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466. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [c. 23 December 1799] ⁠* 

My dear Coleridge

I am making up my mind for a visit to the South of Europe. my complaint is wholly debility – so they all tell me – & Davy tells me so – & you know he is one of my Deities. a diseased sensibility – physical sensibility for thank {God} I have none of the it in the common meaning – disordering me now at the heart – now in the bowels – keeping me awake at night & making me idle by day. Now climate is the remedy – but – where to go? to Lisbon? I have seen it, & moreover if I return there people know I have made a book, & I become an object of curiosity. besides I would prefer foreign society to English, & only English society is to be had at Lisbon. To Italy? yes – if I know where – & I should like some companions. however this last is a mere luxury & very dispensable, for Edith will accompany me, & if I can possibly afford to take him, my brother Harry – now old enough to profit by travel. Should Thalaba [1]  bring me 150 pounds – & I almost calculate upon it – I shall have 300 for the years expences – for ourselves enough – but little enough for a third. if I could get a pupil – with brains enough to be a companion –

But where to go? Florence indeed & Leghorn – indeed it is always easy to retire into Germany in case of the French conquests approaching. a worse question is – how to go? by sea is seeing nothing – emptying the tripes instead of filling the head – & the journey thro Germany threatens tremendous expence. I should go with the resolution of staying till I thought myself recovered – strong enough to bear confinement in London; with no settling view. Peace would open a way home thro Switzerland & France. Now if you could fall in with these schemes, we might plunder Italy as the French have done [2] xxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx.

Thalaba is my dependance – Cottle got 150£ by the second Joan of Arc. [3]  Thalaba will be 12 books & as many notes, & surely I ought to get as much by it. to night if no time-assassins drop in I shall write the 20 or 30 lines that finish the fifth book. my plan is to print 1000 copies & sell the impression – four months from this time is sufficient to get this done – & then I am ready to start. think of this – & see if it be among possibilities to accompany us. surely we could make the journey pay.

As for my coming to London – my business must be Thalaba & that can be done here more to my mind – & London always oppresses my spirits like a prison. it is possible that I may come up to see the publishers about it – but if this can be done by letter or by you I shall heartily rejoice to save the fatigue of the journey. the question is simple – I send a sample of the poem – any one of the books – “I have 1000 copies of this – they may sell for 10-6 or 12s – a copy – what will you give me for them? Cottle received 6s for the Joan of Arc & made 150£. & that was a second edition – of course less valuable.

So much for my expedition & ways & means. interim as Trauma says elliptically, what are you doing? & what are your booksellers engagements? Phillips’s selection [4]  I understand – but after engagements are made it appears to me that London is not the best place for you to fulfill them in. I do not know whether Spinosism [5]  be connected with any dislike to green fields – but assuredly I do not like Buckingham Street so well as Kingsdown – nor the Strand as well as our Down. Will you not be troubled with company in town & have be at a great expence of time?

Northmore [6]  is in town. I hold he would be glad to see you.

The Fears in Solitude &c [7] could {might} certainly be admitted – & would be the best part of the volume – but I should rather see them in a volume of your own. however xxx you know best your own intentions – which seem to be strangely anti-poetic in publishing. Should your name be to the Mad Ox? [8]  the other pieces which always were anonymous shall remain so. The Francini piece [9]  I thought Stuart might supply – does he not file the papers? will you if {you} see him the day this arrives – acknowledge for me the receipt of his letter & the bill.

Mary Hays is a woman whom I respect – she is worth seeing – for with all her mistaken notions, she has genius, more than most of the lady writers. I will write to her about Joan [10]  – there is nothing new to be found – except scepticism as to her fate

That is a good poem of George Dyers in the Magazine [11]  – & he has sent me five stanzas upon a Nightingale! [12]  to say that he – the Nightingale – is not the Bird of Night – but the Poet of the Spring! God bless him & forgive him. Lamb is lazy & will give me nothing.

What sort of a book is this by Mariana Starke? does it really give any useful information as to travelling & residing in Italy? the advertisement smells of Phillips. [13] 

Concerning the French [14]  I wish Buonaparte [15]  had staid in Egypt & that Robespierre [16]  had guillottined Sieyes. [17]  these cursed complex governments are good for nothing, & will ever be in the hands of intriguers. the Jacobines were the men – & one house of representatives, lodging the executive in committees, the plain & common system of government. the cause of republicanism is over, & it is now only a struggle for dominion. there wanted a Lycurgus [18]  after Robespierre – a man loved for his virtue, & bold & inflexible. who should have levelled the property of France, & then would the Republic have been immortal, & the world must have been revolutionized by example. at present I have the true Cynic growl – softening down into Stoical – not Epicurean apathy. all the nations are so detestably governed – that I wo see no preference except it be in the amount of taxes. God bless you – & not as a vulgar phrase. Ediths love,

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Coleridge/ 21. Buckingham Street/ Strand/ London/ Single
Postmark: B/ DEC 23/ 99
MS: Hispanic Society of America, New York
Previously published: Catalogue of the Collection of Autograph Letters and Historical Documents Formed Between 1865 and 1882 by Alfred Morrison, 6 vols (London, 1883–1892), VI, pp. 158–159; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 209–211. BACK

[1] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published by Longman and Rees. Southey was unable to keep the copyright and he was paid only £115. BACK

[2] Since 1796, French forces in Italy had captured and sent back to Paris huge quantities of pictures, sculptures and manuscripts, including iconic pieces like the Laocoon, Apollo Belvedere and the Medici Venus. BACK

[3] The second edition of Southey’s Joan of Arc was published in 1798 by Joseph Cottle. BACK

[4] Coleridge was being paid for work on projects planned by the publisher Richard Phillips (1767–1840; DNB) (Coleridge to Southey, 24 December 1799, E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 552). Phillips was soon asking for his money back. BACK

[5] Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), a philosopher who Coleridge much admired at this time. In his letter to Southey of 24 December 1799, Coleridge jokingly related his liking for London to Spinoza’s philosophy (E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 551). BACK

[6] The geologist and writer Thomas Northmore (c.1766–1851; DNB), who Southey and Coleridge had met in Exeter earlier in 1799. BACK

[7] Coleridge’s Fears in Solitude, Written in 1798, During the Alarm of an Invasion. To which are added, France, an Ode; and Frost at Midnight had been published in quarto in 1798. None of the poems were reprinted in Southey’s Annual Anthology. BACK

[8] Coleridge’s ‘Recantation, illustrated in the story of the Mad Ox’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 59–66 was his only signed poem in the volume. BACK

[9] Coleridge’s ‘The Apotheosis, or the Snow Drop’, Morning Post, 3 January 1798 was signed ‘Francini’. It was a reply to Mary Robinson’s (1758–1800; DNB) ‘Ode to the Snow Drop’, Morning Post, 26 December 1797. It was not reprinted in Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[10] Mary Hays had asked (via James Webbe Tobin and Coleridge) ‘what books to consult’ about Joan of Arc (E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 550). Her account of Joan appeared in Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries, 6 vols (London, 1803), I, pp. 146-172. BACK

[11] George Dyer, ‘Democritus Junior’, Monthly Magazine, 8 (December 1799), 889–890. Southey’s blandishments must have worked because it was reprinted in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 284–286. BACK

[12] George Dyer, ‘To the Nightingale’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 217–218. BACK

[13] Mariana Starke (1761/2–1838; DNB), Letters from Italy, Between the Years 1792 and 1798, Containing a View of the Revolutions in that Country (1800), advertised in the Monthly Magazine, 8 (December 1799), 899. Southey was correct: Richard Phillips published both the Monthly Magazine and Starke’s book, thus using the former to promote the latter. BACK

[14] The Brumaire coup of 9–10 November 1799, which abolished the Directory and placed executive power in the hands of three Consuls. BACK

[15] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814). Napoleon had led the French conquest of Egypt in 1798–9, but left to return to France on 24 August 1799. He was the main beneficiary of the Brumaire coup. BACK

[16] Maximilien Francois Marie Isidore de Robespierre (1758–1794), leading Jacobin. BACK

[17] Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes (1748–1836), a member of the Directory May–November 1799, he was the instigator of the Brumaire coup, though soon outmanouevred by Napoleon. BACK

[18] The Spartan legislator Lycurgus (c. 700–630 BC), noted for his emphasis upon austerity, equality among citizens and military fitness. BACK

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August 2011