2037. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 February 1812

2037. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick Feby 13. 1812.

You are right honest woman, Senhora, — an awkward sort of compliment to a Lady, it must be confessed, considering what is meant by making an honest woman, — no matter for that. I love you the better for the honesty with which you speak of Sir J Moore & when you have read my Register for 1809 where I have said more of him & as much of him as your heart could desire, you will think me very honest too. [1]  There is a second siege of Zaragoza in that volume, [2]  not less impressive than the first; & there is an attack upon the Burdettite Reformers, written with as much force as any thing which I have ever yet produced, [3]  — for you must know that I am become a great enemy to what is called Parliamentary Reform; — it is a vile twopenny-halfpenny business, holding out nothing but a deceitful economy, & substituting Profit & loss in the place of every thing which has hitherto been considered as great & generous.

I will find out who purchased Ennerdale [4]  as soon as I meet with any person who can tell me; it will probably prove a useless piece of information, for it is not likely the purchasers will be induced to sell, what they have no intention of selling, unless a great price be held out to them.

I give you joy of the Imperials criticism, & of Miss Linwoods tragedy. [5]  Happy Senhora to be so favoured! By way however of making you some amends for what you may have suffered at this tragedy I will tell you that Landor has just published one without his name, [6]  which tho it has little common dramatic interest, & partakes of that obscurity which distinguishes all his verse, is yet a most wonderful production, & has passages in it of exquisite beauty, & of unsurpassable sublimity. Count Julian is the title. The same characters of those of Pelayo, but very differently represented. [7]  Julian is the hero, & very finely is the character conceived. — It does not accord with my plans to give any dignity to Julian I take him, as the scanty historical accounts we have, represent him.

A notion has come into my head for a poem, which if it ripen will get the world staring even more than Kehama has done, or my unborn Quaker-hero will do. [8]  You have had a Mahommedan poem in Thalaba, & a Hindoo one, [9]  this is to be a Heavenly one — that is, the scene is to be in the next world, — I want to see if I cannot make a Heaven of my own, & believe in it into the bargain. Now as it is my firm belief, according to the doctrine of the Bards, [10]  that they who get out of this stage of existence into a better, are out of reach of evil, & that no other change takes place but that of perpetual progression in knowledge & power, — that is, growth without the sense of alteration. it is clear that I can have no story involving any thing like those hopes & fears which are as necessary to narration, almost, as plums to a plum-pudding. But it seems feasible to borrow them from earth, — by making my story human, but taking the point of view of it wholly from heaven, & bringing up the actors there at last, to rejoin those who have gone before them. [11]  The possibility I feel, & have a better map of Heaven in my head than ever Swedenborg had, [12]  tho to be sure it is not quite so definite in all its parts. Now I believe this would not only be a very delightful task but that it would be a very useful one as well, for my Heaven is such a one that whether the reader chose to believe it or not, it would lay hold of him & as much alter his feeling of death & immortality as the Paradise Lost modified his notions of Adam & Eve, [13]  — or to come nearer to the mark, as Shakespeare influences his conceptions of Richard the Third & Henry 5th. [14] 

The evil is Senhora, that occupations multiply upon my hands, — & the hands do not multiply for the occupations. On one hand I am called upon for the Quarterly Review, — on another for the Register, [15]  & — here is Pelayo [16]  on the stocks, — a life of Nelson advertised & only a third part of it written, [17]  — the concluding vol. of Brazil [18]  to be finished if possible this summer, — &c &c. And when one thing is done, there seems to be just as much . . . the Review comes once a quarter, the Register once a year, & I do but breathe from one job, to begin upon another. If I could but . . . that Historiographers birth, [19]  I would drop some of these things, & divide my time between poetry & my own historical pursuits; for such is the perversity of the age that the more reputation I get, the more I am called off to busy myself upon temporary topics.

Farewell. I rejoice to think that your marvellous oak is by this time nearly seasoned, & that I may begin to think of the cabinet. Two shelves I think deep enough to contain a fools-cap quarto, (the depth of this half sheet is amply sufficient) & two drawers below. Something in this way, if you can understand my drawing; [20]  — or if it will look better to have no drawers below the Doors, then a third shelf within — I do not mean three shelves, but two besides the ground floor. but you are the Queen of the Kickmanjiggers — Queen said I? — yea verily the Empress — Autocratrix — or Grand-Senhora, — which I take it is the highest title you could have, were you a Turk. So do you exercise your own taste.

God bless you.


There can be no doubt that the Imp. will gladly lend Sir E. the island — but oh if he should think it necessary to be there it deceives him! —


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 385–389
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 56–108. Mary Barker had been reading the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 421–441, 306–321, on Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB) and the first siege of Zaragoza (1808). BACK

[2] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–525. BACK

[3] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 31–32, 201, 233, 257–282. BACK

[4] Ennerdale, a small lake southwest of the Derwent. It is not clear which estate Southey is describing. BACK

[5] Possibly the composer and author Mary Linwood (c. 1783–1850s?), rather than her aunt, Mary Linwood (1755–1845; DNB), whose copies in needlework of one hundred pictures of old and modern masters were exhibited in London from 1798–1841. The younger Mary Linwood published Leicestershire Tales (1808) and a long poem, The Anglo-Cambrian (1818). BACK

[6] Count Julian (1812). BACK

[7] In Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). Julian, Count of Ceuta, is a legendary figure who was supposed to have aided the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711/712. BACK

[8] Oliver Newman, published posthumously in 1845. BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[10] As outlined, for instance, in William Owen Pughe, The Heroic Elegies and Other Pieces of Llywarc Hen (1792). Southey would have investigated this subject whilst researching Madoc (1805). BACK

[11] Southey published no such poem. BACK

[12] Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell (1800), no. 2760 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667). BACK

[14] Richard III (1452–1485, King of England 1483–1485; DNB) and Henry V (1386–1422, King of England 1413–1422; DNB), as portrayed in the Shakespeare plays of those names. BACK

[15] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[16] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[17] The Life of Nelson, published in two volumes (1813). BACK

[18] History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[19] The post of Historiographer Royal. The incumbent, Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), died on 23 May 1812, but Southey was not appointed to succeed him. BACK

[20] Southey has drawn a small rectangular cabinet on the MS. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)