1187. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 26 May 1806

1187. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 26 May 1806 ⁠* 

I ought to have written to you long since. But in London I was very unwell at first as well as very busy; & so idle, idle from sheer enjoyment of fresh air & fine weather, – that I am behind hand with every thing.

Thank you for the Musical Letter, it will answer its purpose perfectly well. the book is in the press & I have corrected four proofs of 24 pages each. [1]  the Printer is likely to run me hard: for it is yet half to write. [2]  I have sold the first edition for 100£, & to mend the matter spent the money; but it sets me even with the world, & I am going on merrily in the race with the typographical Devils.

Guess my profits upon Madoc after a years sale. £3. 17s. 1d. – if I wanted money no more than I want what the world calls encouragement this would be very well. & thank God it is not very ill as it is, for I have had my pleasure in writing it, & surely I ought not to grumble at receiving three pounds seventeen shillings & one penny, for having written the poem, when there are persons who would pay the same sum gladly to be able to write it. I have got £22 by the Metrical Tales. [3]  Thalaba continues to sell about one copy a month. But we shall see what prose will do in the way of selling. As for Espriella that I think is sure of a circulating library sale. the Cid I think is likely to be too good a book to succeed [4]  – for goodness Senhora minha  [5]  stand in the way of books as well as of men.

Well what have I to say about London? why that George Dyer is in great tribulation lest you & Sir Edward Lyttleton should think he had been disrespectful. that Rickman has got a very goodnatured wife who I am very sorry to say has miscarried since I left the house. – that the River Tuffin enquired for a certain Miss Barker of whom he seemed to have formed a very just idea. that Wordsworth went in powder & with a cocked hat under his arm to the Marchioness of Staffords rout. [6]  that I enjoyed myself among my friends & kept out of the way of my acquaintance. that I did not go either to rout concert theatre or opera, but that I did go to see the Fat Man [7]  & to see nothing else; & that if my books do not sell better I have thoughts of trying what is to be done by seeing company at a shilling a piece as the Thin Man, in humble imitation of him.

If the truth is to be told I suppose that the person whom I saw with most pleasure was Mrs Gonne – tho I never see or think of her without a heart ache. Two children in the same hopeless way as the others! – I past two days there, which is one day more than I allowed to any body else. but it does one good to see one who seems to be perfect goodness, & I believe she is as perfect good as it is possible for human being to be.

I have just been obliged to tell my daughter that you renounced the pomps & vanities of this wicked world for her, [8]  & that Red Shoes were included among them; for having had a new pair on yesterday, she was in tribulation because they were not to be put on today. I wish you could see her – she is hugely advanced in wisdom & in months since you were here. – But are you likely to come? You know it is a vile trick you played us in staying so short a time, & here are a thousand drawings still to be made.

Of my own movements I am still in the dark, which is more Bonaparte’s fault than any body’s else. [9]  If there be no English Diplomacy at Lisbon as I suspect – away go my hopes in that quarter, & in that case I shall take root here & fairly take a lease of this house, if it can be so managed. but if Lisbon be still left open to us, it is not certain whether I shall go in autumn or spring – in autumn an event is likely to take place of much importance here – which is – that my daughter it is to be hoped will then have brother or sister. [10]  Now whether I shall set off after the young strangers arrived by myself, or wait till spring when Edith may be able to make the voyage – why that may be decided when the time comes. Heaven knows what may turn up in the meantime, & certainly without thinking about that during the summer I shall have enough to think about; for Senhora there are the Senor’s letters [11]  to finish & an edition of Palmerin of England [12]  to prepare for the press, & a preface for the Specimens to write, [13]  & half a hundred things beside which I would willingly do if I had more eyes, more hands, & another head to ride & tie with my present one.

Fare you well. I came home at one spell in the mail & have not been into Herefordshire after all. I am sorry my own plans for the journey were disconcerted but that cannot be helped. You will be pleased to write me a letter, to tell me you are very well, & in good spirits, – & that Sir E. is coming to see the Lakes without delay. Harry has past his examination & graduates in about a month. [14] 

God bless you


Keswick. Monday. May 26. 1806.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: KESWICK/ 298
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. 191–195. Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 385–388.
Dating note: “No. 19 S Madoc to Mary Barker. Keswick 26 May 1806” written on MS. According to Kirkpatrick “S Madoc” is in Mary Barker’s hand in pencil. A pencil line has been lightly drawn through it. BACK

[1] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella; Translated from the Spanish (1807). Southey did not include a section on music. BACK

[2] Printed by Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB), printer and naturalist, who would go on to establish the publishing firm of Taylor and Francis with his son William Francis (1817–1904; DNB) in 1852. BACK

[3] Southey republished his contributions to the Annual Anthology (1799–1800) under his own name in Metrical Tales and other Poems (1805). BACK

[4] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid was published in 1808. BACK

[5] The Portuguese translates as ‘my Lady’. BACK

[6] Elizabeth Sutherland Leveson-Gower, later Duchess of Sutherland (1765–1839), the wife of George Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland (1758–1833; DNB) inherited the title of Marquess of Stafford in 1803. BACK

[7] Daniel Lambert (1770–1809; DNB), designated the most corpulent man of his time in Britain, decided to profit from his appearance by exhibiting himself in London in April 1806. BACK

[8] An allusion to Miss Barker’s office as Edith May’s godmother. BACK

[9] Southey was seeking an official appointment in Lisbon through the influence of his friend and patron Charles Williams Watkin Wynn, who held a position in the current government under his uncle, William Wyndham Grenville. The French army invaded Spain and Portugal in 1807 and Southey did not return to Portugal. BACK

[10] Herbert Southey, the Southeys’ first son, was born 11 October 1806. BACK

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

[12] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[13] Southey’s joint project with Bedford, Specimens of the Later English Poets, published with Longman in 1807 as a companion to George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn. 1801; 3rd edn. 1803). BACK

[14] Henry Herbert Southey graduated as MD from Edinburgh University on 24 June 1806. BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)