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634. Robert Southey to Charles Danvers, 2-3 December 1801 ⁠* 

Wednesday. 2nd December. 1801.

My dear Danvers

The travellers reached us on Monday evening. they had delayed their journey till the bad weather & so were obliged to come half the way with four horses. My Mother bore the journey exceedingly well – no good symptom this – & indeed she is far worse than I had expected. Carlisle has been to visit her – she has faith in him – & faith works wonders. he thinks it an even chance that she may get thro the winter. so long ago as when he saw her at Westbury he thought her consumptive, & wonders she has lived till now. it is at least a satisfaction that she has every possible comfort & alleviation – poor Margaret had none! – This cursed disease is I now see a family one – an Uncle [1]  – an infant sister [2] my Cousin – & my Mother are proofs enough. I shall be on my guard – & if ever I begin to cough ship myself in time for Lisbon. at present I am well as heart could wish – & the weather has been trying.

God bless your good Mother! – I am writing on the noble desk & the noble carpet – equally delighted with the polish of the one & the colours of the other. the hearse is admirable. I wish that was unnecessary – that in a house I might draw out my papers in battle array – & my boards, & have a table made for my carpet – & write more luxuriously than ever did Poet before me. this vagabond life will not last very long. if at the years end Corry & I should part – & I should be again afloat – I sho will then go to Keswick – to the same house with Mrs Coleridge & economize there – almost indifferent whether any advancement in life should remove me or not. We should be magnificently lodged for 25£ a year – & my annual expences if settled there – would not outrun 150£. an odd scheme for a Secretary you will say – & yet it is my favourite one & seems most probable.

I am of no use whatever to Corry – my place is actually a sinecure – & he will find me too expensive a part of his establishment – if he ever thought of making me a statesman – I never thought of it, & he must easily discover my unfitness. One conversation is enough for that. not for any thing opposite to his own opinions which he hears – an old Jacobine & a new Ministerialist necessarily now talk the same language. both say peace on any terms – the success of Bonaparte [3]  compels the one to acknowledge his talents – the development of the Corsicans character drives the other to execrate his all-sacrificing & all-pliable ambition. But there is a communicativeness & openness in my manners utterly opposite to what statesmen require. every trifling occurrence in life must be mysterious – a visit to the necessary is a secret expedition. if Corry has hired me that he may acquire a character for patronage he will answer that purpose by giving me some easy appointment in Ireland. this his own family believe to be his object – if he has any other, he will & must be disappointed. in that case if I go abroad on my first & favourite scheme – well. – if not I can live upon a little in Cumberland. & devote myself to the History of Portugal [4]  – which from my connections & character must be of considerable emolument. a settled habitation would cut off a fourth of my annual expences. I wish this could have been done sooner – but I have never yet been a free agent.

Davy has paid me two morning visits. one the first day of my entering the lodgings – & before I had got in, so that we did not meet. the silent estrangement which I foresaw is growing between us – his regard for & attachment to me grew up briskly – but the thorns have choaked it. this is in the natural course of things – our habits of life & of thinking & of study grow more & more dissimilar. it is not a thing to wonder at – hardly to regret. Coleridge & he have a knot of union in their metaphysics. a foul weed that poisons whatever it clings to. I have been so accustomed to some glaring folly or fault in almost every one with whom it has been my lot to be connected, that of necessity I am all-tolerant.

Thursday – I should have finished & dispatched this yesterday, but on my return from a walk – a head ache had so increased as to disable me for the day. My Mother had a good night – her fever is removed, & we have contrived to keep her feet warm at night. these are alleviations – & that is something. Edith – God bless her! – is a kind & watchful nurse – I wish she were better herself. certainly she never is so well in London as she is in any other place. today Corry has found out an employment for his Secretary – to attend his son [5]  to Walkers Lectures. [6]  the time that he has purchased could not be past less disagreeably – but you see such a mule-situation cannot be permanent.

Burnett is employed thro Coleridge in the easiest way – yet I doubt his ability. merely to glean the French papers & Peltiers ‘Paris’ [7]  after the news has been taken out – for the Courier. [8]  for this when on trial he is to have a guinea & half a week. afterwards two guineas.

Hamilton [9]  has sent in his account – I called yesterday for payment, & found that he was out. £20 – 17 – 0 – this does not include the few books which I reviewed at your house since my return to England – therefore as he has not closed my account I may expect more work. as soon as I get the money I will send it down. – I have heard from Thomas at last – & written again to him. you will soon receive – if indeed you have not already sent it – the thirty pounds from him. I will write again to enquire where my Uncles boxes may be sent. it hurts me that you should be troubled. the boxes that I have examined are those that should be shipped off – in the new ones I believe there are books which will soon be necessary for my work.

Wynn has left town & cut off my supply of franks – a vexatious loss. I have been fortunate in my old-book-hunting, not so much to Ediths joy as to my own. Our Cintra friend Miss Barker has been with us – she is coming to spend the winter with Charlotte Smith [10]  in London – & I expect to be pleasantly intimate at that house. Miss Seton also will come up at Xmas – we shall be truly & heartily glad to see her.

Your politics about Corrys removal are quite unfounded. the Assize of Bread [11]  will be taken off. an excellent measure which I trace to John Rickmans pervading intelligence. I believe Addington [12]  means well – but it is a difficult thing to talk with the old aristocrats & act with the Amenders. yet this is what he is at. Gray is bargaining. [13]  – I had almost forgot to tell you that before the Preliminaries, [14]  when French books were only entered by sufferance orders were given by the Duke of Portland [15]  to admit no work of Voltaire or of Rousseau. this is certainly true notwithstanding its cursed principle & its almost unbelievable absurdity!

God bless you. our love to Mrs D. yrs truly

R S.


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Danvers./ Kingsdown./ Bristol
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: [illegible]
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 259-262. BACK

[1] Possibly Southey’s maternal uncle Joseph Hill (dates unknown). BACK

[2] Probably Eliza Southey, who died in 1779. BACK

[3] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[4] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] William Corry (c. 1786-1853). BACK

[6] Probably given by Adam Walker (1730/1-1821; DNB), famed for his lectures, especially on astronomy. BACK

[7] Jean-Gabriel Peltier (1760-1825; DNB), publisher of Paris pendant l’Annee (1795-1802), an anti-revolutionary periodical. BACK

[8] The Courier was a long-established daily newspaper, part-owned by Daniel Stuart. BACK

[9] Samuel Hamilton (fl. 1790s-1810s), owner of the Critical Review 1799-1804. BACK

[10] Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806; DNB), poet and novelist; author, among many other works, of Celestina (1791) and The Old Manor House (1793). BACK

[11] The Assize of Bread was a medieval statute that allowed local justices of the peace to regulate the price, weight and quality of bread. It was gradually abolished by legislation in 1815, 1822 and 1836. BACK

[12] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757-1834; DNB), The Speaker 1789-1801, Prime Minister 1801-1804, Home Secretary 1812-1822. BACK

[13] Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1806-1807, Prime Minister 1830-1834; leading figure in the Foxite Whigs. He was pursuing a desultory and fruitless set of negotiations with Addington about whether the Whigs would join the government. BACK

[14] Britain and France had signed ‘Preliminary Articles of Peace’ on 1 October 1801. This was effectively a ceasefire to allow negotiations for a full treaty. BACK

[15] William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809; DNB), Prime Minister 1783 and 1807-1809, Home Secretary 1794-1801. BACK

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August 2011