2267. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 6 June 1813

2267. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 6 June 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. June 6. 1813

My dear Harry

That you will see me ere long is as certain, according to all appearances, as any thing can be in this uncertain world, – I have been idling a week at Old Brathay, – the change was needful, & the idleness also, tho I could have wished it had been at a more convenient season. I shall start for the south as soon as my hands are clear, – this is unluckily the seaso time of year for interruptions, – Tom comes to me tomorrow, – the Senhora has <hourly expects> a merry old Uncle hour who has been to Edinburgh to unmarry his daughter, [1]  & I must lay my account with some days of dissipation, so that I think it my appearance in town will more likely be in the second week of July than in the first.

You were right in supposing that the sprawler upon the red sofa was <is> your niece Katharine, – who had also the honour of being the original child in the eagles nest, – for that huge picture was begun & half finished in this house, – wherof a good story when we meet. I do not know whether the likeness in the great picture has been altered, – it was one of the happiest I ever saw, – & the other (which is to come when the Exhibition is over) was copied from it. [2]  Have you seen the best portrait which has ever been taken of Kates father, – by Mr Downman [3]  – in Murrays possession. I have its fellow here which satisfies every body.

I was glad to see your presentation, as indicative that you were in road to preferment. [4] 

But there are two thin special things which may be considered as the special cause of this letter. first a particular des request of Ch. Lloyds, often & solicitously repeated, that I would mention to you, that Mr Boddington [5]  seems hurt at your non appearance at the party to which you promised to come, – no xxxx apology for the said non appearance or rather explanation of it having reached xx him. – My answer to Lloyd was that I supposed you had written a note which had been lost on the way.

Secondly – do you want to make your fortune in the philosophical world? – If so – you may thank Owen Lloyd [6]  for the happiest opportunity that was ever put into an Aspirants hands. – You must have heard the vulgar notion that a horse hair, plucked out by the root & put in water, becomes alive in a few days. The boys at Brathay repeatedly told their mother it was true – that they had tried it themselves, & seen it tried. Her reply was – show it me & I will believe it. – While we were there last week in came Owen with two of these creations in a bottle. xxx Wordsworth was there, – & to our utter & unutterable astonishment did the boys to convince us that these long thin black worms were their own manufactory by the old receipt, lay hold of them by the middle while they writhed like eels, & stripping their nails down on each side, actually lay bare the horse-hair in the middle, which seemd to serve as the back-bone of those xxx creatures, – or the substratum of the living matter which had collected round it. Wordsworth & I should both have supposed that it was a collection of animalculæ round the hair (which however would be only changing the nature of the miracle) if we could any way have accounted for the motion upon this theory, – but the motion was that of a snake. We could perceive no head, – but something very like the root of the hair. And for want of glasses could distinguish no parts. The creature or whatever else you may please to call it is black or dark brown, & about the girth of a fiddle string. As soon as you have read this x draw upon your horses tail & mane for half a dozen hairs, be sure they have roots to them, bottle them separately in water, & when you have they are alive & kicking, call in Gooch, & make the fact known to the philosophical world. – Never in my life was I so astonished as at seeing what even in the act of seeing I could scarcely believe, – & now almost doubt. – If you verify the experiment, as Owen & all his brothers will swear must be the case, – the you will be able to throw some light upon the origin of your friend the tape worm, & all his diabolical family.

No doubt you will laugh, & disbelieve this, & half suspect that I am jesting. But indeed I have only told you the fact x as it occurred; – & you will at once see its whole importance in physiology, – & the use which you & Gooch may derive from it, coming forth with a series of experiments, & with such deductions as your grey-hound sight, & his beagle scent will enable you to soon start & pursue.

And if the horses hair succeeds Sir Domine, – by parallel reasoning you know try one of your own.

I have left myself no room little room to speak of my own concerns. With this fourth volume I give up the Register, [7]  – & therewith two thirds of my income; – there is however a better bird in the bush – than that which I let loose from my hand. I shall recast my the peninsular-matter in those volumes, & bring forth, under all possible advantages of authority a regular history of the affair of the peninsular from the commencement of those troubles. [8] Croker will apply to Lord WellingtonCanning to M. Wellesley, – to whom also I have access thro his son in law Mr Littleton, Sir Edwards heir. – Two quartos will comprize it, if our part in it should not continue longer than the close of next year; – probably it will terminate in this, – for France cannot <long> sustain the cost of such victories as Buonaparte is now gaining. [9] 

Love to my Aunt [10] 



* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK / 298
Postmark: D/ 9 JU 9/ 1813
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 3. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 34–36 [in part]. BACK

[1] One of Mary Barker’s maternal uncles, Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB) had been to Edinburgh to help secure the divorce of his daughter, Marianne (d. 1819), from Thomas Montford Newte (dates unknown). Under Scottish law, the Commissary Court could grant divorces on the grounds of adultery or desertion. BACK

[2] The history and portrait painter George Dawe (1781–1829; DNB) had been in residence at Greta Hall in late autumn 1812 whilst he worked on the 9 foot by 8 foot canvas ‘Mother Rescuing her Child from an Eagle’s Nest’. His visit was not without controversy. In particular, his love of fresh air and open windows upset some of the household. Dawe’s picture was based on William Hayley’s (1745–1820; DNB), ‘The Eagle’, first published in Designs to a Series of Ballads (1802). At the same time he painted a small portrait of Katharine Southey. BACK

[3] John Downman (1750–1824; DNB) had painted two portraits of Southey in 1812. One was commissioned by Murray, the second by Southey himself. In addition, Downman painted a portrait of Edith to sit alongside that of her husband; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 7 October 1812, Letter 2154. BACK

[4] Henry Herbert Southey had been presented at Court. BACK

[5] Probably Samuel Boddington (1766–1843), West India merchant, scholar, friend of Richard Sharp and Samuel Rogers, and Whig MP for Tralee in 1807. BACK

[6] Owen Lloyd (1803–1841), third son of Charles and Sophia Lloyd, later curate of Langdale. BACK

[7] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813) was the last issue to which Southey contributed. BACK

[8] The History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[9] France had fought the forces of the Sixth Coalition at Lutzen on 2 May 1813 and Bautzen 20–21 May 1813. Both battles could be construed as tactical victories for France, but France could not sustain the scale of casualties inflicted in these contests. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)