2299. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 5[–7] September 1813

2299. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 5[–7] September 1813 ⁠* 

Streatham. Sunday. Sept. 5. 1813

My dear Edith

Christina [1]  used to be opposite the map, standing next to the volume which was sent to Miss Christian [2]  by mistake. – Paul & Virginia [3]  is a book backed with red-marble paper, & lettered on green. It must be in the wing-parlour, – but if you cannot readily find the separate volume, the same tale is annexed to St Pierres Etudes de la Nature (2 Vols) [4]  in the same book-case. – I begin with these things lest they should be forgotten.

I saw Coleridge on Friday, & scarcely ever saw him look so well, – but he is over head & years in business & in difficulties about the Morgans. By John Morgans xxxx carelessness & imprudence, the villainy of Brent the brother, [5]  & the half folly half knavery of Brent the father, [6]  they are ruined beyond redress, & nothing remains but for Morgan as soon as he can show himself with safety, to get a clerks place, & for the women to exert themselves in eking out a maintenance as they can. He is in concealment at present. They have left their house, – the furniture is gone, & C. with the two poor women [7]  is in xxxxxxx lodgings, where he has told them he cannot remain longer than three weeks. This of course is speaking vaguely, but as soon as he can leave them he will set out for Keswick. – I shall see him again either tomorrow or Tuesday.

One of the letters which you forwarded was from James Ballantyne, – my business in that quarter seems likely to terminate rather better than might have been expected. [8]  I wish you had opened the other, which was from Scott. [9]  It will be easier to transcribe it than to give its contents, – & it does him so much honour that you ought to see it without delay. – My dear Southey – On my return home I found to my no small surprize a letter tendering me the laurel vacant by the death of the poetical Pye. [10]  I have declined the appointment, as being incompetent to the task of annual commemoration, but chiefly as being provided for in my professional department, & unwilling to incur the censure of engrossing the emolument attached to one of the few appointments which seems proper to be filled by a man of literature who has no other views in life. Will you forgive me my dear friend, if I own I had you in my recollection? I have given Croker the hint & otherwise endeavoured to throw the office into your choice (this is not Scotts word – but I cannot decypher xxxx the right one [11] ). – I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, & as at present managed its duties are inconvenient & somewhat liable to ridicule. But the latter matter might be amended, & I should think the Regents good sense would lead him to lay aside these biennial commemorations; & as to the former point, it has been worn by Dryden of old, & by Warton in modern days. [12]  If you quote my own refusal against me, I reply 1st I have been luckier than you in holding two offices not usually conjoined; [13]  2dly I did not refuse it from any foolish prejudice against the situation, – otherwise how durst I mention it to you, my elder brother in the Muse? – but from a sort of internal hope that they would give it to you upon whom it would be so much more worthily conferred. For I am not such an ass as not to know that you are my better in poetry, tho I have had probably but for a time, the tide of popularity in my favour. I have not time to add ten thousand other reasons, – but I only wished to tell you how the matter was, & to beg you to think before you reject the offer which I flatter myself will be made you. If I had not been like Dogberry, a fellow with two gowns already, [14]  I should have jumped at it like a cock at a gooseberry. [15]  – Ever yours most truly. WS.

– I thought this was so likely to happen that I had turned the thing over in my mind in expectation. So as soon as this letter reached me I wrote a note to Croker to this effect, – that I would not write odes as boys write exercises at stated times & upon stated subjects, – but that if it were understood that upon great public events I might either write or be silent as the spirit moved, I should then accept the office as an honourable distinction, which under those circumstances it would become. [16]  Tomorrow I shall see him. The xxx salary xx is but a x nominal 120£ – & as you see, I shall either reject it, or make the office title honourable by accepting it upon my own terms. The latter is the most probable result.

I am writing before breakfast. It rains steadily & offers, as they say in Cumberland, for a wet day. This is unlucky, for if the weather permits I must meet Harry at Mrs Gonnes. My plans are to walk home with him to night, dine with him tomorrow, & with Turner on Tuesday. Wednesday, Grosvenor goes with me to Courtenays near Bromley [17]  where we shall sleep & on Thursday morning here I shall return & resume my employment, [18]  xxx which is in good progress. It will not occupy me long & I have little doubt of executing it so as fully to answer the purpose for which it is designed. The Barlows [19]  are a very pleasing family, & I like them so well as to take a great interest in this business.

Murray will return to town tomorrow. I am advised by Turner to accept his offer of the thousand guineas, [20]  & if we can live without forestalling it, (which according to my present view of ways & means seems to be the case) this will be a good round sum to receive. – I am fortunate enough to fall in here with some documents which are of great value, – the letters which Mr Barlow has received from his nephew (Sir George’s son) [21]  – a young officer of great talents who has seen some of the hottest service in Spain.

Tell the children that I have bought for them the continuation of the Arabian Nights, in three volumes, – it is the book in which I found the Domdaniel. [22]  – I am going to see some Hindoo jugglers who are now the town talk, [23]  – when I have seen them, it will be a worthy subject for a <joint> letter to Shedaw, & the Moon. – The Man is grown very fond of Tonsin xxxxx Obbut, [24]  Pocko is upon hard service, three jumps xx also are greatly in vogue, & yesterday after inner I told the story of the Three Bears [25]  with universal applause.

The day seems clearing, & I begin to want my breakfast. I have been among the books as you may suppose, & purchased among others one which I have been some twelve years looking for; – tho it comes a day after the fair. It was designed for the use of Kehama [26]  better however late than never, & there is among the prints a delightful peep into Padalon. [27] 


After breakfast & before church –

Do you wa[MS torn] marvellously cheap table linen? My Uncle has some which looks like [MS torn] his own old Portugueze cloth, two yards wide [MS torn] five shillings a yard, – so that the square [MS torn] ten shillings. My Governess will please to let me know if [MS torn] make my purchase of this article. It is coarse but quite good enough for family [MS torn].

No doubt I shall be [MS torn] better on my return for this course of full exercise, & full feeding which follows in natural order. By good fortune this is the oyster season, & when in town I devour about a dozen in the middle of the day, so that in the history of my life this year ought to be designated as the year of the oysters, – inasmuch as I shall have feasted on them more than in any other year of my life. I shall work off the old flesh from my bones, & lay on a new layer in its place, – a sort of renovation which makes meat better, & therefore will not make me the worse. Sir Domine complains of me as a general disturber of all families. I am up first in the house here & at his quarters. & the other morning when I walked from hence to breakfast with Grosvenor, I arrivd before any body except the servants was up. This is as it should be. I fall asleep as soon as I am in bed, x wake regularly soon after six & turn out as soon as I am awake.

I will take this with me to London, & finish it after I have seen Croker, – so farewell my dear Edith for seven & twenty hours.

Tuesday, 8 o clock. Queen Anne Street. I had not a moments time yesterday. Croker showed me the letter which he had written to the Marquis of Hertford in whose nomination the appointment lies; & the Princes pleasure has been so fully exprest that in all likelihood my name will be in the Gazette before I hear anything more about it. So this matter may be considered as having been settled as it should be, – except indeed that I must make my appearance at court in xx the Doctors bag, ruffles, sword & full-dress coat, [28]  one of the evils of life against which by some great neglect there is no supplication in the Litany.

Coleridge has left off laudanum & God grant that he may never return to it. When last he took it, it was in the quantity of two quarts a week, the cost of which is five pounds, – & sometimes he swallowed a pint a day. He said he must die without it, & Mrs Morgan (who told me this) replied he had better die than live as he was living. For two or three days & nights he suffered dreadfully, upon falling asleep every minute & waking xx xxxxxxxx & xxxx almost instantly with violent screams. He now sleeps as well as you do. I saw him yesterday, & advised him as the best thing which could be done to take Mrs Morgan & her sister [29]  to Keswick till John Morgan could return & put them & himself in some way of life. As soon as breakfast is over I go there again that he may take me to see Alstones pictures. Alstone looks like a ghost, but is recovering.

Mrs Gonne charges me to say all kind things, & has desired me to take <bring> Robert & introduce him to her – she & the two girls [30]  are looking well. Mr G. does not appear in a more dangerous state than when you saw him: but I fear there is little hope of his recovery. Charles is disimproved: the younger boy a very fine one. [31]  Miss Noble [32]  was there & William Petrie. [33]  – I shall see Martha this morning. You may imagine in what hurry & haste I live when every hour & almost every minute is xx numbered. Love to all – God bless you. RS.


* Address: To Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland/ Single
Postmark: SE/ 7/ 1813
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 64-69; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 38-41 [in part]. BACK

[1] Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855; DNB), Christina, or, The Maid of the South Seas (1811). Southey’s copy was no. 1969 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Mary Christian (1759–1831), a neighbour of the Southeys in Keswick. BACK

[3] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), Paul et Virginie (1787). BACK

[4] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Etudes de la Nature (1784). BACK

[5] John Morgan’s brother-in-law. Not identified beyond the information given here. BACK

[6] The London-based silversmith Moses Brent (fl. 1775–1817). BACK

[7] Mary Morgan and her sister, Charlotte Brent (dates unknown). BACK

[8] Southey was trying to disentangle himself from the Ballantynes’ Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[9] Scott had written to Southey on 1 September [1813]; see H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12 vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. BACK

[10] The Poet Laureate, Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB). He died on 11 August 1813. BACK

[11] The indecipherable word was ‘option’. BACK

[12] Two earlier Poets Laureate: John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB) and Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB). BACK

[13] Scott held two legal offices: he was Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire (since 1799); and Principal Clerk of the Court of Session (since 1806). These posts gave him a combined salary of £1600 p.a. BACK

[14] Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, scene 2, line 85. BACK

[15] A proverbial saying. BACK

[16] Robert Southey to John Wilson Croker, [4 September 1813], Letter 2298. BACK

[17] Thomas Peregrine Courtenay had previously been a civil servant at the Exchequer, where he probably encountered Grosvenor Bedford. BACK

[18] Southey was writing a pamphlet entitled An Exposure of the Misrepresentations and Calumnies in Mr Marsh’s Review of Sir George Barlow’s Administration at Madras. By the Relatives of Sir George Barlow (1813). This was a defence of Sir George Barlow’s (1763–1846; DNB) conduct as Governor of Madras in 1807–1813, especially during the army mutiny of 1809. It was a direct reply to Charles Marsh (c. 1774–1835; DNB), Review of Some Important Passages in the Late Administration of Sir G. H. Barlow, Bart., at Madras (1813). BACK

[19] William Barlow (1759–1839) a merchant and neighbour of Herbert Hill’s in Streatham. His second wife was Louisa Harris (dates unknown) and they had three children. BACK

[20] As payment for Southey’s proposed History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[21] Captain George Ulric Barlow (1791–1824) of the 52nd and 69th Regiments of Foot. BACK

[22] Arabian Tales, translated into English in 1792 by Robert Heron (1764–1807; DNB). The ‘Dom-daniel’ the ‘chief nursery and retreat’ of evil magicians features in vol. 4 of Heron’s translation (esp. pp. 102, 191, 308, 339); and Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[23] Three jugglers from India were performing in London in summer 1813. Jugglers from India were renowned for their skill, see William Hazlitt’s ‘The Indian Jugglers’ (1821). BACK

[24] Edward Hill’s pronunciation of ‘Cousin Robert’, i.e. Southey. BACK

[25] Southey’s version of the story was first published in The Doctor, 7 vols (London, 1834–1847), IV, pp. 318–321. BACK

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

[27] Unidentified. BACK

[28] The dress Southey was required to wear for his official presentation at Court. BACK

[29] Charlotte Brent (dates unknown). BACK

[30] Mrs Gonne’s two younger daughters. Names and dates unknown. BACK

[31] Southey was Charles Gonne’s (1800–1877) godfather. The name of his younger brother is not known. BACK

[32] Unidentified. BACK

[33] William Petrie was probably the brother of the two Miss Petries who had been close friends of Southey in Portugal in 1800–1801. They may have been the children of Martin Petrie (d. 1805), Commissary General of the British Army in Portugal. BACK

People mentioned

Croker, John Wilson (1780–1857) (mentioned 4 times)
Morgan, Mary (b. 1782) (mentioned 3 times)
George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Murray, John Samuel (1778–1843) (mentioned 2 times)
Gonne, Mary (1768-1825) (mentioned 2 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 2 times)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 2 times)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Streatham (mentioned 1 time)