369. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 January 1799

369. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 January 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

Ever since you left us have I been hurried from one job to another. you know I expect a parcel of books when you went away they came & I had immediately to kill off one detachment. [1]  that was but just done when down came a bundle of French books, to be returned with all possible speed. this was not only unexpected work, but double work because all extracts were to be translated. well – that I did – & by that time the end of the month came round – & I am now busy upon English books again. what with this & my weekly communications to Stuart  [2]  – & my plaguey regimen of exercise, I have actually no time for any voluntary employment. in a few days I hope to breathe a little in leisure.

I am sorry it is low water with you – & that we cannot set you afloat. we are heavily laden & can with hard work barely keep above water. I have been obliged to borrow. by & by we shall do better but we are just now at the worst – & these cursed taxes [3]  will take twenty pounds from me at least. if it were to buy rats bane for the scoundrels one would not growl.

We had an odd circumstance happened to us on Wednesday. just as we were beginning breakfast a well dressd woman, in a silk gown, & muff, entered the room. I am come to take a little breakfast said she – down she laid her muff, took a chair & come & sat down by the fire. We thought she was mad – but she lookd so stupid that we soon found that was not the case. sure enough breakfast she did – I was obliged then to go down & laugh. my mother & Edith behaved very well, but Margery could not come into the room. When the good Lady had done she rose & askd what she had to pay? – nothing Maam said my mother. nothing? why how is this? – I don’t know how it is said my Mother & smiled, but so it is. What – do’nt you keep a public? no indeed Maam – so we had half a hundred apologies, & the servant had a shilling, we had a good morning laugh for ourselves & a good story for our friends & she had a very good breakfast. I wish you had been here.

Harry is going to a Mr Maurice, a gentleman who takes only a few pupils, at Normanston, near Lowestoff, Norfolk <Suffolk I know not which>. you may perhaps know Lowestoff as the most easterly point of the island. it is a very fortunate situation for him.

The frost has stopt the pump & the press. my Letters [4]  are just done but not yet publishd. our bread has been so hard frozen that no one in the house except myself could cut it, & it made my arm ache for the whole day.

I do not know where Lloyd is. it is long since I have heard from him. indeed my own employments make me a vile correspondent.

The Old Woman of Berkeley cuts a very respectable figure on horseback, & Beelzebub is so well admirably drawn that one would have suppose he had sat for his picture. [5]  I shall pass the next week in town & hurry out the volume. [6]  I have been obliged to suffer the printers delay because I had not time to furnish him with copy.

My Mother is in the College Green – I wish she were any where else. she always leaves it in most wicked spirits. tis a miserable house & neither man or beast is happy in it.

I know not how you exist this weather. my great coat is a lovely garment my mother says, & but for it I should I believe be found on Durdham Down in the shape of a great icicle. at home the wind comes in so cuttingly in the evenings that I have taken to wear my Welsh wig; to the great improvement of my personal charms. Edith says I may say that.

I shall make a ballad upon the story of your shipmate the marine, who kept the fifth commandment [7]  so well. by the help of the Devil it will do. & there can be no harm in introducing him to the Devil a little before his time.

God bless you. Ediths love – & Margerys.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey

Saturday 5 Jany. 1799.

A happy new year!


* Address: To/ Mr Thomas Southey./ H.M.S. Royal George./ Portsmouth
Stamped: BRISTOL
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 2–5 [in part]. BACK

[1] To review for the Critical Review. BACK

[2] Poems for Morning Post. BACK

[3] The new income tax announced in December 1798. BACK

[4] Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1799). BACK

[5] ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’ and an accompanying engraving published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK

[6] Poems (1799). BACK

[7] ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’, Exodus, 20: 12. Tom Southey’s shipmate had allegedly persuaded his father to murder his mother and then turned King’s evidence against his father, so he would be hanged for the crime; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 193. BACK

Places mentioned

College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)