is one of the Leeward Islands of the West Indies. BACK

[11] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission 65 were killed or wounded. Southey had suspected that his brother was among them because the first lieutenant had been reported as dead, but he was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. Michael Birbeck (dates unknown) was indeed the Master and was killed in the action, according to William James (d. 1827), The Naval History of Great Britain, 5 vols (London, 1822–1824), III, pp. 274–276. BACK

[12] Madoc (1805), has only three illustrations: the engraved titlepage with Wynn’s shield upon a trophée; the palm and cross upon the rock (after the Table of Contents); and the snake before the cave, engraved on the titlepage for the second part, ‘Madoc in Aztlan’ (bound incorrectly after 320 instead of after 184). It is probable that the image of the ship by Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821; DNB) was omitted because Southey was displeased with the vessel’s anachronistic modernity;see Southey to Joseph Cottle, 25 August 1805, Letter 1097). BACK

[13] Madoc was published in 1805 with this exordium. See Robert Southey. Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 8. BACK

[14] See Southey’s review of Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800–1801) in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 207–218. BACK

[15] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[16] John Cody (dates unknown), a Bristol bookseller. BACK

[17] Yellow fever was epidemic in Iberia in 1804, and killed an estimated 60% of Gibraltar’s population. BACK

[18] Probably an early reference to Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[19] The project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[20] Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB) published his experiments on vaccinating against smallpox using cowpox serum in An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ in 1798. BACK

[21] Dogs in Danvers’ care; formerly belonging to the Southey and his brother Thomas. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)