3072. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [29 January 1818]

3072. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [29 January 1818] ⁠* 

Dear Senhora

Because you have not law enough upon your hands, I send you a case upon which I shall be much obliged to you to ask the advice of your nonpareil Lawyer Mr Edmunds. [1] 

Betty (whose law name is Elizabeth Thompson) [2]  has thirty pounds owing to her by George Ellis [3]  of Ambleside, a worthless fellow, who by virtue of the Insolvent Act (alias the Rogues Jubilee-Bill) is just come out of Carlisle Castle. [4]  The money was lent in two sums by her father; his father [5]  is bound for the one of £10, & this she supposes to be safe, he being reckoned a substantial man. His wifes father John Seward of Ambleside was bound for the other £20; this John Seward is dead, & James his son is his Executor. [6]  – Do you understand me? as Dryander said to Dr Willich when he told him – Dr Veeleec, – Sir Joseph says you are not to come here any more. [7] 

Ellis has been here since he was hatched from Jail. he says he has nothing to do with the business himself, – which is true enough, – the more’s the pity: & he wants her to wait for the £20 from John Sewards estate till the Candlemas [8]  of next year, instead of receiving it next Candlemas, because he says they have a great deal to do; & it will be more convenient that the payment be delayed. To this she has no objection whatever, if there is reason to think that she may wait safely. Mr Edmunds, living on the spot, may probably know the state of this John Sewards affairs, & will perhaps have the knowledge to say in what manner she had better act, – whether to wait patiently, or make her demand at once, lest if there be a scramble she lose all by coming in too late.

“Nuns of the Desert indeed,” [9]  – & a male visitor who talks of kissing! – Pray of what order may the Nuns be? – I like your old man much. [10] 

Westall went yesterday for Sedburgh, [11]  & we are going tomorrow evening to Mrs Crothers’. I am very busy, – & there is a possibility that my box from Milan may arrive today. [12]  All as usual except that Mrs C. has a trunk in her head, – which as you may well suppose must be a very uncomfortable thing. This trunk which is at the same time in her head & on the road to Derwent [13]  (being like Kehama [14]  in more places than one at once,) is to catch a rheumatic fever on the way, & communicate it to Derwent.

So farewell


Thursday morning.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 447–448 [dated January 1818].
Dating note: This letter was written on a Thursday before Candlemas (i.e. 2 February 1818) and whilst Southey was still in hope that the books that he had bought in Milan in 1817 might arrive imminently. The only date that meets all these criteria is 29 January 1818. BACK

[1] John Edmunds (d. 1826), an Ambleside attorney. He was a well-known Whig and supporter of Brougham’s parliamentary candidacy in 1818, hence Southey’s comment. Mary Barker’s financial difficulties arising from the construction of her house at Rosthwaite, Borrowdale were no doubt providing Edmunds with plenty of work. BACK

[2] Elizabeth Thompson (c. 1777–1862), the Southeys’ long-standing servant. She was buried in the Southey family grave. BACK

[3] George Ellis (dates unknown) was possibly a stuff weaver of this name from Ambleside. BACK

[4] The Insolvent Debtors (England) Act (1813) provided for the release of people incarcerated for debt if they came to an agreement with their creditors. Carlisle Castle was the jail for the County of Cumberland. BACK

[5] Possibly Joseph or Thomas Ellis (dates unknown), masons at Ambleside. BACK

[6] John and James Seward are unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[7] Jonas Carlsson Dryander (1748–1810) was a Swedish botanist and the librarian of the scientist and President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820; DNB). The ‘Dr Willich’ refused access was probably the German physician and writer, Anthony Florian Madinger Willich (d. 1804). Willich was well-known in literary circles and had taught Walter Scott to speak German in Edinburgh in 1792. BACK

[8] The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, held on 2 February. BACK

[9] Alethea Lewis (1749–1827; DNB), Nuns of the Desert: or, the Woodland Witches (1805). Alethea Lewis lived at Penkridge, Staffordshire and so was probably known to Mary Barker. BACK

[10] A note on the manuscript in Barker’s hand explains the news to which Southey was alluding: ‘A very curious old man was here last week. On going away I asked him to come and see me again – “Then,” said the old man, “if I am to come and see you again let us have a kiss before we part”.’ BACK

[11] Westall married, in 1820, Ann Sedgwick (1789–1862) of Dent, near Sedbergh, about forty miles southeast of Keswick. BACK

[12] Southey had been waiting since the autumn of 1817 for the delivery of books he had bought in Milan. They had arrived in London at the end of the year and were being held at the Customs House. BACK

[13] Derwent Coleridge lived with the Hopwood family, well-connected Lancashire landowners, at Summerhill, near Ulverston 1817–1819. Robert Gregge Hopwood (1773–1854) had married in 1805 Cecilia Elizabeth Byng (1770–1854), daughter of John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (1743–1813); Derwent was tutor to the Hopwoods’ sons: Edward (1807–1891); Frank (1810–1890); and Hervey (1811–1881). BACK

[14] One of the powers of the central protagonist of Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Ambleside (mentioned 2 times)