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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1480. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 16 July 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. July 16 .1808.

My dear Charles

Tom was sorely disappointed in not finding you at Bristol when he fled thro on his way to Plymouth. I supposed you were gone to London on no pleasant business. – & the Gazette has since shown me that my fears were right. – You ask me where Burnett is, that you may write to him & remind him of his debt: – I have heard nothing from him since he left this house, nor of him except what came from you.

In the course of the last ten weeks I have met with some unpleasant interruptions in my ordinary business – first from a bilious fever which attacked little Edith; afterwards seized on Herbert, & made him alarmed us a good deal for many days. And now for the last month I have been plagued with one of my abominable catarrhs, – such as you saw me with when you were here. Tomorrow it will be a month old, & after a dozen variations from worse to better & better to worse, it is now as bad as ever it was. I generally calculate upon a six weeks spell when it begins, & in this instance am not likely to be disappointed. It is a comfort that the complaint is altogether confined to the head, & not accompanied with any general indisposition, but it has affected my eyes, & made me lose many days work. –

I told you I should proceed with Kehama, [1]  & write it before breakfast, that if the whole labour were lost in a pecuniary point of view, as is very likely, there might be no loss of time, the time being fairly won from sleep. [2]  These hindrances have sadly kept me back, still however good progress has been made. When I returned home 910 lines were the sum of total of what was written, & it now amounts to 1560. I am in the vein, & as soon as this troublesome cold will allow me time for any thing besides sneezing & flourishing my own trumpet, my progress will in all probability be a rapid one – All my old dreams of poetry are rising, as it were, from the dead. I am planning a blank-verse poem upon Pelayo, the Restorer of Spain, [3]  – an old subject taken up with new interest just at this time. As soon as the plan is perfected I shall begin to write it, in those intervals when Kehama is at a stand, – for such intervals must {there} occasionally xxx {will be}, when tho the whole story is made, the immediate manner of passing from one part to another does not occur; – & therefore time xxx xxx {is} saved by having two upon the stocks at x once. My plan of operations will be a very simple, & as it appears to me, by no means an imprudent one. If Kehama does not pay me the fair trade price of the time bestowed upon it, I publish no more poetry; – there is not much doubt but that this will be the case; & if it be so, it then becomes me to think something of posthumous profit, as well as posthumous fame, & to secure copy rights to my children, after my death; when for our wise laws of Literary Property would throw them open just when they became valuable. So I will write on strenuously, & go thro the whole series which was projected so many years ago; & as many more, if I have life & health for it: dedicating to this sole employment the hours gained by rising at a reasonable hour, – not a very early one, because that would be hurtful – but as soon as after six may be. And these poems shall be left behind me, they will then fetch their value, as good drafts upon posterity. This scheme pleases me a good deal. There will be a great pleasure & satisfaction in accumulating property in this form; & if it prove a vain & fallacious one, I shall not have the mortification of seeing it so. But this is not likely. Poets like woodcocks are not ranked till they are dead, & then their very trail is food for the most fastidious palate.

This is a grand struggle which the Spaniards have begun. It is to be expected that they will meet with many disasters, – they will often be defeated, often betrayed, – they will commit some excesses & some errors, but of their eventual success I do not entertain a doubt. The principle of Patriotism which is in them, – the remembrance of what their fathers have been, & the thought of what their children are to be, will bear them thro. You will see in this volume of the Annual what were my tho opinions concerning Spain twelve months ago, – in the reviewal of Semples Travels. [4]  There is a circumstance stated in todays paper, of which the Editor does not know the importance, – that Gomes Freire is at the head of a body of insurgents in Portugal. Gomes Freire is an experienced & good soldier, the only man in the army in whom they had any confidence; & in him they have the greatest. [5] 

Yesterday brought me a letter from T. Smith, announcing the rug & a cheese, which are travelling companions in the waggon. [6]  I delay my answer till these Lakers arrive. – You will get the Cid [7]  in about a month.

Mrs Shepherd of Liverpool has been here with her husband [8]  – perhaps you will not immediately recollect that I mean one of your cousins. The Lakers come pouring in, & as there will be one here tomorrow whose autograph is worth elevenpence at Bristol, I shall set up this letter in a conspicuous place, that I may not forget to make deduce some good from his Parliamentary powers. [9] 

If you have heard from Tom you will know that Mr T. Southey turnd his back upon him, saying, he never desired to see any of the family again. This man has turned his sister out of doors, – & thus thought proper to break off all intercourse with us. Amen, so be it. He is treading in the steps of his brother ; & I verily believe there is some sort of craziness at the bottom of has occasioned the otherwise unaccountable conduct of both. So Charles if it should be my destiny to stick in Heavens-gate, it will not be because my breeches pockets are too full.

Harry is getting on at Durham, & will in no very long time be able to maintain himself well by his profession. Tom when he wrote had not yet found his ship, but had learnt that he was to be First Lieutenant. – for a chance appointment this is a remarkable one: & it so happens that I know a little of Adm. Sotheby, & more of his brother. [10]  Tom will be an Admiral yet: & for myself I trust one of these days to have the post of Historiographer [11]  created for me. There will come a time when this may be done, & till that time I shall be making good my claims to it. So Mr T. Southey may make his will to his own hearts desire. It was in his power to have benefited me & given me pleasure, – it is not in his power to give me one moments pain: Many persons who can do no good, can do mischief, – but the reverse xxx is the case here. –

God bless you

R Southey


Notes

* Address: [in another hand] Chas Danvers Esqr / Bristol
Endorsements: London July twenty 1808// Wm Dear / Rd Sharp// [calculations]
Stamped: None.
Postmarks: FREE/ 20 JY 20/1808// JY/20/1808
Seal: Partial
MS: British Library, Add MS 30928
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[2] For this letter, see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 May 1808, Letter 1456. BACK

[3] Pelagius/Pelayo (c. 685–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias. Through his victory at the Battle of Covadonga, he is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. The planned poem became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[4] See Southey’s review of Robert Semple (1777–1816; DNB), Observations on a Journey through Spain and Italy to Naples; and thence to Smyrna and Constantinople (1807), in the Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), 118–130. BACK

[5] Gomes Freire de Andrade (1757–1817), Portuguese general. BACK

[6] For Southey’s letter acknowledging these, see Southey to Thomas Smith, 15 August 1808, Letter 1492. BACK

[7] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[8] Frances Shepherd (d. 1829), née Nicholson, married, in 1792, the Rev. Dr William Shepherd (1768–1847; DNB), pastor at the English Presbyterian Chapel, Gateacre, Liverpool, The couple lived at The Nook, Gateacre, from where they ran a boarding school. Southey had met them in Liverpool when he visited Roscoe in February 1808. BACK

[9] That is, one of the visitors Southey expected – Richard Sharp – was an MP and so had the privilege of sending mail without charge, thus saving Danvers the postage cost of Southey’s letter. BACK

[10] Tom’s new posting was to HMS Dreadnought, a 98-gun second rate ship of the line launched in 1801. She had fought at Trafalgar (1805) and was now under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[11] Southey long coveted the post of Historiographer Royal. It was occupied by Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), and, on his death, given to James Stanier Clarke (1765?–1834; DNB). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013