766. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 14 March 1803

766. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [fragment], 14 March 1803 ⁠* 

Bristol, March 14. 1803.

Dear Coleridge,

It is nearly a week now since Danvers and I returned from Bownham; [1]  and now the burthen will soon fall off my shoulders, and I shall feel as light as old Christian when he had passed the directing post: [2]  forty guineas’ worth of reviewing has been hard work. [3]            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            The very unexpected and extraordinary alarm brought by yesterday’s papers [4]  may, in some degree, affect my movements, for it has made Tom write to offer his services; and if the country arm, of course he will be employed. But quid Diabolus  [5]  is all this about? Stuart writes well upon the subject, yet I think he overlooks some circumstances in Bonaparte’s [6]  conduct, which justify some delay in yielding Alexandria and Malta: that report of Sebastiani’s [7]  was almost a declaration that France would take Egypt as soon as we left it. You were a clearer-sighted politician than I. If war there must be, the St. Domingo [8]  business will have been the cause, though not the pretext, and that rascal will set the poor negroes cutting English throats instead of French ones. It is true, country is of less consequence than colour there, and these black gentlemen cannot be very wrong if the throat be a white one; but it would be vexatious if the followers of Toussaint [9]  should be made the tools of Bonaparte.

Meantime, what becomes of your scheme of travelling? If France goes to war, Spain must do the same, even if the loss of Trinidad [10]  did not make them inclined to it. You must not think of the Western Islands or the Canaries; they are prisons from whence it is very difficult to escape, and where you would be cut off from all regular intercourse with England: besides, the Canaries will be hostile ports. In the West Indies you ought not to trust your complexion. When the tower of Siloam fell, it did not give all honest people warning to stand from under. [11]  How is the climate of Hungary? Your German would carry you there, and help you there till you learnt a Slavonic language; and you might take home a profitable account of a country and a people little known. If it should be too cold a winter residence, you might pass the summer there, and reach Constantinople or the better parts of Asia Minor in the winter. This looks like a tempting scheme on paper, and will be more tempting if you look at the map; but, for all such schemes, a companion is almost necessary.

The Edinburgh Review will not keep its ground. It consists of pamphlets instead of critical accounts. There is the quantity of a three-shilling pamphlet in one article upon the Balance of Power, in which the brimstone-fingered son of oatmeal says that wars now are carried on by the sacrifice of a few useless millions and more useless lives, and by a few sailors fighting harmlessly upon the barren ocean: these are his very words. [12]            .            .            .            .            .            He thinks there can be no harm done unless an army were to come and eat up all the sheep’s trotters in Edinburgh. If they buy many books at Gunville, [13]  let them buy the Engleish metrical romancees published by Ritson; [14]  it is, indeed, a treasure of true old poetry: the expense of publication is defrayed by Ellis. Ritson is the oddest, but most honest, of all our antiquarians, and he abuses Percy [15]  and Pinkerton [16]  with less mercy than justice. With somewhat more modesty than Mister Pinkerton, as he calls him, he has mended the spelling of our language, and, without the authority of an act of parliament, changed the name of the very country he lives in into Engleland. The beauty of the common stanza will surprise you.

Cowper’s Life [17]  is the most pick-pocket work, for its shape and price, and author and publisher, that ever appeared. It relates very little of the man himself. This sort of delicacy seems quite groundless towards a man who has left no relations or connections who could be hurt by the most explicit biographical detail. His letters are not what one does expect, and yet what one ought to expect, for Cowper was not a strong-minded man even in his best moments. The very few opinions that he gave upon authors are quite ludicrous; he calls Mr. Park [18] 

. . . . ‘that comical spark,
Who wrote to ask me for a Joan of Arc.’ [19] 

‘One of our best hands’ in poetry. [20]  Poor wretched man! the Methodists among whom he lived made him ten times madder than he could else have been.            .            .            .            .           

God bless you!

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. 201-204 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Gloucestershire estate of Thomas and Elizabeth Smith. BACK

[2] An incident in John Bunyan (1628-1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678-1684). BACK

[3] Southey had been reviewing for Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[4] Rumours that France was preparing to invade Britain. BACK

[5] The Latin translates as ‘What the Devil’. BACK

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

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

[8] France had lost effective control of its colony of Haiti after a series of slave revolts. A fleet and army were despatched in December 1801 to re-conquer the colony. While Haiti was still under French occupation at this time, the French army was being worn down by disease and further revolts that broke out in October 1802. BACK

[9] Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803), leader of the slave revolt in Haiti, effective ruler of the colony 1796-1802, and the whole island of Hispaniola 1801-1802; deported to France in 1802 and died 7 April 1803. BACK

[10] In the Treaty of Amiens (1802) Spain had been required to cede Trinidad to Britain. BACK

[11] Luke 13: 4 ‘Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?’ BACK

[12] Edinburgh Review, 2 (January 1803), 345-381; at 348 in a review of Louis Philippe de Segur (1753-1830), Politique de tous les Cabinets de l’Europe, pendant les regnes de Louis XV et de Louis XVI (1801). BACK

[13] Eastbury House, in the Dorset village of Tarrant Gunville, was the home of Thomas Wedgwood 1800-1805. BACK

[14] Joseph Ritson (1752-1803; DNB), Ancient Engleish Metrical Romancees (1802). BACK

[15] Thomas Percy (1729-1811; DNB), clergyman, writer and antiquarian. BACK

[16] John Pinkerton (1758-1826; DNB), antiquarian and promoter of many eccentric theories, including the Gothic origins of the Picts. BACK

[17] William Hayley (1745-1820; DNB), The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper (1803). Its publisher was Joseph Johnson (1738-1809; DNB). BACK

[18] Thomas Park (1758/9-1834; DNB), antiquary and bibliographer. BACK

[19] Thomas Park had asked Southey for a copy of Joan of Arc (1796) and, rather reluctantly, Southey had agreed, Southey to Joseph Cottle, 26 April 1797, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 212. BACK

[20] William Cowper (1731-1800; DNB) to Samuel Rose, 30 March 1792, in William Hayley, The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper 2 vols (London, 1803), II, p. 30. Cowper described Thomas Park as ‘one of our first hands’. BACK

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