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

2282. Robert Southey to John Rickman, [mid-July 1813] ⁠* 

My dear R.

More particulars about the horse-hair [1]  when I can get them, but poor Lloyd is again in that state, that I cannot send any enquiries upon such a subject to his house. [2] 

This is certain that I saw the thing: that it was not a young eel; & that I had never seen any thing like it before. I could distinguish no head or tail, but at one end something like what I suppose the root of the hair would appear after maceration, – stringy, or fibrous. I saw too, most decidedly, the hair in the middle when the conglomeration of life was stript off with the two nails. I incline to the opinion that the animal, if it may so be called, is one, tho perhaps not indivisible; for I cannot conceive that any joint motion of an aggregate of animalculæ could have produced that strength & apparent unity of motion. No snake or eel ever writhed with more vivacity. The colour is that of a leech. The hairs were plucked from the tail x xx of a living horse; but I failed in learning precisely where or how long they had been imme x pla kept in water, for the room was full of persons all talking at once. – But I will apply to the Maker [3]  as soon as possible, & procure some specimens; & moreover I will try to manufacture some myself.

That the old error is matter of fact is beyond all doubt. And thus we go on re-discovering, till we shall be afraid to disbelieve any thing. What if we should see Ghosts before we die, & convict old women of witchcraft?



* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS./ July 1813
MS: Huntington Library, RS 210
Dating note: the content of this letter suggests a date in mid-July 1813. BACK

[1] See Southey to John Rickman, 29 June 1813, Letter 2276. BACK

[2] Lloyd suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness. BACK

[3] Owen Lloyd (1803–1841), third son of Charles and Sophia Lloyd, later curate of Langdale. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013