2934. Robert Southey to Horatio Gates Spafford, 5 March 1817

2934. Robert Southey to Horatio Gates Spafford, 5 March 1817⁠* 

Keswick. Cumberland, 5 March. 1817

Dear Sir

Your letter & your Gazetteer [1]  came yesterday to my hands in a parcel from my Publishers Messrs Longman. I thank you sincerely for both; – the book I shall find useful, & it would not be easy for me to express how much I have been affected as well as gratified by your letter. With that wide ocean between us, you & I are in sympathy with each other.

In awakening my feelings you have also strongly excited my curiosity. There is an oak, or rather the shell of what was once a stately one, upon the estate of Monk-hall, [2]  within my view, – about a quarter of a mile distant on the other side of the river Greta. Is this your family tree? [3]  – When the estate belonged to Sir Michael Fleming, [4]  about twelve years ago, he sold the timber upon it to the person who rented the farm, an old man of the name of Slack, [5]  & this old oak, which all artists have admired, was marked by for the axe, & purchased with the rest. But tho Slack had paid for it he did <not> chuse to destroy the tree. He said to me, “It was there long before my time, & I would not be xx the man who should cut it down.” – I have respected the old man ever since. He has left the farm, but the Oak is yet standing.

There was within my view a yew tree, likewise of great age & beauty. The town of Keswick consists chiefly of one long street: & this yew stood behind some houses, which have been erected not above twenty years: other buildings have since been built behind them, – & to make room for these the xx yew to my great regret was destroyed.

There is yet a third tree to which your history may peradventure relate. – It is a Weymouth <pine> [6]  upon the top of a little hill called Cockshot, [7]  – the hill is covered with wood, – but this pine is manifestly half a century older than all the rest, & stands a conspicuous object above them all. – If this should be your tree, – I have a deeper feeling connected with it even than yours. I had an only son, of whom it has pleased God to bereave me; – he was my pupil & I was his playfellow; xxxx xx father I loved him with all my heart & with all my soul & with all my strength, – for he was in intellect & in disposition every thing I could desire, & in acquirements I verily believe superior to every boy of his age. He was the constant companion of my walks; & our last walk was to that Pine Tree. It was not a happy one, – for the symptoms of that disease which proved mortal had appeared sufficiently to disquiet me greatly. But he chose that point for his walk, & enjoyd for upon the summit something of his habitual cheerfulness. And I well remember that he touched the Tree, & remarked that it must have been planted before the surrounding wood. It is full in view from the window of my study, – but I have never since ventured to the spot.

Tell me if either of these are <may be> the memorial to which you allude; – or direct me to it if you can, that if it be still standing, I may use my endeavours to prevent it from being ever cut down.

Tell me also how I may direct some of my recent publications to you. My publishers can probably inclose them in a package to New York, if you will inform me to whose care they may be addressed. I would fain keep up this intercourse with you, – & if you can enable me to ascertain your Tree I will have a drawing made of it & send you.

A ferocious attack was made upon me by some person at New York upon the false supposition that I had written in abuse of the Americans. [8]  Very different are my feelings toward America. My inheritance indeed – is there as well as in England. Wherever the English language prevails there I hope that for those who my bread shall be found after many days, – upon the waters of the Hudson as well as of the Thames, – & of our Derwentwater.

Your Gazetteer will be useful to me; – for I have begun a poem of considerable length of which the scene lies in Connecticut, & the time in Philips War. [9]  Your state is near enough for the natural images of one country to be applicable to the other. My feelings towards America will be seen in the poem.

And now Sir God bless you.

Your obliged friend

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Horatio Gates Spafford Esqre/ Albany/ United States of America
Stamped: [partial] KESWICK
MS: LWS Collection, Morristown National Historical Park. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: Belles-Lettres Repository, and Monthly Magazine, 2 (1820), 454–455; Julian P. Lloyd, ‘Horatio Gates Spafford: Inventor, Author, Promoter of Democracy’, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 51 (October 1941), 335 [in part]. BACK

[1] Spafford’s A Gazetteer of the State of New-York (1813), no. 2573 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Just to the north of Keswick, a former pele tower, defended by a moat, Monk’s Hall was in Southey’s day a farmhouse. BACK

[3] Spafford’s letter to Southey concerned the pseudonymous novel he had just published, The Mother-in-Law, or Memoirs of Madam de Morville, by M. Ann Burlingham (1817). The novel was presented as the memoirs of a woman who was born in Keswick and died there on 17 October 1814, aged seventy-six; her memoirs being then edited and presented to the public by her daughter. The central character was buried beside her father and husband, at the site of a willow tree, which her father had planted. Southey’s reply strengthens the idea that Spafford’s novel was based on real events and people. BACK

[4] Sir Michael le Fleming, 4th Baronet (1748–1806). The le Flemings had their main residence at Rydal Hall, Grasmere, and were thus neighbours of Wordsworth. BACK

[5] Unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[6] A large pine tree, native to eastern North America. BACK

[7] Near Friar’s Crag on the shore of Derwentwater. BACK

[8] James Kirke Paulding’s (1778–1860) The United States and England: being a Reply to the Criticism on Inchiquin’s Letters, contained in The Quarterly Review, for January, 1814 (1815) had accused Southey of writing an article that was highly critical of the United States of America – the review of Charles Jared Ingersoll (1782–1862), Inchiquen, the Jesuit’s Letters (1810) in Quarterly Review, 10 (January 1814), 494–530. Paulding was mistaken – the review had been authored by John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB). Southey had defended himself in the pages of the Courier; see Robert Southey to the Editor of the Courier, 16 June 1815, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2616. BACK

[9] ‘Oliver Newman’, set in New England during King Philip’s (Metacom’s) war 1675–1676, and left incomplete at Southey’s death. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)