703. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 4 August 1802

703. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 4 August 1802 ⁠* 

Bristol, Aug. 4. 1802.

In reply to your letter [1]  there are so many things to be said that I know not where to begin. First and foremost, then, about Keswick, and the pros and cons for domesticating there. To live cheap, – to save the crushing expense of furnishing a house; – sound, good, mercantile motives! Then come the ghosts of old Skiddaw and Great Robinson; [2]  – the whole eye-wantonness of lakes and mountains, – and a host of other feelings, which eight years [3]  have modified and moulded, but which have rooted like oaks, the stronger for their shaking. But then your horrid latitude! and incessant rains!         .         .         .         and I myself one of your greenhouse plants, pining for want of sun. For Edith, her mind’s eyes are squinting about it; she wants to go, and she is afraid for my health.         .         .         Some time hence I must return to Portugal, [4]  to complete and correct my materials and outlines: whenever that may be, there will be a hindrance and a loss in disposing of furniture, supposing I had it. Now, I am supposing that this I should find at Keswick, and this preponderance would fall like a ton weight in the scale.         .         .         As to your Essays, &c. &c., [5]  you spawn plans like a herring; I only wish as many of the seed were to vivify in proportion.         .         .         Your Essays on Contemporaries I am not much afraid of the imprudence of, because I have no expectation that they will ever be written; but if you were to write, the scheme projected upon the old poets would be a better scheme, because more certain of sale, and in the execution nothing invidious. Besides, your sentence would fall with greater weight upon the dead: however impartial you may be, those who do not read your books will think your opinion the result of your personal attachments, and that very belief will prevent numbers from reading it. Again, there are some of these living poets to whom you could not fail of giving serious pain; Hayley, [6]  in particular, — and everything about that man is good except his poetry. Bloomfield [7]  I saw in London, and an interesting man he is – even more than you would expect. I have reviewed his Poems [8]  with the express object of serving him; because if his fame keeps up to another volume, he will have made money enough to support him comfortably in the country: but in a work of criticism how could you bring him to the touchstone? and to lessen his reputation is to mar his fortune.

We shall probably agree altogether some day upon Wordsworth’s Lyrical Poems. Does he not associate more feeling with particular phrases, and you also with him, than those phrases can convey to any one else? This I suspect. Who would part with a ring of a dead friend’s hair? and yet a jeweller will give for it only the value of the gold: and so must words pass for their current value.         .         .

I saw a number of notorious people after you left London. Mrs. Inchbald, [9]  — an odd woman, but I like her. Campbell [10]         .         .         .         who spoke of old Scotch ballads with contempt! Fuseli [11]         .         .         .         Flaxman, [12]  whose touch is better than his feeling. Bowles [13]          .         .         .         Walter Whiter, [14]  who wanted to convert me to believe in Rowley. Perkins, the Tractorist, [15]  a demure-looking rogue. Dr. Busby, – oh! what a Dr. Busby! [16]  – the great musician! the greater than Handel! [17]  who is to be the husband of St. Cecilia in his seraph state,         .         .         .         and he set at me with a dead compliment! Lastly, Barry, [18]  the painter: poor fellow! he is too mad and too miserable to laugh at.         .         .         .        

Heber sent certain volumes of Thomas Aquinas [19]  to your London lodgings, where peradventure they still remain. I have one volume of the old Jockey, [20]  containing quaint things about angels; and one of Scotus Erigena; [21]  but if there be any pearls in those dunghills, you must be the cock to scratch them out, – that is not my dunghill. What think you of thirteen folios of Franciscan history? [22]  I am grown a great Jesuitophilist, and begin to think that they were the most enlightened personages that ever condescended to look after this ‘little snug farm of the earth.’ [23]  Loyola [24]  himself was a mere friar        .         .         .         but the missionaries were made of admirable stuff. There are some important questions arising out of this subject. The Jesuits have not only succeeded in preaching Christianity where our Methodists, &c., fail, but where all the other orders of their own church have failed also; they had the same success everywhere, in Japan as in Brazil.         .         .         .         My love to Sara, [25]  if so it must be        .         .         .         however, as it is the casting out of a Spiritus Asper [26]  – which is an evil spirit – for the omen’s sake, Amen! Tell me some more, as Moses says, about Keswick, for I am in a humour to be persuaded, – and if I may keep a jackass there for Edith! I have a wolfskin great-coat, so hot, that it is impossible to wear it here. Now, is not that a reason for going where it may be useful?


R. S.


* 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. 189-192 [in part]. BACK

[1] Coleridge to Robert Southey, 29 July 1802, E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (1956-1971), II, pp. 828-834. BACK

[2] Fells in the vicinity of the Lake District town of Keswick. BACK

[3] i.e. eight years since Southey and Coleridge’s first meeting. BACK

[4] To complete the research for Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Coleridge to Southey, 29 July 1802, E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (1956-1971), II, pp. 828-834, outlined a number of Coleridgean plans: ‘Letters to the British Critic concerning Grenville Sharp’s Remarks on the use of the Definitive article in the Greek Text of the new Testament’; ‘a Book – Concerning Tythes & Church Establishment’; and ‘Concerning Poetry, & the characteristic Merits of the Poets, our Contemporaries – one Volume Essays, the second Selections’. BACK

[6] The poet William Hayley (1745-1820; DNB). BACK

[7] The poet Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823; DNB). BACK

[8] For Southey’s review of Bloomfield’s Rural Tales, Ballads, and Songs (1802), see Critical Review, 35 (May 1802), 67-75. BACK

[9] The writer and actress Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821; DNB). BACK

[10] The poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844; DNB). BACK

[11] Henry Fuseli (1741-1825; DNB), painter and writer. BACK

[12] The sculptor John Flaxman (1755-1826; DNB). BACK

[13] William Lisle Bowles was an early favourite of Southey and Coleridge. BACK

[14] The philologist and literary scholar Walter Whiter (1758-1832; DNB), a defender of the medieval authenticity of the ‘Rowley’ poems, written by Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770; DNB). BACK

[15] Elisha Perkins (1741-1799) had developed the quack remedy Perkins Patent Tractors. Drawing on experiments conducted by Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), Perkins theorized that redirecting the body’s natural electricity could draw out pain and disease. He developed brass and iron rods of about 4 inches in length, with one flat side and one round side with one blunt end and one pointed end. The practitioner held the rods in his hand and rested the point of the rods on the skin. Then he stroked or drew the tractors over the unhealthy area of the body to attract and draw out affliction. See Benjamin Douglas Perkins (1774-1810), The Influence of Metallic Tractors on the Human Body (1798). The subject of much controversy, Perkinism was attacked by James Gillray (1757-1815; DNB) in his satirical print ‘Metallic Tractors’ (1801). BACK

[16] The composer and author Thomas Busby (1754-1838; DNB). BACK

[17] George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), composer of twenty-seven oratorios. Busby’s record was strikingly less successful. His sacred oratorio The Prophecy was performed in 1796. In 1800 the planned premiere at the King’s Theatre, London, of his secular, patriotic oratorio Britannia (1800) had been cancelled, and replaced with a performance of Handel. Britannia was premiered later in the year at Covent Garden. BACK

[18] James Barry (1741-1806; DNB), Irish painter. BACK

[19] Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), Italian philosopher and Dominican friar. The volumes are unidentified. BACK

[20] Possibly Thomas Aquinas, Super Libros Posteriorum Aristotelis (1477), no. 222 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[21] The Irish theologian, neoplatonist and poet, Johannes Scotus Erigena (c. 815-877; DNB). There are no books by him in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, but it is possible that Southey lent Coleridge his copy of Erigena’s De Divisione Naturae (1681) and never got it back; see Coleridge to Southey, [25 December] 1802, E.L. Griggs, Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956-1971), II, p. 903. BACK

[22] It is not clear which books Southey is referring to in this passage. BACK

[23] Southey and Coleridge’s ‘The Devil’s Thoughts’, line 3, Morning Post, 6 September 1799. BACK

[24] Ignacio Lopez de Loyola (1491-1556), founder and first Superior General of the Society of Jesus. BACK

[25] Coleridge to Southey, 29 July 1802, E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956-1971), II, p. 830 had berated Southey for referring to Sara Coleridge as ‘Sarah’. BACK

[26] Latin for ‘rough breathing’; a diacritical mark, in ancient Greek used to indicate initial aspiration, or the presence of the voiceless glottal fricative /h/ at the beginning of a word. Southey means the ‘h’ in ‘Sarah’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 4 times)