557. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 6 November 1800

557. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 6 November 1800 ⁠* 

My dear Danvers

This letter will go by post to tell you that another is – or ought to be on the road by parcel – with Thalaba the long-expected. [1]  Whether my Uncle goes to England by Yescombe [2]  is uncertain – but I am determined Thalaba shall, as time is now of consequence. you I know will lose no time in reading it – & I pray you hurry Davy thro it also. I am anxious to get it off my hands because the money is wanted. [3]  It is necessary to remove Harry. he takes up the room of a more profitable pupil. no alternative offers but the advice of William Taylor – which is to place him with a good surgeon who will for a hundred guineas instruct & board him for four or five years. no means of acquiring this sum exists but Thalaba. I have written all the needful letters by this packet & parcel. Rickman is to get the money – John May to receive it – William Taylor to find a situation & pay it away. & so before I can get into a house in London I must get another poem ready.

My Uncles absence will lessen our enjoyments & increase our expences. He goes over to take a small living in his own gift. [4]  we cannot expect his return before February – & then we shall <be> looking to our own speedy departure. If an opportunity offers I shall perhaps embark in a merchant vessel at once for Bristol: on account of the enormous expence. the Packet passage is now 20 guineas – & one among the crew – forty two guineas – & about fifteen more to reach Bristol. a merchant ship will take us for eight or ten – & our sea stock will not cost five pounds. if Sam Reid should return this way it would be exceedingly pleasant to take our passage with him.

Your letter reached me. Of poor Amos Cottles death [5]  I had heard by Tom – & today I have learnt the death of Hucks – also by the cursed consumption. I expect by every packet the same tidings of Peggy – whose recovery I do not think possible. you will not wonder that with this feeling I cannot write to her. make an excuse for me on account of the number I have been busied with.

I have read Alfred. [6]  you remember my annotations upon the Poem – made at your house. you remember too that as they were written in pencil, Cottle rubbed them out – but you will perhaps be surprized to hear that most of the passages which I then marked as nonsensical or bad – are unaltered. the very Contunder which he knows to be sheer nonsense is there. I can give you the history of this incomparable piece of no-meaning. Thors [7]  weapon was a mall – mallet – or hammer. poor Amos in his Edda [8]  called this with propriety a Contunder – from the verb contundo. Joseph did not know the meaning of the word – & what idea he annexed to it would puzzle Hartley [9]  to explain. however the word tickled his ear – & there it is P. 299. [10]  I fear the Reviews will half xx induce him to hang himself. About the Poem I am most orthodoxly calvinistic & believe it will be condemned to eternity.

Tell Betty [11]  that Edith must never laugh at her love of Rover again. for she has a cat who is quite as much indulged as her fat favourite. Puss was left behind at Cintra – & a man & mule actually went 18 miles to fetch her. –

Our tour is delayed to Spring. the wet season has commenced & we cannot now venture. I am better – but in that fluctuating state of health which is far from indicating recovery. & yet so much better than I was in England that the difference in my own feelings would compensate for the loss of all I should lose by settling here – if that were in my power. It has been rather suggested to me than advised [12]  – to try my fortune at the East-Indian bar: where the climate is warm enough, & success certain. curiosity inclines me to go – but every other motive will certainly knock curiosity on the head. assuredly I would rather get two hundred a year in England, than two thousand in India. & no after affluence could compensate for the misery of passing my best years among strangers – to return perhaps & find my old friends dead – or altered by age into other beings than those whom I had left.


Never poor fellow was tempted in so subtle a shape by Beelzebub as I am. some he hath assailed as a roaring lion. [13]  for others he baits with wine – women – or wealth. but for me there is a book hung on every booksellers shop. here am I offered a book printed when Methusalem [14]  was a sucking-child – beautifully cobwebbed & hoary with the dust of ages. shall I buy the book? then am I haunted by the ghost of a crown-piece – & the apparition of an empty purse. do I manfully resist temptation? then comes Conscience to upbraid me when the book is in requisition & curses the money & the beggarly prudence that spared it. but my misdeeds lie mostly on the other side – & yet I do spare when I long to spend. Could I now but mortgage my brains – raise some fifty pounds which should be expended wholly upon the property, & pledge the first-fruits in payment – verily it is mortifying & bitterly mortifying. I am about to erect a building – the plan is before me – & the materials in my own marble quarry – but I want money for mortar & rubbish. – this morning I have been xxxx sinning both ways – & now wish that I had spent less money – & bought more books. Lisbon is enormously & almost incredibly expensive. my expenditure is lessened a third at least by my Uncles assistance. & this does not level it below the standard of London life.

About George. [15]  I said nothing – because at this distance nothing could be said in time to be of any use. his Uncle [16]  has acted like an ass – & [MS torn] I knew he would act. I can only thank you for the trouble you have taken – & abuse him for taking the boy out of a good situation, a better he cannot possibly procure him – for nor is it likely that many masters will have patience with his uncommon dullness.

If you wish to see the last half of B. 11 & the first half of B. 12 [17]  – as originally written you will find it in the copies for Wynn & Tom. to the notes you had better only refer where you actually want an explanation of any thing obscure. my Uncle will probably convey the parcel to Bristol – & in that case this letter will come by the same conveyance.

God bless you. our love to your mother –

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Thursday Nov. 6. 1800


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ 9. St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 227–230. BACK

[1] A manuscript copy of the Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765–1803), Captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[3] Southey received £115 for 1,000 octavo copies of Thalaba the Destroyer from Longman and Rees. BACK

[4] Herbert Hill was Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral. This gave him the right to appoint the incumbent of the joint living of Little Hereford and Ashford Carbonell. The post became vacant in 1800 and Herbert Hill appointed himself to the living on 5 December 1800. BACK

[5] Amos Cottle died on 28 September 1800. BACK

[6] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-four books (1800). BACK

[7] God of thunder in Norse mythology. The weapon he was most associated with was Mjollnir, a short-handled hammer. BACK

[8] Amos Simon Cottle, Icelandic Poetry, or the Edda of Saemund translated into English Verse (Bristol, 1797), p. 191. BACK

[9] David Hartley (1705–1757; DNB), founder of the associationist school of psychology. BACK

[10] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-four books (1800), Book 16, line 113. BACK

[11] Unidentified; probably a relative, friend of employee of Charles Danvers. BACK

[13] 1 Peter 5: 8. BACK

[14] According to Genesis 5: 21–27, Methuselah was a descendent of Adam and ancestor of Noah who lived for 969 years. BACK

[15] Southey and Coleridge had procured Fricker a post in George Savary’s (d. 1831) bank in Bristol. BACK

[16] A paternal or maternal uncle of George Fricker, otherwise unidentified. BACK

[17] Books 11 and 12 of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

Places mentioned

Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)