3436. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10-12 February 1820

3436. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10–12 February 1820⁠* 

Keswick. Feb. 10. 1820.

Dear Senhora,

I received your note yesterday in a frank from Longman, which covered a proof sheet. For a very long while I had been intending and intending to write to you. You know some old divine has said that Hell is paved with good intentions. [1]  But you know also, that the longer I live the more I have to do.

Wesley [2]  is not finished yet. My part will be completed in the course of this month, and the printer [3]  will not be long behind me. There is time, therefore, for you to tell me how it may be sent from London, and I will give directions for sending it with the last volume of “Brazil”. [4]  Perhaps the readiest way would be to entrust it to the Paris diligence from London, and direct it to your uncle. [5]  But you will let me know.

I meant to have left home early in March. The King’s death [6]  will delay my departure two or three weeks, for I must of course produce something on this subject, and if I begin my journey before the poem is finished, the funeral verses will come out just in time for the coronation. [7]  You know how little inclination I have to task my poor brains upon such hackneyed subjects as this, especially too when every man, woman, and child, who can grind a verse, is likely to be at work upon it. However, if any person sets his verses to the same tune as mine, I think I may very safely say that I would consent to be hanged.

You probably know that Lord Somerville is dead, and I believe you know that I was related to him. [8]  He was my third cousin, and distant as this connection is, it may possibly give me a right to a suit in Chancery to recover property bequeathed to him and his issue by his mother’s uncle – a certain John Cannon Southey, whose heir-at-law I am, in consequence of Lord Somerville’s demise. The old Cannon was but an old blunderbuss, and made a most confused will. [9]  Lord S. has done all he could to cut off my rights, and though I believe the equity of the case is as clear as noonday, the law may be very doubtful. The estates in question amount to about a thousand a year. The matter is in Turner’s hands, and of course the best opinions will be taken on the subject. You know as much about it now as I do.

Now let me make you angry. A rascally bookseller in London is at this time publishing, in sixpenny numbers, a Life of the King, by Robert Southy, Esq.; printed for the Author. “Observe, to order Southy’s Life of the King, to avoid imposition.” [10]  The rascal expects that by mispelling the name, he can evade the law. Whether he can or not is one question, and whether it be worth my while to be at the expense of any proceedings against him is another of equal importance, which I shall leave Longman and Turner to decide. But do not you think that a cart’s tail might be worthily employed upon this occasion? [11]  With a little trouble, I could work myself into a passion about this.

Miss Hutchinson is with us. The winter has tried Mrs. Wilson sorely, and she will not stand such another trial. It has been very severe, but the frost was never accompanied with wind; and though the glass was never lower since we have been in this country, I have often felt it much colder in the house. We are now enjoying a genial February.

The children, [12]  thank God, are well. I have made a surprising progress in spoiling Cuthbert. He has long since found out the attractions of the study, and would look at pictures by the hour, if anybody would continue to exhibit. But I bear the bell as an exhibitor, because on such occasions I speak the language of all the birds in the air, and all the beasts in the field. He has often had bilious attacks, and one very severe one. At present he seems strong and healthy, just as sweet a creature as can be, and as tyrannical as you would wish to see him, – very forward with his tongue, and backward with his feet. My brother Tom has another child on the stocks! [13] 

We were much shocked, as you may suppose, at hearing of Mr. Brewer’s death. [14]  I heard at the same time of Mr. Lewis’s. But he was a man in years. [15]  Edward [16]  is here to day (Saturday the 12th), in excellent health. All here desire their love. God bless you.



* 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. 457–460
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 178–180 [in part]. BACK

[1] A proverbial saying. It has been attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). BACK

[2] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[3] Andrew Strahan (1749–1831; DNB), MP for various constituencies 1796–1820 and owner of a highly successful printing business. BACK

[4] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[5] Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB), a Welsh ironmaster and speculator in mineral rights, living in Boulogne since being declared bankrupt in 1813. BACK

[6] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) had died on 29 January 1820. BACK

[7] A Vision of Judgement (1821), produced by Southey in response to George III’s death, was published in early March 1821. The coronation of George IV was on 19 July 1821. BACK

[8] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset that Somerville had inherited. BACK

[9] Somerville’s mother was Elizabeth Cannon Lethbridge (d. 1765), the daughter of Mary Southey (1704–1789) and niece of John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). The latter had inherited the Fitzhead estate from his mother Mary Cannon (1678–1738). On his death, John Cannon Southey had left a complex, ill-advised will which named Somerville as his primary heir, and, should he die childless, Southey’s father and two uncles as the residuary legatees, their rights passing, in turn, to their children. Of the three Southey brothers only Southey’s father married, leading the poet to believe (after the death of his father and paternal uncles) that he and his brothers were now the rightful heirs to the Fitzhead estate. BACK

[10] Authentic Memoirs of Our Late Venerable and Beloved Monarch, George the Third … by Robert Southy, Esq. (1820). The identity of the publisher is unclear. See Southey to Messrs Longman & Co, 8 February 1820, Letter 3434. BACK

[11] i.e. the punishment in which a felon was tied to a cart’s tail and paraded through the streets while being whipped. It was still in force in Britain (the last case was in 1822). BACK

[13] Tom Southey had six children: Margaret Hill Southey (b. 1811); Mary Hill Southey (b. 1812); Robert Castle Southey (1813–1828); Herbert Castle Southey (1815–1864); Eleanor Thomasina Southey (1816–1835); Sarah Louise Southey (1818–1850). Nelson Castle Southey (1820–1834) joined them on 8 May 1820, and was followed by Sophia Jane Southey (1822–1859) and Thomas Castle Southey (1824–1896). BACK

[14] Unidentified. BACK

[15] Unidentified. BACK

[16] Possibly Edward Barker (dates unknown), a nephew of Mary Barker. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)