1789. Robert Southey to John Neville White, 29 June 1810

1789. Robert Southey to Neville White, 29 June 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick,  June 29. 1810.

My Dear Neville,

Your parcel arrived this afternoon, and about an hour afterwards the two boxes from Nottingham. Edith’s astonishment at the sight of the largest doll she has ever seen is hardly yet subsided; it is resolved that she is carefully to preserve it for her children’s children, to be an heir-loom and family doll for evermore; and the conceit of the value which all the caps and coifs will acquire when they come to be fashions of the generations that are gone, has contributed to reconcile me to the profusion with which their wardrobe has been fitted up. The screens are to ornament my library, – being the drawing or full-dress room of the house. I hope they will give Edith an inclination for drawing flowers. It has always been my wish that she should acquire this particular branch of the art, as one which may be applied to scientific purposes, and for which, in whatever part of the world her lot may be cast, subjects will always be to be found. A collection of accurate drawings is far more valuable than the plants themselves, however well preserved in a hortus siccus. [1]  Our lichens, mosses, fungi, and ferns afford exquisite subjects for painting; and few things would be more interesting than to have a series of drawings representing the complete history of all our English trees, in their various appearances from the time that the seed pushed out its first leaflets, to its full-grown beauty, and its final decay, – the bud in all its stages till the foliage is fully developed, and the flowers and fructification in like manner. This would in itself be a delightful work, and it could not be executed without leading to a considerable experimental knowledge in natural history, which, when pursued as it was by your namesake, White, of Selborne, [2]  is one of the most innocent as well as of the most pleasing of human pursuits.

The writing-desk is very pretty; it is a style of drawing which is quite new to me, for I have never seen any specimen of it before. Herbert is still amusing himself over his portion of the treasures; if punning can run in the blood, he is entitled by birth to be a punster, and some of these cards may quicken the propensity. They are very comical, and have made the elder branches of the family laugh. For each and all of these things, Neville, you must express our several and united thanks to your good mother and your sisters. [3]  Before the year closes I hope to thank them myself; for when next I visit London it is my full intention to return by way of Nottingham. Clifton Grove, Wilford church-yard, and the Trent are places of which I wish to have more vivid images in my mind than prints can give me. [4]  There are thousands and tens of thousands to whom Henry has made these places classic ground, and it will be a real gratification to me to become personally known at the same time to more of the living objects of his love. Your sister, Smith, [5]  speaks in her letter of severe illnesses in the family. I hope they have all passed away, and left no ill consequences behind.

Your friend Conder’s book, [6]  has not disappointed me. He is assuredly a man of genius, and his good feelings and principles keep his imagination pure and undefiled. I shall write to him immediately, though the letter cannot be in time for this post. He has given me no address, but I guess from his title page that he is related to the publisher of the volume – not improbably his son, [7] – at any rate a letter directed there must reach him.

Ever since my return home I have been incommoded by my obstinate summer cold, which returns every year as regularly as the warm weather. It has attacked me so violently as for some days to incapacitate me for anything; but I believe it is now about to leave me.

Yours very truly,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 197–199. BACK

[1] Literally, a ‘dry garden’. A collection of plants dried and arranged in a book or album. BACK

[2] The naturalist Gilbert White (1720–1793; DNB), whose The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne appeared in 1789. An edition of White’s works from 1802 was no. 3003 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Mary White, née Neville (1755–1833). She had three daughters; Hannah White (c. 1779–1813); Frances Moriah White (1791–1854); Catherine Bailey White (1795–1889). BACK

[4] Places described, from first-hand knowledge, in the writings of Henry Kirke White. BACK

[5] White’s eldest sister, Hannah, was married to Joshua Smith (dates unknown) of Nottingham. BACK

[6] The Associate Minstrels (1810), published anonymously. The contributors were Conder; Conder’s father, Thomas Conder (1746/7–1831); Conder’s future wife, Joan Elizabeth Thomas (‘Eliza Thomas’) (c. 1786–1877); Ann (1782–1829; DNB) and Jane Taylor (1783–1824; DNB); their father, Isaac Taylor (1759–1829; DNB); and the painter Jacob George Strutt (1790–1864; DNB). Southey’s copy was no. 34 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[7] Southey was right. The publisher was Conder’s father the map engraver and bookseller Thomas Conder (1746/7–1831). BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Edith May (1804–1871) (mentioned 2 times)
White, Henry Kirke (1785–1806) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Conder, Josiah (1789–1855) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)