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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

883. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey [12 January 1804] ⁠* 

Dear Harry

A letter from May informs me that he is in Hampshire & will not therefore be able to send off your remittance before the 17th of this month. he expresses himself much pleased with your last.

I wish you to make your friend Thomson understand that the motives for my refusal were simply & seriously what I stated to him. As the friend of Burns he is entitled to my respect had he no other claims, it would have given me great pleasure to have assisted him but I could as easily dance a hornpipe on the tea table, as move within the limits of song. [1] 

It would gratify my curiosity if you could discover for what possible cause Jeffery (if it be indeed he who wrote the reviewal of Charles Lamb’s play [2] ) can have conceived so unaccountable a hatred for Coleridge, (a man whom he never saw) & in consequence have so unjustifiably attacked him. That play which Jeffery chose to consider as being ushered into the world with Coleridges imprimatur & probatur, [3]  was sent to him for perusal in 1799, when I was with {him} at Stowey, & we both dissuaded Lamb from the publication, in consequence of which it was supprest for [three] {four} years. You may if you think proper give him one hint which may be of service {to his Review} – in one instance I knew it discontinued in consequence of the wanton & hard hearted indecency manifested in the account of a case of extra-uterine gestation, & also of the abominable allusion in the attack upon Young, both in the second number. [4] 

Who wrote the reviewal of Mounier [5]  – the first in the first number, it is the best in the book? who that of Kant [6]  – which is from beginning to end impudent babble – the perfect Scotch bold-faced ignorance?

If you have easy access to the large libraries & are disposed to look after a little obsolete learning in your own profession, you may be of some use to me – as thus – by drawing up as briefly as may be from some of the Histories of Medicine, an account of the Arabian school. [7]  Some good old German wrote such a history in several folios of excellent bulk – a Latin book – but I do not know the title. There are some curious circumstances connected with the medical knowledge of the middle ages which I must investigate, & you may by sketching the outline of a map (which I have not here the opportunity of doing) facilitate my travels among the Moors & Jews. I think I shall throw some light upon the practice of that period, historically & philosophically.

Of Edward I have heard nothing more & am therefore suppose he & his Aunt have made up their matters & are going on in their old way. I am too hopeless about him to make enquiry or effort. his habit of lying is incurable & his utter want of all shame, something quite monstrous. Tom is probably on his way to the West Indies. [8] 

Coleridge being absent my society is very limited. a clergyman who draws well [9]  – & an East-Indian General [10]  constitute at present the whole. I go tomorrow to Sir Wilfred Lawsons [11]  – 18 miles from hence to pass one or two days, induced by the love of his library which is very rich & of which he is liberal. But I never was more independent of society – thank God the dead are more to me than the living – if they should be called the dead whose works will live & act for ever. I thought my reviewing all over except the task of extinguishing Mr Malthus’s reputation [12]  – when another parcel has arrived. that said [MS torn] Annual Review is of very unequal merit – in my conscience I believe that if Wm Taylor & I were to forsake it Mr Longman might as well think of living without his liver & lungs as of keeping his review alive without us. Your Scotch literati are mere children to Wm Taylor – talents are common enough, but knowledge is very uncommon & hardly to be met with in this generation. good soil abounds, but good fruits require care & culture & are therefore scarce. I know but three men in the world of knowledge commensurate to their talents, being of the first rate – Wm TaylorRickman & Coleridge. all else whom I have seen are children to these, but three was a phrase of false import – the wonder is that there should be so many.



* Address: To/ H. H. Southey Esqr/ to the care of Mr Guthrie/ Nicholson Street/ Edinburgh./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: JAN/ 1804/ 15
MS: Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.52
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 297–299.
Dating note: From the internal evidence of Southey’s letter to Wynn dated 12 January [1804], in which he also says he is going to visit Sir Wilfred Lawson tomorrow. BACK

[1] George Thomson (1757–1851; DNB): amateur musician who engaged Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB), the Scots ‘ploughman’ poet and songwriter, to write songs for which Thomson commissioned musical settings by leading composers of the day. These were published in Select Scottish Airs (1793) and further volumes, including more of Burns’s songs, followed in 1798, 1799, 1802, 1818–1826 and 1841. Thomson also produced volumes of Welsh and Irish airs in the same way. Among the composers featured were Ignace Joseph Pleyel (1757–1831), [Franz] Joseph Haydn (1732–1809; DNB) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827); Thomas Moore (1779–1852; DNB) and Lord Byron were among the poets; see also Southey to Thomas Southey, 28 August 1812, Letter 2140. BACK

[2] Charles Lamb, John Woodvil: A Tragedy (1802) was reviewed by Thomas Brown (1778–1820; DNB) in the Edinburgh Review, 4 (July 1803), 90–96. BACK

[3] Meaning ‘authorisation of publication’ and ‘approval’. BACK

[4] A review of Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh described a woman who died in severe pain from an ectopic pregnancy only five weeks after a previous miscarriage as ‘this industrious propagatrix of the species’, Edinburgh Review, 2 (January 1803), 495–510 (498). A review of Thomas Young (1773–1829; DNB), Bakerian Lecture on the Theory of Light and Colours, described Young’s theorising as ‘the unmanly and unfruitful pleasure of a boyish and prurient imagination, or the gratification of a corrupted and depraved appetite’, Edinburgh Review, 2 (January 1803), 450–456 (452). BACK

[5] Francis Jeffrey reviewed John Joseph Mounier (1758–1806), De L’Influence Attribuée aux Philosophes, aux Francs-Maçons, at aux Illuminés, sur la Revolution de France (1801) in the Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 1–18. BACK

[6] The review of Charles de Villers (1765–1815), The Philosophy of Kant, or, the Fundamental Principles of Transcendental Metaphysics (1801) appeared in the Edinburgh Review, 2 (January 1803), 253–280. It was written by Thomas Brown (possibly with Francis Jeffrey), according to Irwin Griggs, John D. Kern, Elisabeth Scneider, ‘‘Early ‘‘Edinburgh’’ Reviewers: A New List’’, Modern Philology, 43, No. 3 (February, 1946), 192–210, 193. BACK

[7] During the medieval Islamic ‘Golden Age’ interest in medicine (as well as philosophy and science) burgeoned, synthesising the theories and practices of Greece, Rome and Persia. BACK

[8] Southey’s brother Thomas served as a lieutenant in the fleet sent to transport troops to defend the Windward and Leeward islands against the forces of revolutionary France. They were decimated by yellow fever. BACK

[9] Joseph Wilkinson (1764–1831), Anglican priest, who lived at Ormathwaite Hall and subsequently became Rector of East and West Wretham, Norfolk. Wilkinson was an amateur artist whose drawings of the Lake District were published, with an introduction by Wordsworth, as Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire (1810). BACK

[10] John Peche (dates unknown), who had served in the East India Company’s army and was gazetted as Colonel in 1796 and Major-General in 1798. BACK

[11] Wilfrid Lawson, 10th Baronet of Isell, Cumberland (c. 1764–1806). BACK

[12] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. BACK

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August 2013