1149. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 24 January 1806

1149. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 24 January 1806 ⁠* 

If you should have received a cargo of Espriellas letters [1]  from Rickman you will perceive that tho silent, I have not been unmindful of you: but probably they are not yet sent, for it is necessary to wait for the Emperor of the Franks. [2] 

I have had my visit from the Influenza, a pleasant visitor, who liked my company well enough to come twice. it cost me some flesh, some physic, & some time, – of the first & last articles I have too little at all times to spare any with convenience – however I am come up to my original standard of leanness, – the time there is no recovering – I am so much behind hand with reviewing, & so much the poorer. My journey to London will take place about the end of March – God willing, a proviso which I also insist upon such occasions from a deep sense of the uncertainty of all human projects, impressed by frequent disappointments. If you are in the way, that is if you are not out of it, for Penkridge lies in the road, I will rest a day with you. My way home will be by another route, as in all probability I shall go to Norwich for a week.

This journey is a great undertaking, & not a pleasurable one, tho I have many friends to see, & shall feel real pleasure in seeing them. But to emerge from the total seclusion of this place, for nothing can be more secluded than I am during my hybernation – & go at once to London, where every day I shall be dining with a party invited expressly to meet me, – every morning to be past in walking & every evening in talking, – where I shall not get to bed till after midnight, get too little milk for breakfast – & too much wine at dinner – Senhora all this is not agreable. it puts me out of my way, & I like my own way best. Rickmans is a very comfortable house, & ought to be more so now if the Rickwoman be what I expect her to be. I like all my male friends to be married – if I had many females ones, I am not quite sure whether selfishness would let me form the same wish for them.

Harrys adventure has terminated. the young Lady has given him up to please her parents. [3]  She ought to have considered them sooner. After going so far she ought to have considered that she had contracted a duty towards him. However it is not much matter. First loves are blossoms that rarely bear fruit, – & it is perhaps well that they do not. in Harrys case too I had rather he married into some less aspiring family because he has in him a certain love of fashion &c which needs no fostering, & which if fostered would destroy all better aspirations. I know he would rather be a member of Parliament than any thing else, & shine away as an orator. I want him to be contented in that station of life to which it has pleased God to call him, to write a good book, & leave a fair remembrance of himself to posterity.

If you ever exhibit a picture, the Rivers praise will be worth something, – he will talk you into more reputation in a week, than the greatest possible merit would obtain for you in seven years.

Two pink saucers are arrived. be pleased to send directions how they are to be used

I can tell you nothing about Lisbon, for my motions must depend upon Bonaparte. If he does not eject the factory, about September will be the time for my migration – & most likely I shall leave Edith – for the sake of saving money & returning sooner, [4]  – for it is time that I was fixed. I have been married ten years – & never yet settled! – & as little prospect of being so now as there was the first day! – Perhaps Harry may go with me – it is my wish that he should, I shall want a companion to travel with me over the Northern provinces, & he will be a good one, & the better for his Doctorship. Another motive for wishing to be home again, is that my history might be put to press [5]  – I wish to see it fairly finished, & life is so uncertain that it is not justifiable to delay it longer than is absolutely necessary. – Meantime before my departure I have a world of work – a months negro-like reviewing – this illness having thrown me back. Don Manuel & then the Cid [6]  – Upon my soul I do not believe any man living does so much in this way & gets so little for it, – & the reason is that I do not write novels, nor season my poems with personal satire, or that sort of indecency which people think they may decently read. That rascal Little Moore, for I may call a man a rascal who will be the pimp of posterity as long as his writings last – has got more by his of Oh Lady fair [7]  – than I shall ever do by Madoc [8]  – the best poem, tho I say it, in the language, except the Paradise Lost. However I have my pleasure for my pains, & am determined to have as much pleasure of that kind as possible. so next year instead of reviewing I shall publish Kehama [9]  for my ways & means, & for the future will always work upon my own materials, instead of commenting upon others.

The Colonel has sent me half a collar of brawn & a little barrel of pickled sturgeon. An imperial Colonel! is he not? – I never look at the Lake without wishing summer were come that I might see his wife upon the water gliding along alone in her little boat like a Lady of the Lake. [10] 

My daughter gets dearer & dearer daily – & I very often wish the next hundred years were past, so that she & I & all of us were safe in Heaven, settled for a few ages, & to go on thro the Universe together, with no more separations.

Edith is this day mending from a weeks toothache. No news of Coleridge – I am very seriously uneasy about him – as he would be at Vienna about the time the French got there, [11]  & soldiers in a country under such circumstances are the worst banditti

God bless you

R Southey

Jany. 24. 1806.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: [partial] KESWICK
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. 172–176. BACK

[1] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[2] Rickman’s employer, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbott. Southey had dubbed him the ‘Emperor of the Franks’, because of his power to frank mail which Rickman used on Southey’s behalf. BACK

[3] While at the home of Charles Lloyd near Ambleside, in 1805, Harry had met Emma Noel (d. 1873). She was the daughter of Gerard Noel Edwardes, of Exton Park, Rutland (1759–1838; DNB), who had adopted the surname Noel in 1798, and inherited a baronetcy in 1813 to become the 2nd Baronet Barham. When her family objected to the couple’s plans to marry, the relationship soon ended; see Southey to John May, 1 November 1805, Letter 1116. BACK

[4] Southey never returned to Portugal after his second residence there in 1800–1801. BACK

[5] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’ which was never completed. BACK

[6] Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) and The Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[7] Thomas Moore (1779–1852; DNB), O Lady Fair. A Ballad for Three Voices (1802). BACK

[8] Madoc (1805). BACK

[9] The Curse of Kehama was not published until 1810. BACK

[10] In the Arthurian romances, variously Vivien and Nimue. Southey’s edition The Byrth, Lyf and Acts of King Arthur was published in 1817. He would picture Emma in her boat in the elegy he wrote after her death and published in 1815 in his Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, 131–132. BACK

[11] Coleridge was in the process of returning from Malta via the continent and reached England in August 1806. BACK

Places mentioned

Teddesley (mentioned 1 time)
Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)