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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1892. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, [started before and continued on] 31 March [1811] ⁠* 

My dear Charles

The moment your letter reached me with the ages of the children I wrote to Friend Smith. [1]  As yet I have received no answer. He will certainly exert himself, & probably is doing so at this time, – but he is confined to his house, & will hardly ever be well enough to leave it. This may occasion some delay, – that we shall hear from him to some purpose I have great hopes. I gave him T. Reids [2]  direction.

Burnetts death has shocked me very much. Rickman told me of it but I knew nothing of the particulars till now. [3]  Three months ago two long letters from him to Coleridge found their way & were opened because the handwriting was known. They talked of illness & distress, & asked C. to join with him in some schemes of authorship which Cs name would enable him to effect with the booksellers. And they abused me in such a manner as to show that he was clearly deranged upon that subject for he affirmed that I was doing all I could to ruin his reputation from envy & the certain knowledge I had that if he could have fair play he should excel me, – I wrote to Coleridge telling him the substance of these letters, said that the only thing which could be done for Burnett was to obtain for him such a situation in the army or navy as he had left, – & that if this could be done I would willingly contribute 20£ towards equipping it for it, but that he must not know from whom it came. [4]  C. I am sure has never opened the letter, – & if it had been possible to save Burnett (which probably it was not) it would have been just the same. – Some such fate was to have been expected, but it has shocked me grievously. In an evil hour did he become acquainted with me, & yet had he listened to my advice often & urgently repeated, he might at this hour have been alive & happy, a useful & a worthy member of society.

His hatred to me was undoubtedly pure madness, – I never received a line from him since he left this place, & certainly was glad that he had chosen to break with me, because his cond manners toward women were sxxx quite insufferable. Still I would have done any thing which was possible to relieve or serve him, & if C. had opened my letter & seen him, we should then have known his real state of disease, & he should gave wanted no comfort & no assistance that money could have procured for him. – I have nothing for which to blame myself, but this does not prevent me from being grieved as well as shocked.

There will be a difficulty (insuperable I fear) about Xts Hospital [5]  because your poor brother is not a freeman of London. If friend Smith fails I will apply to John May.

March 31.

This letter has lain some days unfinished & I have not yet heard from Mr Smith.

We have had nothing but sickness after sickness in the house for the last three months, & so it still continues. Bertha is just recovering from a smart bilious attack, & Herbert now is being dosed with bark for a sore throat & fever: – so I have been kept in a state of half idleness by disquietude. This throws me back – for which there is no occasion, & my arrangements are terribly dislocated in consequence. I thought to have been in London the first week in May, & now I must work unremittingly to get there by the last. My absence must be six weeks at least, – I meant it to be eight, – this brings me to Midsummer. – I begin to fear that this will end in putting off my journey till the autumn which I am exceedingly unwilling to do because it is time that I should visit my Uncle & his wife. – Till xxx this be final I cannot write to Hort [6]  (as I would else do) & say how glad I should be to see him here at Midsummer. But if I am at home I shall be very glad to receive him, & of this you shall be apprized as soon as possible. – It is among the possibilities that we may travel together – for if Miss Barker be at Bath I shall make that place on my way back.

You seem to value the xx criticism in the Register more than it deserves – it is flashy & that is all. I do not know who wrote it, – some Scotchman or he would never have dreamt of comparing xx me with Campbell! [7]  I hardly conceive it would be as reasonable to institute a comparison between Skiddaw & Brandon hill. [8]  – I like the temper of the British Review [9]  & am glad to see something like a right old English feeling gaining ground in the country. What a fine thing is this of Grahams! [10]  & what a xx xxxxx lucky speech did Lord Grenville make about Portugal last week! [11]  Huzza for the Portugueze, – it does my heart good to hear of their fighting side by side with us.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Charles Danvers Esqr/ Bristol/ at T. Richards Esqr/ Plaistreet House/ near/ Taunton
Endorsement: 1811/ 31 March
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 7–9. BACK

[1] The children of John Danvers (d. 1812) the younger brother of Charles Danvers, a surgeon and apothecary in Woolwich, who had been made bankrupt in 1808. See also Southey to Thomas Woodruffe Smith [c. 23 February 1811], Letter 1874. BACK

[2] Possibly Thomas Whitehead Reid (1786–1845), younger half-brother of Samuel Reid. Originally a sugar-refiner, he was by this time a merchant in London. BACK

[3] Burnett had died in the infirmary of Marylebone workhouse in February 1811. BACK

[4] Southey’s letter to Coleridge has not survived. BACK

[5] The public school, Christ’s Hospital (founded 1552), which had many free places. BACK

[6] William Jillard Hort (1764–1849), Unitarian minister, at the Frenchay Chapel in Bristol 1803–1815 and later in Cork. He was the addressee of Coleridge’s ‘To the Rev. W. J. H,’, Poems on Various Subjects (London and Bristol, 1796), pp. [12]–14. BACK

[7] Southey, Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB) and Scott had been described as ‘the three most successful candidates for poetical fame’ in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 419. BACK

[8] i.e. between the Lake district mountain Skiddaw (the fourth highest mountain in England) and the much smaller Brandon Hill, which lies between Clifton and Hotwells, Bristol. BACK

[9] The British Review and London Critical Journal, which ran from 1811–1825. It was owned by John Weyland (1774–1854; DNB) and edited by William Roberts (1767–1849; DNB). The Review was distinctly Tory and evangelical. BACK

[10] Major-General Thomas Graham (1748–1843; DNB), had just played a crucial part in the victory of an Anglo-Spanish force at Barrosa on 5 March 1811. BACK

[11] Grenville had made a speech in the House of Lords on 18 March 1811 on the futility of British intervention in Spain and Portugal. Southey noted laconically, ‘Two days after these opinions were delivered, the telegraph announced the news of Massena’s retreat’, Edinburgh Annual Register, 1811 (1813), I, p. 264, referring to the French general, André Massena’s (1758–1817) retreat from Portugal into Spain, which began on 13 March 1811. BACK

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August 2013