2014. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 January 1812

2014. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 January 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 8. 1812.

Senhora I say nothing to you of the sixteen shillings, — a proof of forbearance which will show you that I have not read the book of Job [1]  without profiting by it.

How are you going on at Teddesley? Not a line have you written since the Imperial visit, — a silence which might almost lead a politician to suspect, (considering the nature of the visit) that some treaty was in agitation — for raising a certain personage to the Imperial throne. How we are going on you may easily guess, — on my part the same exercitations of vocal powers below stairs, & the same “stood-stood” (as the Exeter servant called it) [2]  all day above. Mrs. C. vituperating my singing as usual, & vituperation acting upon me irresistibly as an encore. Here is Edith a great girl, — Herbert with the finest countenance you ever saw, Bruin the Bear , alias Queen Henry the Eighth, alias the Senhorita so like you, that scandal might find a pretty foundation for a pretty story on the resemblance, & Katharine trotting about like the miniature in form of Lady Eleanor Butler, [3]  or struggling in Sarahs [4]  arms, like Gulliver in the Monkeys [5]  Indeed Gulliver is one of her names for this reason. The worst news is that the succession seems at a stand for the present. at which Nurse is very properly displeased, & I myself somewhat in the dumps — for upon fourteen I had set my heart.

I shall leave Mrs Lovell to tell you the history of a young couple here [6]  the husband 19 — lately expelled from Oxford for printing a treatise in six pages called the necessity of Atheism, [7]  & sending it round to all the Bishops, requesting them to convince him of his error, — if in error he was. Oh how you would like this heir to six thousand a year who, now, that he is got to the Pantheistic stage of his progress, is the very ghost of what I was at his age, — poet, philosopher, & jacobin, & moralist & enthusiast. Chance has brought him to this place, & he is likely to get more good here than the whole Bench of Bishops could have done him. A D.D. [8]  to whom he sent one of the circulars with this taking title recommends Prayer to him as the way to settle his doubts, — & he prayed for two months. His own heart will lead him right at last. and for all the vagaries on the way, — why Senhora you would say as I do, & as King Henry did of that son of his whose head was like unto a mule, his nose unto a boar, “No matter for that, I like him the better therefore.” [9] 

Now for myself — which I do freely confess to be not so good a subject as what I am leaving for Mrs. Lovell, — but she can tell you Shellys story, & cannot tell you my winter operations. My ordinary occupations you know, — The Register [10]  & Pelayo, [11]  both going on. My extras are these. The article in the Quarterly upon Bell & the Dragon, altered & extended, & now in the press to form a little volume called the Origin Nature & Object of the New System of Education. [12]  — in a few weeks I hope to send one to Teddesley. It will make you clearly understand a subject which there has been a great deal of pains taken to perplex. I have planned two books with the hope & expectation of fitting them upon the establishment of schools of the National Institution. [13]  — for the purpose of training up our youth in the way that they should go. The Book of the Church, & the Book of the Constitution, [14]  — being at once the philosophy & the flowers of our ecclesiastical & civil history. This is the outline of the first. — 1. The religion of our British Roman & Saxon ancestors, being the evils from which the conversion of this island delivered us 2. A picture of popery. 3. a picture of puritanism. 4. methodism. all this given in historical form, showing the evils from which our Ch. Establishment has delivered us, — & those from which at present it preserves us. In short I want to make people feel & understand, what they neither understand nor feel now. & the Book of the Constitution is the parallel of these. Shall I not Senhora be well employed in executing this in such a manner as shall at once suit the comprehension of youth & satisfy the understanding of mature judgements? In reading for this purpose I dwelt over Fox’s book of Martyrs [15]  till I was tormented all night with fire and faggots.

God bless you

yrs affectionately,


Our respects to Sir E. I hope he is well enough to receive them.


* 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. 374–377
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The central figure of the Book of Job suffered misfortune uncomplainingly. BACK

[2] Not identified. BACK

[3] Southey visited the Ladies of Llangollen in the summer of 1811. BACK

[4] A childrens’ nurse employed by the Southeys. BACK

[5] Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Part II, ‘A Voyage to Brobdingnag’, Chapter 5. BACK

[7] Percy Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism (1811). BACK

[8] A Doctor of Divinity. Not identified. BACK

[9] ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’, lines 69–72, a popular ballad about Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122/1124–1204; DNB). BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[11] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[12] The Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education (1812), an expansion of Southey’s review in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. BACK

[13] The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church was founded in 1811 to promote Anglican education. BACK

[14] The Book of the Church (1824). Southey never wrote his defence of the British constitution. BACK

[15] John Foxe (1517–1587; DNB), Actes and Monuments (1563), popularly known as the ‘Book of Martyrs’. Southey owned an edition of 1684, no. 975 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

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