2307. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 21 September 1813 

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

2307. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 21 September 1813 ⁠* 

Streatham. Tuesday night. Sept 21. 1813.

My dear Charles

You will easily imagine that amid the endless round of engagements & locomotion in which London involves me I have little time either to write or to rest; & the accident of having my Uncle at Streatham rather increases than lessens the quantum of my movements & {the} dissipation of my time. I shall have been absent from home a month tomorrow, & it will scarcely be possible for me to get back in less than six weeks from this time, let me do what I can to curtail my visits & accelerate my occupations. Before I leave town I will send you money enough to clear my account with you & also to discharge a few debts which poor George has left. I believe they are only a taylors bill to Forbes, [1]  & some trifle to Williams the hatter. [2]  Should you happen to see either of these persons before I can make the remittance, tell them from me that they will speedily be paid.

The history of the Laureateship is this. On my arrival in town I learnt that Croker, having asked Bedford & Gifford how far they thought it likely that I would accept the office if it were given upon the principle detur digniori, [3]  & agreeing with them that if so offered it would become me to take it, went to the Prince & asked it for me. The Prince observed that Mr Southey had written some good things in defence of the Spanish cause, & was a very proper person to have it. before this Croker soon afterwards met Lord Liverpool & told him what had past, & Lord L. expressed his sorrow that he had not known it a day sooner for he & Lord Hertford having consulted together who was the best poet of the day, had in consequence offered it to Walter Scott. At hearing this the Prince was offended & said he ought to have been consulted before the office was disposed of; it was his pleasure that Mr Southey should have it, & therefore have it he should. Croker then observed that he was Scotts friend as well as mine, that Scott & I were friends also, & that for the sake of all xxxx, the matter must be allowed to rest where it was. – All this I learnt on my arrival in town.

Scott declines the office in the handsomest possible manner, not as disdaining it, but because provided {for} as he is in his profession, it would expose him to invidious & not unmerited xxxx censure for taking an office which ought to be held by a man of letters exclusively, – & he urges me xx whom he calls xx “elder brother in the Muse” to take it. [4]  You would be very much pleased with Scotts letter; – it has raised him in the opinion of every person who has seen it. I then wrote to Croker expressing my readiness to accept the office, provided it were understood that I should not be expected to write verses like exercises at stated times & on stated subjects, but left upon great public events to commemorate them or not, just as the spirit might move. [5]  There the business rests, & in all likelihood my appointment will be in the next batch of paper which the Prince signs. It is a paltry salary 100£, with 25 more as a xxx commutation for a tierce of Spanish Canary wine. the net income falls short of the hundred; – but to me xxx it will be of very material importance, for I shall appropriate the whole to a life insurance, & it will wholly, or nearly, cover a policy for 3000£. I have never felt any fears about a provision for my family, but this goes so far towards securing one, that it will give me xxx sincere pleasure to see the appointment confirmed, & have the insurance effected.

The laurel however vain as an honour, thus becomes a serious benefit to my children. And if I do not find it an honour I shall make it so; – for such it will be to him who shall be thought worthy to wear it after me. If I write anything ex officio, as the great events which every hour is defining may possibly ere long require, you may trust me that it will be in xxx a strain which will be creditable to the office & to myself.

Ashburnes [6]  portrait of you is not in any degree comparable to my own, – with such different eyes are these things seen by persons equally competent to form a judgment.

I have given Allstone an American painter whom Coleridge knew at Rome, a letter to King, [7]  – with the double intention of introducing a man of high genius in his profession to him, & procuring for xxx Allstone Kings his advice; – xxx Rex will gladly give {it} him for his own sake as well as for mine when he has seen his picture of Cupid & Psyche, [8]  which he takes with him. I have seen his great scripture piece, of which West [9]  has [MS torn] that {it} is the age of Michel Angelo revived, [10]  – & this was not saying too much. – He is a very modest man, – very sensible of kindness, broken down by illness, & a good deal dispirited by adverse circumstances. As a painter I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that he is far, – very very far – the first of his age.

I cannot travel westward this journey. Is there no hope of your coming to London, while I remain here? at Streatham & at the Doctors you would meet with a hearty reception.

God bless you

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ Charles Danvers Esqr/ Bristol
Postmarks: BSE/ 22/ 1813; TOOTING /W/ SP 22/ 1813; [partial] Clock SP/ 22/ 1813 N.T
Endorsement: 1813/ Sepr 21
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Forbes: presumably a tailor in Bristol. BACK

[2] Probably the hatter’s business in Castle Street, Bristol, lately conducted by Edward Williams (d. 1811). BACK

[3] ‘Let it be given to the more worthy’. BACK

[4] See Scott’s letter of 1 September [1813], telling Southey that he had declined the Poet Laureateship and instead recommended him to Croker. He also cautioned ‘I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, and as at present managed, its duties are inconvenient and somewhat liable to ridicule’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. BACK

[5] See Southey to John Wilson Croker, [4 September 1813], Letter 2298. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] See Southey to John King, 17 September 1813, Letter 2303. Allston and King got on well. The former painted King in 1814, the portrait is now in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. BACK

[8] Allston’s ‘Cupid and Psyche’ (1805–1808) now seems to be lost, but was much admired by Coleridge and Wordsworth. BACK

[9] The history painter Benjamin West (1738–1820; DNB). Allston had been his pupil at the Royal Academy Schools. West’s comment probably refers to Allston’s ‘The Dead Man Restored to Life by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elijah’ (1811–1814), which won a prize at the British Institution. BACK

[10] Michelangelo (1475–1564), Renaissance painter, much admired by Allston. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013