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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1374. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 25 October 1807. ⁠* 

Oct. 25. 1807.

My summer season is in good part taken up by friends who come to these uttermost parts of the North to visit me, & by laying in a stock of exercise which lasts me during a bodily hibernation of six months, but I even during this butterfly’s holyday I have fits & heats of hard work, without which the press would outrun me, & I should outrun my means. There has been another & more valid reason why ten weeks have been let pass since the date of my last letter, – it was likely that I should soon be able to say when I should leave this place on my way to London, & consequently when I should have the gratification of halting at Litchfield, – instead of eyeing the outside only of its noble Cathedral while the stage changed horses, – as I once did heretofore.

The Critical Reviewer of Madoc is the same person who has spoken in the same spirit of Wordsworths late volumes. I have seen neither article, so that in the main object of giving pain to me he has failed, – as indeed he would under any circumstance, for I am used to these things. His name is Le Grice, [1]  – he was a school-fellow of Coleridges at Christs Hospital. Before my acquaintance with Coleridge began I past five days at Cambridge, having walked thither from Oxford with Edmund Seward, to see his brother, the Dr John Seward whom you must have met, – & who is on the now an inhabitant of some better world than ours. We there met this Le Grice: – he was unusually courteous towards me, & I as unusually repulsive towards him, for never had I seen a man whose whole temper of mind appeared to me so thoroughly perverted & mischievous. Every thing was made the subject of his ridicule, & he seemed to have laughed himself out of every good principle & every good feeling. Considerable talents he had, but only in this miserable direction: his face was as white as a Ghosts, & in this dead {clayey} & unexpressive face were set two jet black eyes, forming so strange & hideous a contrast, that literally & truly that face was the original from whence I described the dead countenance of Donica animated by a Devil. [2]  From that time I never saw him. He remembers with what unconcealed dislike I turned my back upon all his proferred civilities, but what has more weight with him, has been a notion that he could wound Coleridge thro me, & thus pay off some of the scores of an old & rooted envy. – This man is now settled at the Lands End in Cornwall, where he married an old woman to whose children he went to be tutor. The eldest son is a miserable cripple, as deformed in mind as in body. Le Grice & the Mother have not proved faithful stewards to him, & he vows vengeance against them both, but him in particular, as soon as he shall be of age. Le Grice himself is an unsuccessful author; – he published a little volume called by the strange name of Tineum, [3]  when he was at Cambridge; – it was ridiculed in the University, & never heard of out of it. Authors are said to be an envious race, – it may perhaps be true of such Authorlings as this, but not so of the truly great, as if amply proved by the history of their friendships.

I am very very much indebted to you for what you have done with the Critical Review. Mr Fellowes [4]  cannot of course sacrifice the consistency of that precious publication, – but the work will become more respectable in his hands, – he will leaven it with something of a liberal & of a christian spirit, & will give me fair play there for the future. This is a matter of some importance, for tho the breath of envy I cannot wither one laurel leaf, – it may mildew a whole crop of corn.

That note of Mr Fs. gives me what I looked for in your own letters in vain, – an account of your health, – but it is a sad one. He recommends distilled water. I am afraid this is but a whim taken up by women of fashion: – & am certain that water distilled in any metallic vessels must be far more impure than {from a} common spring we or pump. You who knew Darwin [5]  should have some faith in Beddoes. I know him, & without any personal liking towards him (for he is cold as ice) have the highest respect for him as a man & the highest confidence in his skill. If any known means can be of service to your complaint, he will know what those means are; & of all men living he is the one who is most likely to devise a new remedy when old ones fail.

Of Lady Wortleys letters [6]  I can only speak upon recollections three years old: – as for her voluptuous scenes I need not ask you to do me the justice of supp believing they were not what were praised or remembered. Her letters from Italy are what delighted me, – so did those written to Mr Wortley [7]  before her marriage. The world corrupted her, – she knew nothing of human nature except with all the varnish & tinsel & rascality of high life about it, – & consequently the pictures which she gives of xxxxxxx xxxxx {it} & of her own poor heart is a melancholy one. It is not therefore that I like her better than all other letter-writers, but her letters appear to me more natural (according to her nature) & full of better sense, her views of life considered than those of any one else. – I thank you for the passage concerning Madocs voyage; – there is a great mass of evidence to prove the existence of Welsh-Indians in America, – whenever I can afford the time I will collect it to be prefixed to some future edition of the poem. [8]  – There is no variance between me & Coleridge, – what you say however is perfectly explainable. we have no common friends, nor is it possible that two men so radically different should. – When next you favour me with a letter I pray you mention the state of your health. Soon before, or soon after Christmas I hope & expect to see you. The pen is a slow organ when one has much to say.

yrs very truly

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Miss Seward/ Litchfield.
Endorsement: Ocr. 1807
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Madoc was negatively reviewed in the Critical Review, ns 7 (1806), 72–83, by Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773–1858; DNB). The review of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes appeared in the Critical Review, ns 11 (August 1807), 399–403. By December 1807, Southey had changed his mind about the authorship of this review; see Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 9 December 1807, Letter 1393. For the authorship of this review; see William Wordsworth: The Critical Heritage. Volume 1 1793–1820, ed. Robert Woof (London and New York, 2001), pp. 170–171. BACK

[2] Southey’s poem ‘Donica’ of 1796 was published in his Poems (1797 and later editions), in his Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and in his Poetical Works (1837–1838). For the text see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), V, Selected Shorter Poems, ed. Lynda Pratt, pp. 118–122. BACK

[3] The Tineum (1794), a miscellany of prose and verse. BACK

[4] Robert Fellowes (1771–1847), editor of the Critical from1807–1814. BACK

[5] Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; DNB), doctor, botanist, poet and mentor of Anna Seward. BACK

[6] In November 1804 Southey read and admired her letters in James Dallaway (1763–1834; DNB), ed., The Works of the Right Hon. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ... Published, by Permission, from her Genuine Papers, 5 vols (1803); see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 21 November 1804 (Letter 991) and Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 27 November 1804 (Letter 993). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762; DNB), author. BACK

[7] Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761; DNB), British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. BACK

[8] See Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, Madoc, introduction, for the Welsh Indian materials and for details of later editions. The materials were not added. BACK

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August 2013