3083. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell, 27 February 1818

3083. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell, 27 February 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 27 Feby. 1818

My dear Sir

The best thing I can have to tell you concerning myself would be that we were all going on as we were when you left us: – this however I cannot say of Mrs Lovell, whose health has been much worse than in any former winter, & who is manifestly much changed in consequence. For the rest of us, young & old, our lives have only been diversified by occasional varieties of cold, cough, chillblains, & toothache, – with interludes of tooth drawing. – We had Mr Nash with us for two or three weeks, & our sister Eliza during the Christmas holy days. Since that time I see neither man woman or child, except Westall, who now & then dines with me, & sometimes walks up for an hour in the evening. The Senhora is in Borrodale, full of cares, her own & Miss Fletchers, [1]  – & full of trouble, for the death of one of her brothers within a few weeks after he had arrived in Canada, – father of the little boy whom I believe you saw. [2]  – A lucky chance has turned up for Derwent, Mr Dawes has placed him as tutor to some little boys near Ulverstone under very pleasant circumstances; – & there he may continue for two years, if means for removing him to college should not be forthcoming during that time. [3] 

And where my dear Sir are you, – & what have you done with your amanuensis & historiographer, who has the sin of curiosity upon him so strongly, that he could never <ought to> reproach his grandmother Eve? Mrs Calvert [4]  heard of you at Carlisle, so I conclude you are gone Northward, – & perhaps we may hope to see you when you come southward again.

For myself, – as the old Thessalian & his horse were once regarded as one centaur, [5]  so might I & my chair almost be considered as one substance: – there th I am when the breakfast bell rings in the morning, & when the supper bell summons me at night. I have been busy upon a long paper concerning those measures of reform which may be carried into effect in every parish merely by a proper enforcement use of existing power, & a proper enforcement of existing laws. [6]  This was half printed for the Quarterly & then laid aside for a paper of more immediate bearing upon the Poor Laws, [7]  – & for this latter after all it was not found convenient to wait. I have also made good progress with the Life of Wesley, [8]  – indeed it is Longmans fault that it is not in the press at this time; – in the course of this book I look far & wide, both at home & abroad – & am very well satisfied with the arrangement of its miscellaneous materials. But my main employment has been the history of Brazil, which is now drawing fast towards its termination. [9]  This book I verily believe to be the most laborious of its kind in any modern language since the great works of Joam de Barros & Herrera: [10]  – but it is not in this country, & hardly in this age that its value will be appreciated. It satisfies myself, & the half-dozen persons whom I was desirous of satisfying, – & with this I am contented. – I wait for a French work upon Buonapartes system of education in his Lyceums before the introductory chapter upon the Peninsular War can be compleated. [11]  Delay here is useful; – fresh documents are published meantime, both in France & in England, – & others from private sources come to my hands.

Nothing in the way of public matters interests me so much as the revolution about the North pole, & the breaking up of the ice. [12]  During [MS missing] whole month of May I repeatedly said to my fellow travellers that nothing but immense masses of floating ice could account for those cold winds from the South & S West, which made us shiver with cold in Champagne & Burgundy, & prevented the vines from putting out a single leaf, when they ought to have been in flower. Barrow in his very interesting paper in this last number [13]  has not noticed a fact which seems to indicate the cause of this great alteration. For the last two years the fish have forsaken the coast of Kamtschatka, to the great distress of the Bears, who had begun in consequence a civil war among themselves, & another xxxx with the Russian-Kamtschatkans which may be called more than civil, the bipeds being the greater bears of the two. This I think strengthens the supposition that earthquakes & volcanos have caused the disruption of the ice, – the combustibles which used to explode in Iceland have probably broken out nearer the pole, – & marine volcanoes have at wherever they exist drive away the fish, destroying of course all within the sphere of their action, & infecting the water to a prodigious distance. [14]  – These speculations interest me as much as a continental war, or a Spafields mob, [15]  & a great deal more than the preparations for a Westmorland election. [16] 

All here desire their kindest remembrances.

Believe me my dear Sir

most truly & affectionately yours

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Dr Bell/ &c &c & –
MS: West Sussex Record Office, Mitford 2328, no. 27. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Mary Barker’s finances were seriously stretched by the house she was building at Rosthwaite, Borrowdale. Sarah Fletcher was a friend of Mary Barker’s and had recently closed the girls’ boarding school she ran in Ambleside; she was attempting to reach agreement with her creditors. BACK

[2] Frederick Barker (b. 1779) had emigrated to Canada after a number of business failures. The name of his son is unknown. BACK

[3] Derwent Coleridge had gone to live 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). She was a first cousin of Georgiana Byng (1768–1801), first wife of Lord John Russell, later the 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB). Lady Russell had lived in Lisbon for two years for her health and was known to Herbert Hill. Derwent Coleridge was tutor to the Hopwoods’ sons: Edward (1807–1891); Frank (1810–1890); and Hervey (1811–1881). He continued in this post until December 1819, later becoming an undergraduate at St John’s College, Cambridge. BACK

[4] Mary Calvert, née Mitchinson (dates unknown), wife of William Calvert. She was the daughter of John Mitchinson (dates unknown), a Quaker conveyancer in Carlisle. BACK

[5] The Lapiths, a legendary tribe of Thessaly, were described by Ancient Greek writers as the inventors of horseback riding and the relatives of the half-human, half-horse centaurs. Thus the theory arose that the idea of centaurs derived from early reports of men on horseback. BACK

[6] Southey’s ‘On the Means of Improving the People’, Quarterly Review, 19 (April 1818), 79–118. BACK

[7] Rickman and Southey’s ‘On the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308. BACK

[8] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[9] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[10] The most famous Portuguese and Spanish historians of their nations’ imperial conquests: Joao de Barros (1496–1570), Decadas da Asia (1552–1615); and Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas (1559–1625), Historia General de las Indias Occidentales o de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Oceano (1601–1615). BACK

[11] Murray had sent Southey the first two volumes of Jean Baptist Germain Fabry (1770–1821), Le Génie de la Révolution Considéré dans l’Education ou Mémoires pour Servir a l’Histoire de l’Instruction Publique, Depuis 1789 jusqu’à Nos Jours (1817–1818). Southey awaited the third volume. See History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 40–43, for Southey’s account of how the Lyceums played a key role in Napoleon Bonaparte’s (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815) domestic and foreign policy by training up ‘the youth of France to become men after his own heart’ (p. 40). BACK

[12] Reports of events in the Arctic were widespread in British newspapers, e.g. Morning Chronicle, 22 November 1817, which noted the retreat of the ice sheets around Greenland. BACK

[13] John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB). His article on Lieutenant Edward Chappell (1792–1861), Narrative of a Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, in His Majesty’s Ship Rosamond, Containing Some Account of the North-Eastern Coast of America, and of the Tribes Inhabiting that Remote Region (1817), was published in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 199–223. BACK

[14] British newspapers had carried a number of extracts from Hamburg papers, e.g. Morning Chronicle, 8 December 1817. One of the extracts reported that in the Kamchatka peninsula ‘in the course of last winter an incredible number of bears have left the woods, frequently entered the houses of the Kamtschdales; in many places have attacked and devoured the inhabitants; nay traces have even been found of their having killed and devoured each other; at the end of the winter many bears were found who had perished of hunger. In several settlements they have killed from two to three hundred bears, the oldest Kamtschadales do not remember ever to have seen so many bears so savage and blood-thirsty. The cause of this savageness and of their hunger is, that for these two years past there has been an entire want of fish in the Kamschatka sea, and fish, as is well known, are the chief food of the bears, which being usually so abundant in those waters, they easily contrive to catch. A couple of shocks of an earthquake have been lately felt in the Peninsula.’ BACK

[15] The Spa Fields Riots of 2 December 1816. A crowd of about 20,000 had assembled at Spa Fields, Islington to hear the radical speaker, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB). A small group of revolutionaries broke away and attempted to storm the Tower of London, looting a gun shop on the way. They were dispersed by troops at the Royal Exchange. BACK

[16] A general election was imminent, though the House of Commons was not dissolved until 10 June 1818. It was already clear, though, that there would be a contest in Westmorland, which was dominated by the Lowther family, who were supporters of the government – the two sitting MPs were the brothers Henry Lowther (1790–1867), MP for Westmorland 1812–1867 and William, Viscount Lowther (1787–1872), later 2nd Earl of Lonsdale and MP for Cockermouth 1808–1813, MP for Westmorland 1813–1831 and 1832–1841. So complete was the Lowthers’ dominance that the last contested election in Westmorland had been in 1774. However, in January 1818, a committee of Whigs and smaller landowners had brought forward Henry Brougham to challenge the Lowthers – Brougham’s family home was Brougham Hall near Penrith and he could plausibly be presented as a local candidate. BACK

People mentioned

Westall, William (1781–1850) (mentioned 1 time)
Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Eliza (mentioned 1 time)
Dawes, John (c. 1765–1845) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Rosthwaite, Borrowdale (mentioned 1 time)