598. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 17 August 1801

598. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 17 August 1801 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Your absence from Burton during Rickmans short stay there was unlucky. he has desired me to write to his father, [1]  who, I am really ashamed to find is troubled with my business. I have so fully explained what should be done that there can be no need to trouble him with a letter – & less any thing should not be explicit I again repeat the directions, which – apologizing to him for this trouble from me – you will have the goodness to show him, & consider as the last will & testament of the affair.

My Mother would have the beds & bedding reserved. bedsteads & all else to be sold. the books & boxes of linen should be packed for travelling – & the prints – the two of Niobe [2]  & Ceyx & Alcyone [3]  might however be sold. for these things I beg house room of you for awhile. the contents of my large deal desk were better shifted into a packing case. I leave a gap in the letter lest any codicil might occur. – there is some gin – let this be taken at its contraband price – & drink my health in what little claret remains.

I sent the keys some ten days ago with the Anthology [4]  not knowing you had received one. it may xxxxx be packed with the other books

Alas the Squire. [5]  I would recommend the Jonson & Davenant epitaph [6]  for him – O rare old Wag – ! his death however must have lessened the mortality, of turkeys &c, for twelve miles round. Of Lady Strathmores funeral [7]  I received an odd account from Rickman. [8]  You do not mention Corbin [9]  of whose well-doing I should like to hear.

Thalaba is some two months old. it is Longmans property – that is the first edition, so that his interest is as much concerned as mine in the sale. its general reception I cannot prognosticate – but from all the tidings that reach me in my own circle it is liked as I could wish. certainly it is very very superiour to all my other books. have you seen Cottles Alfred? [10]  I do not advise you to buy it – nor the Laureats which is shorter & dearer [11]  – in good rhymes & deadlily dull. I am pleased with Godwins reply to Parrs Spital Sermon [12]  – except that there is at the end one loathsome cursed passage for which I could in right vexation root up his nose. his folly in thus eternally making himself a mark for abuse is inconceivable. come kick me – is his eternal language. yet is the man a good creature – brimfull of benevolence – as kind hearted as a child would wish. it should be known to his credit that he is a father to Imlays child. [13] 

Davy, whom you know by name as my friend, & as the rising pride of his country, is removed to the Royal Institute. with a good salary – where he will equally serve himself & the public. [14]  He is a heavy loss to Bristol – yet have we in his place a man of great talent, extensive knowledge, & delightful conversation. a Swiss of middle age, whom German Frenchman & Englishman might almost claim as countryman with such equal facility does he speak each language. Cottle is busy in berhyming King Davids psalms [15]  – foolishly in my mind – but Death has made such havock in his family [16]  that he is turned Calvinist again, & in will one day be immersed in the mud & mire of methodism. poor Amos Cottle! I miss him – he was a pleasant companion, & a man whose knowledge & powers were daily increasing.

When next you write direct to me at Coleridges, Keswic, Cumberland. We depart about Thursday next. pay yourself from the produce of the furniture – the residue remit to my mother – directing to Mr. [MS torn]anversKingsdown. an I shall still remain your debtor – & that [MS obscured] way not easily discharged – for much hospitability – & many unforgettable acts of friendliness. to your mother [17]  – to Mr Coleman [18]  my remembrances & your little girl [19]  when she is old enough must know me by name as an acquaintance to be. Ediths good wishes with mine –

believe me

yours as ever

Robert Southey.

Monday 17 Aug. 1801.


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ near Ringwood/ Single
Postmark: [partial] BRISTOL/ AUG 17 01
Watermark: 1798/ COBB & CO
Endorsement: 17. Aug. 1801
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 245-247. BACK

[1] Thomas Rickman (d. 1809), Vicar of Newburn 1766-1776, Compton 1776-1780, and Ash and Stourpaine 1780-1809. From 1796 he lived in retirement at Christchurch. BACK

[2] In Greek mythology, Niobe boasted she had fourteen children, while the goddess Leto had only two. In revenge, Leto sent her two children, Artemis and Apollo, to kill all of Niobe’s children. BACK

[3] Two figures from Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-AD 17/18), Metamorphoses, Book 11. Ceyx, King of Thracis, was drowned at sea, and he and his wife, Alcyone, were turned into kingfishers. BACK

[4] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800). BACK

[5] G. Wagg (d. 1801), a local landowner at Burton, Hampshire, whom Southey had presumably met during his residence. His death was announced in Monthly Magazine, 11 (March, 1801), 196. BACK

[6] The epitaph on the tomb of the playwright Ben Jonson (1572-1637; DNB) in Westminster Abbey is ‘O rare Ben Jonson.’ It was allegedly inspired by his fellow playwright Sir William Davenant (1606-1668; DNB), whose tomb is close by and carries the epitaph ‘O rare Sir William Davenant’. BACK

[7] Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800; DNB), heiress, botanist and playwright, who endured a scandalous divorce in 1789. In later years she lived at Christchurch, where Southey met her in 1797. She was buried in Westminster Abbey. BACK

[8] Rickman to Robert Southey, 28 May 1800, in Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), p. 32. BACK

[9] An unnamed member of the Corbin family of Ringwood, Hampshire. BACK

[10] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[11] Henry James Pye (1745-1813; DNB), Alfred (1801). Pye was Poet Laureate 1790-1813. BACK

[12] William Godwin, Thoughts Occasioned by the Perusal of Dr Parr’s Spital Sermon (1801). This was a reply to a sermon by Samuel Parr (1747-1825; DNB), a clergyman and schoolmaster, who had vigorously attacked the theories in Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). It is not clear exactly what Southey objected to in Godwin’s pamphlet, but possibly it was connected to Godwin’s remarks on population control, especially his approval of abortion as practised in Ceylon. BACK

[13] Godwin was raising Fanny Imlay (1794-1816; DNB), the illegitimate daughter of his late wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Gilbert Imlay (1754-1828; DNB). BACK

[14] Humphry Davy had been appointed an assistant lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Institution in London. BACK

[15] Joseph Cottle, A New Version of the Psalms of David (1801). BACK

[16] In 1800 Cottle had lost his father Robert (d. 1800), sister Martha (c. 1785-1800) and brother Amos. BACK

[17] Mrs Biddlecombe’s first name and dates are unrecorded. BACK

[18] Unidentified; probably an acquaintance of Southey from his residence at Burton, 1797 and 1799. BACK

[19] Biddlecombe’s daughter (first name unknown) had been born in 1799; her mother died shortly afterwards. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 3 times)
Danvers’s, Kingsdown, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)