763. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 6 March 1803

763. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 6 March 1803 ⁠* 

Sunday evening. March 6. 1803.

My dear friend

By some accident, which is a very unusual one with me, your last letter was mislaid, & this vexed me when I wished to answer it. I remember however a very friendly invitation, for which we thank you now, & by of which we hope one day to avail ourselves when Margaret shall be grown big enough to be a play fellow for your little girl. [1]  little indeed is an epithet which better suits what I remember her than what she must be now.

When last I wrote we were in treaty for a house in Wales [2]  & I considered that treaty as concluded, for we had agreed upon terms. but an unlucky dispute between the landlord & his tenant about certain premises necessary for my accommodation has deprived me of one of the prettiest places I have seen or expect to see in this Island. never since then I have been on the look out & hitherto without success. we have now a house in view about three miles from Bristol, a spot with some inconveniences, but some advantages also, & great beauty of situation.

Have you received the copy of Chatterton [3]  for which you subscribed? if neither yours. nor those of your friends whose <names> you were good enough to procure have been sent down, you had better apply for them to your London bookseller when you write him. but with a caution that he apply to the publishers for them as subscribers copies, else the benefit will not be Mrs Newtons. [4]  we expect to clear above £400 for her. I have succeeded better for her than I was ever able to do for myself.

The books &c that you may still be troubled with of mine have the goodness to direct here, & they will then travel with the rest of my lumber in one embarkation to my place of rest – wherever that may be. In about three months time, calculating by my printers speed I also shall have some books to send you – a version of Amadis of Gaul; [5]  a work which being obliged to do something for the lucre of gain, I preferred for its own intrinsic merit. I have work in hand for this Annual Review [6]  which will contain some good articles, & in average merit probably, & in impartiality certainly exceed the monthly ones. Madoc [7]  comes slowly but surely on:. & will I fear – rather than hope – be published at no very distant period. but not while my ways & means can be supplied without it. History [8]  continues my favourite pursuit. I should be very glad of an opportunity to show xx you some specimens, with which I feel confident you would be pleased.

Colonel Despards [9]  business is to me still mysterious. I could have found him guilty of high folly – but not of high treason. it rather seems as if he x had been talking treason than conspiring, prating about what might or could be, not plotting what should be, playing with a halter till he was caught in the noose. I wish he had been spared, because tho his former offerings services were no fair plea for pardon upon such an occasion, his former sufferings were: oppression maketh a wise man mad, & it should have been remembered that Colonel Despard had been the most oppressed man in his Majestys dominions. his pardon would have given administration a character for clemency which is always advantageous. however to their credit they saw none of that wanton cruelty in the whole proceedings which the old ministry eternally exercised. Portland & Grenville & Pitt [10]  made imprisonment an engine for personal punishment, in this instance the law was enforced, but with every indulgence to alleviate.

In spite of Sebastianis [11]  rascally report from Egypt, & Bonapartes [12]  threats, & the growling of the Grenvillian [13]  faction, who blessed be God cannot bite now! I expect the continuance of peace. they who are weary must rest – & a sound drubbing will tire any body. – My eyes have been very weak & have cost me almost all the sacrifice of almost all my candle light hours this winter. I am trespassing now & sparing them by this straggling hand – yet still they smart & itch & warn me of my imprudence. Edith & Tom desire to be remembered. remember me also to your mother & Mr Coleman [14]  to whom I am very much obliged – Your Curates book [15]  is a useful compilation. It wants prints. I read it with pleasure & profit & thought at the time I could have furnished him with some anecdotes which have not fallen in his way.

God bless you –

yr affectionate friend

Robert Southey.

12. St Jamess Place. Kingsdown.


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ near/ Ringwood/ Single
Postmark: [partial] BRISTOL/ MAR 7
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Biddlecombe’s daughter was born in 1799. Her name is not recorded. BACK

[2] Maes Gwyn, near Neath. BACK

[3] Southey and Joseph Cottle’s edition of The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). Biddlecombe was listed as a subscriber. BACK

[4] Mary Newton (1749-1804), Chatterton’s sister. BACK

[5] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[6] Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[7] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799. He was revising it for publication, but it did not appear until 1805. BACK

[8] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[9] Edward Despard (1751-1803; DNB) was tried and executed on 21 February 1803 on a charge of treason. It was alleged that he had tried to organise a revolution in 1802. He had previously served in the Royal Navy and been Superintendant of British Honduras 1787-1790. He was imprisoned without trial in 1798-1801 under particularly harsh conditions on the charge of involvement in the Irish rising of 1798. BACK

[10] William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809; DNB), Prime Minister 1783, 1807-1809, Home Secretary 1794-1801; William Grenville, Lord Grenville (1759-1834; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1791-1801, Prime Minister 1806-1807; William Pitt (1759-1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783-1801, 1804-1806. BACK

[11] Horace François Bastien Sebastiani de La Porte (1771-1851), French diplomat and soldier. His report, published in Le Moniteur Universal, 30 January 1803, suggested that France could still re-conquer Egypt and was a major factor in worsening Anglo-French relations. BACK

[12] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[13] Followers of William Grenville, Lord Grenville. They had left office in 1801 and were moving closer to the Whigs. BACK

[14] Unidentified; presumably an acquaintance of Southey from his residence at Burton. BACK

[15] Samuel Clapham (1757-1830; DNB), Sermons: Selected and Abridged, Chiefly from Minor Authors (1803). He had become Vicar (rather than curate) of Christchurch in 1802. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)
Maes Gywn, Neath (mentioned 1 time)