Printer-friendly versionSend by email

656. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 6 February 1802 ⁠* 

My dear Friend

I did not till yesterday receive your note. at an hour too late to answer it. I have been confined to the house, therefore not able to look for my letters, & Corry being himself unwell, neglected to send them.

A letter which I wrote this day week to Harry explained my delay in setting off for Norwich. Edith is somewhat amended – but very little, & very slowly. Unless she relapse – & unless I also relapse – for I have been very unwell myself – I shall hope to see you in the course of the following week. – Your letter is a very kind one. almost I could find fault with some part of it for its too much civility.

John May sends by me half a pound of cigars, & two glass pipes of the last fashion. they tempt me to learn to smoke.

Perhaps you knows not the news of Burnett. He had been only a week with Lord Stanhope when his two pupils eloped, enticed away by an elder sister, who avows what she has done, & affirms that Lord S.s groom who was the go-between, is rewarded with a place under government. [1]  the father is severely afflicted – I think more so than becomes a philosopher. he appears attached to Burnett – has taken him aside & said that his situation must not be at an end. he hopes to recover the youngest boy – & if not – “I hope said he Mr B. it will be a very long time before you leave me. I never make promises – but rather like to perform.” George was in town upon this business.

Our news is that the King wishes obstinately to retire from all public business, & that this has been the cause of the frequent adjournments. [2]  Two Cornish men are in town to procure a Patent for a carriage, driven by steam, as it succeeds in Cornwall, [3]  Bonaparte may bespeak some for his next march across the Alps. [4]  Davy & Sir Joseph Banks between them have found out that the Terra Japanica is pure tannine. [5]  I fear this will not lessen the price of shoe leather tho it must make the fortune of the first tanners who profit by it.

I will put Madoc in my trunk – that you may see it in its crude state & advise me about the bear before I lick him into shape. [6]  History employs most of my time & that very delightfully. [7]  the easy idleness of research suits me well. silk-worm like I prefer eating to spinning.

Godwin is married – to a Widow with one child. [8]  what I hear of her does not much please me – nor am I disposed to be pleased with a second Mrs Godwin. [9]  he is about the History of the Life & Times of Geoffrey Chaucer, for Phillips. [10]  a great metaphysical book is in the conceived & about to be born. Thomas Wedgewood the Jupiter whose brain is parturient, Mackintosh [11]  the Man midwife – a preface with {on} the history of metaphysical opinions promised by Coleridge. this will perhaps prove an abortion, & be bottled up among other rarities in the Moon. [12]  it has however proceeded so far as to disturb the spiders, whose hereditary claim to Thomas Aquinas [13]  & Duns Scotus [14]  had not been disputed for many a year before. Time & Space are the main subjects of speculation. I am afraid the book will add nothing to what I have already learnt from the clocks & the mile stones.

God bless you –

yrs thankfully & truly

Robert Southey.

Saturday. Feby 6. 1802.

35. Strand.

Harry will be sorry to hear that Tom is gone to the West Indies. for the chance of Peace this is somewhat hard.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street./ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: 449 Strand
Postmark: AFE/ 6/ 1802
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4833
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 397-399. BACK

[1] Burnett had been employed as tutor to Charles Stanhope (1785-1809) and James Stanhope (1788-1825), younger sons of the controversial politician and inventor Charles (‘Citizen’) Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1753-1816; DNB). The boys’ flight from their father’s house was described in a letter from Charles Lamb to John Rickman, [?1 February 1802], E.W. Marrs Jr (ed.), The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, 1796-1817, 3 vols (Ithaca, NY and London, 1975-1978), II, pp. 49-50. The key figure in organising their escape was Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839; DNB), their eldest sister and later, an intrepid traveller in the Near East. BACK

[2] George III (1738-1820; King of Great Britain and Ireland 1760-1820; DNB) had been less publicly visible in 1801 because of a recurrence of the illness that had incapacitated him in 1788-1789. BACK

[3] Richard Trevithick (1771-1833; DNB) and Andrew Vivian (1759-1842) secured a patent for their steam locomotive on 24 March 1802. The locomotive had been trialled in Camborne, Cornwall, in December 1801. BACK

[4] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821; First Consul 1799-1804; Emperor of the French 1804-1814) had led his army across the Alps in May 1800. BACK

[5] Davy had conducted experiments to confirm the view of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820; DNB) that Terra Japonica, or Catechu, an extract obtained from mimosa wood, was rich in tannin and could therefore be used in the process of tanning leather. As Terra Japonica was cheaper than oak bark, the substance usually employed, its widespread use might reduce the price of leather goods. Davy publicised his discovery in ‘An Account of some Experiments and Observations on the Constituent Parts of Certain Astringent Vegetables; and On Their Operation in Tanning’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 93 (1803), 233-273. BACK

[6] Southey had completed a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1799, and was now considering revising it for publication. BACK

[7] Southey was working on his projected ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] Godwin had married Mary Jane Clairmont (1768-1841; DNB) on 21 December 1801. Although she had two children and claimed to be a widow, it was unlikely she had ever been married. BACK

[9] Southey was not ‘disposed to be pleased’ with the second Mrs Godwin because he had been a great admirer of the first, Mary Wollstonecraft. BACK

[10] Godwin’s four-volume Life of Geoffrey Chaucer was published in 1804 by Richard Phillips (1760-1840; DNB). BACK

[11] The political writer Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832; DNB). BACK

[12] Southey was proved right, the project did not materialise; see Coleridge to Thomas Poole, 19 February 1802, E. L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956-1971), II, p. 787. BACK

[13] Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), Italian philosopher and Dominican friar. BACK

[14] Duns Scotus (c. 1265–1308), Franciscan friar and theologian. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2011