3569. Robert Southey to Mary Anne Watts Hughes, 28 November 1820

3569. Robert Southey to Mary Anne Watts Hughes, 28 November 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 28 Nov. 1820

My dear Madam

I have received your little packet just long enough to peruse its contents. [1]  You will I hope have accounted for a silence which otherwise would stand in need of apology, by the time lost in waiting for a parcel at the booksellers, the pace of a slow waggon, & the delay of carriers where the conveyance is to be changed once or twice upon the road.

The evening which I past at your house in the Cloisters more than eighteen years ago, is still fresh in my remembrance. [2]  It was the first time I met Sir Thomas Lawrence. I recollect your son also, but of course with as little recollection of his features as he can have himself. [3]  We shall I trust one day be better acquainted. Sooner or later every one finds the way to the Lakes, – & he must not do so without finding his way to me.

Some of his Radical Songs [4]  had amused me very much in the newspapers, when I knew not from whose hand they came. They are very good in their kind, – proof enough indeed is given of ability for things higher in degree & better in kind. But this kind is wanted at this time, – & there is some merit xxxxx in venturing to incur the obloquy, not to say danger, to which such service exposes a man in such times. For a more flagitious banditti than are now leagued against the institutions of this country never disgraced human nature. I have long seen to what the course of events is tending, & long since pointed out what would be the inevitable effects if an unchained press were suffered to act upon a manufacturing population. Our Messalina however is doing unintentional good by hastening a crisis, which would be the more dangerous the longer it is delayed. [5]  And the Whigs in taking up her cause have acted in a manner altogether worthy of themselves. –

Mrs Southey desires me to present her remembrances. Express mine also to Dr Hughes, & my best wishes to your son that he may go on & prosper in literature, & in all his other undertakings.

Believe me my dear Madam

Your obliged & obedient

Robert Southey.


* Endorsements: Autographs; to my mother/ Mrs Hughes
MS: British Library, Add MS 75299. ALS; 3p.

[1] Mary Ann Hughes had sent Southey some of the anti-radical satires that her son, John Hughes (1790–1857; DNB), had been publishing: for example, The Radical Harmonist (1820), Solomon Logwood (1820) and The Asses Skin Memorandum Book, Lost in St Paul’s (1820). BACK

[2] Mary Ann Hughes was the wife of Thomas Hughes; eighteen years previously, in 1802, he had held a prebendary post at Westminster Abbey (1793–1807), which entitled him to occupy a house in a court just off the Abbey's cloisters. So this may be the location of the ‘Cloisters’ where the Hugheses had met Southey. BACK

[3] John Hughes would have been in his early teens at most when Southey had met him. BACK

[4] John Hughes, writing under the pseudonym ‘Old Tom of Oxford’, had written a series of anti-radical satires which had been published in the newspapers: for example, ‘Brandenburgh House Festivities; or the Leinster Triumph’ in the Courier, 24 November 1820. BACK

[5] Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, had returned to England on 5 June 1820. Her arrival and the series of events that followed, as attempts were made to deprive her of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King, made her a figurehead for radicals, and also triggered public protests in her support. Matters had come to a head in early November. The government had reluctantly introduced a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive Caroline of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore had announced the Bill would be withdrawn. Southey, who was ferociously opposed to Caroline, here compares her to Messalina (c. AD 17/20–48), the infamously dissolute wife of Claudius (10 BC–AD 54; Emperor of Rome AD 41–54). BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Hughes, Thomas (1756–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Lawrence, Thomas (1769-1830) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)