3218. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 10 December 1818

3218. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 10 December 1818⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 10. 1818.

My dear Chauncey,

You made the best use of your misfortune at Kendal. The most completely comfortless hours in a man’s life (abstracted from all real calamity) are those which he spends alone at an inn, waiting for a chance in a stage-coach. Time thus spent is so thoroughly disagreeable that the act of getting into the coach, and resigning yourself to be jumbled for four-and-twenty or eight- and-forty hours, like a mass of inert matter, becomes a positive pleasure. I always prepare myself for such occasions with some closely-printed pocket volume, of pregnant matter, for which I should not be likely to afford leisure at other times. Erasmus’ Colloquies [1]  stood me in good stead for more than one journey; Sir Thomas More’s Utopia [2]  for another. When I was a school-boy I loved travelling, and enjoyed it, indeed, as long as I could say omnia mea mecum; [3]  that is, as long as I could carry with me an undivided heart and mind, and had nothing to make me wish myself in any other place than where I was. The journey from London to Bristol at the holidays was one of the pleasures which I looked for at breaking up; and I used generally to travel by day rather than by night, that I might lose none of the expected enjoyments I wish I had kept a journal of all those journeys; for some of the company into which I have fallen might have furnished matter worthy of preservation. Once I travelled with the keeper of a crimping-house [4]  at Charing Cross, who, meeting with an old acquaintance in the coach, told him his profession while I was supposed to be asleep in the corner. Once I formed an acquaintance with a young deaf and dumb man, and learnt to converse with him. Once I fell in with a man of a race now nearly extinct, – a village mathematician; a self-taught, iron-headed man, who, if he had been lucky enough to have been well educated and entered at Trinity Hall, might have been first wrangler, [5]  and perhaps have gone as near towards doubling the cube [6]  as any of the votaries of Mathesis. [7]  (Pray write a sonnet to that said personage.) [8]  This man was pleased with me, and (perhaps because I was flattered by perceiving it) I have a distinct recollection of his remarkable countenance after an interval of nearly thirty years. He laboured very hard to give me a love of his own favourite pursuit; and it is my own fault that I cannot now take the altitude of a church tower by the help of a cocked hat, as he taught me, or would have taught, if I could have retained such lessons.

It is an act, not absolutely of heroic virtue, but of something like it, my writing to you this evening. Four successive evenings I have been prevented from carrying into effect the fixed purpose of so doing; first by the General’s dropping in to pass the last evening with me before his departure, then by letters which required reply without delay. And this afternoon, just before the bell rang for tea, a huge parcel was brought up stairs, containing twenty volumes of the Gospel Magazine; [9]  in which dunghill I am now about to rake for wheat, or for wild oats, if you like the metaphor better.

Yours affectionately,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 329–331. BACK

[1] Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536), Colloquies (1518). BACK

[2] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Utopia (1516). BACK

[3] ‘All that’s mine [I carry] with me’. BACK

[4] A place at which men were enticed, usually by being plied with alcohol, to enlist in the army or navy. BACK

[5] The highest-scoring BA student in any year at Cambridge University. BACK

[6] An ancient problem in geometry, often known as the ‘Delian problem’. The non-existence of a solution was not finally demonstrated until 1837. BACK

[7] The personification of mathematical learning. Southey hated mathematics and had no talent for the subject. BACK

[8] Townshend did, indeed, write the sonnet ‘To the Goddess of Mathematics’, which begins: ‘O Mathesis, I loathe thy very sight!’, The Weaver’s Boy, a Tale; and Other Poems (London, 1825), p. 225. BACK

[9] The Gospel Magazine (1766–present), an evangelical publication, mainly aimed at Anglicans. It was an important source for Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)