Part Four, covering the period 1810-1815, was a crucial one for Southey’s career and reputation. It has, however, never before been fully documented or fully understood. By 1810 he was established in Keswick...
199. Robert Bloomfield to Samuel Rogers, 24 December 1806*
City Road Dec 24. 1806
S Rogers Esq
I return your Opera Ticket with sincere thanks for the pleasure it obtain'd me; Yet I think my pleasure arose more from the novelty than the intrinsic merit of the thing. Naldi has a good deal of comic humour, but it is Italian humour.  I was charm'd with his voice more than with his dress and deportment. Rovedino has nothing comic in his face: I should act comedy just so myself. The new performer, Siboni, made a very good prince of Taranto;  but the two Females were by far the most interesting performers to me, Perini and Grigletti.  But to save the trouble of spelling these confounded breakjaw names, I will tell you in a general way what I admired, and what I disliked.—
I was previously aware that I was not to look for probability in the accident nature of Operas themselves, and this previous knowledge save'd me the mortification of a dissappointment. I should have liked Naldi better if I had not been pester'd by a perpetual inward comparison between him and the figure in a print which I have seen, calld 'Italian Revenge'. This thought troubled me all the evening.—The Scenery is truly delightfull. The dancing wonderfull, and the whole, setting probability and nature (allmost) out of the question, is a high treat, Yet I think more like Mince-pie and made-dishes than substancial food. I am too great a novice in Music to judge, I could only be surprize'd and astonished. I sat alone, in the Pit, totally unknowing and unknown. Some Gentlemen behind me were extolling the singular beauty of a Lady of easy Virtue who sat a few seats above us, and I excercised my judgment too, (for when you gave sent me the ticket no restriction was laid as to which way I should look,) and have to tell you that of any essentials of beauty she had not a spark, not an atom! so much for difference of opinion. I do not believe that men agree in this any more than in their palates at Table, or their notions of what is beautifull in a landscape.
I cannot help observing the great difference between an illdresst and a well-dresst mob, and I must indeed be unfeeling and ungenerous not to acknowledge it. In our National Theatres I have often sided so far with the Patricians as to wish the Plebeans at the Devel, not because they were such, (that I leave to those who are weak enough, that is, proud enough,) but merely because they would not be quiet.
I observed, according to the best of my calculation, that the petticoats of the women were about ten inches longer than those of the men, one of them the former in particular I should have been glad to have accommodated with the loan of a pair of pantaloons which I had left at home, and yet it is more than a hundred to one if they had pleased her;— I do not wonder in the least that Gentlemen, and ladies too, should frequent a place where they can hear the finest Music, and see the most surprizing agility and grace, but I am now convinced, too that the former have an additional incentive; the exhibition of female beauty in a manner, and in a way which no other place in England will warrant, and by my Soul, I think this is as natural a feeling as any one there excited, 'and further this deponent saith not.'
I have had the pleasure of witnessing the best Scenery and Dancing, and the worst Lightning, in England. I saw Narcissus drown himself, (and, by the buy that same Narcissus was worth going three miles to see,) I saw a very jolly and delectable looking Venus, and a number of other young things whose motions indicated that they felt the want of wings and were very angry indeed because they had them not. They plagued poor little Cupid in a most barbarous manner, because he fell asleep after whetting his arrows, on what?—on a Grindstone!
Upon the whole I frankly own that I think I should have relish'd this show much more if it had not happen'd that I had seen the preceeding, week the English Opera of 'Love in a Village'  and I am unfashionable enough to declare, and my whole heart goes with it, that I would rather be the Author of such a piece than proprietor of the Opera House and all the buildings on his side of the Street.—
With unfeign'd thanks for your continued kindness, I am Sir, Most respectfully and truly Yours,
 The character Siboni appears in Il Principe di Taranto (1797), the opera by Ferdinando Paer (1771–1839), an Italian composer who worked in Dresden and, under Napoleon's patronage, in Paris from 1807. BACK