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

2232. Robert Southey to [Wade Browne], 18 March 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 18. 1813.

My dear Sir

I hope you have not seen a paragraph in the newspapers respecting Coleridge, [1]  because if the explanation reaches you at the same time with the story it will only excite your wonder, – & otherwise you will have been greatly shocked.

Being in a coffee house one day last week, he read in one of the morning papers what certainly must have been more suprizing to him than to any body else: – that a stout & well dressed man had been found hanging in the park, no papers were found upon him to xxxxxx which could lead to a discovery who he was, – but his shirt was marked S.T. Coleridge at full length: – & the paper went on to represent him as the author of the late Tragedy Remorse. [2]  – To hear of a lost shirt in this way is an accident that probably never happened to any man before. – Mr Clarke the Gardener [3]  came with the paragraph to day to Mrs Wilson, as pale as ashes, – he had nearly fallen {dropt}, he said, upon first reading it.

The success of Coleridges tragedy is a good specimen of the judgement of Messrs Sheridan [4]  & Kemble. [5]  It cannot be doubted that it would have succeeded as well fifteen years ago with good acting, as it has now in spite of very bad: – & if it had been brought out then, it is more probable that Coleridge in the course of those intermediate years would have produced many other & better plays, not less to the amendment of the existing stage, & the permanent honour of English literature, than to the advantage of his family. It is even not unlikely that success & popular applause, of which he is very sensible, might have made him a happier man, & saved him from habits which have been xxxx destructive to his health xx xxxx great xxxxxx to his utility. But better late than never, & there is more reason to expect something from him now than there has ever been.

Had not the printer, [6]  according to printers custom, been unmercifully tedious with my life of Nelson, [7]  I should xx ere this have been able to announce that it was on its way to xxxxx. But it is not yet by some three or four sheets out of the press. I hope you will receive it in about three weeks. At present I am closely employed upon the Register, [8]  endeavouring to finish it be the end of April, that I may reach London before every body else leaves it. I purpose going up by way of Leeds & Sheffield, – partly because I have never been at either of those places, & partly for the sake of seeing Montgomery the poet, – a man for whose genius I have a high respect. On my way back I shall have great pleasure in touching at xxxxxx, if you should be there towards the end of June.

I do not know who writes under the signature of Vetus. [9]  He began with great ability; – but has latterly dealt very much in bold assertions, & coarse invective; & the direct party-spirit of his letters weakens their effect even when he exposes manifest errors. Their style of writing is Irish; – a natural style, passing {which has past} thro successive degrees of deterioration, as Goldsmith tells us the Koumiss does at a Tartar drinking feast, [10]  – from Burke thro Grattan & Curran. [11]  How he has been mistaken concerning the Russian Campaign, every day thank God brings fresh proofs. – The Times seems to have become thoroughly venal.

In {one of} the late Quarterlies I reviewd D’Israeli’s Calamities of Literature, [12]  – which was merely making desultory comments upon a desultory & amusing book: – & in the last number that paper upon the Malthus & the state of the poor is mine. [13]  It has been curtailed & consequently injured, but I know not to what extent, for it has not yet reached me. As a composition it is very defective, for want of room to give the parts their due proportions, to make the transitions appear easy & natural, & in fact to develope the subject in its numerous bearings. There were also some things which I should have said, if I had been writing directly in my own name, or in a work for which I alone was responsible. But there was no other channel thro which it would have been possible to have obtained the same attention to a most momentous topic.

We are enjoying the loveliest month of March I ever remember after the most tempestuous February. By an alteration & improvement in my course of life I am become an early walker. Sara & Edith & Herbert start with me every morning that the weather will permit for an hour & half – or a two hours walk. The How in one direction, – Applethwaite in another, & thro the woods under Wallow up to Castrigg are within our limits. We bid defiance to mud & mire, – for, as it is never too late to learn, I have in the eleventh winter of my abode in Cumberland, Cumberlandized myself at last, & naturalized my feet to the soil by mounting a pair of genuine clogs. I find no inconvenience whatever in them except in the snow: snow collects under them in two {rounded} balls upon each foot & then to be sure a man in clogs is like a cat shod with wall-nut shells, – except that not having the advantage of four legs he has no little difficulty {in} to keeping himself erect upon two. The young ones are shod in the same manner, & we clatter away thro Keswick town before half the inhabitants are out of bed. I heartily wish our soldiers could be persuaded thus to protect themselves {against} the wet: the preventative is effectual, & if it could be introduced the effective strenght of a regiment would be very different from what it now is after a long march.

What an affair is this Delicate Investigation! [14]  & what a name to apply to it! Surely never were in modern times has public decency been so grossly outraged x xxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxx of the xxxx xxxxxxx of xxxxx xx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxx; x xxx xxxxxx xxx {xxxx} xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx, & xxxxxx to xxxx xxxxxxxxx. Xxx xxxxx of xxxxxxx xx {however} xxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxx – xxxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx.

Xxxx xxxxxxxx xx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxx & your daughter xxxxxxx Mrs S. xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xx xxxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs most truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ xxxx xxxxxxxxx Esqre/ xxxxxxxx
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 582
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 49–51; also, in part, in W. Forbes Gray, ‘An Unpublished Literary Correspondence’, Cornhill Magazine, ser. 3, 61 (1926), 82–85.
Note on MS: The longer deleted sections in this letter and on the address leaf are in another hand and represent an attempt to obscure Southey’s views on the ‘Delicate Investigation’ and the identity of his correspondent. BACK

[1] The source of this newspaper report is unidentified. BACK

[2] Remorse was staged at Drury Lane, London, 23 January-12 February 1813. BACK

[3] Thomas Clark, owner of a nursery and seed business at Lime Potts, Crosthwaite. BACK

[4] The playwright, theatre proprietor and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB). BACK

[5] The actor John Philip Kemble (1757–1823; DNB). Kemble and Sheridan had rejected Remorse, when it was titled ‘Osorio’, in 1797. BACK

[6] James Moyes (d. 1839), of Greville St, Hatton Garden, London. BACK

[7] Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[9] The letters appeared in The Times between 10 March and 10 May 1812. The letters were condemnatory of Perceval’s administration. They were published in book form as The Letters of Vetus (1812). Vetus (‘old’) was the Irish journalist Edward Sterling (1773–1847; DNB), who in 1812 had accepted a leader writing post on The Times. BACK

[10] Oliver Goldsmith (1728?-1774; DNB, The Citizen of the World, 2 vols (London, 1762), I, pp. 133–134; though the story actually refers to an intoxicating drink made from mushrooms, rather than koumiss, which is fermented mare’s milk. But in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 649, Southey had used the same image in his review of Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817), Treatise on Ancient and Modern Literature (1803). BACK

[11] The Irish politicians Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), Henry Grattan (bap. 1746, d. 1820; DNB), and John Philpot Curran (1750–1817; DNB). BACK

[12] Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848; DNB), Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 93–114. BACK

[13] Southey had attacked the political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB) in the first of a series of articles on the poor, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. It was republished in an expanded, retitled form as ‘On the State of the Poor, the Principle of Mr. Malthus’ Essay on Population, and the Manufacturing System’ in Southey’s Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols (London, 1832), I, pp. 75–155. BACK

[14] In 1806 a secret committee of enquiry (the ‘Delicate Investigation’) had been set up to look into the conduct of Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of the Prince Regent. Southey is here probably expressing distaste at the publication of a detailed account of the committee’s activities in The Genuine Book. An Inquiry, or Delicate Investigation into the Conduct of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales (1813), seen through the press by Spencer Perceval. In addition to the publicity garnered by this, Caroline’s behaviour and treatment had generated renewed public interest. On 14 January 1813, Caroline had written to her husband protesting about the restrictions placed on her access to their daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817; DNB). In early March a second letter on the same subject was sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons. As it was unsigned its authorship was initially questioned, though it was later attributed to Caroline. After debate, parliament agreed that it was the Regent’s right as a father and ruler to be in charge of his daughter’s education; see Gentleman’s Magazine, 83 (April 1813), 361, 363–364, 373–376. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013