454. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, 12 November 1799

454. Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, 12 November 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Friend

The immediate occasion of my writing is to request that if a Mr Elliott [1]  visits you at the Pneumatic Ins[MS torn]tution you will have the goodness (unless from his state of health [MS torn] deem it hurtful) to beatify him with a doze of the gaseous [MS torn]yd. [2]  I do not myself know Mr Elliott, but write at the desire of my particular friend here, Rickman, to whom if you should ever find leisure to visit me here I should be gratified by introducing you, as to a man of the most various knowledge I have ever known.

I write in much weakness – of mind as well as body. something ails me at heart. I have, except the first few morning hours, a settled dull obtuse aching there – as if the rib against which it prest were bruised. for a fortnight this has been the case, & within the last five days a diarrhœa with consequent fever & sleeplessness has reduced me to almost a palsied debility. of course all enjoyment & all employment have of necessity been suspended.

From William Taylor, the all-knowing, I learn that the few Peruvian words preserved by Garcilasso [3]  the historian (himself son of a Peruvian mother) are Malay, & that in that tongue Mago Mango Capac signifies a man with an axe. – sufficient proof of an eastern origin, which I always believed the most probable. [4] 

With the view to collect more materials for this subject I have lately from the Zend-Avesta & other labours of Anquetil Du Perron [5]  made myself acquainted with the religious system of Zoroaster, [6]  a system the more [MS torn]it for poetry because the obscurity lies only in the part [MS torn] the great outline is distinct, in this compleatly differing from the unconnected & unsystematizable fables of Hindoo absurdity. in xxx time this heap of matter may ferment into form & life – but now my head is only susceptible of aching & fever & all nervous feelings of pain & agitation. to night I try if opiates will send me to sleep & when I sleep preserve me from broken yet connected dreams, more fatiguing than wakefulness.

I often wish myself at Bristol – & if, as I have more & more reason to apprehend a constitution, debilitated by the worst possible management in childhood, the most ruinous system of coercion from all things proper, should for ever incapacitate me from the labour & confinement of professional studies – why I shall probably look to Bristol as my haven. tis the place where I have ever most felt myself at home, where I have when absent myself remembered my dearest friends, where I could walk confidently in darkness thro every winding. I have experienced more pain & pleasure there than elsewhere & these things twist into a strong cord of attachment.

God bless you. excuse a half letter from a sick man. at all times I should be glad to give you my hand, but now I should be glad to offer you my pulse – that I might have faith & be cured. here the people would poison me if I sent for the commonest drug.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Burton near Ringwood. Tuesday Nov. 12. 99.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Mr Davy/ Pneumatic Institution <Penzance>/ Hot Wells <Cornwall> / Bristol / Single
Postmark: BRISTOL/ NOV 14 99
Endorsement: Southey <12> Novr. 99/ 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. 41–43. BACK

[1] Mr Elliott was possibly a member of the Elliott family who were prominent in this period in the fishery trade based at Poole. BACK

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

[3] Garcilasso de la Vega (1539–1616), The Royal Commentaries of Peru (1609); see Taylor to Southey, 1 November 1799, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 308–309. BACK

[4] In the late 1790s, Southey had considered writing a poem on Manco Capac, the legendary founder of the Incas, in which the hero would have fled from Persia to Peru; see Robert Southey to Humphry Davy, 3 August 1799, Letter 426, and Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 4. BACK

[5] Southey had been reading Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), Zend-Avesta (1771), a French translation of the sacred writings of Zoroastrianism. BACK

[6] Zoroaster (10/11th centuries BC), Persian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)