2370. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 25 January 1814

2370. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 25 January 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 25. 1814.

My dear Lightfoot

I was in London when your letter was written, & since my return have delayed answering it too long. Thank you for your congratulations, – the emoluments of the Laureateship are very trifling, they were raised for Ben Jonson [1]  from 100 marks to 100 pounds & a tierce of Spanish Canary Wine: they have been diminished since by a commutation which allows £26 instead of the wine. This commutation, like the salary, is subject to property tax, land-tax, shilling-in-the-pound, sixpence-in-the-pound, & heaven knows what taxes beside, which reduce the whole to a net income of 90£. I have vested it in a life-policy & thus converted it into a legacy post-obit for my children. The newspaper accounts of my appointment were partly true, but for the greater part mere falsehoods. Upon Pyes [2]  death the succession, unknown to me, was asked for me by Mr Croker, & given by the Prince. Meantime Lord Hertford & Lord Liverpool had consulted together & offered it to Walter Scott. Scott & I have long been friends: he declined it, urging that it might be conferred on me, & writing at the same time to me to urge that I would accept it. The long delay which intervened before the appointment was gazetted arose from a long series of punctilios of office, & the customary management of persons <men> in power who contrive when any thing, however trifling, is to be given away, that as many persons as possible may take credit to themselves for disposing of it.

If you knew my dear Lightfoot what pleasure it gives me to hear from you, you would let me make our communication more frequent. Of the men with whom I became intimate at Oxford, you only are left, – & as I believe xxx our regard for each other continued to increase as long as we lived together, I am well assured that since we separated it has undergone no diminution. I long to see you, your wife, [3]  & your children, & to become acquainted with my god-daughter. [4]  I also have five children, [5]  the only boy among them is in his eighth year. And I also am a schoolmaster, for I teach him Greek, & his eldest sister Latin & Spanish. You ask me my opinion of public schools. As far as relates to morals, I can xxxxxxx & as far as my experience of both went, they were rather better than worse than private ones. Indeed nothing could be worse than the only private one at which I ever was a boarder. [6]  And I think that at Westminster there was a certain openness of character, a certain manliness of feeling & a boyish spirit sense of honour communicated, which private schools can hardly give. But in your case I should finish a sons education myself. I can see but one valid reason for sending him from home – which is lest he should xxx think of you more as a schoolmaster than a father, – & of this there can be little danger, unless you are woefully changed since you began to wield the birchen sceptre. So far indeed as other schools may have exhibitions, scholarships &c xxxxxxxxx to bestow, they may hold out some inducement. – But I have ever regarded Tiverton [7]  with horror from the specimens which it sent to Balliol in our time.

Douglas spent a day with me about three years ago, with a wife whom he had just married. [8]  He was settled at Kelso on his paternal property, & practising as a Physician. The elder Moncrieffe [9]  died a few months ago – He was held some official situation at Malta, & wore out his constitution by habitual excesses: he came to England in hope of amendment, & when he arrived found that the ship had to perform quarantine. In his state of debility this proved fatal to him. Could he have landed his life might certainly have been prolonged, if not preserved. His brother [10]  has probably by this time followed him. When I was in town I heard that he was going out to Madeira, far gone in consumption.

I wish I could persuade you to give me your next holydays. It is a long way, – & yet <xxxx xx xxx xxxx> persons come every year as far to see the Lakes, who have nothing but the scenery to tempt them. When I have travelled hither from Bristol I have gone two nights successively in the mail, & arrived here in 45 hours: but there are day coaches which would bring you (from Bristol) in three days & a half. You would find me less changed than most men in the course of twenty years, – & more changed in any thing than in manners, – for I am as noisy a fellow as ever, & if I had a neighbour with such a tempting round hole opposite his chamber door, as that in Old Cæsar, [11]  I should enjoy throwing stones thro it as heartily as in old times. I can ask you with a safe conscience to come & see me, because the sight of this country would alone repay the journey. Come Lightfoot & see what effects the good & the evil of twenty years have wrought upon one whom you knew in the stirring season of his life, – xxx who, God be praised, is not the worse for the fermentation which he went thro. & who feels himself better & happier for all the difficulties he has undergone, & will with xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxx Remember me to Mrs L with whom some day or other I trust to be better acquainted, & believe me my dear friend

Yrs with sincere affection

[signature cut off]


* Address: [in another hand] Rhuabon January Twenty eight <nine>/ 1814/ The Revd. N. Lightfoot/ Crediton/ C W Williams Wynn
Stamped: RHUABON
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d.110. AL; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), who held the Laureateship 1616–1637. BACK

[2] The politician and poet Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Poet Laureate from 1790–1813. He died on 11 August 1813. BACK

[3] Bridget Prideaux (dates unknown). BACK

[4] Frances Jane (Fanny) Lightfoot (1806–1882). BACK

[6] The school at Corston that Southey attended in 1781–1782 and which he commemorated in ‘The Retrospect’. He was removed when his family discovered his head had become infested with lice. BACK

[7] Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon, founded in 1604. Old boys could proceed to Balliol College, Oxford or Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge through ‘closed’ scholarships provided by the school’s founder. BACK

[8] Dr James Douglas (1775–1846) of Kelso, an old friend of Southey’s from Balliol College, Oxford. He had married Frances, daughter of James Robson of Samieston, in Edinburgh, on 10 December 1810. BACK

[9] William Wellwood Moncreiff (c. 1775–1813) had died on 5 September 1813. He was a contemporary of Southey’s at Balliol College, Oxford. The eldest son of Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, 8th Baronet (1750–1826; DNB), he had been His Majesty’s Advocate in the Admiralty Court at Malta. BACK

[10] Southey was mistaken; Sir James Wellwood Moncreiff lived until 1851. BACK

[11] A building in the grounds of Balliol College, Oxford. It derived its name from the fact that it was opposite another college building known as ‘Pompey’. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)