Coleridge & Southey Letters
LR 1.3n. (Cf. LC 1.217)
The origin and authorship of "The Fall of Robespierre" will be best explained by the following extract from a letter from Mr. Southey to the Editor:
"This is the history of The Fall of Robespierre. It originated in sportive conversation at poor Lovell's, and we agreed each to produce an act by the next evening; — S.T.C. the first, I the second, and Lovell the third. S.T.C. brought part of his, I and Lovell the whole of ours; but L.'s was not in keeping, and therefore I undertook to supply the third also by the following day. By that time, S.T.C. had filled up his. A dedication to Mrs. Hannah More was concocted, and the notable performance was offered for sale to a bookseller in Bristol, who was too wise to buy it. Your Uncle took the MSS. with him to Cambridge, and there rewrote the first act at leisure, and published it. My portion I never saw from the time it was written till the whole was before the world. It was written with newspapers before me, as fast as newspaper could be put into blank verse. I have no desire to claim it now, or hereafter; but neither am I ashamed of it; and if you think proper to print the whole, so be it." —
"The Fall of Robespierre, a tragedy, of which the first act was written by S.T. Coleridge." Mr. C's note in the Conciones ad Populum, 1795. Ed.
RS to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 July 1793 (NL 1.29)
I hope soon to hear of the fall of Marat Robespierre Thuriot and David. The fall of Condé vexed me but they are only tenants for half a year and must pay dear rent. Vive La Republique! my Joan is a great democrat or rather will be.
STC to RS, 6 July 1794 (CL 1.83-4)
S. T. Coleridge to R. Southey — Health & Republicanism!
— The Cockatrice is a foul Dragon with a crown on it's head. The Eastern Nations believe it to be hatched by a Viper on a Cock's Egg. Southey. — Dost thou not see Wisdom in her Coan Vest of Allegory? The Cockatrice is emblematic of Monarchy — a monster generated by Ingratitude on Absurdity. When Serpents sting, the only Remedy is — to kill the Serpent, and besmear the Wound with the Fat. Would you desire better Sympathy? —
STC to RS, 1 September 1794 (CL 1.97-98)
Southey! my dear Fellow! I sit down in melancholy mood — So if you find me gloomy, be not disappointed. I arrived safe after a most unpleasant Journey ...
The day after my arrival I finished the first act — I transcribed it. — The next Morning Franklin (of Pembroke, Cam. — a ci devant Grecian of our School — so we call the first Boys) called on me and persuaded me to go with him & Breakfast with Dyer, Author of the Complaints of the Poor, — on Subscription, & &c——I went — explained our System — he was enraptured — pronounced it impregnable — He is intimate with Dr Priestley — and doubts not, that the Doctor will join us. — He shewed me some Poetry, and I shewed him part of the first Act, which I happed to have about me — He liked it hugely — it was a 'Nail, that would drive' — offered to speak to Robinson, his Bookseller——In short, he went — Rob. was in the country — he went to Johnson's & to Kearsley's — the former objected, because Dyer (who is a Reviewer) had confessedly only read the first act — / So on Saturday he called on me, and I gave him the whole to look over — and to morrow morning I breakfast with him. Hactenus de Tragoediâ.——
RS to Horace Walpole Bedford, 3 September 1794 (NL 1.72-73)
Poor Robespierre! Coleridge and I wrote a tragedy upon his death in the space of two days! so good that he has it now in town to get printed. If you ask my opinion of this great man, I will tell you.
I believe him to have been sacrificed to the despair of fools and cow[ards]. Coleridge says "he was a man whose great bad actions cast a dis[....] lustre over his name." He is now inclined to think with me that the [....] of a man so situated must not be judged by common laws, that Robespierre was the benefactor of mankind and that we should lament his death as the greatest misfortune Europe could have sustained — the situation of Europe is surely most melancholy — it presents to the eye of humanity a prospect of carnage from which it shrinks with horror. The coalesced tyrants are obstinate in pursuing the war. The French tho actuated at home by mean and selfish motives, act abroad with a steadiness and energy which at once delight and astonish me. Flanders must be rank with human blood. Surely Horace the eternal arbiter of all things can have no common end in view when he permits actions whose atrocity terrifies and whose magnitude astonishes the human mind. I do believe he guides the storm; I trust that all will conduce to human happiness. Meantime far removed from treachery corruption and slaughter, I go with my brethren and friends to establish that system which can alone prevent such convulsion in future.
RS to C.W.W. Wynn, 3-9 September 1794 [Tilney 150]
[Fragment of a letter, which is the earliest preserved communication between Southey and Wynn; the letter is torn, and the italics below are Tilney's reconstructions:]
Can you imagine a piece tolerable which represents both parties
you will receive two or three
RS to Thomas Southey, 7 September 1794 (NL 1.75-76)
The death of Robespierre is one of those events on which it is hardly possible to speak with certainty. The charges brought against him after his execution are most futile and contemptible; on the other hand I see much to commend in the Convention. They debate freely and set many prisoners at liberty. Tallien in one day delivered 700. Coleridge and I wrote a tragedy upon the subject in 24 hours, which he has in London now, either to sell or print on our account.
STC to RS, 11 September 1794 (CL 1.101)
Robinson, the Bookseller, is still from town — and the other Booksellers have declined it, or offered too little. I will immediately have it printed at Cambridge — Dyer will dispose of 50 in London — Mr Field another 50, at Cambridge I can dispose of at least 50 — perhaps more — some at Exeter — at Bristol you can certainly get rid of 50 — It will repay us amply — the two last acts want a few alterations — which Dyer pointed out — of course I have your permission to be plenipo-emendator. Shall I send down — what number of Copies of the Tragedy to Bristol? We will print 500.
STC to RS, 18 September 1794 (CL 1.104)
I will write you a huge big Letter next week — at present I have to transact the Tragedy Business ...
STC to RS, 19 September 1794 (CL 1.106)
The Tragedy will be printed in less than a week — I shall put my Name — because it will sell at least an hundred Copies at Cambridge — . It would appear ridiculous to put two names to such a Work — But if you choose it, mention it — and it shall be done — To every man, who praises it, of course I give the true biography of it — to those, who laugh at it, I laugh again — and I am too well known at Cambridge to be thought the less of — even tho' I had published James Jennings' Satire.
STC to Henry Martin, 22 September 1794 (CL 1.106-107)
STC to RS, 26 September 1794 (CL 1.110)
Our Tragedy is printed all but the Title page — it will be complete by Saturday Night.
STC to RS, 21 October 1794 (CL 1.117-18)
... I sent 100 Robespierres to Bath 10 days ago and more. — 500 Copies of Robespierre were printed — 100 to Bath — 100 to Kearsley in London — 25 to March at Norwich — 30 I have sold privately (25 of these 30 to Dyer, who found it inconvenient to take 50) the rest are dispersed among the Cambridge Booksellers — the delicacies of academic Gentlemanship prevented me from disposing of more than the 5 propriâ personâ — of course we only get 9 pence for each Copy from the Booksellers. I expected that Mr Field would have sent for 50; but have heard nothing of it. I sent a copy to him with my respects — and have made presents of 6 more. How they sell in London, I know not — all that are in Cambridge will sell — a great many are sold — I have been blamed for publishing it considering the more important work, I have offered to the Public — N'importe — 'Tis thought a very Aristocratic Performance — you may suppose how hyper-democratic my character must have been — . The Expences of Paper, Printing, and Advertisements — are nearly 9 pound — We ought to have charged 1s — 6d a copy. —
I presented a Copy to Miss Brunton with these Verses in the blank Leaf. —
Much on my early Youth I love to dwell
Thus to sad Sympathies I sooth'd my breast
In ghastly horror lie th' Oppressors low——
— Till I dated this Letter, I never recollected that Yesterday was my Birth Day — 22 years old.——
[The poem to Brunton first reappeared, in revised form and now addressed to Sara Coleridge, in the first issue of The Watchman, 1 March 1796 (CC 2.27-29).]
STC to Francis Wrangham, 24 October 1794 (CL 1.121)
I have sent you the Tragedy of Robespierre — , 'libellus, qui mihi subito calore et quâdam festinandi voluptate fluxit. Biduo effusus est — quamvis metuo, ne verum istuc versus quoque ipsi de se probent.' ["a little volume which poured from me in a sudden heat and with a certain pleasure at the rushing. It flowed forth in a matter of two days, although I am afraid lest the verses also make this truth about themselves evident."]
... The Scotts desire their compliments. Compliments! Cold aristocratic Inanities —! I abjure their nothingness. If there be any whom I deem worthy of remembrance — I am their Brother. I call even my Cat Sister in the Fraternity of universal Nature. Owls I respect & Jack Asses I love: for Aldermen & Hogs, Bishops & Royston Crows I have not particular partiality — ; they are my Cousins however, at least by Courtesy. But Kings, Wolves, Tygers, Generals, Ministers, and Hyaenas, I renounce them all — or if they must be my kinsmen, it shall be in the 50th Remove — May the Almighty Pantisocratizer of Souls pantisocratize the Earth, and bless you and
S. T. Coleridge! -
STC to George Coleridge, 6 November 1794 (CL 1.125-26)
How often and how unkindlily are the ebullitions of youthful disputatiousness mistaken for the result of fixed Principles! People have resolved, that I am a Dhmocrat — and accordingly look at every thing I do through the Spectacles of Prejudication. In the feverish Distemperature of a bigotted Aristocrat's Brain some phantom of Dhmocracy threatens him in every Corner of my Writings. —
And Hebert's atheist Crew, whose maddening hand
'Are these Lines in character['] (observed a sensible friend of mine) — 'in a speech on the Death of the Man, whom it just became the Fashion to style the ambitious Theocrat?' — I fear, not — was my answer — I gave way to my own Feelings. — The first speech of Adelaide — Whose Automaton is this Character! Who spoke thro' Le Gendre's mouth, when he says — [']O what a precious name is Liberty — To scare or cheat the simple into Slaves!['] But in several parts I have, it seems, in the strongest language boasted the impossibility of subduing France — . Is not this Sentiment highly characteristic? Is it forced into the Mouths of the Speakers? Could I have even omitted it without evident Absurdity — . But granted, that it is my own opinion — Is it an anti-pacific one — I should have classed it among the Anti-polemics. — Again — Are all who entertain and express this opinion Dhmocrats? God forbid! They would be a formidable party indeed! I know many violent Anti-reformists, who are as violent against the War on the ground that it may introduce that reform, which they (perhaps not unwisely) imagine, would chaunt the Dirge of our Constitution.——
Solemnly, my Brother! I tell you — I am not a Dhmocrat. I see evidently, that the present is not the highest state of Society, of which we are capable — And after a diligent, I may say, an intense study of Locke, Hartley and others who have written most wisely on the Nature of Man — I appear to myself to see the point of possible perfection at which the World may perhaps be destined to arrive — But how to lead Mankind from one point to the other is a process of such infinite Complexity, that in deep-felt humility I resign it to that Being — 'Who shaketh the Earth out of her place and the pillars thereof tremble' — [']Who purifieth with Whirlwinds and maketh the Pestilence his Besom' — Who hath said — that [']Violence shall no more be heard of' — 'the people shall not build and another inhabit — they shall not plant and another eat['] — [']The Wolf and the Lamb shall feed together!' —
I have been asked what is the best conceivable mode of meliorating Society — My Answer has been uniformly this — 'Slavery is an Abomination to every feeling of the Head and the Heart — Did Jesus teach the Abolition of it? No! He taught those principles, of which the necessary effect was — to abolish all Slavery. He prepared the mind for the reception before he poured the Blessing — .['] You ask me, what the friend of universal Equality should do — I answer — [']Talk not of Politics — Preach the Gospel!' — Yea! my Brother! I have at all times in all places exerted my powers in the defence of the Holy One of Nazareth against the Learning of the Historian, the Libertinism of the Wit, and (his worst Enemy!) the Mystery of the Bigot! — But I am an Infidel, because I cannot thrust my head into a mud guttar and say — 'How deep I am! — for [I am drunk'!] — And I am a Dhmocrat, because I will not join in the maledictions of the Despotist — because I will bless all men and curse no one! — I have been a fool even to madness — and I am therefore an excellent hit for Calumny to aim her poisoned probabilities at! As the poor Flutterer, who by hard struggling has escaped from the birdlimed thorn-bush, still bears the clammy Incumbrance on his feet and wings, so am I doomed to carry about with me the sad mementos of past Imprudence and Anguish from which I have been imperfectly released. -
RS to Thomas Southey, 1 December 1794 (NL 1.88)
The two last acts of Robespierre are my writing.
STC to John Thelwall, 17 December 1796 (CL 1.283)
"Now giving all diligence, add to your Faith Fortitude, and to Fortitude Knowledge, and to Knowledge Purity, and to Purity *Patience, and to Patience Godliness, and to Godliness Brotherly-kindness, and to Brotherly-kindness Universal Love." [2 Peter 1.5-7]
* Patience. Permit me, as a definition of this word to quote from one sentence from my first Address.-Page 20: [Conciones ad Populum.] "Accustomed to regard all the affairs of Man, as a Process, they never hurry & they never pause.' In his not possessing this virtue, all the horrible excesses of Robespierre did, I believe, originate." [Note by S.T.C.]
RS to STC, 23 December 1799 (NL 1.211)
Concerning the French, I wish Buonaparte had staid in Egypt, and that Robespierre had guillotined Sièyes. These cursed complex governments are good for nothing, and will ever be in the hands of intriguers. The Jacobines were the men; and one house of representatives, lodging the executive in committees, the plain and common system of government. The cause of republicanism is over, and it is now only a struggle for dominion. There wanted a Lycurgus after Robespierre, a man loved for his virtue, and bold, and inflexible, and who should have levelled the property of France, and then would the Republic have been immortal, and the world must have been revolutionised by example. At present I have the true cynic growl, softening down into Stoical not Epicurean apathy. All the nations are so detestably governed that I see no preference except it be in the amount of taxes.
RS to Joseph Cottle, 5 March 1836 (NL 2.446-47)
In the summer of 1794, S.T.C. and Hucks came to Oxford on their way into Wales for a pedestrian tour. There Allen introduced them to me, and the scheme was talked of, but by no means determined on. It was talked into shape by Burnett and myself, when upon the commencement of the Long Vacation, we separated from them, they making for Gloucester, he and I proceeding on foot to Bath. After some weeks, S.T.C. returning from his tour, came to Bristol on his way, and stopt there. Then it was that we resolved upon going to America, and S.T.C. and I walked into Somersetshire to see Burnett upon this; and on that journey it was that he first saw Poole. He made his engagement with Miss Fricker, on our return from this journey, at my Mothers house in Bath: not a little to my astonishment, because he had talked of being deeply in love with a certain Mary Evans. I had been previously engaged to my poor Edith, whom it would make your heart ache to see at this time! Their sister Martha was never either engaged or attached.
He remained at Bristol till the close of the vacation — several weeks. During that time it was that we talked of America. The funds were to be what each could raise. S.T.C. by his Specimens of the Modern Latin poets, for which he had printed proposals, and obtained a respectable list of Cambridge subscribers before I knew him. I by Joan of Arc, and what else I might publish. I had no rich relation, except one (my Uncle John Southey) who took no notice of his brothers family, nor any other expectation. We hoped to find companions with money.
C. returned to Cambridge and there printed the Fall of Robespierre, while Lovell and I published our joint volume of poems at Bath. (My first transaction with you was for Joan of Arc, and this I think was before C. arrived in Bristol, and soon after Lovell had introduced me to you.)
From Mrs. Henry Sandford, Thomas Poole and his Friends, 2 vols. (London, 1888) 1.100-106.
John Poole, the story begins, had brought the tidings of the death of Robespierre home with him from Oxford; but this is manifestly impossible, as we find by his journal that he arrived at Marshmill from Oxford on July 18, and Robespierre did not die till July 28. However, it is, of course, easily to be supposed that he may have brought the intelligence home from Bridgwater to Taunton. On his way, according to one tradition, he stopped at his uncle's house in Nether Stowey to tell his news; according to another it was at Marshmill itself that he found his Cousin Tom, in company with two young men, introduced to him by the names of Coleridge and Southey, who not only did not show the feelings any right-thinking people might have been expected to manifest at such a piece of intelligence, but one of them — Southey — actually laid his head down upon his arms and exclaimed, "I had rather have heard of the death of my own father."
So runs the tale as it has been told to me, more often, I think, than any other story that I have ever heard of Coleridge's life at Stowey; indeed my own father and other members of the family of the same standing, have repeatedly assured me that they have themselves heard it related by Mr. John Poole himself. And yet all who remember how little sympathy either Coleridge or Southey had with the Jacobins, how deeply they felt the "murder of Brissot," how simply the dramatic fragment on the death of Robespierre relates, but does not lament, his overthrow, must feel that there is something here that requires explanation.
[John Poole kept diaries in Latin. Entry for August 1794:]
'... Horâ fere 7mâ Thos. Poole, et frater Richardus, Henricus Poole, et duo juvenes ei familiares huc veniunt. Duo isti ignoti, intelligo, è Cantabrigiâ exierant; et totam fere Walliam peragraverant. Unus Oxoniensis Alumnus; alter Cantabrigiensis. Uterque verò rabie Democratica, quoad Politiam; et Infidelis quoad Religionem spectat, turpiter fervet. Ego maxime indignor. Tandem verò, horâ fere 8vâ, omnes discedunt ... Horâ ferme 1mâ Dns Reekes Stoweiâ venit; multum indignatur propter malitiam odiosam et detestandam juvenum istorum, quibus, apud Avunculi mei Thomae occurrerat. Illi plus videntur cogitationes suas, quam apud nos, illic indicâsse. Sed de talibus satis. . . .'
Which may be thus translated: —
'... About one o'clock, Thomas Poole and his brother Richard, Henry Poole, and two young men, friends of his, come in. These two strangers, I understand, had left Cambridge, and had walked nearly all through Wales. One is an undergraduate of Oxford, the other of Cambridge. Each of them was shamefully hot with Democratic rage as regards politics, and both Infidel as to religion. I was extremely indignant. At last, however, about two o'clock, they all go away ... About seven o'clock Mr. Reekes comes from Stowey; he is very indignant over the odious and detestable ill-feeling of these two young men, whom he had met at my Uncle Thomas's. They seem to have shown their sentiments more plainly there than with us. But enough of such matters. . . .'
"Ego maxime indignor!" Here, no doubt, we have the germ of the whole history, though John Poole unluckily omits to record the particular nature of the utterances which so strongly moved him to wrath ... But putting this and that together, it is easy to understand that the death of Robespierre was certain to be mentioned as an awful event and the leading topic of the day, and that the talk of isti duo ignoti was wild enough to be the origin of the most extravagant rumours, as it became embedded in fragments in the gossip of a scandalised neighbourhood; where it was soon 'well known' that one of Tom Poole's literary friends - was it the young man Coldridge [sic], or the young man Southey? they were not quite sure; but it was certainly one of them - had positively said that Robespierre was a ministering angel of mercy, sent to slay thousands that he might save millions. Let us be accurate. It was not positively certain whether the words were hundreds and thousands, or thousands and millions; but that Robespierre had been called a 'ministering angel of mercy' everybody knew for a fact.
This is quite simple; but what is really perplexing is to imagine how Coleridge, or even Southey, who, according to Tom Poole, was, on that occasion, 'the most extreme' of the two, could have said anything so apparently opposite to their own convictions. I believe the solution is to be found in the mischievous enjoyment that they both experienced in the state of superlative indignation into which they provoked John Poole - especially Southey. Let us remember that he was an Oxford undergraduate, and a very insubordinate one, who had already amused himself by making remarks on the 'waste of wigs and want of wits' to be observed amongst the university authorities; the very sight of John Poole, serious and scholarly, with powdered locks, and precise attire, and a certain air of expecting every one to mean what he says, and to be reasonable, may have been quite enough to make him set himself, with that peculiar kind of wrongheadedness which is a not uncommon characteristic of very early manhood, to parade outrageous opinions, and to say whatever came into his head as most likely to shock a very proper young Don's sense of fitness.