2323. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 5 November 1813

2323. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 5 November 1813 ⁠* 

London. Nov. 5. 1813

My dear Scott

If you have not guessed at the reason why your letter has lain ten weeks unanswered, you must have thought me a very thankless & graceless fellow, & very undeserving of such a letter. I waited from day to day that I might tell you all was compleated, & my patience was nearly exhausted in the process. Let me tell you the whole history in due order, before I express my feelings toward you upon the occasion. Upon receiving yours [1]  I wrote to Croker saying that the time was past when I could write verses upon demand, but that if it were understood that instead of the old formalities I might be at liberty to write upon great public events, or to be silent, as the spirit moved, in that case the office would become a mark of honourable distinction & I should be proud of accepting it. [2]  How this was to be managed he best knew: for of course, it was not for me to propose terms to the Prince. – When next I saw him he told me that after the appointment was compleated, he or some other person in the Princes confidence would suggest to him the fitness of making this reform in an office, which requires some reform to rescue it from the contempt into which it had fallen. – I thought all was settled, & expected every day to receive some official communication, but week after week past on. My head quarters at this time were at Streatham going one day into town to my brothers, I found that Lord Wm Gordon [3]  with whom I had left a card on my first arrival, had called three times on me in as many days, & had that morning requested that if I would call on him at eleven, twelve, one or two o clock. I went accordingly never dreaming of what the business could be, & wondering at it. He told me that the Marquis of Hertford was his brother-in-law, & had written to him as being my neighbour in the country, – placing in fact the appointment at his (Lord Wms) disposal, – wherefore he wished to see me to know if I wished to have it. The meaning of all this was easily seen, I was very willing to thank one person more, & especially a good natured man to whom I am indebted for many neighbourly civilities, he assured me that I should now soon hear from the Chamberlains Office & I departed accordingly in full expectation that two or three days more would settle the affair. But neither days nor weeks brought any farther intelligence, & if plenty of employments & avocations had not very much filled up my mind as <well as> my time, I should perhaps have taken dudgeon, & returned to my family & pursuits from which I had so long been absent.

At length after sundry ineffectual attempts owing sometimes to his absence, & once or twice to public business, I saw Croker once more, & he discovered for me that the delay originated in xxx a desire of Lord Hertford that Lord Liverpool should write to him, & ask the office for me. This calling-in the Prime Minister about the disposal of an office the net emoluments of which are about 90 £ a year, reminded me of the old proverb about shearing pigs. [4]  Lord Liverpool however was informed of this by Croker, the letter was written, & in the course of another week Lord Hertford wrote to Croker that he would give orders for making out the appointment; – a letter soon followed to say that the order was given, & that I might be sworn in whenever I pleased. – My pleasure however was the last thing to be consulted, after due enquiry on my part & some additional delays I received a note to say that if I would attend at the Chamberlains Office, at one o’clock on Thursday Nov. 4 a gentleman usher [5]  would be there to administer the oath. Now it so happened that I was engaged to go to Woburn [6]  on the xx Tuesday, meaning to return on Thursday to dinner, or remain a day longer as I might feel disposed. Down I went to the office & solicited a change in the day, – but this was in vain, – the gentleman-usher had been spoken to, & a Poet Laureat is an animal a creature of a lower description I obtained however two hours xx grace, – & <yesterday> by rising by candle-light & hurrying the post boys, reached the office to the minute. I swore to be a faithful servant to the King, to reveal all treasons which might come to my knowledge, to discharge the duties of my office & to obey the Lord Chamberlain in all matters of the Kings service, & in his stead the Vice Chamberlain, [7]  – God is henceforth to help me as I observe all this. Having taken this upon my soul I was thereby inducted into all the rights privileges & benefits which Henry James Pye [8]  xxx xx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xx did enjoy, or ought to have enjoyed.

The original salary of the office was 100 marks; it was raised for Ben Jonson [9]  to 100 pounds & a tierce of Spanish Canary Wine, now wickedly commuted for 26 £, which said sum, unlike the Canary is subject to income tax, land tax & heaven knows what taxes beside. The whole net income is little more or less than 90 £. It comes to me as a God-send & I have vested it in a life-policy, – adding xxxx by making it up 102 £ it covers an insurance for £3000 upon my own life. You I have never felt any painful anxiety as to providing for my family, – my mind is too buoyant, my animal spirits too good & I may add for this care ever to xx have affected my happiness, – & I may add that my a not-unbecoming trust in providence has ever supported my confidence in myself. But it is with the deepest feeling of thankfulness that I have xx secured this legacy for my wife & children, – & it is to you that I am primarily & chiefly indebted for this.

To the manner of your letter I am quite unable to reply. [10]  We shall both be remembered hereafter, & ill xxxx betide him who shall institute a comparison between us. There has been no race; – we have both got to the top of the hill by different paths, & meet there not as rivals but as friends, each rejoicing in the success of the other.

I wait for the Levee, [11]  & hope to find a place in the mail for Penrith on the evening after it, – for I am have the Swiss malady, & am home-sick. [12]  Remember me to Mrs Scott & your daughter [13]  & believe me my dear Scott

most truly & affectionately yours

Robert Southey.


* Watermark: crown with fleur de lys
Endorsement: the New Laureate/ 5 November 1813
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3884. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), IV, pp. 46-49. BACK

[1] Scott’s letter of 1 September [1813], telling Southey that he had declined the Poet Laureateship and instead recommended him to Croker. He also cautioned ‘I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, and as at present managed, its duties are inconvenient and somewhat liable to ridicule’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. BACK

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

[3] Lord William Gordon (1744–1823), son of Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon (1720–1752). He owned the Waterend estate on the west side of Derwentwater and was married to Frances Ingram-Shepherd (1761–1841), sister of Isabella Anne Ingram-Shepherd (1760–1834), second wife of the Marquis of Hertford, the Lord Chamberlain. BACK

[4] ‘“Great cry and little wool,” said the fool, when he sheared a pig.’ BACK

[5] Hale Young Wortham (1747–1820), First Gentleman Usher and Daily Waiter on His Majesty. BACK

[6] The seat of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB), the patron of Herbert Hill’s living at Streatham. BACK

[7] Francis Charles Seymour-Conway (1777–1842; DNB), who, as heir to the Marquessate of Hertford, held the courtesy title Lord Yarmouth. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent, who appointed him to the post of vice-chamberlain in 1812. BACK

[8] The poet-politician Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Poet Laureate 1790–1813. BACK

[9] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), Poet Laureate 1616–1637. BACK

[10] Scott had assured Southey, ‘you are my better in poetry’; see Walter Scott to Robert Southey, 19 October 1813, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 364–366. BACK

[11] In order to be presented at Court. BACK

[12] The idea of homesickness (nostalgia) as a peculiarly Swiss illness was explored by Johannes Hofer (1669–1752) in his Dissertatio medica de nostalgia, oder Heimehe (1688), which tried to develop a scientific theory to explain the symptoms suffered by Swiss mercenaries serving abroad. BACK

[13] Charlotte Sophia Scott (1799–1837). BACK

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)