474. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 8 January 1800

474. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 8 January 1800 ⁠* 

Jan. 8. 1800.

My dear Coleridge,

I have thought much, and talked much, and advised much about Thalaba, [1]  and will endeavour to travel without publishing it: because I am in no mood for running races, and because I like what is done to be done so well, that I am not willing to let it go raggedly into the world. Six books are written, and the two first have undergone their first correction.

I have the whim of making a Darwinish [2]  note at the close of the poem, upon the effects produced in our globe by the destruction of the Dom Daniel. Imprimis, [3]  the sudden falling in of the sea’s roots necessarily made the maelstrom; then the cold of the north is accounted for by the water that rushed into the caverns, putting out a great part of the central fire; the sudden generation of steam shattered the southern and south-east continents into archipelagos of islands; also the boiling spring of Geyser has its source here, – who knows what it did not occasion!

Thomas Wedgewood has obtained a passport to go to France. I shall attempt to do the same, but am not very anxious for success, as Italy seems certainly accessible, or at least Trieste is. Is it quite impossible that you can go? Surely a life of Lessing [4]  may be as well written in Germany as in England, and little time lost. I shall be ready to go as soon as you please: we should just make a carriage-full, and you and I would often make plenty of room by walking. You cannot begin Lessing before May, and you allow yourself ten months for the work. Well, we will be in Germany before June; at the towns where we make a halt of any time, something may be done, and the actual travelling will not consume more than two months; thus three months only will be lost, and it is worth this price: we can return through France, and, in the interim, Italy offers a society almost as interesting. Duppa will fortify me with all necessary directions for travelling, &c.: and Moses will be a very mock-bird as to languages; he shall talk German with you and me, Italian with the servants, and English with his mother and aunt; so the young Israelite will become learned without knowing how.

.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .

Beddoes advertised, at least six weeks ago, certain cases of consumption, treated in a cow-house; and the press has been standing till now, in expectation of – what think you? [5]  only waiting till the patients be cured! This is beginning to print a book sooner than even I should venture. Davy is in the high career of experience, and will soon new-christen (if the word be a chemical one), the calumniated azote. [6]  They have a new palsied patient, a complete case, certainly recovering by the use of the beatifying gas.

Perhaps when you are at a pinch for a paragraph, [7]  you may manufacture an anti-ministerial one out of this passage in Bacon’s Essays: –

‘You shall see a bold fellow many times do Mahomet’s miracle. Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him again and again, and when the hill stood still, he was never a bit abashed, but said, If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill. So these men, when they have promised great matters and failed most shamefully, yet (if they have the perfection of boldness), they will but slight it over, make a turn, and no more adoe.’ [8] 

I am glad I copied the passage, for, in so doing, I have found how to make this a fine incident in the poem. [9] 

Maracci’s Refutation of the Koran, [10]  or rather his preliminaries to it, have afforded me much amusement, and much matter. I am qualified in doctrinals to be a Mufti. The old father groups together all the Mohammedan miracles: some, he says, are nonsense; some he calls lies; some are true, but then the Devil did them; but there is one that tickled his fancy, and he says it must be true of some Christian saint, and so stolen by the Turks. After this he gives, by way of contrast, a specimen of Christian miracles, and chooses out St. Januarius’s blood and the Chapel of Loretto! [11] 

God bless you.

Robert Southey.


* 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, pp. 39–42 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; DNB). His two-part The Botanic Garden (1791) was famous for its lengthy notation. Southey did not include this note in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), but his thoughts on it are recorded in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 212–213. BACK

[3] ‘In the first place’. BACK

[4] Coleridge had proposed writing a life of the German poet, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781). BACK

[5] Morning Post, 22 November 1799 had announced that Thomas Beddoes’s ‘An Account of the Effects of Residence with Cows, in Phthisical Cachexy and in various Stages of Confirmed Pulmonary Consumption’ would be published ‘Speedily’. BACK

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

[7] For the Morning Post, to which Coleridge was contributing. BACK

[8] Francis Bacon (1561–1626; DNB), ‘Of Boldness’ in Essays, 3rd edn (1625). BACK

[9] See Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 20 for Southey’s idea about incorporating this story into his and Coleridge’s planned poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam. BACK

[10] Lodovico Maracci (1612–1700), Alcorani Textus Universus ex Correctioribus Arabum Exemplaribus Summa Fide, atque Pulcherrimis Charecteribus Descriptus, ... in Latinum Translatus, 2 vols (Padua, 1698), II, part 2, pp. 76–77 and appendix; used as a note in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11, line 114. BACK

[11] The blood of St Januarius, patron saint of Naples, is kept in two ampoules and is said to liquefy three times a year at festivals. The Holy House at Loretto is believed, in Catholic tradition, to be the house that Jesus grew up in at Nazareth and that was transported by angels to Italy in the 13th century. BACK

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