3006. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 1 August 1817

3006. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 1 August 1817⁠* 

Brussels. Friday 1 August 1817.

My dear Edith

My first business on arriving here yesterday evening, was to go to the Post Office, – judge of my disappointment in finding nothing but a scrawl from Harry, merely telling me what I knew before by your letter to Geneva. I am sure you have written. Your letter has been lost, & I must remain without any news from home till I reach London. Write as soon as you receive this, & direct to Q Anne Street, where I expect to be as soon as your answer. We stay here to day & to morrow. – We have xxxxxx xxx travelled without one days intermission from Zurich to this place – sixteen days journey: – this halt is indispensable for our wardrobe, & very useful to ourselves. Sunday morning we start, & on Tuesday shall be at Calais. – I shall of course dispatch a line from Dover. We are in high health, & have met with no accident, impediment, or unpleasant circumstance of any kind.

Since I wrote from Echichens [1]  I have seen the finest part of Switzerland. We were nine days enfonced [2]  as we call it among the mountains, travelling sometimes in car or cart, sometimes on [MS missing]back, sometimes on foot with a man to carry our little portmanteau, sometimes by water. The weather was delightful, the country beyond description beautiful, & some of our adventures not a little comical. But I have no time to describe them. The carriage had been sent from Berne to Zurich. There we staid one day for the love of the washerwoman, thence to Schaffhausen & the falls of the Rhine, Donaueschingen & the source of the Danube, thro the Black forest & the Hollenthal, which is being interpreted, Hell-dale (a beautiful place thus wickedly denominated) to Freyburg in the Brisgau Kehl & across the Rhine to Strasburg. From that city we returned the same evening & slept at Kehl, – the next day to Baden where we dined at a Table d Hote in the Inn yard, the house & yard being full of all the Beaux & Belles in the Gross Herzogs [3]  dominions, & all the parts adjoining. – to sleep there was impossible the place was so crowded, so after seeing the dungeons of the Secret Tribunal [4]  – with stone doors a foot thick, the most devilish sight that I ever beheld, – we proceeded that night to Rastadt. Thence to Heidelberg (& the Ton), [5]  Manheim, Frankfort, Mentz & along the left bank of the Rhine to Cologne. Here we visited the Three Kings & the Eleven Thousand Virgins – a visit so curious that I heartily wish you had been with us. [6]  That night we slept at Julliers & the next day breakfasted at Aix la Chapelle. You may be sure we did not go to our old abominable quarters – next door instead at the Dragon d’Or, & there we were recognized by the waiter, who had been our Commissionaire. [7]  I carried Percys Reliques with me as a present for Dr Reumont: [8]  – he wished for the book & as the medical bookseller would not or could not execute his commission I had no means of sending it him before. He was not at home when I called, but I never saw a womans countenance express more pleasure than his wifes did when I explained who I was & why I had called. We were in danger of sleeping at Herve that night for want of horses. However we got on to Liege, & there also we were recognized. Next day to Huy – the people glad to see me here also. Called on M. Ouverx [9]  & sate three hours with him. He was exceedingly civil & glad to see me, but did not invite us to sup or breakfast. He gave me a book of some rarity which I was glad to possess, – a dictionary of the Walloon dialect. [10]  Next day (Wednesday) to Namur & Sombref, – we slept here in the same house where we had dined – an event which was perfectly well remembered. Yesterday walked thro Ligny, breakfasted at Genappe, visited the raven whom Edith saw there, so to Hogoumont, the grave of Ld Uxbridges leg  [11]  – & to Brussels. The carriage had scarcely stop at the Hotel door before Henri was at the one door, & the man who had driven us to Calais at the other. There was no room at our former Hotel, so we are next door at the Hotel de Belle Vue. Here after such a journey I feel myself almost at home.

We shall once more escort Mrs Vardon. You must doubtless remember that she put her foot in the footstep of St Remacle [12]  at Spa. The consequences are now too visible, for any shadow of doubt, – & part of the business which calls her to England is – to lie in. Not having had any suspicion of this when we crost to Calais, I was almost as much surprized at seeing her, as I should have been to have found Mr V. in the same situation. He is here & remains here with Martin [13]  about a most unlucky & vexatious business. In playing together at school Martin has shot a boy in the cheek with an arrow, – the boy had a cataract forming in one of his eyes, & the inflammation which ensued from this wound hastened the disease so that the sight of the eye is lost. The parents have been fools enough to prosecute Martin criminally as if the thing had been done intentionally with intent to kill the boy. Their aim is to extort money. – Mrs V. has reason enough to repent her folly in bringing the boys to such a country: the eldest [14]  is become a coxcomb, a smoker & the Lord or rather the Devil knows what. We dine there to day & tomorrow Mrs V & the female part of the family & the two elder boys [15]  set off for Calais – she travels slowly by reason of her condition, & we shall overtake her.

I have been to Verbiest [16]  before breakfast this morning. The duty upon the Acta Sanctorum [17]  will now be saved thro Herries’s means, – as I have found some treasures here. – God bless you. I have many letters to write & much to do. You may be sure I shall remain in town the shortest possible time. As for news I know nothing of what has been passing in the world except what I could pick out now & then from a German paper. This I care not for, – but I am very, very anxious to hear from home. A post comes in to day, so that I have still some hope.

I must seal up or be too late.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland
Stamped: B[illegible]EL/ FRANCO
Postmarks: FPO/ AU 4/ 1817; A/ AU/ 4/ 1817
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. AL; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 168–170. BACK

[1] The residence of John Awdry (1766–1844), solicitor in Reybridge and his wife Jane, née Bigg-Wither (1770–1845), sister of Herbert Hill’s wife, Catherine. BACK

[2] ‘Dug in’. BACK

[3] ‘The Great Duke’s’. The rulers of Baden were Grand Dukes – at this time Charles (1786–1818; Grand Duke of Baden 1811–1818). BACK

[4] In the castle at Baden. The Secret Tribunal operated from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century; convictions for heresy or witchcraft were commonly followed by immediate execution. The Tribunal often featured in Gothic romances. BACK

[5] A huge wine vat in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle. BACK

[6] A reliquary in Cologne cathedral supposedly contains the bones of the magi who visited the infant Christ in Bethlehem, Matthew 2: 1–12. The church of St Ursula in Cologne contains an enormous reliquary in which supposedly lie the bones of this fourth-century British saint who, according to legend, was killed, with her eleven thousand virginal handmaids, on a pilgrimage to Cologne, by the Huns besieging the city. The reliquary is extraordinary because, in addition to its size, it displays the bones arranged in patterns and so as to form letters and words. BACK

[7] References to Southey’s trip to the Netherlands in 1815. Edith May Southey had been taken ill at Aix-la-Chapelle and the party was held up there for a week. BACK

[8] Gerhard Reumont (1765–1828), eminent Belgian doctor who treated Edith May two years earlier; his wife was Lambertine Reumont, née Kraussen (1786–1850). As a present, Southey gave Reumont a copy of Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). BACK

[9] Francois-Joseph Ouwerx (dates unknown), of Huys, a soap manufacturer whom the Southeys had met on their tour in 1815. BACK

[10] M. R. H. J. Cambresier (fl. 1787), Dictionnaire Walon-François, ou Receuil de Mots et Proverbes François (1787), no. 525 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] Field Marshal Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768–1854; DNB), known as the Earl of Uxbridge between 1812 and 1815, had his leg amputated at a house in the village of Waterloo after being hit by grape shot during the battle (18 June 1815). The leg was then buried in the garden and a tombstone erected, bearing the inscription ‘Here lies the Leg of the illustrious and valiant Earl Uxbridge, Lieutenant-General of His Britannic Majesty, Commander in Chief of the English, Belgian and Dutch cavalry, wounded on the 18 June 1815 at the memorable battle of Waterloo, who, by his heroism, assisted in the triumph of the cause of mankind, gloriously decided by the resounding victory of the said day.’ The tombstone became a tourist attraction. BACK

[12] In the Belgian town of Spa, women wishing to become pregnant put a foot into a footstep cut in stone and dedicated to St Remaclus (d. 673) – as Mrs Vardon had done when she visited the town with Southey on 8 October 1815. BACK

[13] Martin Vardon (dates unknown) was the Vardons’ youngest son. BACK

[14] Thomas Vardon (1799–1867; DNB), later Librarian of the House of Commons 1831–1867. BACK

[15] The Vardons’ daughter (dates unknown), female servant and two older sons, Thomas and George Tarbutt Vardon (b. 1803). George was going to enrol at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; he emigrated to Canada in 1832, where he worked in the Indian Department. BACK

[16] Jean-Baptiste Ver Beyst (1770–1849), famous Brussels bookseller. BACK

[17] The massive, 53–volume compendium of hagiographies entitled Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794); they became no. 207 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

Places mentioned