1618. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 26 April 1809

1618. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 26 April 1809 ⁠* 

Dear Senhouse

Let me congratulate you on the birth of a son, [1]  & also that he was born in the birth-place of his fathers. Men are not like potatoes the better for changing soil; – as far as my observation extends the finest people in England both morally & physically, are those whose forefathers have lived upon the same spot from time immemorial; – they are born to a rich inheritance of good works, fair respect reputation & kindly feelings, & have as it were a relationship to the very earth they tread on, which in time of need would make them its best defenders. It seems to be supposed that man is not injured by transplanting, because he is locomotive, – as if the heart & the affections did not strike root. A Humphrey Senhouse would have lost much had he been born anywhere but at Netherhall. I hate an overgrown aristocracy; – the land-Leviathans who overspread whole counties are the bane of England, but in proportion as I abominate them do I wish to see the old English feelings of family dignity & character preserved, as the best counteracting principle.

I spent two days at Workington Hall last week. [2]  Once before I had declined going, & could not repeat the refusal without incivility, – but I do not like Mr Curwen, except as a member of Parliament; – his manners are compleatly artificial, & the more I have seen of him the less respectfully do I estimate his powers of mind. Sir Francis Burdett was not exactly right in what he said about the gentleman-agriculturists, – neither was he altogether wrong. They are doing that in person which they should do by proxy, – & they are attempting to unite characters which are not in themselves compatible. Mr Curwen sells flour at his farm, fourpence (I think) a stone cheaper than it can be bought at the shops, so he has a board over the fire-place of his shop – (or counter or whatever it may be called) with this inscription ‘We do not give, but expect thanks from our customers.’ Now this is a bad thing. People who pay for what they want, expect to be thanked for their custom, – & it is better they should pay an additional fourpence a stone to some poor shop-keeper, no richer than themselves, who would thank them for it, than be told that they are obliged to Mr Curwen for taking their money, & that if they do not chuse to thank him they may go somewhere else. A farthing upon a pound of flour is well paid for mutual civility & the wholesome feeling of mutual obligation.

The system of stall-feeding milch cows succeeds admirably in calculation, I both hope & trust it will not succeed in any other way, for if it should country cows hereafter will be as miserable as London cows, & instead of seeing them every where at pasture, we must look for them in cow-houses yoked by the neck to a wooden post, & feeding out of a trough. The milkmaid will have to enter a sty instead of carrying her pail into the field & Heaven help the poets & painters! But the thing is too unnatural to continue long. I learnt from somebody else that these cows had a sort of itch, – & that they caught cold if were let out & happened to get wet thro! –

I have never yet seen any thorough gentleman-agriculturist who was the better for his pursuit, & sure I am that very many of them are the worse for it. To be perpetually think conversant with farmers, graziers, & butchers, x thinking from morning till night about manure, consulting about tups & bulls, what sheep are to be sent to market, & when the calf’s throat is to be cut, are not the best means of improving either the imagination or the understanding. Mr Curwen has a room full of agricultural books, – yet he said enough to prove that he was utterly ignorant of the physiology of plants, & I could not discover that he had paid the slightest attention to any other branch of knowledge, – except the mere subjects of the day.

He told me it was his opinion that the D of York would soon be reinstated by Lords Grey [3]  & Grenville. [4]  Stuart (the Proprietor of the Courier – wh[MS torn] much better authority) has expressed the same opinion in a letter to Coleridge. Badly however as I think of both these Lords, I do not think this is likely. Whitbread [5]  is likely to have spoken Greys opinions, & Lord Temple would not have spoken in direct opposition to his Uncles. [6]  But if such an attempt were made to form a second administration of All the Talents, it would be more difficult for Whigs & Tories, with the General Officers to help them, to force the Duke of York into power, than they are aware of, found guilty as he has been by the people of England. I believe that we are in more danger from him than from Bonaparte, but my apprehensions of either are not very great.

Sir Johns Moores [7]  reputation has burst like a bubble. His letters prove him to have quite unequal to his situation, – he was manifestly afraid, & yet more afraid that the people should think him so. So he advanced against his own judgement when it was too late, & then ran away, – for never was there a more scandalous flight. Freres part of the correspondence does him great credit, – the worst thing I know of him is his connection with Canning, – the only good thing of Canning, his friendship for Frere. Never was there a time when such a blow might be struck against Bonaparte as at the present moment. An English army might extirpate the French from Spain, & then leave the Spaniards to cross the Pyrenees & recall Bonaparte from Germany, while our men came back again. But there are the battles of corruption to fight at home & nothing else will be thought of than how to prevent Reform, which yet must come sooner or later.

I have a little girl who is just a month old. Mrs S has been very ill but is now well recovered. We all unite in remembrances –

yours truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. April 26. 1809.


* Address: To/ Humphrey Senhouse Esqr. Junr/ Maryport./ Cockermouth
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: Red Wax
Watermark: J BUDGEN/ 1805
MS: University of Rochester, Rare Books Library, A.S727 1:2. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Senhouse’s son, also called Humphrey, was born on 16 April 1809. BACK

[2] Workington Hall in Cumbria was owned by John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), politician and agriculturist, where he embarked on an improvement programme that had a profound impact on local agriculture in the first half of the nineteenth century. BACK

[3] Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB), Prime Minister 1830–1834 and leading Whig. BACK

[4] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. In May 1811 the Prince Regent reinstated his brother as Commander-in-Chief of the army, a post which he held for the rest of his life. BACK

[5] Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB), Whig politician and brother-in-law of Lord Grey. BACK

[6] Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1776–1839; DNB), politician, whose uncles were Lord Grenville and Thomas Grenville (1755–1846; DNB). BACK

[7] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna on 16 January 1809. Moore’s actions were posthumously defended by his brother, James Moore (1763–1860; DNB), in A Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army in Spain, Commanded by His Excellency Sir John Moore. Authenticated by Official Papers and Original Letters (1809). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)