3000. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 11 June 1817

3000. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 11 June 1817⁠* 

Turin. Wednesday 11 June 1817

My dear Edith

I wrote to you on this day fortnight from Neufchatel, since which time all has gone well with us & we have travelled over very interesting ground. Half a day brought us to Yverdun, where the other half was past for the sake of seeing Pestalozzi. [1]  The next day to Lausanne, where for the mere beauty of the place we staid a day. Sunday to Mr Awdrys 7 miles off on the way to Geneva. Here I found Miss Bigg & was received by the Awdrys like a person connected with them by family ties. [2]  Mrs A. has evidently been the flower of the family, & a sweet flower she must have been in her prime. I was much pleased both with her, & her husband who is a great friend of the Generals. The General was there ten or twelve days, – he would walk home from Morges one night, a mile distant lost his way & did not get to the house till one o clock, lights being set up in the trees of the Chateau to guide him, & men sent out in all directions. This adventure as you may suppose occasions much mirth among his Swiss acquaintances to whom he talked half in French & half in English about Dr Johnson &c [3]  – just as he xxxxxxx <does> in England. We staid Monday with the Awdrys, & shall return to rest with them on our way back. Wed<Tues>day to Geneva seeing Ferney [4]  in the way. Wednesday we halted to see this famous, most ugly, most odd, & most striking city, compared to which Lisbon is a city of sweet savours. Friday to Aix, – that Aix where the adventure of King Charlemagne & the Archbishop happened: which Pasquier (in whom I found the story) mistakes it for Aix la Chapelle. [5]  There is a Lake here, & a magnificent one it is. N. & S. both made sketches of it before breakfast on Friday. We reached Les Echelles that night, & Saturday visited the Chartreuse, - [6]  this was a horse expedition, & a whole days work; but we were most amply rewarded for the heat & fatigue which we endured. I am fully disposed to believe with Wordsworth that there is nothing finer xxx in Switzerland than this. [7]  The place took us two stages out of our way, which we had to retrace on Sunday, – they happened to be remarkably interesting ones, having the mountain pass of the Echelles in one, with a tunnel thro the mountain, & by the road in the other the most glorious waterfall I ever beheld, that evening we entered the Savoy Alps at Aiguebelle & slept at La Grande Maison, a sort of large Estalagem [8]  in the midst of Borrodale scenery upon a large scale. N. made a view from the window. I do not stop to describe things because my journal will do all this. Monday we continued our way up the valley, following the course, or rather ascending the river Arco, – such a river! – the colour of my coat precisely, which tho Mr Hyde [9]  admits it to be a very genteel mixture as well as well calculated to hide the dust, is a very bad colour for a river, – but for force & fury, it exceeds any thing that I had ever before seen or imagined, we followed it as far as Lans le Bourg, a little town at the foot of Mount Cenis, & itself as high above the sea as the top of Skiddaw. Yesterday (Tuesday) we crost Mount Cenis – descended into the plain of Piedmont, & after the longest of all our days journeys in point of time reached Turin just as it grew dark. The washerwoman has been called in. I have brought up my journal, – yesterday alone cost me more than five pages so you may judge how difficult it is to keep time with it. We stay here tomorrow & then start for Milan. This place (Turin) is our farthest point from home, & from Milan we turn our faces homeward on Monday by way of Como & the Simplon. We are to visit Chamouny on the way from Martigny. My next letter will probably be from Mr Awdrys when I have recrossed the Alps or even before we recross them which will be in about ten days I shall almost fancy myself in England.

From Besançon to this place it has been one succession of fine scenery, yet with such variety that every day has surprised us. Fine weather began on the first of June, & here in Italy we have found a great difference of climate. On the other side the Alps the cherries are not larger than green peas; here they are ripe. Currants, oranges & Alpine strawberries are in the markets, & apricots, which are perfectly worthless.

I wonder where the fleas are: for I have neither seen nor felt them. One Persevejo [10]  found us out at Lans le Bourg, where I certainly did not expect to be attended by any such enemies, considering the temperature of the place. Here N. found one on his linen this morning & we are as hot as at Lisbon. But we turn our face to the NE when we leave this place & when we depart from Milan we shall approach ‘cooler climate’. S has a touch of the growels to day so that our resting here could not have come in better time, he is better this evening, & I hope will rise tomorrow in good condition again. N is as well as he ever is, – but he also is glad of a little rest. Rest or motion are the same to me. God be thanked I am quite well, I like the travelling days best, because at night I feel myself so much advanced on the way, & I stand in need of the resting ones to bring up my journal & write to England. I wrote from Geneva to John May. Our journey has been in all respects pleasant, & I shall find the full advantage of it in the knowledge which it has given me, & the new images, with which it has stored my memory. Of the Alps, I will only say here that they make me love Skiddaw better than ever & that Skiddaw will outlast them, – at least will outlast all that we have yet seen, for they are falling to pieces. The wreck & ruin which they display in many places is hardly to be described, – Murray offered me 400£ for such a volume as Pauls Letters [11]  & my journal is in a fair way of extending to as much in length.

We are burnt like gipsies, especially S. – All friends round Skiddaw has been our daily toast; & we drank it in all kinds & qualities of wine. As for news we know not how the world goes on, & have ceased to think about it, the only thing for which we are anxious is to get letters from home, & this we shall do when we get to Mr Awdrys. If I could but know that all was well -

God bless you. Good night my own dear Edith


Thursday afternoon. S. rose this morning perfectly recovered. His yesterdays attack which began with sickness & ended in growels was evidently a salutary effort of nature & a successful one to set all to rights. This morning we have been seeing the churches, the university (where Alfieri [12]  studied or rather wasted the years in which he should have studied) the churches &c – & we have seen the identical river into which Phaeton tumbled, tho I believe no person can point out the precise place where he fell. [13]  It is nearly five o clock we have dined, & I have to write down all that I have noticed in Turin, before we walk out for the last time, then to return at 8 to our coffee, pack up our clean linen, & make all ready for rising tomorrow at four o clock. Yesterday the weather was tremendously hot, today it is hot enough but much cooler. I have not been bitten by the mosquitos, tho one rascal woke me xx with his trumpet at La Maison Grande. Tomorrow night I xxxx shall be in bodily fear of them, for we shall be in the low lands of Lombardy. – By the time this reaches you we shall be again in Switzerland, & our way home will then appear as nothing.

Except a small package at Paris (& but a small one) I have not bought more books than could be packed into my portmanteau or stowed into the carriage. The booksellers shops wherever we have been are miserable. As something to set off against this disappointment, we have met with no fleas, to my great surprize. Neither in France, Switzerland, Savoy, or Italy do they ever wash their floors, & yet there are no fleas. I have neither seen nor felt one, & therefore doubt whether the very few red spots which I have noticed from time to time upon my skin were flea bites. Once more God bless you my dear Edith. – If you want money, write to Bedford for it, – he has money in his hands. – I do not think of closing with Murrays offer about this journal, – but shall think seriously of putting together all my journals, including those in Portugal. [14]  Love to all. Tell the Senhora I like Borrodale better than before, – but that there are glorious places in Savoy for a Bhow leigh. [15]  God bless you.



* Address: Angleterre/ To/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmarks: B/ JU/ 24 1817; E FO/ JU-24/ 1817
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 267–271 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Swiss educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827). The ‘Pestalozzi Method’ argued that children should learn through activity and through things, rather than words. As part of this, children should be free to pursue their own interests and draw their own conclusions. BACK

[2] The Awdry family were John Awdry (1766–1844), solicitor in Reybridge and his wife Jane, née Bigg-Wither (1770–1845), sister of Herbert Hill’s wife, Catherine. ‘Miss Bigg’ was a third, unmarried sister, Alethea Bigg (1777–1847). Southey visited them at Echichens on 1–3 June and 29 June-3 July. BACK

[3] Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB), author and lexicographer. BACK

[4] Ferney, on the French-Swiss border; home of Francoise-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694–1778) in 1759–1778. BACK

[5] Aix-les-Bains, mistaken for Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in Etienne Pasquier (1529–1615), Recherches de la France, 3 vols (Paris, 1611), II, p. 272. Southey used Pasquier’s story about Charlemagne (742–814; Holy Roman Emperor 800–814) in his poem ‘The Ring’, Morning Post, 22 February 1798. Southey noted Pasquier’s mistake in Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), V, p. 86. BACK

[6] Head monastery of the Carthusian order, founded 1084. BACK

[7] Wordsworth had visited in 1790. BACK

[8] A Portuguese term for a sort of inn. BACK

[9] Hyde (d. 1820) was Southey’s London tailor. BACK

[10] Portuguese for ‘bug’. BACK

[11] Walter Scott, Paul’s Letters to his Kinsfolk (1816), a description of his journey to the site of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) in the autumn of 1815. BACK

[12] The Italian dramatist Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803). He attended the Royal Academy at Turin intermittently 1759–1766. BACK

[13] In Greek mythology Phaeton, stuck by Zeus’s thunderbolt, tumbled from the skies into the river Eridanos. Classical writers disagreed about the location, and even the existence on earth, of this river, but some identified it as the Po, which runs through Turin. BACK

[14] Southey’s three journals from his Portuguese trip of 1800–1801 were published in Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800–1801 and a Visit to France (Oxford, 1960), pp. 1–61. His journal for his journey to the Netherlands in 1815 appeared as Journal of a Tour in the Netherlands in the Autumn of 1815 (1902). Other, briefer, journals of British travels in 1799–1800, 1805 and 1809 appeared in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 517–534. BACK

[15] Probably an in-joke about the house that Mary Barker, nicknamed the Bhow Begum, was building in a scenic part of Borrowdale. BACK

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 3 times)