2087. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 3 May 1812

2087. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 3 May 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. May 3. 1812.

My dear Senhora

Heaven knows how long it is since I have written to you; or rather it is known in Heaven if there be that Angel there who according to Sterne serves in the capacity of Book Keeper, [1]  – otherwise I should presume it is likely to be known nowhere but at Teddesley, where the date of my last letter is perhaps in existence to rise up in judgment against me. Something I should say concerning Frederick, [2]  – but what I can say except what you know already – that he is young & unmarried, – the burden therefore will be with less weight on him, & better times may easily enable him to shake it off & mount the hill of difficulty. —

Your story of the Forgers Fortress is an admirable one. [3]  I wish I could send you anything half as amusing in return, – but except riots at Carlisle, [4]  & a contest between the colliers & the pit owners with L. Lonsdale & Curwen at their head, [5]  with some little squabbling about the price of potatoes in our own market, all goes on smoothly in the Land of Lakes.

By the Almanac, & the length of the days it is to be presumed that summer is near at hand, tho there be no symptoms thereof in the fields or gardens. Mrs. Wilson however has heard the Cuckoo this morning. Senhora we used to look for you in the summer, & tho several years have elapsed since we have ceased to expect you, we have not ceased to let out an occasional sort of semi-grumble when we think of it. For as for seeing Sir Ed. here, however much I could wish it it seems too great a risk to be advised. If Buonaparte which God forbid! should live to Sir Edward’s years what would he not give for a nurse like you to watch over him & keep the Devil out of possession!

You know I suppose that the Imperial Colonel has married the widow of a Creole. [6]  What kind of woman she may be I know not, but you will hardly suppose that I do not look on with any great pleasure to her arrival at the Island. [7]  I like the Imperial well, “take him for all in all, we ne’er shall look upon his like again,” [8]  – especially Senhora when you remember the cymbals! But I should not think him a likely sort of man for a woman to fall in love with, if it were only for that hand of his, the palm of which is like a rhinoceros’s hide; & the touch I should think must be as powerful an anti-philtre as that fountain in the forest of Arden which produced so many cross-purposes between Angelica & her suitors. [9]  Now I can very well understand how the Imperial got such a prize in the lottery as that sweet woman whom we all loved so well & in the same manner he might have had another prize, tho it would not have been easy to have found such a one, but good women are by no means so rare as good husbands. There are but too many interesting & amiable women who would willingly accept any man as a husband, to whom there was no other objection than that he was not the man they would have chosen. But this widow I have heard was in good circumstances, – has she married him for the love of show – of making an appearance in the world; – or is she bonâ fide smitten with that persuasive tongue, & worthy to be the imperial consort? —

You need make no secret of my little Book. [10]  – I have no secrets of that kind. It went into the world without a name, because an author, like a Prima Donna [has] a sort of dignity from appearing sometimes incog. when in reality every body knows him. The book as I clearly foresaw, has been a day after the fair, & it will be well if the bookseller does not find it a losing concern: however, I am very glad that there it is, for it seems to me that no person can peruse it without perceiving that it sets the question [to] rest. – I am only ashamed of the worthless company in which it seems to place me. John Bowles! [11]  Archdeacon Danbury, [12]  – & the Rev. Dr. Hook, – a fellow whom I knew at school, who was known both then & at College to be the epitome of everything that is profligate. [13]  Bigotry is the Devil, but a knave acting the Bigot – is butter upon Bacon, – the devil hyper-devilized. This mans proper station would have been the green-room, – he has a brother who writes farces [14]  & who was the author of the great hoax upon the apothecary a few years ago, – he himself has just the proper sort of talent to write farces; – instead of which he is Prebend of Winchester, a Chaplain to the Prince of Wales! such a Chaplain as Ned Poins [15]  would have made. Of course he is a strenuous supporter of the Church, – & would be of any church – in which he might be a Prebend.

God bless you. We are well save that Piggarel grumbles a little as you may have known her do formerly, for a reason which it would not please her for me to hint at, tho I think it, like the Court of Austria, a ‘blessed circumstance.’ [16]  – Make my respects to Sir Edward , & let me have a Shepistle as soon as you please. —

Yrs affectionately



* 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. 392–395
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 265–267 [in part]. BACK

[1] Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759–1769), Book 6, Chapter 8: ‘— He shall not die, by G—, cried my uncle Toby. – The ACCUSING SPIRIT which flew up to heaven’s chancery with the oath, blush’d as he gave it in, – and the RECORDING ANGEL as he wrote it down, dropp’d a tear upon the word, and blotted it out for ever’. BACK

[2] Mary Barker’s brother, Frederick Barker (b. 1779). BACK

[3] Not identified. BACK

[4] There was a protest in Carlisle on 4 April 1812 against the price of food. The army were called out and one person was killed. BACK

[5] Lowther and John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), MP for Carlisle 1786–1790, 1791–1812, 1816–1820. They were two of the largest mineowners in Cumbria. BACK

[6] William Peachy married a widow, Mrs James Henry of Jamaica, in 1812. BACK

[7] Derwent Island, the summer home of the Peachys. The Southeys were extremely fond of the first Mrs. Peachy (d. 1809) and named their third daughter Emma (1808–1809) after her. BACK

[8] Hamlet, Act I, scene 2, lines 186–187. BACK

[9] Lodovico Ariosto (1474–1533), Orlando Furioso (1516). An important plot device is the Fountain of Disdain in the Forest of Arden, which turns the love of Angelica and her suitors into hatred. BACK

[10] The Origin, Nature and Object of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[11] John Bowles (1751–1819; DNB), lawyer and fanatical anti-Jacobin who was entangled in long-running fraud allegations. BACK

[12] Charles Daubeny (1745–1827; DNB), Archdeacon of Salisbury, 1804–1827. A particular foe of Nonconformists and defender of the rights of the Church of England. BACK

[13] James Hook (1772?-1828; DNB), clergyman who was a Prebend of Winchester Cathedral 1807–1825, rising to be Dean of Worcester 1825–1828; and minor novelist. His Anquis in Herba (1802) was staunchly anti-Methodist and anti-Jacobin. At Westminster he had edited the magazine, The Trifler. BACK

[14] Theodore Edward Hook (1788–1841; DNB), novelist, writer of farces and prankster. He engineered the ‘Berners Street Hoax’ against one Mrs. Tottenham in 1809 by sending out over 4000 letters in her name, requesting everyone from the Lord Mayor of London to coal carts to appear at her house at a certain hour. BACK

[15] A thief and general rogue in Henry IV, Part One. BACK

[16] Isabel Southey was born in November 1812. Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), 338 reported the Austrian Court’s announcement that Empress Maria Louisa (1791–1847) was ‘in blessed circumstances of body’ i.e. pregnant. Her child became Napoleon II (1811–1832). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Teddesley (mentioned 1 time)