3404. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 17 December 1819

3404. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 17 December 1819⁠* 

My dear Harry

In the first place I hope you received a haunch of venison which I sent your Lordship some time ago, dividing with you half a doe from Lowther.

Secondly, I have a letter from Turner. But before xxx we take Counsels opinion, xx it must be ascertained xx whether I am heir at law. [1]  And I <have> now written to my Aunt putting the question in such precise terms, that we shall see whether there be any doubt about it. Your pedigree is right, as far as it goes, but it remains to be seen whether the common ancestor to whom we xxx go back, had not other children besides the father of Cannon S. & our G. Grandfather, & whether there may not be descendants of an elder branch than the said G.G. [2]  The world swarms with Southeys. I have seen three in the newspapers within this fortnight. I expect to hear of one in an Old Bailey list, – or at a Radical Meeting – the name is so common. And unless our G. Grandfather was the next brother to the father of the Cannon, – some of these sons of guns may have a prior claim to mine. After all the claim may be worth nothing. For that Lord Somerville did all he could to cut off the right of the heir at law, is quite certain: & the only chance I have is that he may have been mistaken, & done what he was not legally enabled to do, – that is, – whether I am not entitled to a suit in Chancery, as a cheap & agreable amusement for the rest of my life.

Thirdly. My Aunt assures me that about 600 £ recovered at law by Tom Southey in pursuance of a suit instituted by John, for the plate & furniture of Fitzhead, was by Lord Erskines decree vested in the 3 per cents. [3] Tom S. to have the interest during his life, & then the money to be claimed by those to whom it might belong, for Lord Erskine is said to have said that he did not know who it belonged to. My Aunt can hardly be mistaken in the main fact: & if that money be in the funds as she says, it must belong to John Southeys heirs at law, one third to our fathers children in equal parts, one third to my Aunt Mary, & the other to the representatives of her sister, [4]  if there be any, as I believe there are. Surely The main point can be ascertained by enquiry at the Bank, I should think, – or by ascertaining what the decision was, which must have been made in 1806 – or – 7. Neither your share or mine are of much consequence, but to all the rest of the parties it would be no inconsiderable God-send, & therefore I would bestir myself in the business. Will you read this to Turner & ask him how to go to work.


For the last two or three weeks I have felt nothing of my infirmity, [5]  – this is passing from entailed estates, to xxx diseases in tail. Perhaps the season has braced me, – tho I hardly know how it gets at me, hearth the hearth being as much my habitat as it is that of a cricket or a salamander: However I am surprized at the change.

I am reviewing Marlboroughs Life for the next number, [6]  & must make a push to get a second article inserted, that I & the Constable may once more get cheek by jowl. [7]  I don’t like outrunning that fellow. – What a pity that he should be such a limping, lazy, tortoise paced wretch, when I have the legs & the leanness & the disposition of a grey hound!


Upon re-perusing Turners letter I perceive that what he says refers wholly to the Fitzhead property. And therefore I apprehend that he has only an extract from the will, – not the whole of it. The point of most importance is to know how the rest of the property was devised, – whether xxx xxx upon the death of John Southey Somerville without issue, it does not it goes to his heirs, or to the heirs of the testator. There is no doubt that the testator did not intend it to go out of his own family into a strangers, but he had a clumsy way of expressing his meaning. What a pity that this Cannon should have proved but a Blunderbuss!

I have been amused with the squibs upon Martin Bree in the Guardian. [8]  Here is another for you – Martin’s Motto – Tam Mercurio quam Marte [9] 

God bless you


Keswick 17 Dec. 1819


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 20 DEC 20/ 1819
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
Endorsement: 36 – 3 / 31 – 12 / 25 – 4 / 10 – 9 /___/ 103 – 8/ 415 – 14 / ___ / 519 – 2
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.107. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Cannon Southey’s (d. 1768) fantastically complex will gave Southey some hope of inheriting property at Fitzhead after the death of his third cousin, and John Cannon Southey’s heir, John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB). An heir at law was entitled to receive the real property of someone who died intestate. Southey did stand in this relation to John Cannon Southey, but it did not help his claim on the Fitzhead property. BACK

[2] John Cannon Southey’s father was John Southey (1666–1728) and his grandfather was William Southey (dates unknown), who was the common ancestor of John Cannon Southey and the poet Robert Southey (he was, as Southey said, the father of Southey’s great-grandfather, Robert Southey (1670–1726)). BACK

[3] Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine (1750–1823; DNB). As Lord Chancellor 1806–1807 he had delivered a judgment in the Court of Chancery, on 28 March 1807, in the case of Southey v. Lord Somerville, one of many legal actions arising from the will of John Cannon Southey. Lord Erskine had decided that the money raised from the sale of the furniture and plate from the Fitzhead estate should be invested, and that Thomas Southey should receive the interest from that money. It was not clear what would happen after his death. BACK

[4] A puzzling statement: Southey should have been aware that Mary Southey’s only sister, Betty (b. 1746), had died in infancy. BACK

[5] Southey was suffering from a rectal prolapse; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 3 October 1819, Letter 3356. BACK

[6] Southey’s review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. BACK

[7] ‘To outrun the Constable’ was a phrase that described getting into debt. Southey wished to at least break even by being ‘cheek by jowl’ with the Constable. BACK

[8] Martin Bree (1771–1842), formerly of Braithwaite Lodge near Keswick, changed his name to Stapylton in 1817 to inherit the estates of his uncle, Sir Martin Stapylton (1751–1817), 8th Baronet, of Myton. He had previously been known as a quack doctor, especially in the treatment of venereal disease, and had engaged in some unsuccessful mining ventures in the Keswick area. He was lampooned in the first issue of the new conservative Sunday paper, the Guardian, 12 December 1819. BACK

[9] ‘made for wisdom as much as war’; an inversion of the motto of the poet George Gascoigne (c. 1535–1577; DNB). Southey here jokes that Bree has added ‘wisdom’ to the existing Stapylton reputation for valour, exhibited previously in the Crusades and the Hundred Years War. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)