2786. Robert Southey to Miss Lovell, 10 May 1816

2786. Robert Southey to Miss Lovell, 10 May 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 10 May. 1816

You have probably learnt from the newspapers that at the time when your packet arrived we were suffering under the severest of all afflictions, – the loss of our only son, & that son one of the most hopeful in every respect that ever parents were blest with. [1]  Under such a sorrow it is only a firm, a lively & an abiding faith which could support us.

I wish it were in my power to render any service to your friend Mrs Steele, [2]  or to offer her any useful advice. She certainly possesses great genius, & many parts of her poem are very beautiful both in feeling & expression; – I would not say this unless I thought so. But London booksellers are not fond of publishing poetry unless it comes from some known name, for otherwise not one volume in fifty pays the expense of publication.

Eva is defective in story. The best way, as it appears to me in which your friends could exercise & improve her talents, is by taking some story from Romance, Eastern or Fairy Tales, & clothing it in verse: – great poets have not disdained to do this. In this way I feel confident that with her powers she would attain distinguish herself greatly, & the habits of narrative invention & arrangement would gradually be acquired. It would be doing injustice to my own feelings if I did not repeat that this present volume bears the best marks of promise, – & that every person to whom I have shown it has admired it very much.

Mary is a sad invalid, – the greater part of her time is past in a state of suffering from complaints which in no degree endanger life, – but deprive it of almost all enjoyment. There are however intervals when it appears as if she ailed nothing. Robert is still with Mr Pople, his apprenticeship will expire next year, & then of course we shall be anxious concerning him. He has been seriously indisposed this spring with an obstinate cough of some months standing, – which is now giving way.

For ourselves till this late affliction (the heaviest which could possibly have befallen us) no persons were more abundantly blessed. And we have still more blessings than falls to the lot of the greater part of mankind, – tho the flower of our hopes & happiness is cut off. We are both beginning to show the hand of time, – my own head is thickly sprinkled with grey hairs, – but the last two months have done more toward depriving me of a youthful hilarity of spirits, – than the course of years perhaps would ever have accomplished. We have four girls, the eldest has just compleated her twelfth year, – the youngest is about three: [3]  they are all in good health at present, & as happy as they can be.

Mary & her sisters [4]  join in kindest remembrances –

believe me

Yours very sincerely

Robert Southey.

We should be truly rejoiced if any circumstances should ever lead you this way.


* Address: To/ Miss Lovell/ with Benjamin Ball Esqre/ 37. Leeson Street/ Dublin
Postmark: 14 MY 14/ 1816
Stamped: [partial] WICK/ 298
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, Misc MS. 3763. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: S. T. Townshend Mayer, ‘Robert Southey on the value of minor poetry’, Notes and Queries, 5th series, 5 (1876), 123. BACK

[1] Hebert Southey died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[2] Sarah Steele, née Manly (dates unknown), wife of Lawrence-St George Steele of Rathbride (dates unknown), published the poem Southey criticises here, at her own expense: Eva: an Historical Poem, with Notes, Accompanied by Some Lyric Poems (Dublin, 1816). Sarah Steele was, like the Lovells, from a Quaker family, the Manlys of Tullamore. BACK

[3] The remaining two daughers were Bertha and Kate Southey. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)