775. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 April 1803

775. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 April 1803 ⁠* 

Friday. April 22. 1803.

My dear Tom

Huzza! huzza! huzza! the bottle is a good post & the Atlantic delivers letters according to direction!

Yours of May 23. 1802. Lat. 33. 46 N.

Long. 64. 27. W –

was found by Messrs Calmer & Seymour of St Salvadors. [1]  Dec. 18. 1802. on the N W end of that Island

Lat. 23. 30 N.

Long. 73. 30 W.

very civilly inclosed by some Mr – Aley Pratt [2]  Feby 10, sent per Betsey Cains. [3]  Capt Wilmott, [4]  & has this day reached me from Ramsgate to my very great surprize & satisfaction.

You had sealed it so clumsily that some of the writing is torn – & the salt water had got at it, so that the Letter is in a ruinous state – but by the Lord it shall be preserved as the greatest curiosity in my collection.

I shall send the account to Stuart. [5] 

I did heartily regret that you were not here. we would have drawn a cork in honour of Messrs Calmer & Seymour & Aley Pratt, who by keeping the letter two months really seem to have been sensible that the experiment was of value. When I consider the quadrillion chances against such a circumstance it seems like a dream. the middle of the Atlantic – thrown in there! cast on a corner of St Salvadores & now here at No 12 St Jamess Place Kingsdown Bristol – hunting me thro the ocean to the Bahamas & then to this very individual spot. Oh that the Bottle had kept a log-book! What if the Bottle Conjurer had been in it now.

I think this letter decisive of a current, chance winds would never have carried it 600 miles in less than seven months. & if I recollect aright, by theory there ought to be a current in that direction. Supposing the bottle to have been found the very day it landed it must have sailed at the rate of three knots in a day & night – it was picked up 209 days after the Post set off. More letters should be thrown overboard about the same latitude, & then when we have charts of all the currents some dozen centuries hence that particular one shall be called Southeys current.

As I shall send our names with the account it will get copied into all the newspapers & may perhaps set others upon making the same experiment

I have half a mind to send a letter to St Pierre [6] 

The news is all pacific [7]  – & I fully expect you will be paid off ere long. all goes on as usual here. Margaret screams as loud as the Parrot [8]  – that she inherited. Cupid [9]  came to tea <this evening> & seems disposed to stay supper. Puss caught a mouse last night & we had a hang fair to day – so you see the course of justice continues. Juniper [10]  is juniperizing a duck which you should be here to examine – a Compleat Art of Navigation printed 1567 & translated from the Spanish. [11]  full of diagrams, & which doubtless represent the exact state of the science in the great age of discovery. I had a good bargain of Cody [12]  yesterday – the six volumes of Asiatic Researches published at £3-5-0 – new for forty shillings. [13] 

Is there any thing more to be inserted in the Kingsdown gazette? – oh – I have altered & adapted the fifth commandment [14]  for Margery, & made it the a summary of morals for her present age – Thou shalt not piddle thy father. this & my three Cat-Commandments I think entitle me to a high rank among moralists hereafter.

Write – for I am uneasy about the Amsterdam men [15]  – I wish they were at Amsterdam! damn-em! damn-em! you know the song & they suit the burden very unhappily – [16] 

Ediths love & remembrance from Charles. poor fellow when he saw your bottle-letter he saw how it would have pleased his mother. every thing reminds him of her – I I I also miss her. God bless you

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Galatea/ Portsmouth./ Single
Postmark: BRISTOL. APR 23 1803
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 207-209 [in part]. BACK

[1] San Salvador is one of the most easterly of the Bahamas islands. Calmer & Seymour were presumably a local firm. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] In 1803, the Betsy Cains was one of the oldest merchant ships still in service. Reputed to have arrived in England in 1688, she had been employed in the West India trade since the 1770s. BACK

[4] Presumably the captain of the Betsy Cains in 1803. BACK

[5] If Southey did indeed send the article to the Morning Post, it seems not to have appeared there. BACK

[6] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814), Paul et Virginie (1787) had given Southey the idea for the bottle experiment. BACK

[7] War between Britain and France did not break out again until 18 May 1803. BACK

[8] The parrot owned by Southey’s neighbour, the orientalist Charles Fox (c. 1740-1809; DNB). BACK

[9] Charles Danvers’s dog. BACK

[10] Juniper (first name and dates unknown), a Bristol carpenter who also seems to have been interested in bookbinding. A ‘duck’ was the name given by Southey to a book not in good repair. BACK

[11] Richard Eden (c. 1520-1576 DNB), The Arte of Navigation (1561), no. 890 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Cody’s identity is uncertain. Possibly he is the book-auctioneer William Cody (dates unknown) whose business had been based in Dublin c. 1791-1797 – if so, Southey may have made his acquaintance during his time in Dublin in 1802; or perhaps Cody is, or is connected to, the bookseller and auctioneer of the same name who traded in Bristol c. 1820-1821. BACK

[13] Asiatic Researches, or Transactions of the Society for inquiring into the History and Antiquities of Asia (1801-1811), no. 77 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library consists of later volumes, so Southey may not have been able to complete this purchase. BACK

[14] Exodus: 20: 12. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’. BACK

[15] Tom was suffering from haemorrhoids. BACK

[16] Possibly a Southey family in-joke; one which played on the linkage in popular comic songs such as ‘Four and Twenty Fiddlers’ between ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘damn’. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 1 time)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Dublin (mentioned 1 time)