429. Robert Southey to John May, 21 August 1799

429. Robert Southey to John May, 21 August 1799 ⁠* 

My dear friend

When your letter reached me at Minehead Edith was recovering by degrees so slow as scarcely to be perceptible. I know not whether her sister Mrs Coleridge was with us when I wrote. as her recovery became more secure, when our time in the lodgings was expired, we adopted this plan. she returned to Stowey with her sister. I walked to Ilfracombe to see if the place would suit us, if on returning to Edith after the few days absence I found her materially better we might proceed, if not – we were on our way to Bristol. I found her very much amended, & her amendment daily continues. – I now write from Coleridges. he is going next week to visit his friends at Ottery – we shall travel together, & leaving him & his wife at Ottery proceed to Sidmouth. the reconciliation between Coleridge & myself which has taken place has restored me one source of enjoyment. it was chiefly brought about by his friend Poole – I wish it had been effected without sinking Lloyd in my opinion.

My walk to Ilfracombe led me thro Lymouth. [1]  the finest spot except Cintra & the Arrabida that I ever saw. two rivers join at Lymouth. you probably know the hill streams of Devonshire – each of these flows down a coombe, rolling down over huge stones like a long waterfall. immediately at their junction they enter the sea, & the rivers & the sea make but one sound of uproar. of these coombes the one is richly wooded, the other runs between two high bare stoney hills. from the hill which rises between the two is a prospect most magnificent. on either hand the coombes & the river – before, the little village – the beautiful little village which I am assured by one who is familiar with Switzerland resembles a Swiss village. this alone would constitute a view beautiful enough to repay the weariness of a long journey – but to compleat it – there is the blue & boundless sea – for the faint & feeble line of the Welch coast is only to be seen on the right hand & if the day be perfectly clear.

Ascending from Lymouth up a road of serpentizing perpendicularity – steep as the path of an emmet would be crawling along the coils of a snakes round & round to a height immediately above wh the place whence he set out – you reach a lane which by a slight descent brings leads to the Valley of Stones, a spot which as one of & the greatest wonder indeed in the West of England would attract many visitors if the roads were passable by carriages.

Imagine a narrow vale between two ridges of hills somewhat steep. the xx southern hills turfed. the vale which runs from E. to West, covered with huge stones & fragments of stones among the fern that fills it. the Northern ridge compleatly bare, excoriated of all turf & all soil – the very bones & skeleton of the earth, rock reclining upon rock, stone piled upon stone, a huge & terrific mass. a Palace of the Preadamite Kings [2]  – a city of the Anakim [3]  must have appeared so shapeless & yet so like the ruins of what had been shaped, after the waters of the flood had subsided. I ascended with some toil the highest point. two large stones inclining on each other formed a rude portal on the summit. here I laid down – a little level platform – about two yards long – lay before me – & then the eye immediately fell upon the sea – far very far below. I never felt the sublimity of solitude before.

You have I trust before this received the “Annual Anthology” [4]  which I directed Cottle to send you.

You have confounded Maurice of Bristol [5]  I perceive, with Harrys preceptor. Of Beddoes you seem to entertain an erroneous opinion. Beddoes is an experimentalist in cases where the ordinary remedies are notoriously & fatally inefficacious. if you will read his late book on Consumption [6]  you will see his opinions of upon this subject – & the book is calculated to interest unscientific readers & to be of use to them. the faculty dislike Beddoes because he is more able & more succesful & more celebrated than themselves, & because he labours to reconcile the art of healing with common sense, instead of all the parade of mystery with which it is usually enveloped. Beddoes is a candid man, trusting more to facts than reasonings. I understand him when he talks to me – & in case of illness should rather trust myself to his experiments, than be killed off secundum artem, [7]  & the ordinary course of practise.

God bless you. direct to the Post Office Sidmouth. & if you are fortunate enough to obtain the Zendavesta [8]  for me send it to Cottles to be forwarded. Edith desires to be remembered.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

Wednesday. Stowey August 21. 99.


* Address: To/ John May Esqr-/ Richmond Green/ Surry/ Single
Postmark: [partial] 10 o’Clock/ 23/ 99 F.NOON
Endorsement: No 40. 1799/ Robert Southey/ Stowey 21 August/ recd: 23d do/ ansd: 7 Sep
MS: Boston Public Library, MS C.1.22.3. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] For Southey’s journal of his tour, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 520–522. BACK

[2] Both Christian and Muslim theologians had speculated about the existence on earth of non-human civilizations before the creation of Adam. William Beckford’s An Arabian Tale from an Unpublished Manuscript [Vathek] (London, 1786), pp. 196, 205, had popularised the notion and used the specific phrase ‘Pre-Adamite Kings’. BACK

[3] The Anakim were descendents of Anak and aboriginal inhabitants of Canaan, when the Israelites arrived there; see Numbers 13: 32–33. The Bible can be construed as suggesting the Anakim were giants. BACK

[4] Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[5] Possibly Joseph Maurice, an apothecary based at St Michael’s Hill in Bristol. BACK

[6] Thomas Beddoes, Essay on the Causes, Early Signs, and Prevention of Pulmonary Consumption, for the Use of Parents and Preceptors (1799). BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘according to skill’. BACK

[8] Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), Zend-Avesta (1771), a translation into French of some of the key sacred writings of Zoroastrianism. BACK

People mentioned

Beddoes, Thomas (1760–1808) (mentioned 4 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Maurice, Michael (1766–1855) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Poole, Thomas (1766–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 2 times)
Cottles (mentioned 1 time)