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444. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 11 October 1799 ⁠* 

Christ Church. Friday night. Oct 11. 1799.

Here we are, in lodgings, waiting the revolutionizing of an old house. this is a business that suits me – & I have not to pay for it. nothing like a thorough reformation! radical improvements! the waters are abating & the country losing its dreariness & xx sublimity. the night of our arrival it was magnificent. I stood on the bridge – you have heard me describe it. the water washes the walls of a small but striking ruin. above stands the keep, with a huge rift in the side thro which the sky is seen. behind, the church, one of the finest in the Kingdom. to the right & left the flats were inundated. the night was wild, the moon rolling among driven clouds, & the rush of the flood now mingled with the xx roar of the wind, & now was heard in its pauses. every object was distinct & solemn – I cannot remember it without emotion.

Dorsetshire is a vile county, bare & barren, or cultivated without enclosures & scored like roast-pork. we are just out of its limits – in a singular place, sadly uninteresting to a common & cursory eye – but having in its vicinity much variety of scenery. the marsh is narrow, watered by a beautifully clear river, & stretching green & open to the foot of a dark chalk hill, assuming a different shape from every point of view, & every where striking. Burton is a little elmey village, east of the marsh. two miles east of Burton is the Forest. [1]  the sea a mile & half from us – & it is a noble sea view – to the right open – on the left assuming the appearance of a nobl large bay, of which the Island & the Needles [2]  form the opposit extremity. the cliffs high & silvery, & at evening often purple. The Church every where seen – in Cathedral grandeur. [3]  the soil the cleanest in the world – our very ducks white as swans, from the total absence of all mud. Two persons make the neighbourhood agreable. the one is rich enough to buy books, & very friendly. all that a neighbour should be. of the other you have heard me speak – rough – coarse – well informed on all subjects – believing nothing – jacobinical – & watching every little opportunity of doing showing attention & supplying your wants. this is my society – for I do not mention the pecus ignobile. [4]  I am as self-sufficient for enjoyment as Sommona-Codom [5]  – but I had rather have some body to be happy with, & think myself well off.

Will you believe? I converted Kendall [6]  to English Hexameters – & he said it would do: & Banfill [7]  whom I thoroughly astonishd. Northmore [8]  is that had his quantity & his spondees so stuck in the mud of his brain that he could not get rid of them. he is an excellent man whom every body teaches me to esteem – but he has an obstinacy that would do honour to a pig. I was one day surprized by a visit from an old Westminster, Lane [9]  – a man of whom the little I remember was not favourable. he brought with him Cosserat the clergyman, [10]  at whose mothers I dined. you know the man – shallow, good-natured, apparently a man who left off debauchery when he took orders. he talked of Jackson, & of his son [11]  who shot himself in a hard hearted stile which only a bigot could have used. the funeral was at midnight, & when it was over the old man laid his hand on Cosserats shoulder, who was the minister – I have followed six children to the grave – & this is the heaviest blow of all! – & the man told me this with exultation – because Jackson is an Atheist! I do not like Jackson – he is an aristocrat & an old debauchee – but he has had some severe blows lately, & he feels them. at Keenans [12]  I had been much interested by the picture of a woman leaning on a harpsichord. the face was not beautiful – but in the eyes there was an expression which spoke more than I had ever yet seen picture speak – I should have expected quick feeling & good sense from the original – & Keenan had painted her in a morning cap & given such a home appearance to her that I associated all domestic comforts with her. it was not till the day or two before my departure that I learnt it was the portrait of Miss Bradford, [13]  whom Jackson had kept – & not used kindly. she died in child-birth. it was said, poisoned by herself, & the report was countenanced by her previous state of wretchedness. they tell me he suffered bitterly on this occasion. nobody likes Jackson – but it is curious – I heard the reverend aristocrats object only to his atheism – & the democrats complained of his immorality.

I did not leave Exeter without a wish to revisit it. at Dorchester I spent half an [MS torn] with Gilbert Wakefield. his Lexicon was before him, & it is to be an English [MS torn] but he has no immediate intention of fitting it for publication. [14]  I found him well & chearful – in a comfortable room, peeping im[MS torn] one, at green fields thro iron bars & over a prison wall. he told me there was a plan for making George Dyer comfortable – that is his friends were to hold themselves ready to supply him to the amount of a hundred a-year – but George was not to know it – for if he did he would always anticipate his resources, & where he publishes one book, publish three, – for it seems it is his everlasting corrections of the press that perpetually keep him in debt.

On my arrival here I found a letter from Lloyd. he tells me his motive for being christened was that he might not be unlike other people! that he was sick of antisocial speculations – that he ceasd to expect virtue in the world – & about taking orders – that conformity was more irksome than ever, & that he did not mean to budge an inch in matter of conscience. Since I left Minehead I have never written to Lloyd, & with the conviction I feel that he has belie belied you & me to each other, I am somewhat irresolute how to act towards him. I am averse to any irritating correspondence & probably shall maintain an unfrequent intercourse with him, till he take orders, as I believe he will, & become ashamed to recollect me.

Let me have Christobel [15]  for the Anthology as soon as you can find inclination. it should be the opening poem – & the book should go to press as early in December as possible. perhaps you may be in Bristol & correct your own proofs otherwise they may be sent to you. I am sanguine about Mohammed [16]  & wish I had nothing to call my attention from it. when we have our scattered members ready you must come here & tack them all together. I wish we were nearer each other, but luckily by way of Bristol the staging is not expensive. – Tom is taken prisoner & carried into Ferrol. [17]  this was our first news here & we learnt it from the papers. whether after an action, we are ignorant & of course in some uneasiness. Edith would have written to her sister if I had not written to you. love from all – God bless you.

R Southey

direct Burton, near Ringwood. Hampshire


Notes

* Address: To/ S. T. Coleridge./ Stowey/ near Bridgewater./ Somersetshire/ Single
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 200–203. BACK

[1] The New Forest. BACK

[2] The Isle of Portland and the Needles rocks off the west coast of the Isle of Wight. BACK

[3] Christchurch Priory. BACK

[4] The Latin translates as ‘wretched flock’. BACK

[5] A Siamese god; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 40–42. BACK

[6] William Kendall (dates unknown). Author of Poems (1793) and librettist for William Jackson’s (1730–1803; DNB) Fairy Fantasies op. 16 (c. 1790). BACK

[7] Probably Samuel Banfill (fl. 1790s–1830s), partner in a woollen mill at Exwick, near Exeter. BACK

[8] Thomas Northmore (1766–1851; DNB) of Cleve House, Devon. Geologist, chemist and classicist. BACK

[9] Richard Lane (1772–1858), educated at Westminster and Trinity College, Cambridge, BA 1794, MA 1799. Clergyman; perpetual curate of Brixton, Devon from 1802. BACK

[10] David Peloquin Cosserat (1772–1809), educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, BA 1794, MA 1799, and probably a college friend of Richard Lane’s. Cosserat was a clergyman and scion of a prominent Exeter family of merchants and lawyers. His father, Nathaniel Elias Cosserat, an ex-Mayor of Exeter, had died in 1795, leaving a widow, Elizabeth, with whom Southey dined. BACK

[11] William Jackson, Exeter-based composer, musician and painter. He had nine children. The identity of his son who committed suicide is unknown. BACK

[12] John Keenan (fl. c. 1780–1819), Irish portrait painter, then living in Exeter. Keenan painted two portraits of Southey. Mrs Keenan was a sister of Daniel MacKinnon (1767-1830), whose Tour through the British West Indies was reviewed by Southey in Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 50–56. BACK

[13] Jane Bradford (d. 1797), daughter of an Exeter clergyman, had been the mistress of William Jackson. She died in childbirth in Bristol. Her son, William Elmsley QC (1797–1866), was later adopted by his much older half-brother, William Jackson (1754–1842), who had made a fortune in the East India Company. BACK

[14] Whilst in prison, Wakefield was working on a Greek–English dictionary, which he later abandoned due to lack of public interest. BACK

[15] The Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), opened with Southey’s ‘St Juan Gualberto’ (pp. 1–19). ‘Christabel’ was never finished and remained unpublished until 1816. BACK

[16] Coleridge and Southey’s plan for a jointly-written poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam, did not make much progress; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 18–20. A fragment by Southey was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (London, 1845), pp. 113–116; and 14 lines by Coleridge in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, 3 vols (London, 1834), II, p. 68. BACK

[17] It was widely reported in the British Press in early October 1799, e.g. St James’s Chronicle, 5 October 1799, that the brig, Sylph, on which Tom Southey was serving, had been captured and was at the Spanish port of Ferrol. BACK

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August 2011