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477. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 16 January 1800 ⁠* 

Benjamin Constant [1]  is the man whose pamphlet Losh translated [2]  in the winter of 1796. I believe him to possess integrity as well as talents. Riouff whose comments upon Constants speech I see in the M Post [3]  – wrote the Memoires d’un Detenu. for his own credit he ought to have been guillottined. Bonapartes reputation is in bad hands to be defended by such whelps as this man & Rœderer. [4]  Of Chenier [5]  I have no good opinion. unless I mistake he was a prominent advocate for the unhappy reelection of the two thirds. you illuminize [6]  I perceive in all your paragraphs. Babœuf [7]  was a great man. Mary Wollstonecraft told me he was the most extraordinary one she had ever seen. – & in the orgasm of the Revolution the system of total equalization would have been wise. it would have rendered any return to common systems impossible & excited insurrection all over Europe. But Babœuf did not set sail till the tide had set in against him. the second Consul (damn their affectation barbarizing affectation of Roman titles!) Cambaceres, [8]  is one of the fairest characters that has yet appeared, & his choice nomination is creditable to the government. – but what of all this? Sieyes [9]  & the Corsican have trod upon my Jacobine corns – & I am a thorough English republican.

Will you convey the herewith book to Mary Hays. she is a woman perhaps erroneous in all points of first importance, but a woman of talents, & I believe of a good & warm heart. I like & esteem her. Lloyd made one of his mushroom intimacies with her – & you know how it was broken off. [10]  Mary Hays is one of those persons whom twenty years hence it will be pleasant & gratifying to have seen. Moreover Sarah may wish for some female acquaintance. {I have not mentioned you in the letter lest you should not like to call with it.}

I am very idle – so idle that I have not yet written any poem merely for the sake of telling Stuart at the end of it that I have done, & that he is welcome to the {my} little work I have done since October, to fill up the few gaps before. it is a comfortable release & my shoulders will be {are} as much lighter as my purse will be. Howbeit the seventh Thalaba comes on.

Soon I expect Rickman at Bristol, a welcome guest. without any common taste, few men accord better with me. he is a practical man, & of uncommon talents. I believe he will shortly quit Xchurch & assume his proper station in society – in which case I lose all my predilection for Burton – for quite to hermitize is not quite my wish. Shall we never make a bee hive somewhere?

Six Anthology [11]  sheets are printed, & between you & I, very respectable ones. Cottle threatens me with a packet from Trauma, of which he lost the first copies out of his pocket in town. I have the forlorn hope that there may be some exquisite piece in its way, like the never-enough-to-be-renowned-Sonnets. [12]  Trauma is at Wards or Chards – druggists & chemists in Bread Street Cheapside No 20 or 21 – for they live next door – & if you have a mind to shake {see once more} a very odd & very honest fellow, by the hand, you will in some idling {hour} go make an old acquaintances heart glad by x xxxxxxx shaking him by the hand.

I have wishd for a letter from you, when the postman rung every day – but you are employed – & letter writing is only fit for idlers. tis an employment I do not over & above esteem, because I am past the age.

To what is the great superiority of Europeans over Orientalists attributable – & the stationariness or even retrogression of the Orientalists? Persia for instance – it cannot be climate – for in that kingdom there all are all temperatures. religion? but it was the same under Zoroaster as under Mohammed [13]  – neither is Islam in itself hostile to improvement – at one period the Mohammedan courts were the most enlightened of Europe. religion I conceive only so far hostile to the improvement {advancement} of the species as an establishment is concerned, & the Mufti no worse than an Archbishop & certainly not so bad as the Pope.

Perhaps Polygamy is the radical evil. the degradation of females in consequence of it is obvious, – & its perpetual excitement is probably the chief cause of the voluptuousness attributed to climate. hence premature debility, hence a brutalized nature. hence habits of domestic despotism, & the inference that what is best in a family, is best in a state.

In Arabia women are not slaves, & the Arabs are mostly monogamous. here then are a people under a burning climate, unenslaved, by no means remarkable for voluptuousness, & among whom I have never heard of the vice crime, elsewhere universal in the East. which is probably another off scyon from the same root.

The Deserts are not invincible by man. there are trees & herbs that can grow in the driest sand – the Acacia is one. these must be his agents – they will create a soil for other vegetables, & vegetation will perhaps attract rains – or supply gas for its formation. A curse upon the war – the French are now destroying our African settlements [14]  – & these settlements would have been the germs of civilization after the slave Trade should have been destroyed.

farewell –

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Thursday 16 Jany. 1800.


Notes

* Address: Mr Coleridge
MS: Princeton University Library, Robert H. Taylor Collection, Box 17
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 214–217. BACK

[1] Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (1767–1830), Swiss-born French writer, philosopher and politician. In 1799–1802 he was effective leader of the opposition to Napoleon in the Tribunate, a legislative body under the Constitution of the Year VIII. BACK

[2] Observations on the Strength of the Present Government of France, and upon the Necessity of Rallying Round It. Translated from the French of Benjamin Constant by James Losh (1797). BACK

[3] Honore Jean Riouffe (1764–1813) was an ex-Girondin and author of Memoires d’un Detenu, Pour Servir a L’Histoire de la Tyrannie de Robespierre (1795). He had given an oleaginous speech in praise of Napoleon in the Tribunate on 6 January 1800 and criticised Benjamin Constant. The report of these proceedings in the Morning Post does not seem to have survived, but see Morning Chronicle, 13 January 1800. BACK

[4] Pierre Louis Roederer (1754–1835), economist, historian, politician and key organiser of the Brumaire coup of November 1799 that brought Napoleon to power. BACK

[5] Marie-Joseph Chenier (1764–1811), poet, playwright and politician. He was a member of the Tribunate and critic of Napoleon 1799–1802. The Constitution of Year III (1795) which created the Directory had stipulated that two-thirds of the first legislative bodies elected under the new constitution must have been members of the Convention of 1792–5. BACK

[6] To promote ideas associated with the Illuminati, an 18th-century secret society, especially deism and republicanism. Southey is referring to the articles Coleridge was contributing to the Morning Post. BACK

[7] Francois Noel Baboeuf (1764–1797) French revolutionary and early socialist thinker; executed 27 May 1797 after the failure of his ‘Conspiracy of the Equals’. BACK

[8] Jean Jacques Regis de Cambaceres (1753–1824) a lawyer and consistent moderate during the French Revolution; Second Consul 1799–1804. BACK

[9] Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes (1748–1836) French revolutionary politician; member of the five-man Directory May–November 1799 and key organiser of the Brumaire coup, November 1799; Provisional Consul November–December 1799; outmanoeuvred by Napoleon. BACK

[10] In 1799, Lloyd had been forced to apologise to Hays for spreading a malicious and untrue story that she was in love with him; see Southey to Edith Southey, 15 May 1799, Letter 409 BACK

[11] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[12] James Jennings’s sonnets ‘Metaphor’ and ‘Personification’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 148–149. Jennings published ‘Designed for a Tablet over the Grave of my Little Boy’ and ‘Written at Tenbury’ in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 287, 289–290, under the pseudonym ‘Edmund Everard’. BACK

[13] Zoroaster (11th/10th century BC) Prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in Persia until the Muslim conquest in the 7th century; Muhammad (570–632), Prophet of Islam. BACK

[14] Sierra Leone had been founded in 1787 as a home for freed slaves. French ships sacked Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, in September 1794 and in 1798–9, four of six British ships sent to the colony were captured by the French. BACK

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August 2011