2083. Robert Southey to [Mary Matilda Betham], 25 April 1812

2083. Robert Southey to [Mary Matilda Betham], 25 April 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 25. 1812.

Some of our Reformers whose dunghill spirits look to nothing but economy & found their whole principles of policy upon the rule of Profit & Loss have recommended that the privilege of franking should be abolished. [1]  Now if it were left to me to determine coolly & conscientiously whether it should be abolished or whether those persons who would vote <call out> for its abolishment should be hanged, I should send an order to his Majestys Halter-Maker to prepare a greater number of hempen necklaces than he is usually in the habit of manufacturing. – Perhaps you do not know that the ropes used on such occasions are manufactured for the purpose, the noose <or rather noose-hole> being being made in them, like the eye of a needle, ready to be threaded with the other end. – Franking is almost the only instance in which an act of government contributes directly to keep up kindly feelings & promote the real comforts of intellectual life. I could write a long chapter upon this subject, – but I was led to it by thinking that it was one of the comforts of a frank that it removed all scruples at writing a short letter, – for a few lines I was resolved upon writing to you only to say that you promised to see us this summer, that we have not forgotten the promise, & are looking forward with great pleasure to its performance.

We have to show you a little girl whom you have never seen, one whom you will not recognize, & two elder children [2]  no otherwise altered than as they are grown, – otherwise in character & countenance the same. – I have also some Pelayo [3]  to show you: in its slow progress it has now reached to 1600 lines, – no more: but I think of quickening my pace. It is delightful to me to show this to those persons who will lend me their hearts, – it is absolutely intolerable to show it to those who will only lend their ears.

I am closely employed upon the Register for 1810. [4]  Have you any verses which you would like to insert in the miscellaneous Volume? If so transmit them to me. I should like to see something of yours there. [5] 

Edith & her sisters [6]  desire their love. You will probably see Coleridge, – & have heard no doubt of the mischief which has been made, unintentionally I believe, between him & Wordsworth. [7]  My own opinion which you may perhaps like to know upon this provoking business is, that Montague has acted with a degree of folly which would be absolutely incredible in any other person; – that W. is no otherwise blameable than in having said any thing to such a man which he would have felt any dislike to seeing in the Morning Post, that I do not wonder at C’s resentment, that I heartily wish the business would be made up, but very much fear that it never will. [8] 

God bless you

Yrs most truly

Robert Southey.


* MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Ernest Betham, A House of Letters (London, 1905), pp. 138–139 [paras. 1 and 2], pp. 121–122 [paras 3 and 4; dated ‘[1809–1812]’ and printed with a postscript (‘I sent nobody to give you any other trouble than that of exhibiting the family group, nor have I heard who has taken the pains of going to see them except Bedford and Neville White (Henry’s brother). He thought the last year’s picture of myself a better likeness than this.’) which is in fact the final paragraph of Southey to Betham, 27 December 1809, Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1724 ]. BACK

[1] Since the creation of the Post Office in 1660, all MPs had the privilege of sending their mail free of charge (‘franked’). It was a privilege that was much abused as they often sent letters for friends (like Southey). The matter was raised periodically in the Commons (e.g. on 14 December 1812, by the Whig, Thomas Creevey (1768–1838; DNB)). BACK

[3] The original title for what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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

[5] None of Betham’s poems appeared in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812), but two (‘The Fettering of Fancy’ and ‘On My Brother’s Leaving Home without My Seeing Him’) were published in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1812, 5.2 (1814), xxiv–xxv. BACK

[7] Coleridge and Wordsworth had become estranged in October 1810. The quarrel was prompted by Basil Montagu, who travelled with Coleridge from the Lakes to London, and told him that Wordsworth had called him a ‘rotten drunkard’ and an ‘ABSOLUTE NUISANCE’. For a detailed account see E. L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (1956–1971), III, p. 389. BACK

[8] Coleridge and Wordsworth were largely reconciled in spring 1812 thanks to the mediation of Henry Crabb Robinson. BACK

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