580. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 6 May 1801

580. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 6 May 1801 ⁠* 

My dear Danvers.

You will be expecting me – & will be disappointed at receiving only a letter. I cannot yet depart – in about a month we shall set off – earlier or later by some ten days as may suit a ship – if we find one.

Your letter must have been lost – & it leaves me in the dark about some things alluded to in that which has just reached me. I know not why Davy has left Bristol [1]  – & shall bitterly miss him. indeed the doubt where to settle annoys me much. except you & your mother I have no attachment at Bristol. all else are mere acquaintance – a common – cold – lip – intercourse – neither gratifying the affections nor the intellect. in London I neither can nor will live. I must be where the Sun & Moon & Stars & He who created them are visible. As for Coleridge he is at the end of the world. [2]  Bristol suits me best, & a house about Ashton, or Leigh, or over the down would strongly tempt me – or in your row. but not yet. my autumn must be in Wales & Cumberland, & I have to work hard to recover my expences here & raise enough for furniture. The little I saw of King much pleased me – but Humphry Davy is an unreplaceable companion. For society of all places I have ever seen Norwich is the best. Bristol has so many divisions & subdivisions of party & sects; – & poor Cottles shop is a loss. [3]  – twas a gossip-place of meeting that tho it might make some idle hours made some pleasant ones. however to Bristol I look on as my future home, its reachable distance from London & Hereford where my Uncle will most likely be one day settled – the neighbouring woods & rocks & walks with which I have so old an intimacy – the printing office too is some inducement. & as there is no keeping my Mother from that miserable dungeon or rather Bedlam where she will immure herself [4]  – the best thing possible that I can do is to have a house near where she may go in any short lucid interval.

My Uncle is removing his books piecemeal as opportunity allows for shipping them. four boxes are consigned to you by the inclosed bill of lading. they are all English – that is English-printed (for some may be Greek or Latin) & in English binding, therefore liable to no duty. If King could house them for me at the Wells it would be better than lodging them in the College Green, as they will be in the latter case almost inaccessible to me. the foreign books we try to smuggle into England, & have succeeded in landing one valuable box. the number of my own books which are now of a very serious value, & also of my Uncles that are lying idle & dead about England, must soon anchor me. they cannot follow me, & I therefore must settle with them.

That you have been so long without a letter you will probably attribute to the right cause – I & Waterhouse [5]  have accomplished our tour in Algarve. we have seen the whole of that kingdom, & half the province of Alentejo. a labour of 530 miles – 23 days – during which we endured some hardships from the miserable state of the country – sometimes being able to procure neither bread nor wine – & four times reduced to beg a nights lodging for want of estalagems. In compensation we have seen much, & acquired some knowledge. I will not skim the cream of the journey – my journal [6]  with a few conversational comments may furnish an evenings amusement in Bristol. I have now only the three small northern provinces to visit. Beira, Tras os montes, & Entre Douro e Minho, look at the map & you will see they are not quite a third of Portugal. but they form its most beautiful, most interesting, & most populous part. I am in truth very desirous of remaining yet six months – the summer at Cintra – to Porto in September, & thence over the North. Only Ediths wishes to return prevent me – in other respects it would be every way advantageous inasmuch as the more I labour here, the nearer my supplies will be when I return. It is only since my Uncles return from England that he has encouraged my historical labours. [7]  he was not perhaps quite aware of the literary rank which I hold in the world, till he there learnt it, & found some of his own friends apprized of my design & anxious for its execution. now he forwards it in every way, & hunts out books & information with as much zeal & assiduity as myself.

When Thalaba is finished have the goodness to send two copies here by way of Capt Yescombe [8]  as usual – & directed to my Uncle. they need not be bound – we have broken in a [MS obscured] to bind in my taste, & Morocco cost as only <the> calf price of England.

I have just & barely begun the Curse of Keradou [9]  – which literally is stopt from some scruples of conscience in matters of taste. it is begun in rhymes – as irregular in length, cadence, & disposition as the lines of Thalaba. I write them with equal rapidity – so that on the score of time & trouble there is neither loss or gain. But it is so abominable a sin against what I know to be right – that my stomach turns at it. it is to the utmost of my power vitiating, or rather continuing the corruption of public taste. it is feeding people upon French cookery, which pleases their diseased & pampered palates, when they are not healthy enough to relish the flavour of beef & mutton. my inducements are – to avoid any possible sameness of expression – any mannerism, & to make as huge an innovation in rhymes as Thalaba will do in blank verse. but I am almost resolved to translate what is already done into the Thalaban metre.

Write to me once more. we shall not move before June certainly – & I am hopelessly anxious about Peggy. the fox glove seems always to check disease – never to cure it! – & how goes on Cottle & Dr Burnett? – I think of returning to Bristol with no small additional satisfaction – for the sake of shaking George by the hand. poor fellow – he has at last the means of a bare support. – Harry, you probably know from my mother, is settled with Mr Martineau [10]  – that heavy expence is over – but there must long be calls from that quarter. he is left at liberty to change his mind at Michaelmas when Martineau will, if he chuses to leave him, return 3 fourths of the fee. this was handsome & unexpected. I hope the boy will continue – it is the better trade of the two. – & I believe Oxford would ruin them. his talents are respectable – & I believe his morals good – but I do not suspect him to be possessed of either intellectual or moral strength to resist the ruin of a University. God bless you. our love to your Mother – I have bought a work bag for her at Lagos. made from the aloe fibres – curious for its materials – but too fine for her taste or mine. Still it is a curiosity – & she shall have with it a story how in that very city of Lagos I was arrested by a guard of eight soldiers & a corporal. remember me to Cottle – to Charles Fox [11]  – above all to the Doctor [12] King must look upon me as an acquaintance in the future tense. tell him I am an old out-patient of the Pneumatic Institution – one of the very first – & by prescription have a right whenever I chuse to claim it – to a dose of beatification. [13] 

I have said nothing of my own state of health this long time – because in fact I have long been so perfectly well as never to think of it. I eat & drink to what ought to be a prohibited degree of appetite in England, & sleep like the Stadtholder. [14]  thank God – & this climate of Portugal, – Oh the wicked Monthly Magazine for April-fool day. [15]  Page 221 – column the second – line the last!!! I did laugh – & will not Mrs Danvers forgive if me I did swear also?

Shipped by the Grace of God in good order tho badly written in & upon the good Packet called the Earl Gower – now riding at anchor in the river Tagus. – & so God send the good Ship to her desired port in safety. Amen. May 6. 1801.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ 9. St James’s Place/ Kingsdown/ Bristol
Stamped: LISBON
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 153-157 [in part]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 167-169 [in part]. BACK

[1] Humphry Davy was in negotiations to accept the post of assistant lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Institution, which would involve a move from Bristol to London. BACK

[2] Keswick. BACK

[3] Financial difficulties had caused Joseph Cottle to close his bookshop in Wine St., Bristol in 1799. BACK

[4] College Green, the home of Margaret Southey’s half-sister, Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[5] Samuel Waterhouse (dates unknown), later a prominent figure in the British community in Portugal. BACK

[6] Southey’s journal of this tour was published in Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 33-61. BACK

[7] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] Edward Bayntun Yescombe (1765-1803), captain of the packet, King George, which sailed between Falmouth and Lisbon. BACK

[9] One of the earliest surviving drafts of Book 1 of the Curse of Kehama (1810) is dated ‘Lisbon. May 5. 1801’, Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. BACK

[10] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. Southey preferred that his brother, Henry Herbert Southey, train as a doctor, rather than attend Oxford University and become an Anglican clergyman as his uncle, Herbert Hill, suggested. BACK

[11] Charles Fox (c. 1740-1809; DNB), orientalist, poet and parrot owner. BACK

[12] Ambiguous; possibly George Burnett or Thomas Beddoes. BACK

[13] Southey is referring to his inhalation of nitrous oxide as part of the early experiments at the Pneumatic Institute, Bristol. BACK

[14] The Stadtholder was the hereditary chief executive of the Dutch Republic. In 1801 it was Willem V (1748-1806). BACK

[15] Monthly Magazine, 11 (April 1801), 221. The passage which caused Southey such amusement had described how Bristol could ‘lay claim to the soaring genius or enraptured muse of a Southey, a Coleridge, or a Cottle’. His mirth was, undoubtedly, produced by the inclusion of the last name. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

College Green, Bristol (mentioned 2 times)
Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)