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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

2. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, 10 [–11] December 1791 ⁠* 

Bath. Saturday. December 10 – 1791.

Dear Collins

The first hours of my arrival are devoted to you & you will excuse the inaccuries which fall from the pen of one tormented with a horrible head ache. Wynn will be in town Monday next see him as my substitute at Bedfords & settle whatever you think proper in my name but insist upon avowing the paper from Westminster as otherwise it must descend to oblivion & the chandlers shop. by dating it thence it will burst into notice very probably acquire correspondents & insure a good local sale. old Westminsters at Oxford & Cambridge will be glad to see some sparks of genius from their old habitation. should it fail it cannot well be worse than the Trifler  [1]  should it succeed it will retrieve the reputation of the school & establish our own. Allow me to say I do not much doubt of success. naturally sanguine in my expectations I think I may be so now with justice. Bedford Wynn & Strachey are either of them equal to any of the authors of the Trifler & if I thought my verses only equal to those in that paper I would burn every line. remember what Rough said the other day & allow my vanity not half so bad as if I affected modesty.

In my journey down a train of ideas crowded into my mind about the holyday task & I fancy I shall succeed – first invoke Winter describe his seat amongst the Andes – Iceland – the Glaciers. Lapland. Siberia, the exiles there. then paint the climate of India & the insufferable heat. happy climate of England. the pleasures of a wintry season. Christmas. the games of chess & backgammon by the fire. theatres. assemblies – dancing. & conclude with considering Winter in a moral light. I forgot to arrange Ovid  [2]  in exile properly. take the few lines of the beginning.

Sovereign of the shivering hall
Thee o Winter thee I call
Come then from thy frozen seat
Come from thy secret sad retreat
Come with all thy train along
Come inspire the festive throng.
High where the sullen Andes rear their heads
There holds the hoary sire his silent reign
Where aye the snow a silver mantle spreads
When the hot dog star scorches all the plain.  [3] 

some images from Job may be introduced here & I think I can extend it to an hundred or 150 lines without flagging.


Sunday Morning.

I shall to day send a paragraph to the Argus  [4]  stating that a new periodical publication is to be expected shortly from Westminster – it will naturally excite the curiosity of the people & they will wait with some impatience for it. as you will see young Wynn tell him my direction that he may write & give me his. a letter directed to me at No 9 Duke Street Bath will come safe. and now as I have nothing else to say take a story I read yesterday as a true one which strikes me as an instance of more refined barbarity than any in the annals of cruelty – a prisoner in the dreary cells of the Bastile had familiarized a spider the only tenant except himself of the miserable spot. to a man secluded thus from the light of day & every living creature this reptile was a kind of mournful companion. the Keeper at length took notice of it & told the Governor – the Governor commanded him to tread upon it.  [5]  I have read instances of barbarity which have made my blood run cold but never did I meet with so wanton so refind a one before. I know not whether this may strike you as forcibly as it does me. an animal which time has rendered dear to one becomes as an old friend & we feel the same reluctance to part from it. I rememb[MS torn] owl died I could have cried now what must this poor wretch have felt [MS torn] companion he was ever like to have crushd to atoms by the wanton tre[MS torn] inhumanity? I certainly will introduce the story in some ode one of[MS torn]

In all probability you are tired with wading thro this epistle & as I[MS torn]

except that I shall be very glad to hear from you very often[MS torn]

yours sincerely

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: Mr C Collins/ Maize Hill/ Greenwich/ near/ London
Stamped: BATH
Endorsement: Answerd
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44796
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 254–256. BACK

[1] The Trifler: A New Periodical Miscellany by Timothy Touchstone of St Peter’s College, Westminster (1788) was a short-lived magazine published by pupils at Westminster School. BACK

[2] Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC–AD 17) was exiled from Rome to Tomis on the Black Sea. BACK

[3] A complete version of the poem is in the Houghton Library, MS Eng 265.2. BACK

[4] A radical London daily newspaper that ran between 1789–1792. It is not possible to confirm that Southey did place a paragraph in the Argus, as the issues from December 1791 have not survived. BACK

[5] Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797; DNB), Original Stories from Real Life (London, 1791), pp. 27–28. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009