844. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [19 October 1803]

844. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [19 October 1803] ⁠* 

Dear Carlos

An hour to supper – & I have run myself out of breath in a spell at Madoc [1]  – so this job which has been too long delayed shall be taken up as a relief. It is needless to repeat what was said to you in my letter to Rex  [2]  – from whom I wonder at receiving no letter & am sadly afraid lest his silence should have some sad reason. Let John Morgan settle my ballot debt [3]  & do you settle with him – the trifle in his hand will probably leave some trifling balance in my favour. the ten pounds keep you & we shall find ways & means for it. has Barry [4]  sent you the little book which he was binding for me? the Romances del Cid, [5]  which was to be his “masterpiece.” Have you got my wolf-skin great coat?

Coleridge is taking the gout-medicine – which I suppose will die his marrow bones red like madder, for it makes every thing look bloody that comes out of him. beyond all doubt his complaint is the gout – yet it will not come to a regular fit. & as to what Beddoes says of whipping & spurring with this medicine – taking glass after glass till he glows red hot – it is utterly impossible unless he wishes to see his whole intestines in the close stool. the children [6]  have an influenza – which has attacked the youngest sorely. Edith has a sad cold in her head, except this she is certainly better & by day in proper spirits but at night as may be supposed always opprest. Among many reasons why the middle class are the best, I take one main cause to be that only in that class are the maternal duties perfectly performed. the high neglect them – among the poor they are accompanied with pain – I myself am in excellent health – never better & my eyes are recovering – either cured by time or by a mercurial ointment of Mr Edmundson (our apothecary who is a right excellent man)

Have you seen – or heard from King of some damnable articles in the Morning Post to prove <advise> that we should give no quarter to the French? [7]  it really made Coleridge ill with vexation & anger. he is preparing an answer. [8]  you may whisper to King the secret history of this mystery of iniquity. the author [9]  is Irish – there is reason to believe a rebel in his heart. hence a cursed & devilish manifesto designed to please & irritate the people here & to be actually serviceable in France. I tell you this in confidence. The poem I wrote upon poor Emmet [10]  has not yet appeared & perhaps will not in the M Post – for I do not suspect the new Editor [11]  of much intellect or liberality. if it be delayed much longer I shall send it to William Taylor for the Iris.

No news of Tom tho I look sharp for the Galateas prizes in the paper. Harry I see is made a Lieutenant in the Norwich Volunteers. Of Killcrop I hear nothing, & tho well pleased to be spared postage for his letters yet wish to know whether he be still afloat, or has run home to his Aunt. The news from Lisbon is very ugly yet I always distrust newspaper news from Portugal never having seen anything but ignorant report or mere lies. it is cruelly vexatious to have ones letters taken.

You will be glad to hear that I am hot upon Madoc – quite in my full gallop mood. his whole narrative is now finished. without reckoning the line-by-line alterations & smaller insertions, there are about 800 new lines of new matter added. I am now in the old fourth book & still travel in open having a clear country before me. there will be about fifty or fourscore lines to add here containing an excommunication scene [12]  – & about as many more in the old fifth book, about turning Owen Gwyneddh [13]  out of his grave in consequence. except this there is only to alter & ornament till I come to the seventh book. then I shall have about a thousand lines of new story to insert in the place of that book & inweave with the next. The poem has hung so long upon my hands & during so many ups & downs of life that I had almost become superstitious about it & could hurry thro it with a sort of fear. projected in 1789 & begun in prose at that time – then it slept till 1794 when I wrote a book & half – another interval till 97 when it was corrected & carried on to the beginning of the fourth book – & then a gap again until the autumn of 1798 – from which time it went fairly on till it was finished in your poor mothers parlour on her little table. book by book I had read it to her – & passage by passage as they were written to my mother & to Peggy. this was done in July 99 – four years! – I will not trust it longer least more changes befall & I should learn to dislike it as a melancholy memento.

Fine stormy weather, & the winds make the finest magic-lanthorn work upon the mountains that heart could wish. they lie before us like a great scene which Nature is eternally painting. I saw to day a xxxx pillar of light slant down upon a single green field at their feet, & that field xxxxx <was> flooded with sunshine when the woods & mountains around were all dark & clouded. it did not look like an earthly landscape. the lake now is black & chequerd with waves by the wind – yesterday it was so dead a calm, that the woods & fields were mirrored on the water in so vivid a picture – that the lake seemed like a continuation of the woods & fields & you would not have believed that it was water.

God bless you Charles. Oh you must come to Keswick.

R S.

I hope you have learnt some tidings of my poor books.

Wednesday night.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ 4. Orchard Street/ Bristol./ Single.
Postmark: E/ OCT 24/ 1803
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 330-332 [dated October 1803]. BACK

[1] Southey had finished a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[2] Southey to John King, 28 September 1803, Letter 842. BACK

[3] Southey’s meaning is obscure. However, this letter opens up the intriguing possibility that Southey’s name had come up in the ballot to recruit troops for the newly constituted Army of Reserve. It was common practice for men thus balloted to pay for a substitute and Morgan may have been arranging matters for Southey in Bristol. BACK

[4] A bookseller or bookbinder in Bristol. Possibly Bartholomew Barry (fl. 1811) who later was a bookseller at 21 High St., Bristol. BACK

[5] Juan de Escobar (dates unknown), Romancero e Historia del Cid Ruy Diez de Bivar en Language Antigo (1632), no. 3449 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, where it is described as a ‘fine copy, in green morocco’. BACK

[6] The Coleridge children, Hartley, Derwent and Sara . BACK

[7] Leaders in the Morning Post, 6-7 October 1803, which recommended ‘the principle of no quarter’ to invading French troops and the ‘indiscriminate slaughter’ of prisoners in English jails if they became ‘turbulent’. BACK

[8] Coleridge believed the articles to be by James Mackintosh (1765-1832; DNB), see Coleridge to Thomas Poole, 14 October 1803, E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956-1971), II, 1016. He abandoned his proposed ‘answer’ when he discovered their actual author was someone else. BACK

[9] The author of the inflammatory articles was Dennis O’Bryen (1755-1832; DNB). BACK

[10] Robert Emmet (1778-1803; DNB), Irish revolutionary, executed on 20 September 1803. Southey’s poem, ‘A Lamentation’ was not published in the Morning Post, but did appear in The Iris on 12 November 1803. BACK

[11] Nicholas Byrne (d. 1833), editor and part-owner of the Morning Post 1803-1833. BACK

[12] The excommunication and exhumation scenes became Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 15. BACK

[13] Owen Gwynedd (1100-1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137-1170; DNB). In legend, the father of Madoc. BACK