1909. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 22 April 1811

1909. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 22 April 1811 ⁠* 

My dear Senhora

Right glad I was to see the superscription of your letter & of the Imperials . The same post brought me one from my good Aunt Mary , telling me that Mr T. Southey was dead & had left part of his property to an acquaintance at Bristol, [1]  the rest to his man Tom. [2]  For my own part & my brothers [3]  I am neither surprised nor grieved, – but it vexes me to think that he should have behaved so unnaturally to his sister , who is now far advanced in years, & had only 400 £. This wretched man turned her out of doors about two years ago, merely because she could not conceal that she thought her nephews rather more worthy subjects than the footboy Tom. You know me well enough to believe that as to the usage which I myself have received I care for just as little as I have deserved it. A light heart & a thin pair of – pantaloons, – you know is the old song upon such occasions. [4]  hitherto I have gone thro the world well with them, & by God’s blessing so I expect still shall be enabled to do. “I hope God will forgive him, says my poor good Aunt , “John made himself a slave to get this trash – he had made himself a fool to give it away.” – Tis a passage worth transcribing, for it comprizes the sum of the history of two brothers & of 40,000£, – for that is the meaning of the word trash, a word which was never more passionately nor more fully employed.

Basta. [5]  I never think upon this subject except when it comes before me as a piece of news for a letter, for three or four of my friends, – every one of whom will regard it much more than I do. – I can make nothing of the picture, – it is likely to have its foundation in some piece of recent history, certainly not in romance. [6] 

You will see us if nothing intervenes to prevent our journey, about the beginning of July. – Our plan is to go from London to Bristol, & halt with you three days, – one of which I must give to Landor, if he continues there. Senhora I long for you to see that man, who wants only steadiness to have been the first man of the age. There is more of the thunder & the lightening of genius about him than I ever saw in any other human being.

I was seven years finding a motto for myself [7]  – how then can you imagine they are to be found by half-dozens? just now I have found another, but unlukily it suits me who do not want one, & not you who do – It is Labor cum dignitate, in opposition to the lazy one of Otium &c. [8]  If any thing comes into my head you shall have it – these things must come when they list, – they are not to be had by looking for them.

Kehama [9]  I believe proves to most readers about as palatable as a clothiers teazle [10]  to a jack-ass; – who tho he mumbles a thistle comfortably is puzzled by this untoothsome mouthful.

God bless you. Present my respects to Sir E. & tell him I am truly rejoiced to hear of his recovery. His god daughter [11]  was vaccinated last week.

Yours very truly

R. Southey

Keswick. April 22. 1811

I must tell you what Grosvenor Bedford says in a letter of this evening about your old friend John Cockbains. [12]  “If he should die before I again visit Keswick, let him be corked up in a bottle of spirits & deposited in the museum so that Crossthwaite [13]  may stand up & say to all the world This was a – Tailor.”


* 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. 357–358
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Probably William Oliver (1775–1830) of Hope Corner, Taunton. BACK

[2] Thomas Southey’s servant, Tom (dates and surname unknown). BACK

[4] A popular saying about the need to be cheerful, taken from a traditional song. BACK

[5] ‘Enough’. BACK

[6] Not identified. BACK

[7] ‘In Labore Quies’, or ‘In Labour is Rest’. BACK

[8] ‘Work with Dignity’ in opposition to the usual Latin tag ‘Leisure with Dignity’. BACK

[9] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[10] The bristly flower-head of Dipsacus sativus, used for producing a napped surface on wool. BACK

[11] Bertha Southey. BACK

[12] John Cockbain (dates unknown), a Keswick tailor. Southey often joked about his ugliness. BACK

[13] A reference to the activities of Peter Crosthwaite (1735–1808), a retired naval commander, publisher of maps and inventor of the aeolian harp. In the 1780s he established the first museum in Keswick. Its treasures included a set of musical stones, a stuffed albatross and a pig with no legs. By 1811 the Museum was run by his son Daniel (c. 1776–1847), a portrait painter. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)