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

2520. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, [c. 16 December 1814–]13 January 1815 ⁠* 

My dear Harry

I have got scent of the Squid-hound for whom I enquired in the Omniana. [1]  Cartwright heard of a sort of cuttle fish of this enormous size [2]  – there is a beast of this family on the xxx coast of Brazil which twines its suckers round a swimmer & destroys him, & Langsdorff who relates this refers with disbelief to a book which I wish you would examine for me. [3]  In the Histoire Naturelle des mollasques, par Denys Montfort. Paris. An 10 under the head of Le poulpe colossal, [4]  there must be an account of xx a fellow big enough to claw down a large three-masted vessel. [5]  Being a modern work of natural history I dare say the book will be at the Royal Institition, & I pray you to extract the account for me. I shall make use of it in an article about Labrador for the Quarterly. [6]  – Cartwright says he is told they xxx grow to a most enormous size, as big as a large whale & he evidently does not disbelieve it: he was not a {xxxxxx} credulous man & knew upon what sort of authority he was speaking. Xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx The description of the Kraken accords perfectly with this genus. [7]  You know Doctor that I can swallow a Kraken, – you know also that I a mortal enemy to that sort of incredulity which is founded upon mere ignorance.


Several weeks have elapsed since this letter was begun & in the interim to my no small satisfaction I have found one of these monsters dead & literally floating many a rood. The Frenchman De Menonville met with it between the Gulph of Mexico & St Domingo (See Pinkertons Coll. Vol. 13 p. 873) & knew not what to make of it. [8] 

13 Jany 1815

It is well that poor Mr Gonnes time is over. [9]  I learnt from John May & from Gooch how ill he was & therefore expected this termination.

I thought you had heard from me since Isabels recovery. She had so severe a bilious attack that I thought at one time all was over. At present she is in perfect apparent health but there is a discharge from the inside of one ear which I should be glad to see healed tho it is to very trifling & gives her no uneasiness. But it has continued above two months & she has been tormented with vain attempt to remove it. First merely milk & water was injected. then myrrh. This failing Edmondson put on a blister – for the ear now began to project from the head & {thus} to show that matter was forming which a poultice failed to bring forward. The blister did no good. He lanced it & matter came out – the sore was kept open as long as it would discharge anything. It has healed, – the ear still sticks out, & the discharge from the inside is just the same as ever, – a fetid ichor, very little in quantity, – just enough to stain the night cap – & to make the cavity appear moist when you look in. We leave it now to nature & only inject the myrrh once a day. But I think there must be matter forming by the projection of the ear. tho she certainly suffers no pain & can bear pressure upon the part.

About the review of your Opusculum [10]  you had better settle with Bedford, who is my Plenopetentiary with Gifford – either for Gooch to mend his article (in which case I will send him one or two memoranda that I have stumbled upon) or for it to be put into the hands of Domine Young. [11] 

I have heard from many quarters of Lord Byrons praise, – & regard it just as much as I did his censure. [12]  Nothing can be more absurd than the thinking of comparing any of my poems with the Paradise Lost. With Tasso, [13]  with Virgil, with Homer, there may be fair grounds of comparison but my mind is wholly unlike Miltons, & my poetry has nothing of his imaginative & distinguishing chraracter, – nor is are there any poet who has except Wordsworth, who {he} possesses it in an equal degree. And it is entirely impossible that any man can understand Milton, & fail to perceive that Wordsworth is a poet of the same class & of equal powers. Whatever my powers may be they are not of that class. From what I have seen of his minor poems I suspect that Chiabrera is the writer who as a poet I am most resemble in the constitution of my mind. His narrative poems I have never seen. [14] 

I have at last begun Oliver Newman & written the first section. [15]  It is in irregular rhyme – so I resolved after long vacillation; & believe that the resolution has been well made: it will this measure will allow me to fall to a lower key than any rhymeless metre would have done.

You see Flinders has found more of the great Birds nests in New Holland. [16]  It cannot be the Cassoways nest, but because that which Cook found was on an island, & the Cassowary neither flies nor swims. [17] 

I shall probably come south in the summer, God willing, – on my way to France: – but my time will depend upon meeting with a companion. About Paris I care little, – my but I will run down to the Pyrennes get into Switzerland & return by way of the Rhine & Holland. My hearts desire is to go to Spain, if the state of affairs there renders it prudent but of this there is no hope.

Remember me to Mrs Gonne – & give my love to Louisa. I dare say she thinks me somewhat old, grave & formidable for a brother, – & she will never properly know what sort of animal I am till she pays me a visit in my den.

God bless you.


The sale of Roderick [18]  is what I expected, neither better or nor worse. It is also just what I should desire, if profit were a matter of indifference to me, for I am perfectly certain that great immediate popularity can only be obtained by those faults which fall in with the humour of the times, & {which} are of course ultimately fatal to the poems that contain them.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 16 JA 16/ 1815
MS: Bodleian Library, Don. d. 3
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 104–105 [in part; misdated 16 February 1815].
Dating note: The content of the first paragraph suggests the letter was begun in mid December 1814, see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 December 1814 (Letter 2517) and Robert Southey to John Rickman, 16 December 1814 (Letter 2518). BACK

[1] In Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), I, pp. 273–274, Southey had asked readers to send him ‘well authenticated particulars’ of the ‘Squid-hound’. BACK

[2] George Cartwright (1739–1819), A Journal of Transactions and Events, During a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador, 3 vols (London, 1792), III, p. 44. BACK

[3] Georg Heinrich Langsdorff (1774–1852), Bemerkungen auf einer Reise um die Welt in den Jahren 1803 bis 1807, 2 vols (Frankfurt, 1812), I, p. 66 and n.*. Southey later obtained a copy of this edition, no. 1417 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[4] Literally a ‘colossal octopus.’ BACK

[5] Pierre Denys de Montfort (1766–1820), Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques (1801–1802), cited in Langsdorff, see note 3 above. BACK

[6] The proposed article was not written. BACK

[7] A legendary sea-monster that lived off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. BACK

[8] Nicolas Joseph Thiery De Menonville (1739–1780), ‘Travels to Guaxaca, Capital of the Province of the Same Name, in the Kingdom of Mexico’, in John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World, 18 vols (London, 1808–1814), XIII, p. 873. Southey’s copy was no. 2335 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[9] William Gonne had recently died. BACK

[10] Southey had been attempting to get Henry Herbert Southey’s Observations on Pulmonary Consumption (1814) noticed in the Quarterly; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 11 December 1814, Letter 2513. No review appeared. BACK

[11] The physician, natural philosopher and Quarterly reviewer, Thomas Young (1773–1829; DNB). BACK

[12] Byron’s opinion was encapsulated in a letter to Annabella Milbanke, 28 November 1814: ‘I think Southey’s Roderick as near perfection as poetry can be – which considering how I dislike that school I wonder at – however so it is – if he had never written anything else he might safely stake his fame upon the last of the Goths’, Lord Byron’s Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols (London, 1973–94), IV, p. 235. BACK

[13] Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), Italian poet and author of La Gerusalemme Liberata (1580). BACK

[14] Gabriello Chiabrera (1552–1638), prolific author of odes, epics, satires, tragedies and pastorals. He is sometimes called the ‘Italian Pindar’. BACK

[15] Southey’s posthumously published, and unfinished, ‘Oliver Newman’. BACK

[16] Matthew Flinders (1774–1814), explorer and author of Voyage to Terra Australis, 2 vols (London, 1814), II, p. 64; reported in Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 27. BACK

[17] Flinders, Voyage to Terra Australis, II, p. 64, pointed out that the expedition led by James Cook (1728–1779; DNB) had found a similar nest on Eagle Island off the East coast of Australia. See also John Hawkesworth (bap. 1720–1773; DNB), An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by … Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, 3 vols (London, 1773), III, p. 195. The Cassowary is a large flightless bird of New Guinea and Australia. BACK

[18] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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August 2013