447. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, 18 October 1799

447. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, 18 October 1799 ⁠* 

Massena! [1]  Buonaparte! [2]  Switzerland – Italy – Holland – Egypt – all at once! [3]  the very spring-tide of fortune, – it was a dose of gaseous oxyd [4]  to me whose powerful delight still endures. – I was about writing to you when your letter reached me. Your Researches [5]  into the science of Nature & of Man I shall look for with periodical eagerness; fully estimating the importance of researches, the which unfortunately I shall only be able imperfectly to understand. Science I have none, except in Anatomy. knowing little but terms.

Thalaba the Destroyer, [6]  for so you must call the ci-devant Destruction of the Dom-Daniel, has been for some time suspended. At Exeter the advantage of a good library [7]  induced me to employ my time in laying in materials, a magazine of information, winter-stores for this country, where there is a dearth of books. So I travelled into Egypt & the Levant & Persia & the East Indies with every traveller whom I could find going that way – Fryer – Olearius – Mandelslo – De la Roque – the lying Lucas – Chardin the Jeweller who is worth them all, & who – plague on the Revolution of 1688! never published in English his last three volumes – so that I could only get at the first. [8]  My employment was gutting these for notes – information served as a leaven for invention, incidents were grafted upon local or national traits – & like the Bee I have laid up my winter store of food. Since my arrival here I have resumed the story, & am now rapidly advancing to the close of the fourth book.

For the Anthology also I have done something. Some Songs characteristic of the different tribes of American-Indians [9]  will form an diff division of some length – in the after volumes [10]  I shall continue the plan & go thro the different nations whose customs & superstitions seem fit for poetry. I purpose a poem of some length on our rocks at the Hot Wells [11]  – in that calm & elevated blank verse which when I have written has excited in me stronger emotion than any other species of composition. here I shall affix my name. thank x Tobin  [12]  for his intended communications in my name – I shall be glad to receive them. his Soldiers Ghost [13]  is a fine poem if he does not intend to print it, I should be much gratified by having a copy.

I am revolutionizing here – organizing two beggarly cottages into one dwelling house. in the course of a fortnight we shall have a comfortable habitation to enter – small but big enough to hold us & any friend who may think it worth while to visit us. there is a garden quite large enough & quite empty, so that I may follow my own taste in filling it – the ground is very good & has long been fattening in fallowness. here I mean to take much of my necessary quantum of exercise.

The Brutus of your plan I suppose to be the fabulous settler of Britain. [14]  you will find Popes sketch on the subject in Ruffheads life of Pope [15]  – there is little merit or originality in it. from its utter obscurity the story is good – & it suits a Cornish man from the rank Corineus [16]  must necessarily hold. perhaps I mistake your hero however – & you may mean have chosen the more elevated & republican theme of Rome delivered – & the expulsion of the Tarquins. [17]  a difficult & mighty subject. – Mango Capac [18]  lies among my after plans – a solitary name xx germ fermenting in some recess of my brain, by one day by developement & accretion to assume a mature shape & size. the history is so utterly unaccountable that I can form no hypothesis probable enough for poetry.

Will you be good enough to send me some foxglove for my mother & likewise some of the asthma-drops, that she may take when her cough is removed? Danvers will convey them to me. – I shall not visit Bristol till I come to superintend the printing of Thalaba – w[MS torn] must first be written. in the spring however this will bring me there – & I shall work perhaps with more eager industry that I may the sooner see the old city where I <have> ever had some person to remember with affection. Edith is tolerable – & desires to be remembered to you. My brother – whom you once saw – is a prisoner at Ferrol. [19]  & we are anxiously waiting to hear from him.

God bless you

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Burton. Friday <Oct.> 18. 99.

near Ringwood.


* Address: To/ Mr Davy./ Pneumatic Institution./ Hot Wells./ Bristol. / Single
Endorsements: Oct 99 Southey; Oct: 1899/ Ringwood
MS: Royal Institution, London, Davy MSS. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Davy (ed.), Fragmentary Remains, Literary and Scientific, of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart. (London, 1858), pp. 39–41. BACK

[1] Jean-Andre Massena (1758–1817), French general, commander during the French victory at the Second Battle of Zurich, 25–26 September 1799. BACK

[2] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814). BACK

[3] French armies had won the following victories: Second Battle of Zurich, 25–26 September 1799, securing command of Switzerland; Battle of Castricum, 6 October 1799, halting the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland; Battle of Aboukir Bay, 25 July 1799, destroying an Ottoman army that was invading Egypt. Only in Italy were the French being defeated. BACK

[4] Nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’. BACK

[5] Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and Its Respiration (1800). BACK

[6] Southey’s Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[7] Exeter Cathedral Library, which contained over 6,000 books. BACK

[8] John Fryer (d. 1733; DNB), A New Account of East-India and Persia, in Eight Letters. Being Nine Years Travels, Begun in 1672, Finished 1681 (1698); Adam Olearius (1603–1671), The Voyages and Travells of the Ambassadors Sent by Frederick Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy, and the King of Persia. Begun in the Year MDCXXXIII and Finish’d in MDCXXXIX, trans. John Davies (1625–1693; DNB), 2nd edn (1669); Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo (1616–1664), The Voyages and Travels of J. Albrecht von Mandelslo (A Gentleman belonging to the Embassy, sent by the Duke of Holstein to the great Duke of Muscovy, and the King of Persia) into the East Indies. Begun in the year MDCXXXIII and finish’d in MDCXL, trans. John Davies, 2nd edn (1669); Jean de La Roque (1661–1745), Voyage de Syrie & du Mont-Libon (1722); Paul Lucas (1664–1737), Voyage du Sieur Paul Lucas, fait par ordre du Roi dans la Grece, l’Asie Mineure, la Macedonie et l’Afrique (1712). Lucas’s description of the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia in Asia Minor (eroded volcanic rock formations) as pyramids or ancient cemeteries led to widespread accusations of lying and exaggeration. John Chardin (1643–1713), Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and Ye East Indies, Through the Black Sea, And into the Country of Colchis (1686). Chardin was a Protestant French jeweller who travelled extensively in Persia and settled in England in 1681. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 disrupted publication of further English volumes of his Travels, but a complete edition was published in French in Amsterdam in 1711. All these books, apart from Lucas, appeared in Southey’s notes to Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[9] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800) contained three ‘Songs’ on native Americans: ‘The Huron’s Address to the Dead’, pp. 56–58; ‘The Old Chikkasah to his Grandson’, pp. 83–85; and ‘Song of the Araucans during a thunder-storm’, pp. 297–299. None were written especially for the Annual Anthology. Indeed, they were each published in the Morning Post, on 24 October 1799, 21 September 1799 and 10 August 1799 respectively. BACK

[10] Only two volumes of the Annual Anthology were published, in 1799 and 1800 respectively. Southey planned a third, but it did not appear. BACK

[11] See Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 195–196 for Southey’s plan for a poem on the Avon gorge, near Bristol. BACK

[12] James Webbe Tobin contributed eight poems, all signed ‘J.W.T.’, to the Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800): ‘Lines Written in Devonshire’, pp. 41–42; ‘The Gallinipper’, pp. 46–49; ‘To Lydia’, pp. 101–102; ‘Ode to Mr Packwood’, pp. 137–139; ‘Sonnet III’, p. 147; and ‘Epigrams XV–XVII’, pp. 271–272. BACK

[13] Tobin’s poem did not appear in the Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[14] Brutus, in legend the first king of Britain and great-grandson of Aeneas. BACK

[15] Owen Ruffhead (c.1723–1769; DNB), The Life of Alexander Pope, Esq. Compiled from Original Manuscripts; With a Critical Essay on His Writings and Genius (London, 1769), pp. 409–420. BACK

[16] In legend, Corineus was a Trojan follower of Brutus. When the latter divided up his new kingdom of Britain, Cornwall was allotted to Corineus. BACK

[17] Lucius Iunius Brutus, the man credited with expelling the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus (King of Rome 534–509 BC). BACK

[18] Legendary founder of Incan Peru and the subject of a proposed poem by Southey. BACK

[19] It was widely reported in the British Press in early October 1799, e.g. St James’s Chronicle, 5 October 1799, that the brig, Sylph, on which Tom Southey was serving, had been captured and was at the Spanish port of Ferrol. BACK

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Burton (mentioned 1 time)