322. Robert Southey to Edith Southey [fragment], 4 June 1798

322. Robert Southey to Edith Southey [fragment], 4 June 1798 ⁠* 

June 4. 1798.

Edith, it ever was thy husband’s wish,
Since he hath known in what is happiness,
To find some little home, some low retreat,
Where the vain uproar of the worthless world
Might never reach his ear; and where, if chance
The tidings of its horrible strifes arrived,
They would endear retirement, as the blast
Of winter makes the sheltered traveller
Draw closer to the hearth-side, every nerve
Awake to the warm comfort. Quietness
Should be his inmate there; and he would live
To thee, and to himself, and to our God.
To dwell in that foul city, — to endure
The common, hollow, cold, lip-intercourse
Of life; to walk abroad and never see
Green field, or running brook, or setting sun!
Will it not wither up my faculties,
Like some poor myrtle that in the town air
Pines on the parlour window?

Nature is lovely: on the mountain height,
Or where the embosomed mountain-glen displays
Secure sublimity, or where around
The undulated surface gently slopes
With mingled hill and valley; — everywhere
Nature is lovely; even in scenes like these,
Where not a hillock breaks the unvaried plain,
The eye may find new charms that seeks delight.

At eve I walk abroad; the setting sun
Hath softened with a calm and mellow hue
The cool fresh air; below, a bright expanse,
The waters of the Broad  [1]  lie luminous
I gaze around; the unbounded plain presents
Ocean immensity, whose circling line
The bending heaven shuts in. So even here
Methinks I could be well content to fix
My sojourn; grow familiar with these scenes
Till time and memory make them dear to me,
And wish no other home.

There have been hours
When I have longed to mount the winged bark
And seek those better climes, [2]  where orange groves
Breathe on the evening gale voluptuous joy.
And, Edith! though I heard from thee alone
The pleasant accents of my native tongue,
And saw no wonted countenance but thine,
I could be happy in the stranger’s land,
Possessing all in thee. O best beloved!
Companion, friend, and yet a dearer name!
I trod those better climes a heartless thing,
Cintra’s cool rocks, and where Arrabida
Lifts from the ocean its sublimer heights,
Thine image wandered with me, and one wish
Disturbed the deep delight.

Even now that wish,
Making short absence painful, still recurs.
The voice of friendship, that familiar voice,
From which in other scenes I daily heard
First greeting, poorly satisfies the heart.
And wanting thee, tho’ in best intercourse,
Such as in after years remembrance oft
Will love to dwell upon; yet when the sun
Goes down, I see his setting beams with joy,
And count again the allotted days, and think
The hour will soon arrive when I shall meet
The eager greeting of affection’s eye,
And hear the welcome of the voice I love.

What have I to tell you? Can you be interested in the intercourse I have had with people whose very names are new to you? On Sunday I went to dine with Sir Lambert Blackwell [3] . . . . He has a very pretty house, and the finest picture I ever saw; it is St. Cecilia at the moment when the heads of her parents are brought in to terrify her into an abandonment of Christianity. I never saw a countenance so full of hope, and resignation, and purity, and holy grief; it is by Carlo Dolce. I have seen many fine pictures, but never one so perfect, so sublime, so interesting, irresistibly interesting, as this. . . .

God bless you.

Your Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 336–338 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey adds footnote: ‘So they call the wide spread of a river in the fens.’ BACK

[2] Portugal, which Southey had visited in 1795–1796. BACK

[3] Lambert Blackwell Bt (1732–1801), who lived at Sprowston Hall, Norwich. He collected coins, books and paintings, but it is unclear which work attributed to Carlo Dolci (1616–1686) Southey saw. There is no legend connected to the early Christian martyr, St Cecilia, which is similar to the scene depicted in the painting. BACK