868. Robert Southey to Richard Duppa [fragment], 14 December 1803

868. Robert Southey to Richard Duppa [fragment], 14 December 1803 ⁠* 

Greta Hall, Keswick, Dec. 14. 1803.

Dear Duppa,

I have not had the heart to write to you, though the long silence has lain like a load upon my conscience. When we parted I had as much present happiness as man could wish, and was full of all cheerful hopes: however, no man, if he be good for any thing, but is the better for suffering. It has long been my habit to look for the good that is to be found in every thing, and that alchemy is worth more than the grand secret of all the adepts.

I had almost completed my arrangements for removing to Richmond at Christmas, and here we are at the uttermost end of the north, and here for some time we shall probably remain; how long, God knows. I am steady in my pursuits, for they depend upon myself; but my plans and fortunes, being of the τά ούκ έφ ήμίυ, [1]  are more mutable; they are fairly afloat, and the winds are more powerful than the steersman. Longman caught the alarm – the Bonaparte [2]  ague or English influenza – after I left town, and sent to me to postpone my Bibliotheca, [3]  at the very time when I wished the engagement off my mind, not being in a state of mind to contemplate it with courage. He shall now wait my convenience, and I shall probably finish off my own works of choice here, where, living cheaper, I have more leisure. My History [4]  is in a state of rapid progression. The last time I saw Mr. —— in town he gave me a draft for fifty pounds as his subscription, he said, to this work. I tell you this because you know him, and, therefore, not to tell you would make me feel ungrateful for an act of uncommon liberality, done in the handsomest way possible. I little thought, at the time, how soon an unhappy circumstance would render the sum needful. This work I am alternating and relieving by putting Madoc [5]  to the press, and my annual job of reviewing interrupts both for awhile; but, happily, this job comes, like Christmas, but once a year, and I have almost killed off my contemporaries.

Haslitt, [6]  whom you saw at Paris, has been here; a man of real genius. He has made a very fine picture of Coleridge for Sir George Beaumont, [7]  which is said to be in Titian’s [8]  manner; he has also painted Wordsworth, but so dismally, though Wordsworth’s face is his idea of physiognomical perfection, that one of his friends, on seeing it, exclaimed, ‘At the gallows – deeply affected by his deserved fate – yet determined to die like a man;’ and if you saw the picture, you would admire the criticism. We have a neighbour here who also knows you – Wilkinson, [9]  a clergyman, who draws, if not with much genius, with great industry and most useful fidelity. I have learnt a good deal by examining his collection of etchings.

Holcroft, [10]  I hear, has discovered, to his own exceeding delight, prophetic portraits of himself and Coleridge among the damned in your Michael Angelo. [11]  I have found out a more flattering antetype of Coleridge’s face in Duns Scotus. [12]  Come you yourself and judge of the resemblances. Coleridge and our lakes and mountains are worth a longer journey. Autumn is the best season to see the country, but spring, and even winter, is better than summer, for in settled fine weather there are none of those goings on in heaven which at other times give these scenes such an endless variety.            .            .            .            .            .            You will find this house a good station for viewing the lakes; it is, in fact, situated on perhaps the very finest single spot in the whole lake country, and we can show you things which the tourists never hear of.

.            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            .            Edith desires to be remembered to you; she is but in indifferent health. I myself am as well as I ever was. The weather has been, and is, very severe, but it has not as yet hurt me; however, it must be owned the white bears have the advantage of us in England, and still more the dormice. If their torpor could be introduced into the human system, it would be a most rare invention. I should roll myself up at the end of October, and give orders to be waked by the chimney-sweeper on May-day.

God bless you.

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey.


* 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. 237-239 [in part]. BACK

[1] ‘What is not in my power’. BACK

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

[3] Southey’s plan for a ‘Bibliotheca Britannica’, a chronological history of all literature published in Britain. BACK

[4] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

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

[6] William Hazlitt, writer and artist, had visited the Lake District in 1803. After an encounter with a local girl, whom he reputedly spanked, his stay came to an abrupt and highly controversial end. BACK

[7] Sir George Beaumont, art patron and painter, had commissioned portraits of Coleridge, Hartley Coleridge and William Wordsworth from Hazlitt. BACK

[8] Tiziano Vecelli (c. 1473/1490-1576), Italian painter. BACK

[9] Joseph Wilkinson (1764-1831), Canon of Carlisle Cathedral and producer of Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire (1810). In late 1803 he was living at Ormathwaite, near Keswick. BACK

[10] Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809; DNB), radical, dramatist and novelist. BACK

[11] Richard Duppa, A Selection of Twelve Heads from the Last Judgement of Michael Angelo (1801). BACK

[12] John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308; DNB), Franciscan friar and theologian. Coleridge had been studying his works. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)