840. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [18 September 1803]

840. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [18 September 1803] ⁠* 

Sunday night. Keswick.

Dear Danvers

I should more speedily have replied to your enquiry about the receipt for preserving berberries – but that in fact the receipt is so nothing at all that if Betty [1]  have proceeded according to the common analogy of the noble art of preservation she cannot have failed. it is simply boiling them with their own weight of sugar – The books which you sent per coach have not yet arrived – in truth it was the most William-Reid-sort of a thing [2]  you ever did to send a parcel upon such a journey by coach. it will cost God knows what.

Since my last I have taken very vigorous exercise & am the better for it. one morning round the lake – a ten or twelve mile walk, only disagreable as being solitary. yesterday with Coleridge to the top of Skiddaw – the work of four & a half hours – that is there & back but the descent is mere play. up-hill a mans wind would fail him tho his lungs were as capacious as a church organs, & the legs ache tho the calves were full grown bulls. the panorama from the summit is very grand – not indeed equal to what I had seen from Monchique [3]  neither in height nor in its whole beauty, but in some certain features certainly of unequalled interest, the Lake Keswick & Basenthwaite lying below us, & seeming each to fill its vale, for the shores are merged in the mountain & quite lost as you look down, whereas the water lying all in light is seen in its full extent. The summit is covered with loose stones split by the frosts & thus gradually are they reduced to a very rich soil & washed to the down to the glens, so that like old women Skiddaw must grow shorter. for some little distance below, nothing but moss grows – for it is bitter bleak there next door to heaven. – To day I have been tracking the river Greeta, which instead of Great A ought to have been called Great S. but its name hath a good & most apt meaning – the loud lamenter. it is a lovely stream. I have often forded such among the mountains of Algarve, & lingered to look at them with that <a> hungry eye, if I may so express myself xx with a feeling that it was the only time I was ever to behold the scene before me, so beautiful. that feeling has often risen in me when gazing upon the permanent things of Nature which I was beholding but for a time. God knows I often looked upon my poor child with the same melancholy, as tho to impress more deeply in remembrance a face whose beauties were certainly to change – & perhaps to pass away. – How glad shall I bex to shew you these things & to make you confess that if He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, should brace me up to the climate – this is the best place for my sojourn. We had indeed a gloomy & comfortless parting. your comfort had been more deeply rooted up than mine – & yet the axe cut deep at mine.

Edith continues as you would expect – silently & deeply affected. I have not yet been able to get her out of the house tho our weather has been uncommonly fine – & without exercise the tonics which she takes under Doctor Southey will be of little avail. last night indeed wex went to see a set of strollers play She Stoops to Conquer. [4]  nothing could be worse & that you know was the mirth we desired – but it made me melancholy to see such a set of wretches collected together, one of them an old man I am sure little short of fourscore lean & lanthorn-jawed, & so ripe for the grave that his face was as striking a memento mori as ever glared in gold letters under the skulls & thigh bones of a tomb-stone.

Moses grows up as miraculous a boy as ever K Pharoahs daughter [5]  found his namesake to be – I am perfectly astonished at him & his father has the same sentiment of wonder, & the same forefeeling that it is a prodigious & unnatural intellect – & that he will not live to be a man. there is more Danvers in the old womans saying – he is too clever to live, than appears to a common observer. diseases which ultimately destroy, in their early stages quicken & kindle the intellect like opium. it seems as if Death looked out the most promising plants in this great nursery to plant them in a better soil. – the Boys great delight is to get his father to talk metaphysics to him – few men understand him so perfectly. & then his own incidental sayings are quite wonderful. the pity is, said he one day to his father, who was expressing some wonder that he was not so pleased as he expected with riding in a wheel barrow – the pity is that I’se always thinking of my thoughts. – The Child’s imagination is equally surprizing. he invents the wildest tales you ever heard – a history of the Kings of England who are to be. how do you know that this is to come to pass Hartley – why you know it must be something or it could not be in my head – & so because it had not been did Moses conclude it must be & away he prophecies of his King Thomas the third. then he has a tale of a monstrous beast calld the Rabzezekallaton. whose skeleton is on the outside of his flesh – & he goes on with the oddest & most original inventions till he sometimes actually terrifies himself & says I’se afraid of my own thoughts. It may seem like superstition but I have a feeling that such an intellect can never reach maturity – the springs are of too exquisite workmanship to last long.

You will see by the inclosed bill of Savarys [6]  what a foul trick I play in overlooking it – or rather mistaking it for London paper. – I expect daily my account for Longman. as I have this bill to send back the better way [MS obscured] be as soon as that account comes to send you a draft for 20£ – that will be better than having a London bill sent back to me to exchange. – I miss my wine merchant, & if there be any vessels that go from Bristol to Whitehaven should be very glad to pay water carriage for the sake of getting good wine, for to me it is a very essential of life. Do enquire – it would be quite worth while to have down six dozen – for I pay dearer & drink far worse. – God bless you I miss you & King & Cupid [7]  & my Books, & sometimes James [8]  the Bookseller. Would to God that was all that I missed! but that Gods will is best has been at all times present to my heart & reason.

R S.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ 4. Orchard Street/ Bristol
Stamped: [illegible]
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 239-242 [in part; dated October 1803].
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence relating to Coleridge’s return (15 September 1803) and the ascent of Skiddaw. BACK

[1] Danvers’s servant; her first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[2] William Reid (dates unknown), a Bristol insurance broker and acquaintance of Southey’s; presumably a by-word for extravagance in Southey’s circle. BACK

[3] Mountain in Portugal that Southey had visited in April 1801. BACK

[4] Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774; DNB), She Stoops to Conquer (1773). BACK

[5] Pharaoh’s daughter found the infant Moses and brought him up as her son; see Exodus 2: 10. BACK

[6] Harris and Savarys bank in Narrow Wine St, Bristol. BACK

[7] Danvers’s dog. BACK

[8] Isaac James (b. 1759) was the son of Samuel James (1716-1773), Baptist minister at Hitchin. He came to Bristol in 1773 as a student at the Baptist Academy. He kept a shop as a bookseller, teadealer (and sometimes undertaker) first in North Street and then in Wine Street. He was a member of the Baptist meeting at Broadmead and served as classical tutor at the Baptist Academy in Bristol from 1796 to 1825. During the late 1790s and early 1800s, James collaborated with Joseph Cottle in selling numerous works, mostly by dissenters. Among James’s own works were Providence Displayed: or, The Remarkable Adventures of Alexander Selkirk (1800). He also tried his hand at poetry, including The Pilgrim’s Progress. The First Part: Rendered into Familiar Verse (1815), as well as a polemical work, An Essay on the Sign of the Prophet Jonah (1802). An associate of the members of the Baptist Missionary Society Committee, James was well placed to supply the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800-1817). These were published as a periodical beginning in 1793, but then as bound volumes beginning in 1800. Southey reviewed Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800-1801), in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 207-218. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)