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

2403. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 17 April 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 17. 1814.

My dear Cottle

I have seldom in the course of my life felt it so painful to answer a letter as on the present occasion. [1]  There is however no alternative. I must sincerely express what I think, – & be thankful that I am writing to one who knows me thoroughly.

Of sorrow & humiliation I will say nothing. Let me come at once to the point, – on what grounds can such a subscription be solicited? –

The annuity to which your intended circular refers was given by the two Wedgewoods, Thomas & Josiah [2]  in equal portions. Thomas, by will, settled his portion on C. for his life. Josiah withdrew his about three years ago. [3]  The half still remaining amounts when the income tax is deducted to 67–10. That sum Mrs Coleridge receives at present, & it is all that she receives for supporting herself, her daughter, & two boys [4]  at school, – the boys expences amounting to the whole, tho Hartleys instruction is given him by the Master. No part of C. embarrasments arises from his wife or children, – except that he has insured his life for 1000£ & pays the annual premium. He never writes to them, & never opens a letter from them.

In truth Cottle his embarrasments & his miseries of body & mind are all owing to one accursed cause: – excess in opium, xx {of} which he habitually takes more than any was ever known to be taken by any person before him. The Morgans [5]  with great effort succeeded in making him wholly leave it off for a time, & he recovered in consequence health & spirits. He now has now taken to it again. Of this indeed I was too sure before I heard that his looks bore testimony of it. Perhaps you were are not aware of the xx costliness of this drug. In the quantity which C. takes it would consume more than the whole annuity which you propose to raise. A frightful consumption of spr spirits must be added xxxx added to this, – in this way bodily ailments are produced, & the wonder is that he is still alive.

There are but two grounds on which it xx a subscription of this nature can proceed, – either where the object is disabled from exerting himself, – or when his exertions are unproductive. C. is in neither of these predicaments. Proposal after proposal has been made to him by the Booksellers, & he has repeatedly closed with them. He is at this moment as capable of exertion as I am, & would be paid as well for whatever he might please to do. There are two Reviews (the Quarterly & the Eclectic) in both of which he might have employment, at ten guineas per sheet, – in the former I could obtain it for him, – in the latter they are urgently desirous of his assistance. He promises & does nothing. – He has poems which have been written many years & repeatedly advertised; – his wife would transcribe them for the press – all that is wanting is he will not take the trouble of overseeing this, or collecting them for her. He has footing in the theatre & might annually bring out a play which would not cost him three months amusing occupation. – But I need not pursue this subject.

What more can I say? – He may have new friends who would subscribe to this plan, but they cannot be many, – & I but among all those persons who know him, his habits are known also.

Do you as you think best. My own opinion is that C. ought to come here, & employ himself, – collecting money on the way by lecturing at Birmingham & Liverpool. Should you proceed in this {your} intention my name must not be mentioned. His wife & daughter are living with me, – & here he may employ himself without any disquietude about immediate subsistences. Nothing is wanting to make him easy in circumstances & happy in himself, but to {leave off opium, &} devote a certain portion of his time to the discharge of his duty. Two hours a day would suffice.

Do not communicate this letter to Wade: [6]  he would report it to C. & make mischief.

I thought ere this to have answered your former letter & told you of my own goings on &c. But I shall hear again from you.

Believe me my dear Cottle

very affectionately your old friend

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 80; 212
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 376–378 [in part]. BACK

[1] Cottle had written to Southey on 14 April 1814 soliciting his support for his plan to raise an annuity of £100 for Coleridge via subscription. For Cottle’s letter see Lynda Pratt, ‘The “sad habits” of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Unpublished Letters from Joseph Cottle to Robert Southey, 1813–1817’, Review of English Studies, 55 (2004), 78–80. BACK

[2] Josiah Wedgwood II (1769–1843), brother of Thomas Wedgwood. BACK

[3] Wedgwood withdrew his half of the annuity in autumn 1812 on the grounds that he could no longer afford it; see E. L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), III, pp. 421–422, for Wedgwood’s letter and Coleridge’s reply. BACK

[6] Coleridge’s friend, the wealthy Bristol tradesman and pioneer of accountancy Josiah Wade (c. 1761–1842). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013