1535. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 14 November 1808

1535. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 14 November 1808 ⁠* 

Dear Sir Domine Doctor

My Uncle who is not a very frequent correspondent to any body, desires me when I write, to tell you that he is married, tho he says in all probability you will have heard it before. You will I suppose be not a little surprized that he should have got the start of you. If he has chosen well, (for which he may be trusted) he has done wisely: he had been too much accustomed to society to pass the remainder of his days alone in a country parsonage.

The Ladys name was Bigg: her father Lovelace Bigg Wither, is, he tells me a man of great weight in Hampshire, of the very antient & good family of George Wither the poet, whom I hold in especial good liking, both for his poetry & his politicks. [1]  From John May I learn that her fortune is said to be about 4000 £ – with the expectation of something more at her fathers death: this, as she is his fourth daughter, implies considerable property in him. Nothing more do I know. neither what her age is, [2]  what part of Hants she comes from, [3]  nor any thing else, – except indeed that the Imperial Colonel (who told me this was to be two months ago, & I contradicted him) says that he had the pleasure of seeing her, – & that she is somehow connected with a brother Awdreys family by marriage [4]  – I forget how: not believing it at the time, & having used up the whole double letter as shaving paper, – it being too hard for other purposes.

By the Lord Harry this is very surprizing, – yet I am as much pleased at surprized. As for thinking of this new relation as an Aunt, that is out of the question, it seems more like the marriage of an elder brother than an Uncle – & the cousins, if any there should be, will seem like nephews & nieces – for cousinship implies contemporaneousness, & this loss of a whole generation will spoil all chronology of connection. – Well Sir, I shall be heartily glad when you have followed his example, but tho I look carefully at the newsp deaths in the newspapers, & the obituary in the Magazines, I do not perceive any such mortality in the county of Durham, as seem <should> induce me to suppose that you are getting into much practice.

There is another good reason for rejoicing in this family news. Domine Doctor ours is a good breed & ought to be spread as carefully as that of the Merino sheep, but what there is good in it is not from the Southey side. It was the Hill cross that made us what we are, & the Hills ought not to be extinct.

I expect Walter Scott here either on his way to or from London. He has not told me the object of his journey there, but I have learnt it from another quarter. For more than a year Scott has cut with the Edinburgh Review; – to its manner of criticism he always objected; – my refusal [5]  to take a part in it strengthened some political scruples of conscience which he had already felt ag at their cowardly cry for peace, – & how much Marmion [6]  had to do in settling the matter is more than I can tell. So however it is that he tells me he has cut it for more than twelvemonths, & I received a few nights ago confidential information that he has projected another journal, [7]  & suggested to some of the men in power the fitness of setting it on foot for the especial purpose of counteracting the base & rascally politicks of Jeffray, & that peace-mongering squad, who would lay us at the feet of France. The plan is approved, – Gifford (the Satirist) has reluctantly consented to be the Editor, & such information as will at least be equal to what Brougham & Horner [8]  get from their party, is to come from an official quarter, – probably from Canning himself – They have had sense enough to see that if the thing be made a mere ministerial business it will fail of his <its> object, & <they> require nothing but to keep up the heart & spirit of the country. – At present this is a secret Sir Domine, – & the way it came to me was in the shape of an application from Gifford to bear a part, – thro Grosvenor Bedford with whom he is much acquainted. My reply contained a confession of faith, & it is probable that my orthodoxy on the two main points of the war & the catholick question will cover the heterodoxy of the othe remaining articles. [9]  – This is no doubt the business which takes Scott to London. I have offered to take the department of Travels, & to write upon the Buchanan question of the Hindoos; [10]  – & I have not absolutely refused to write upon the affairs of Spain, – which is the specifick subject for which I was applied to. But my mind is not of a pamphleteering turn, & wherever it is necessary to give my opinions, they are usually given in as neat spirits, without that due dilution which makes would weaken them down to common palates. A few days will bring me Giffards answer.

And now Domine who says I am a Jacobine, – except I myself? – Quis Diabolus [11]  would ever have foreseen that I should have a pension, [12]  & be applied to from such a quarter as this upon such an occasion!

God bless you


I hold my intention of seeing you yearly in the new year.

Keswick , Nov. 14. 1808.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey./ Durham./
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.66. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 109–111 [with omissions]. BACK

[1] Lovelace Bigg (1741–1813) inherited the estate of Manydown, Hampshire, in 1789. He then took the name Bigg-Withers and brought up his children there. George Wither (1588–1667; DNB), the poet, was a distantly-related ancestor. BACK

[2] Catherine was thirty-three. BACK

[3] Manydown is near Basingstoke in Hampshire. BACK

[4] John Awdry (1766–1844) married, in 1795, Catherine’s sister, Jane Bigg (1770–1846). BACK

[5] For Southey’s letter of refusal, see Southey to Walter Scott, 8 December 1807, Letter 1392. BACK

[6] Scott’s poem Marmion (1808) was negatively reviewed by Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, 12 (April 1808), 1–13. BACK

[7] The Quarterly Review. BACK

[8] Francis Horner (1778–1817), a Scottish Whig MP and founder of the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[9] For this, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 November 1808 (Letter 1530) and 11 November 1808 (Letter 1532). BACK

[10] Claudius Buchanan (1766–1815; DNB), Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India (1805). Southey reviewed Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[11] Meaning ‘what devil’. BACK

[12] Before he left office in 1807, Wynn had succeeded in arranging that the pension he paid Southey from his personal funds was replaced by a government pension. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)