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

2064. Robert Southey to Robert Gooch, 23 March 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick March 23. 1812.

My dear Gooch

I believe the reason why you have not heard from me for so long {a} time has been (besides the standing reason of standing engagements) that I have so many papers in different books with a G. marked upon them, that I did not dare begin upon them, for fear of never getting to the end. Your note, with Dr Knightons papers which arrived this day, gives me something to answer, & thereby an excuse for leaving the memorabilia medica to a more convenient season.

The Ass & the Flute is a fable of Yriarte the Spaniards. [1]  He finds the flute on the ground, snuffs at it & so makes it sound por casualidad  [2]  which is the termination of every stanza except the following –

The sweet sounds vibrate shrill & clear
Along his longitude of ear.
Bravo! exclaims the rapturd Brute
How masterly I play the flute.

I translated it more than fifteen years {ago} at Lugo, – the first fruits of my studies in Spanish. [3]  – In the case of poor Beddoes the application (which was Coleridges) was sufficiently happy. While the Ass breathed thro the flute, it gave only its own sweet sounds, – but he was so delighted with what he had done, that forgetful of the instrument he concluded by breaking out into his own natural bray. – The titles were 1st a speedy & certain cure for pulmonary consumption. 2d – a speedy relief & probable cure. 3d – probable relief & possible cure: the title page differd I believe from either. [4]  Davy was my authority for this story. Did I tell you how the dissection came to be so hurried over? There existed no likeness of Beddoes, & Bird the painter [5]  was sent for to preserve one after his death. John Estlin [6]  knew nothing of this, & when he entered the room x expecting to find the body laid ready for him, to his utter astonishment he saw it sitting up in the bed, in the clothes which the Dr. usually wore, the hair newly drest, & the hand placed in an attitude (if I mistake not) on a table with a book by it. It shocked him so that he could not recover himself & by another still more culpable mismanagement Mrs Beddoes knew what was going on, & her feelings were such that they hastend thro the of a respect examination in a very xxxxxxx {imperfect} manner. [7]  – In what I am about to say you will understand me as speaking with a most perfect sense of my own ignorance upon such xxxxx subjects: this being promised, – is it possible that the pulmonary disease which was discovered, can have been produced by the enormous quantities of nitrous oxyd which B. was at one time, & for a considerable time, in the habit of inhaling? The quantities (me spectanti  [8] ) were enormous. – He tells you somewhere that he recovered his ruddy complexion by breathing oxygen – [9] 

The sooner you send this life the better. [10]  It may as well go direct to Mr Ballantyne, Printer, Edinburgh, – if you will convey it either to Rickman or Bedford they will get it franked.

I believe I have not told you of Reeves letter to me, & Wm Taylors to my brother, both to a purport too different from WT’s communication to me, to leave me quite satisfied with the better prospect which they present. [11]  The situation at the Museum [12]  I believe he would have failed to obtain; – xxxx he should have had my best exertions in two quarters, but that deplorable book would have stood in his way, & not unjustly. [13]  A man must be content to pay a price for his opinions as well as for his pleasures. I pay the price of not being in the Church, that line of life to which my own feelings & inclinations would most strongly lead me: I believe it to be the best possible establishment xx for men as they are, x essential to the welfare of the country, & to the very existence of the constitution; – its articles nevertheless exclude me. But I have no right to complain of the exclusion, & am ready to stand at the door with a club in my hand, to knock down xxx those who would break it open & rush in for the purpose of destroying it.

You must thank Dr Knighton for me, I will take his word that the subject requires my reconsideration, – & whenever the vol. of the Reg. in question comes to be reprinted, (if that ever should be) – or wherever I may have occasioned to refer again to the subject I will reconsider it with a fair & unprejudiced mind. At present I have no time for the enquiry, – & to say the truth, no inclination. My present impression is that M Wellesley pursued in India a vigorous & wise system of policy, – but that he was not very scrupulous about means, & that some cases of cruelty appeared to be admitted by his advocates. My opinion was formed upon the Debates & the Parliamentary Papers referrd to in the Register. [14] 

How are you going on? – Be sure I shall rejoice to hear from you whenever you can find leisure & inclination to write. All my fireside wait in remembrances.

Yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Dr Gooch/ Aldermanbury/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] MR 23/1812
Endorsement: March 23d. 1812
Watermark: Crown/ 1808
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 86
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Tomas de Iriarte y Oropesa (1750–1791), ‘El Burro Flautista’, Fabulas Literarias (Madrid, 1782), pp. 19–20. BACK

[2] i.e. ‘by accident’. BACK

[3] Published in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), pp. 50–51. BACK

[4] This story seems to refer to Beddoes’ Essay on the Causes, Early Signs, and Prevention of Pulmonary Consumption (1799). The same story was also related by Coleridge: ‘Dr Beddoes first Title page, for his Work on the use of Cow-houses in Consumption, was, Speedy & certain Cure for Pulmonary Consumption/ this was altered, during the printing, into “Speedy Relief & probable Cure” – lastly & so it stood, into Probable Relief & Possible Cure’, Kathleen Coburn at al (eds), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5 double vols (London, 1957–2002), no. 1660. BACK

[5] Edward Bird (1772–1819), a leading member of the Bristol School of artists. An engraving of the portrait was used in John Edmonds Stock (1774–1835), Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes, M.D. (London, 1811), Frontispiece. BACK

[6] The Bristol surgeon John Estlin (1785–1855), who performed the autopsy on Beddoes. Estlin was the son of John Prior Estlin. He later specialised in opthamology. BACK

[7] Anna Maria Beddoes’ distress, the rushed autopsy (which ‘unfortunately omitted’ ‘examination of the head’) and the autopsy findings were recounted in John Edmonds Stock, Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes, M.D. (London, 1811), pp. 411–413. BACK

[8] ‘I saw it’. BACK

[9] Thomas Beddoes, A Letter to Erasmus Darwin, M.D. on a New Method of Treating Pulmonary Consumption, and Some Other Diseases Hitherto Found Incurable (Bristol, 1793), p. 55. BACK

[10] Gooch’s ‘Life of Dr Beddoes’ was published in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), 516–537. It made use of Southey’s information at: 526–527 (the ass and the flute); 532 (changing title of Beddoes’s book); 535 (Beddoes’s autopsy); 523 (Beddoes’s ruddy complexion). BACK

[11] Henry Herbert Southey had written to Taylor on 13 January 1812, offering financial help, which was refused. See J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 367–369. BACK

[12] Francis Douce (1757–1834; DNB) had resigned as Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum in April 1811. The post was in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Speaker and the Lord Chancellor. Southey had earlier refused to apply for the vacancy; see Robert Southey to William Taylor, 21 January 1812 (Letter 2020) and Robert Southey to John Rickman 12 February [1812] (Letter 2036). BACK

[13] Taylor’s A Letter Concerning the Two First Chapters of Luke (1810) expounded his belief that ‘Zacharius, who wrote those chapters, meant to hold himself out as the father of Jesus Christ’. It was ‘received with an outcry of horror’ and damaged Taylor’s relationships with some friends and admirers, J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, p. 311. Taylor defended and developed his views in a letter to Southey, 10 February 1812, Ibid., II, pp. 373–374. BACK

[14] Marquis Wellesley had been governor-general of Bengal (1797–1805). After his return to England, a controversy broke out about his government in India and he was denounced in parliament by a coalition of radicals and personal opponents. Wellesley was accused of ruining trade in Oudh and undermining the authority of its ruler, Saadat Ali Kan II (c. 1752–1814; Nawab of Oudh 1798–1814). The motion to censure Wellesley was defeated by 182 votes to 31 on 15 March 1808. Southey summarised the debates in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 133–137. Dr Knighton had presumably expressed his reservations about Southey’s account and suggested revisions to it. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013