49. Robert Southey to Thomas Davis Lamb, 17-29 May 1793

49. Robert Southey to Thomas Davis Lamb, 17–29 May 1793 ⁠* 

Bedford. May 17. Friday. 10 o clock. 1793.

En verite mon cher mais mon negligent aimee c’est un trop long tems since I heard from you. helas — ecrire François est tres difficile pour me ecrire & pour vous entendre — allons a la mode Anglais [1]  hear how I came to this town. we have a fortnights vacation — too short a time to go home for & too long to remain at Oxford. Seward has a brother at Cambridge — Southey says he will you walk there? — agreed — I am not used to long deliberation. how many miles? but 80 — three days journey ευζωνω ανδρι says Herodotus — so we ευζωnd [2]  ourselves. a change of linen — Statius. [3]  my writing book & this large sheet of paper with two companion combs — toothbrush — pencil & asses skin gloves handkerchief & stick were my preparations. his much resembled them & on yesterday morning soon after four o clock we girded our loins & set forth. one friend accompanied us three miles & then left us to our journey — the nightingale sung most delightfully — the morning was cool & fine & our spirits were good. experience had given us confidence. we passed a pretty village called Kiddlington Green four miles from Oxford & proceeded thro Wendlebury another village to the town of Bicester thirteen miles in all — a place remarkable for neat cottages & a handsome church & which we may remember by having there made an excellent breakfast — we intended only to reach Buckingham that night 25 miles but Stowe Gardens tempted us to take a circuit of 8 more & so without getting one step farther from Oxford we made the first days journey 33. the house is handsome but I should think rather built to look magnificent than to be comfortable. the inside we did not see & indeed to us who are no connoisseurs in pictures there can be little to attract in huge rooms & long galleries. as you enter the temple of Friendship is the first object — the gardens themselves are crowded with statues temples busts & Obelisks one would imagine the designer had read Ovid [4]  & Homer till he believed all their fables & tried his hand at metamorphosing. at one corner you see Diana [5]  at another a pillar consecrated Divæ Carolinæ [6]  — here a monument to Capt Cook [7]  — there a temple to Antient Virtue, & here one to the Queen [8]  for her conduct during the regency. the compliment in this would have been better if the Marquis [9]  had not unconsecrated it from the Ladies to make room for her majesty. presently comes a Gothic temple. & a Grecian bridge — some new ruins & cascades murmuring & rolling in uniformity when the Magician who grouped these contradicities together touches the talisman or more literally turns the cock. our trouble however was well recompensed. the gardens are well worth seeing & the buildings though very ridiculously situated are beautiful when abstractedly considered. as pieces of architecture they are very fine & could we imagine ourselves in the days of Greece or Rome, could we fancy Ld Cobham [10]  the founder to be Lucullus, [11]  or the Marquis Buckingham a Cicero [12]  it might not perhaps appear so unnatural. by this time you have had enough of Stowe Gardens. we slept at Buckingham a town for nothing remarkable that I saw except the castle or gaol. our accommodations were not excellent at the Inn but we needed no rocking to sleep. next morning up we were at five & proceeded on thro Old Stratford to breakfast at Stoney Stratford. leaving this we passed a village called Wolverton where I observed many walls covered with cow dung dried & stuck on. for what purpose unless to prevent the cattle from licking the walls we knew not. at Newport Pagnell an ugly small town we laid in a new stock of oranges — & took some bread & cheese at a very pretty village called Chichvey. soon after about two o clock we washed our feet in a brook. it was one of the highest luxuries you can imagine & I felt quite refreshed by it. we reachd Bedford soon afterwards which made our days journey 29 miles & there whilst dinner was preparing I began this letter to you.

Bedford is by no means a pretty town yet the church is handsome & there is a free school with a very good statue of the founder over the door. the bridge is very remarkable for its antiquity & strength. formerly there were two forts upon it which stood a long siege during the reign (I think) of K John. [13]  these have not been demolishd many years. the river Ouse is there very wide & from the window where we were it had been easy to have caught a dinner of fish. your letter gave place to dinner & after that important business was dispatchd we enquird how far to Cambridge? 30 miles. this seemed so much for the third days walk that in order to shorten it we girded our loins & immediately proceeded 12 miles on to Eaton. a village upon the London & York road where there is an excellent inn. 41 miles had gained us an appetite. we rose not till six next morning but instead of proceeding straight forwards resolved upon a circuit of 8 miles to make Huntingdon in our way. fortunately Buckden where the Bishop of Lincoln has a palace lay between. here we made a most capital breakfast & proceeded thro Huntingdon & Godmanchester to another meal at Fenstanton. Sparrow [14]  has lately succeeded his Uncle to a very pretty seat between Buckden & Huntingdon. the country of Cambridgeshire is without exception the ugliest I ever beheld. flat & open with scarce a tree “to break the amplitude of space. the town itself I do not think any ways equal to Oxford tho Kings college chapel is far superior to any building there. I saw little Jack [Southey inserts sketch of a hangman] O Keefe [15]  & met Burrell [16]  frequently at St Johns the college where Sewards brother is. old Bunbury after passing me once or twice recollected me & apologized for his forgetfulness in much confusion — a nod when we accidentally was all the after communication!

on our return we dined at Royston & proceeded thro Baldock to Hitchin where we passed the night. the next day thro Dunstable & Tring to Aylesbury & the third — thro Thame we reachd Balliol to tea.

after travelling over a tract of two hundred miles I have found this country infinitely more agreable than any on the road & yet this country is very far from pleasant. the hills here (mountains in comparison of all we have seen) are but as mole hills.

our Installation begins the third of July — I expect to see you then. Bedford will be with me & the Doctor with C Collins. you will then in person consult about your entering at Ch. Ch & (perhaps) determine. I promise you the best accommodations the time will afford — the croud [MS torn] immense & ten guineas are given for a very paltry room almost [MS torn] to Balliol.

has Combe told you how we served young Wynn in the woods? leaving him to sport fresco like a young satyr with the game keeper at the cool evening hour? it was the best thing ever done to Wynn & that you know is saying a good deal. Bedford was so delighted with hearing of it that he requests a repitition of the amusement. the Satyr is at present gone to see his brother [17]  who is now in Devonshire just returned from polishing himself in Russia! Phillimore Kidd & Corne [18]  came down Monday night. poor Griff Lloydds [19]  father came up to town for a week & died — he has left school. Joe Duck [20]  is head — & here probably ends all the information I shall ever be able to give concerning Westminster.

I should not omit to tell you that we heard Friends defence in the senate house at Cambridge & a most capital piece of oratory it was. he is tried for publishing a scandalous pamphlet entitled Peace & Union [21]  which contains severe reflections upon the Liturgy of the English church magnanimous Mr Ward [22]  stood behind me all the time. & I saw the never-enough-to-be-renowned — the-most-justly-to-be celebrated — the paragon of all that is wise — the great Mr Wingfield! “O we have met” — so turn to the British Album & there read the Interview: only substitute me for Della Crusca [23]  and Mr Wingfield for Anna Matilda [24]  & remember that we only lookd our thoughts at one another I would describe it but it is already well picturd there

surprizd amazd I lookd amidst the wood
And there the gentle Doctor conscious stood!
His grey wig waving to the evening breese.  [25] 

this letter has been long in hand & I have no room to relate the adventure of Ely cathedral as how my neck was like to be broke & as how I was lost in a dark passage — with many more as how’s equally terrific. this however you shall have at large either by letter or at our meeting which I hope will be soon. be kind enough to make my respects to all friends at Rye. & thank your father for his very kind letter. during the long his Majesty certainly would send his compliments were he here — but as he is not I act as his minister & transmit them officially.

yrs sincerely.

R Southey.

May 29th.

Balliol. Oxford.


* Address: T D Lamb Esqr/ Mountsfield Lodge/ Rye/ Sussex./ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: DMA/ 30/ 93
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (35). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s schoolboy French translates as: ‘In truth my dear but negligent friend it is a very long time since I heard from you. Alas — to write French is very difficult for me to write and for you to understand — now in English’. BACK

[2] The first Greek phrase translates as ‘for a well-girt man’, used three times by Herodotus as a measure of distance. Southey then has fun coining a hybrid Greek-English word, ‘well-girted’. BACK

[3] Publius Papinius Statius (c. AD 45–96). Southey probably had a copy of the Thebaid with him on his travels. BACK

[4] Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC–AD 17), whose works included the Amores, Heroides, Ars Amatoria, Fasti and Tristia. BACK

[5] Roman goddess of the hunt. BACK

[6] This translates as ‘the divine Caroline’ and refers to a statue of Queen Caroline (1683–1737; DNB), wife of George II (1683–1760; reigned 1727–1760; DNB). BACK

[7] James Cook (1728–1779; DNB), explorer. BACK

[8] Queen Charlotte (1744–1818; DNB), wife of George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820; DNB). The temple ‘to the Queen’ was originally designed in 1742 for Lady Cobham (d. 1760), wife of the owner of Stowe, and was known informally as ‘the ladies temple’. In 1790, it was renamed ‘The Queen’s Temple’ in honour of Queen Charlotte’s conduct during the regency crisis of 1788–1789. BACK

[9] George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753–1813; DNB), owner of Stowe. BACK

[10] Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1675–1749; DNB), politician and landowner, created the garden at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. BACK

[11] Lucius Licinius Lucullus (c. 110–57 BC), Roman consul and famed gourmet. BACK

[12] Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC), Roman orator and politician. BACK

[13] John (1167–1216; reigned 1199–1216; DNB). BACK

[14] Robert Sparrow (1773–1805) had bullied Southey at Westminster School. He later achieved the rank of Brigadier General and died in the West Indies. BACK

[15] John Tottenham O’Keefe (d. 1803). Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge and Exeter College, Oxford (BA 1801), he was a school friend of Southey’s. BACK

[16] Charles Meyrick Burrell, Bart. (1774–1862). Educated at Westminster School and St John’s College, Cambridge (matric. 1791), he was later MP for New Shoreham and, from 1850, Father of the House of Commons. A keen agriculturalist, Burrell was later responsible for introducing the white or Belgian carrot into Britain and conducting experiments in cattle feeding. BACK

[17] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840; DNB), older brother of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn. BACK

[18] Westminster School friends of Southey: John Kidd (1775–1851; DNB), eminent doctor, Aldrichian Professor of Chemistry 1803–1824, Regius Professor of Medicine 1824–1851, University of Oxford; Corne is unidentified. BACK

[19] Griffith Lloyd (d. 1843), educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1797). BACK

[20] Unidentified; perhaps a nickname for a fellow pupil at Westminster School. BACK

[21] William Frend (1757–1841; DNB), Peace and Union Recommended to the Associated Bodies of Republicans and Anti-Republicans (1793). Frend was tried by the university authorities in May 1793. BACK

[22] Thomas Watson Ward (d. 1825), an Usher at Westminster School during Southey’s time there. BACK

[23] Southey is quoting the opening line of ‘The Interview’, published in The British Album (1788). ‘Della Crusca’ is the pseudonym of Robert Merry (1755–1798; DNB). BACK

[24] The pseudonym of Hannah Cowley (1743–1809; DNB). BACK

[25] A parody of Robert Merry, ‘The Interview’, lines 37–39. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 3 times)
Mountsfield Lodge, Rye (mentioned 1 time)