3004. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 2 July 1817

3004. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 2 July 1817⁠* 

Echichens. 2 July 1817

My dear E.

I wrote to you from Turin & to Bedford from Milan. [1]  We reached that city at mid-day on Saturday 14 June, passed the Sunday in sight seeing, which is more fatiguing than plain, straight forward travelling, & on Monday evening arrived at Como. Landor & his wife are in lodgings there. I wrote to him from Milan, & the same post which conveyed my letter conveyed to him oddly enough one from his brother in England, which containing the history of my affair with Wm Smith, [2]  & saying that ten such poems as Kehama [3]  (of which Robert Landor is a great admirer) would not have obtained for me so much credit as this business. We breakfasted <two mornings> & past xxxx <two> evenings with them, dining at our inn, but on the Wednesday (the intermediate day) L. went with us by water twenty miles up the Lake to Bellaggio, a little town situated where the Lake divides into two branches. This I suppose to be the finest spot for Lake-views in the world. The two branches & the upper part of the water forming each a distinct Lake xxx xxxx prospect & each of the highest beauty. Thursday <Friday> we took leave of L., left our carriage at the foot of one branch of Lugano Lake, & went by water to Lugano where we slept. Friday <Saturday> rejoined the carriage at the foot of another branch & arrived at Laveno on the shores of the Lago Maggiore. Sunday we crossed this lake, saw the islands (one of which would have broken Pocklingtons [4]  heart had he seen it) & got that night to Domo D’Ossola. Monday crost the Simplon. [5]  Tuesday went down the Valais to Martigny. Wednesday <on mules> to Chamounix, Thursday was employd in an expedition to the Mer de Glace & another Glacier, & Friday in returning to Martigny – we were very fortunate in our weather there, Mont Blanc being perfectly uncovered, & showing himself by moonlight as well as by day. In the book upon the Montagne Vert where all visitors write their names we found the names of Shelley, ‘madame son epouse’ et la soeur. [6]  the three names are connected together by a < opposite to which he has written in Greek, these are atheists. Somebody [7]  has written under this precious record, in Greek also ‘& if this be true these persons are fools & miserable ones, glorying in their lusts; – but if it be not true, they are liars.’ – xx Sharp had also inserted his name in the book, saying that he was accompanied by ‘Peter Balmat Senr [8]  an intelligent & obliging guide.’ The following curious note had been added by some unknown hand. ‘The obliging guide Peter Balmat Senr says that R. Sharp, tho he cant speak any language, is the most accomplished humbug he ever met with in all his walks.’ I bought here an inkstand & a lamp of a green stone which is found on Mont Blanc, & called pierre ollaire, for the Senhoras house in Borrodale – things of no great beauty & little cost but interest-ing for the place from whence they came: the lamp has a wick of amianthus, [9]  which is to last for ever & burn without being consumed. – Had Saturday been a fine day we should have gone from Martigny to the pass of St Bernards & slept at the Convent, but the mountains were covered; as some amends for this disappointment we saw the waterfall known by xx the name, more characteristic than it is either poetical or decorous of the Pissevache [10]  in the greatest perfection. As we saw it, which was under very peculiar circumstances, it was the grandest single object that I ever beheld; – & in this opinion we all agreed. I envy the Alps nothing but their waterfalls. Saturday morning was half spent in hoping for a change of weather. we got to Vevey that night, dined the next day at Lausanne, & came here in the afternoon, where we were most hospitably received.

Monday I wrote to Rickman & to Tom, desiring Tom in case your letter should not travel by the same post to tell you that we were thus far on our way home, safe & sound. I wanted to receive yours xxxxxx before I wrote & the messenger whom we dispatched to Geneva brought your letters & Miss Woods [11]  yesterday evening. Tomorrow we depart at six o clock after three days rest: a shorter halt we could not make. Indeed it is scarcely civil to have made so short a one. We get to Berne on Friday, & from thence send the carriage to Zurich while we once more enfonce, [12]  as the phrase is among the mountains, to the Lake of Thun & across the country to that of Lucerne. Six days I hope will bring us to the carriage, after which our way is plain without any deviation to Schaffhausen, & by whatever route may be then deemed best to Frankfort & Brussels.

I have given you the hasty sketch of our movements. We have travelled fast as well as far, & it has required no small exertion & resolution to keep our journals. The journey has been remarkably fortunate, – but both S & myself are looking more eagerly toward England than Mr N. who has no such ties to call him there. He enjoys himself greatly, & if good social spirits were a criterion of happiness (which they are not) I believe that S & I might be set down for two of the happiest men in Xtendom: for we jest, & we eat & we drink, & take things quietly & extract amusement or enjoyment from every thing. But we sleep in the same room upon our travels, & I frequently hear him sigh deeply before he falls asleep.

I shall ask Harry whether the regular use of port wine may not counteract in Edith that relaxed habit which renders her so liable to sore throats. There was no letter from him at Geneva. I am very glad you mentioned therefore all that I wanted to know. – We heard of Elmsley from an Englishman who saw him at Naples. He made six attempts to ascend Vesuvius, but with all imaginable help of guides it was impossible to get the man mountain up the cinder mountain. If he had reached the crater, & fallen in, – think what a blaze there would have been! Why have you said nothing of yourself? – Three weeks at the farthest will carry us to Brussels, & we must be very unlucky about the packets & the passage if less than another week does not bring us to London. I will write to Mr Browne on my arrival; you advise me well upon that subject. Did I not tell you that Lady Olivia [13]  is in Italy, with her son who had broken a blood-vessel? – But I have a great deal to tell you when we meet.

At Milan I bought some books, & sent home by the same conveyance some views in outline of the Italian lakes, & also a few Swiss views of xx xxx little merit, but which it is pleasant to possess. – The harvest (which in Italy is begun by this time) will be excellent in all these countries. Our warm weather began here on the first of June. You complain of cold & of storms ten days later. The climate both here & in the North of Italy we have found as variable as in England. I say nothing about the House [14]  – What indeed can I say at this distance? – but that whether I purchase it myself, or any body else, in either case we shall find reasons for being satisfied with whatever is to be. – Let me find a letter at the Dover post office.

Here is a dinner company today, & every moment I expect to be summoned. You would like this family, [15]  & will like them, for I think the General will get them down to the Island [16]  perhaps with more facility now we are become acquainted. In that case I shall bespeak Alethea [17]  for Ediths visitor. She is nearly the same age, (a little younger) & they would make the best companions in the world. Here is a sweet boy [18]  of Isabels age who has taken to me by instinct, & is very much surprized to find that one of his Aunts should be my Aunt also. The eldest son is here, & his cousin Blackstone, for whom my Uncle holds the Hampshire living in commendam. [19]  They are both fine young men, – & unless I am much mistaken are in a fair way of being one day more nearly connected than they are already by family ties. – I heard the Pernambucan news [20]  at Como, & have seen at this place some English newspapers printed at Paris. [21] Wynn has great reason to be pleased with the manner in which he was proposed, & the support which he met. I heartily wish he had been chosen. [22]  Yours is the only letter which I have received. Indeed I did not desire any person to write except the Dockstor. My complection is of the finest & deepest tan, & my glib is in great full curl. I will not have it cut, because it is a protection against the sun, – which I learnt from the Savoyards. I have learnt also that when young pease are boiled in the shell, the shells are as good as the pease; this good practise I shall endeavour to introduce at home.

I wish you would tell me what I had better bring Sara from London. tell me likewise if there be any thing which is wanted for the house, – & I should like to bring a present for Betty, [23]  if you will advise me what. Had I not better send down a cargo of tea? I have been extravagant enough to purchase a watch, which by Mr Awdrys means has been obtained at a price that will surprize you, certainly for one third of what it would have cost in England. And now my dear Edith God bless you. My next will be from Brussels, unless we should halt a day at any city in Germany, which I think will not be the case. Nash has written from hence to Mrs Vardon, & I expect that she will meet us at Waterloo, or rather at La Belle Alliance, [24]  & dine there on our way from Namur to Brussels. By the time this reaches you we shall have left Switzerland. My stay in town will be the shortest possible, – for I am heartily homesick. Love to the children – tell them I shall bring them all sorts of things. Once more God bless you



* Address: Angleterre/ To/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland
Postmark: AJX/ 12/ 81; FPO/ JY–12/ 1817
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 164–168. BACK

[1] See Southey to Edith Southey, 11 June 1817 and to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 June 1817 (Letters 3000 and 3002). BACK

[2] William Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in the Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227, with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. Southey’s response was A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[3] Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[4] Joseph Pocklington (1736–1817). Son of a wealthy Nottinghamshire banker, Pocklington moved to the Lake District, where he built a number of unique houses, including one on Derwent (Vicar’s) Island, on Derwentwater, near Keswick. The island that Southey suggests would have made him jealous was Isola Bella, which is entirely covered by the Palazza Borromeo and its gardens. BACK

[5] The Simplon pass, in the Swiss Alps, between Brig and Domodossola. BACK

[6] Shelley’s wife and her step-sister: Mary Godwin Shelley (1797–1851; DNB) and Clara Mary Jane Clairmont (1798–1879; DNB). BACK

[8] Peter Balmat (dates unknown) was a member of a family of Alpine guides that included Jacques Balmat (1762–1834), one of the first men to climb Mont Blanc in 1786. BACK

[9] An old word for asbestos. BACK

[10] ‘Pissing cow’. BACK

[11] Mary Anne Wood (1782–1860), Senhouse’s cousin. BACK

[12] ‘Dig in’. BACK

[13] Lady Olivia Sparrow (c. 1778–1863) was the widow of Robert Sparrow (1773–1805), who had bullied Southey at Westminster School. She had visited Southey in 1814. Her son, Robert Acheson Bernard St John Sparrow (c. 1800–1818), died during their continental tour. BACK

[14] Greta Hall, the Southeys’ home, which Southey was planning to purchase after its owner was jailed for debt. BACK

[15] The family were John Awdry (1766–1844), solicitor in Reybridge and his wife Jane, née Bigg-Wither (1770–1845), sister of Herbert Hill’s wife, Catherine. A third, unmarried, sister, Alethea Bigg (1777–1847), was staying with them. Southey visited them at Echichens on 1–3 June and 29 June–3 July. BACK

[16] Derwent Island, on Derwentwater, near Keswick, Peachy’s summer residence. BACK

[17] Alethea Sophia Awdry (1806–1882), daughter of John and Jane Awdry. BACK

[18] Walter Herbert Awdry (1812–1875), in later life a schoolmaster, clergyman and friend of Anthony Trollope (1815–1882; DNB). BACK

[19] The cousin was Frederick Charles Blackstone (1795–1862), whose mother was Margaret Bigg-Wither (1768–1842), another sister of Catherine Hill and Jane Awdry. Still at Oxford in 1817, Blackstone was preferred to the living of Worting, Hampshire in 1819, Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill having held this living from 1815 to 1819 (i.e. deputising as parish priest until such time as Blackstone was ready to take up his duties). Hill, however, who lived in Streatham, did so in absentia and his duties were performed by curates. Blackstone did not, as Southey predicted, marry one of the Awdry daughters. BACK

[20] News of a failed insurrection against Portuguese rule in Pernambuco March-May 1817; Southey’s friend, Henry Koster, was an eye witness. BACK

[21] Galignani’s Messenger, a daily paper in English, printed in Paris 1814–1895. BACK

[22] Wynn’s acknowledged expertise on procedural matters had led him to be nominated as a candidate to be Speaker of the House of Commons. He did not win the election on 2 June 1817. BACK

[23] Elizabeth Thompson (c. 1777–1862), the Southeys’ long-standing servant. She was buried in the Southey family grave. BACK

[24] An inn near the battlefield of Waterloo; but also Southey’s preferred name for the battle. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Rosthwaite, Borrowdale (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)