863. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 9 December 1803

863. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 9 December 1803 ⁠* 

Friday Dec. 9. 1803.

Coleridge goes off in a few days for Madeira. [1] 

Dear Danvers

I am grieved to hear of your ill health – for Gods sake take every possible precaution. Carlisle recommends a leathern waistcoat next the skin as better than flannel – soft washing-leather. he says this is the best preservative against our destructive climate. Of course this can cure no complaint, but it may prevent fresh colds & any aggravation. –

My chief motive for writing thus immediately on the receipt of yours is a suspicion that my vagabond brother Edward may apply to you for money, in which case you must refuse him. He writes to me some ten days ago that his Aunt has persuaded him to leave his ship that he “might smooth the pillow of her declining age” &c – accordingly he had done so – quarrelled with her afterwards – & then knew not what he should have done if some Mr Barham [2]  of Exeter had not invited him to spend his Christmas there. the whelp then writes to let me know this – to say he will follow what line of life I chuse – & to ask for money. I lost no time in telling him he must go to sea again & sent him twenty shillings just to pay his washing bills till a ship could be procured – not chusing to supply him with more. this letter of his was directed to Bristol. Yesterday another letter with the same direction found me out, from some low tradesman by the writing enclosing a bill for five pounds thirteen, for acceptance drawn on me by this wretched boy – & stating that Mr E. S. had said I was duly advised. After consulting with Coleridge, & knowing that such conduct must be decidedly stopt at the first I have refused to accept the bill & told the holder that not being advised of the cause & occasion I was at a loss to conceive what could have been the circumstances that could have justified a respectable tradesman in cashing a bill for a boy of fifteen. I wrote to him to tell him he might learn by this lesson how I was resolved to act toward him, – for every good purpose I was ready to exert myself for his assistance to my utmost – but never would become his accomplice in any wrong action by giving my after consent or connivance. Unless I had acted thus you will feel that I should never be safe. the Boy as you know has no shame – & I fear no principle or feeling of good to supply its place. The little that he can suffer now may prevent a more severe evil hereafter. on what pretext he had taken up the money I know not – this is certain that there can have been no good one – & that if I permitted him to incur debts upon my credit at his mercy – I should very soon become involved myself. It is by no means impossible that he may apply to you, it would be quite in character with that impudence which will be his ruin. John May will procure him a ship & I shall supply him with means to join it. from the present scrape he must get out as he can by refunding or returning what he may have received. the more he is frightened the better. if he writes to you you will know in what tone to answer him – & I beseech you if Mrs Tyler should make any such application for him or for herself answer to the same purport. Of the curses of life worthless relations are the worst – I may apply Wordsworths lines & say of Death that my mind – Mourns less for what he takes away Than what he leaves behind! [3]  It is a sad thing to have ties of duty where there is neither affection nor esteem. I love Tom for he has a warm heart & would go thro fire & water for me as I would for him. as for the other two – Harry will be a spendthrift & a coxcomb – or rather is so – tho he will do well in worldly way at last – the other bids fair to become either a swindler or a strolling player.

Should you see Mrs Wroughton [4]  again pray return her the subscription. the moment I become any persons debtor in that way I am no longer at liberty to act freely about the poem. it is my intention now to publish it next winter – but many possible circumstances may prevent this. I may be called abroad – I may be disabled by ill health – by accidents – prevented by other employments – or induced to change the mode of publication for want of success. this last is very probable, indeed most probable. I rather try the experiment to satisfy those who would say why did you not do so – than from any expectation of even tolerable encouragement. less than 300 names will not render it prudent to publish on my own account – I feel assured that not a third of that number will be procured – I may look for about [MS torn] from you & Wynn & John May, & there is no other person who will procure me half-a-dozen. You see then that it would be imprudent to publish proposals. the failure of a public attempt would lower the po value of the poem when I shall be obliged to carry it to market. I get on with the recomposition – for such in fact it is. the discovery of little Hoel & his mother whose name now is Llaian, is just finished – making my thirteenth bookling. [5]  the next must be wholly new – then only I have only to recast the old metal as far as his return. about a thousand lines must be woven into the 7th & 8th books as you have them – the latter part of the poem will receive no material alteration as to story or arrangement.

We have had intolerable weather that has half frozen me. & almost made me resolve not to settle in Cumberland. however I am well thank God, & in as ostensible spirits as those about me could wish. Burnett has applied to May for money – & May has supplied him. I am as you may suppose justly offended. you know not how I have been pestered with unpleasant information of late – Harry sent off to Edinburgh against my opinion – without my Uncles knowledge & against the approbation of his friends merely because he was so intolerably idle that Mr Martineau [6]  very properly refused to keep him. Edward a vagabond, & this shameless fellow Burnett begging upon the strength of my his intimacy with me. – from what you say of poor Kings child [7]  I conclude it must have been scrophalous tho you do not say so. you wish me more children – I am not sure that I can join in the wish, considering the fear I should feel & the strong probability that I should not love another so well because it would not be the same. It is well that these things are not in our own choice. – pray write speedily of your own health – for in truth Danvers I shall now feel no other uneasiness so strongly as for that.

God bless you – R. S.

Draw on May for the charges you may bear.


* Address: To/ Mr Danvers/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: [partial] E/ DEC 12.
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. 340-342. BACK

[1] Coleridge did not leave for Madeira. He went to Malta in April 1804. BACK

[2] John Foster-Barham (1763-1822), a wealthy merchant in the West India trade and partner in Plummer, Barham & Co. How Edward Southey had made his acquaintance is unclear. BACK

[3] William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, with Other Poems, 2 vols (London, 1800), II, p. 129, ‘The Fountain’, lines 35-36. BACK

[4] Possibly Joanna Wroughton née Townley (dates unknown), first wife of Richard Wroughton (1748-1822; DNB), actor and theatre manager. She had probably given Charles Danvers some money towards the proposed – but unrealised – subscription edition of Madoc. BACK

[5] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 14. BACK

[6] Philip Meadows Martineau (1752-1829), surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a member of the Martineau family, prominent Unitarians in Norwich. Henry Herbert Southey had studied under him, but had entered the University of Edinburgh in November 1803. BACK

[7] Zoe King (1803-1881). BACK

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