590. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 11 July 1801

590. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 11 July 1801 ⁠* 

Bristol, July 11. 1801.

Yesterday I arrived, and found your letters; [1]  they did depress me, but I have since reasoned or dreamt myself into more cheerful anticipations. I have persuaded myself that your complaint is gouty; that good living is necessary, and a good climate. I also move to the south; at least so it appears: and if my present prospects ripen, we may yet live under one roof.

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You may have seen a translation of Persius, by Drummond, an M.P. [2]  This man is going ambassador, first to Palermo and then to Constantinople: if a married man can go as his secretary, it is probable that I shall accompany him. I daily expect to know. It is a scheme of Wynn’s to settle me in the south, and I am returned to look about me. My salary will be small – a very trifle; but after a few years I look on to something better, and have fixed my mind on a consulship. Now, if we go, you must join us as soon as we are housed, and it will be marvellous if we regret England. I shall have so little to do, that my time may be considered as wholly my own: our joint amusements will easily supply us with all expenses. So no more of the Azores; for we will see the Great Turk, and visit Greece, and walk up the Pyramids, and ride camels in Arabia. I have dreamt of nothing else these five weeks. As yet every thing is so uncertain, for I have received no letter since we landed, that nothing can be said of our intermediate movements. If we are not embarked too soon, we will set off as early as possible for Cumberland, unless you should think, as we do, that Mahomet had better come to the mountain; [3]  that change of all externals may benefit you; and that bad as Bristol weather is, it is yet infinitely preferable to northern cold and damp. Meet we must, and will.

You know your old Poems [4]  are a third time in the press; why not set forth a second volume? .             .             .             .             .             .             Your Christabel, [5]  your Three Graves, [6]  which I remember as the very consummation of poetry. I must spur you to something, to the assertion of your supremacy; if you have not enough to muster, I will aid you in any way – manufacture skeletons that you may clothe with flesh, blood, and beauty; write my best, or what shall be bad enough to be popular; – we will even make plays á-la-mode Robespierre [7] .             .             .             .             .             .             .             Drop all task-work, it is ever unprofitable; the same time, and one twentieth part of the labour, would produce treble emolument. For Thalaba I received 115l.; it was just twelve months’ intermitting work, and the after-editions are my own.

.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .

I feel here as a stranger; somewhat of Leonard’s feeling. God bless Wordsworth for that poem! [8]  What tie have I to England? My London friends? There, indeed, I have friends. But if you and yours were with me, eating dates in a garden at Constantinople, you might assert that we were in the best of all possible places; and I should answer, Amen: and if our wives rebelled, we would send for the chief of the black eunuchs, and sell them to the Seraglio. Then should Moses learn Arabic, and we would know whether there was anything in the language or not. We would drink Cyprus wine and Mocha coffee, and smoke more tranquilly than ever we did in the Ship in Small Street. [9] 

Time and absence make strange work with our affections; but mine are ever returning to rest upon you. I have other and dear friends, but none with whom the whole of my being is intimate – with whom every thought and feeling can amalgamate. Oh! I have yet such dreams! Is it quite clear that you and I were not meant for some better star, and dropped, by mistake, into this world of pounds, shillings, and pence?

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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. 149-151. BACK

[1] Probably Coleridge’s letters of 13 April 1801 and 6 May 1801; see E. L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (1956-1971), II, pp. 716-717, 727-729. BACK

[2] Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. He was MP for St Mawes 1795-1796 and Lostwithiel 1796-1802, and author of The Satires of Persius. Translated by William Drummond, M.P. (1797). BACK

[3] A phrase first used in Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans (1561-1626; DNB), ‘Of Boldness’ in Essays (1625). Southey noted the story in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 20, for use in the poem on Mohammed (570-632), Prophet of Islam, that he and Coleridge proposed to write. BACK

[4] Coleridge’s Poems on Various Subjects (1796); Southey was mistaken. BACK

[5] Never completed, ‘Christabel’ was first published in 1816. BACK

[6] i.e. ‘The Three Graves. A Fragment of a Sexton’s Tale’. Begun by Wordsworth in 1797 and taken over by Coleridge in 1798, it was first published in The Friend, 6 (21 September 1809). BACK

[7] The Fall of Robespierre: an Historic Drama (1794), jointly written by Coleridge and Southey. BACK

[8] Wordsworth’s ‘The Brothers’, Lyrical Ballads, 2 vols (London, 1800), II, pp. 19-45. BACK

[9] A tavern in Bristol. BACK

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