3390. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 17 November 1819

3390. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 17 November 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 17 Nov. 1819.

My dear Senhouse

You will probably have heard or seen that an Address of Mr Wallace’s composition has been substituted for that which I sent to you, - [1]  the objections which struck you having occurred to him, & to others also. It is not therefore worth while to enter into an explanation of what was laid aside: – in all such cases to need explanation is fault enough. The fault at Manchester, according to what I have heard, was in employing the yeomanry instead of the regular troops. [2]  This was obviously done as appearing the least obnoxious But after bearing a great deal of outrage & injury, they lost their temper, which disciplined soldiers would not have done, & did more mischief than was necessary in dispersing the rascally rabble. This account is probable, & came to me upon good authority. I do not believe that the Magistrates committed any other error. The illegality of the meeting, if any meeting can be illegal, is plain; & the civil power was not sufficient to execute the warrant. But enough of this. Whether the crisis of this distemper is at hand we shall soon see. The sooner it comes the better, for I have not that confidence either in the foresight, or in the resolution of the Ministers to believe that that they will take such measures as might avert it. My advice would be not to suspend the Habeas Corpus, [3]  because it can only be a temporary measure, & therefore the good which it might produce would be temporary also; but to make banishment the punishment for sedition & blasphemy, & to prosecute libels as fast as they appear, to make new laws with regard to seditious meetings, & to prevent all delay in bringing offenders to trial. [4]  The press might then be kept within some bounds, & if that evil were checked there might be some hope that the country would recover xx a healthy state of feeling.

I have been at Whitehaven, for the first time. [5]  Sir Joseph Senhouse [6]  dined at the Castle while I was there, – a fine old man. He told me that Netherhall had never been forsaken before, [7]  & said so with a subdued feeling which set him high in my good graces. If other nations have no word for home, we have no single one which can convey the meaning of the solar of the Spaniards, in which as many good feelings have their root, & those of a high order. Yours is unquestionably one of the oldest in this kingdom. – Nothing in Scotland [8]  pleased me more than the family burial grounds in the Highlands, – there is something about them so sacred & solitary, – & so well in keeping with the severe xxxxx character of the country. But I admired them also as tending to keep up that love of the natal soil, which all the circumstances of society in this age tend to weaken.

We are in daily expectation of seeing Kenyon here. He buried his wife at Naples, in the spring. [9]  This is but an unfavourable season for revisiting <coming into> the country after an interval of thirteen or fourteen years; [10]  but a sunshiny day will do wonders even in November; – & long as that interval is, he is not yet far enough advanced into the yellow leaf of life [11]  to feel more of pain than of pleasure in revisiting scenes which he formerly enjoyed.

Fisher of Cockspur Street [12]  whose purchase of this house was suspended by proceedings in Chancery, is dead; – & has left 50,000£ to his brother at Seatoller – in Borrodale. [13]  This enormous accession of wealth has turned his head; – the care I suppose, & the bustle of thought which it brought with it, having called into action a constitutional tendency to mental derangement. – My landlord [14]  is out of jail. I know not by what means, – & I app it is not unlikely that another sale of the property may take place, as Chancery suits cannot be kept up without considerable expence. – I have myself the <some> prospect of an evil of this kind, arising from the death of Lord Somerville. [15]  Estates of about a thousand a year were bequeathed to him in his infancy by his mothers Uncle; with the intention that they should revert to the Southeys in case of his dying without issue. [16]  Lord Somerville notwithstanding the entail sold the whole property, & I have now to ascertain whether or not it can be recovered. The will in question has been more than once pronounced to be one of the most confused that ever was made. [17]  At present I am seeking advice upon the subject, – & certainly I must be very strongly advised before I shall venture to incur the great & certain evil of engaging in law. [18]  Lord S. died at Vevay, [19]  – his life would have been thought a better one than mine. My relationship to him is very remote, – that of third cousin, – but he had no nearer in that line. – I had xxxxxxxxx & xxxxxx that my

I saw Scotland to the best advantage, – in delightful weather, & every where with persons in our suite who knew every thing about the country. [20]  How strikingly the character of the country seems to accord with that of the people! – Have you seen Peters Letters? [21]  – the joint composition of Wilson of Ellory, & the Isle of Palms, [22]  & a Mr Lockhart, – both also being the great writers in Blackwoods Magazine. [23]  It is a clever book, written with very considerable talents, but there is something hateful to me in serving up living characters, at the table of whether they are peppered & grilled for satire, or have the oil of flattery for their sauce. [24] 

Remember us to the Miss Woods & the children, x [25] 

& believe me

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Can you learn where I may direct to Landor, – which I have neglected so long that I know not where to find him now.


* Address: To/ Humphrey Senhouse Esqre/ Fingest Grove/ Stoken Church/ Oxfordshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: red wax, design illegible
Watermark: G W/ 1816; embossed seal with crown, BATH
MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Following the ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 16 August 1819, Whigs in Cumberland organised a County Meeting on 13 October 1819 to protest at the local authorities’ actions and send an Address to the Prince Regent. Southey drew up a conservative response – an Address to the Prince Regent denouncing the radicals and calling for curbs on the press; see Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, [15 October 1819], Letter 3366. The tone and content of the Address were objected to by moderate supporters of the government in the Lake District, led by Thomas Wallace (1768–1844; DNB), MP for various seats 1790–1828, including Cockermouth 1813–1818, member of the Board of Control 1807–1816, Vice-President of the Board of Trade 1818–1823, and later 1st Baron Wallace. Southey’s Address was suppressed and Wallace drew up a replacement, which was published in the Morning Chronicle on 29 October 1819; it was notably circumspect in its reference to events at ‘Peterloo’. BACK

[2] When the Manchester magistrates ordered the arrest of the main speakers at the meeting at St Peter’s Field on 16 August 1819, the task was delegated to the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, a body of upper-class local volunteers; they began to attack the crowd indiscriminately, and the crowd responded by throwing brickbats at the Yeomanry. Finally, the meeting was dispersed by regular troops, primarily the 15th Hussars. BACK

[3] Habeas corpus is the legal principle that prevents detention without trial; it was suspended for one year from March 1817. BACK

[4] When parliament reassembled on 23 November 1819, the government produced its proposals for the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation. Among this legislation, the Criminal Libel Act (1819) made banishment the punishment for a second offence and anyone breaching the sentence was to be transported for 14 years. The original version of the Bill had made transportation for seven years the punishment for a second offence and death the punishment of last resort. The government also produced a new Seditious Meetings Act (1819). BACK

[5] Whitehaven Castle, a mansion owned by William Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale. Southey visited in mid-October 1819. BACK

[6] Sir Joseph Senhouse (1743–1829), Senhouse’s uncle. He had spent time as Comptroller of Customs in Dominica, acquired a small coffee plantation on the island, and returned to England in 1779. At this time he managed the Lowther family’s electoral interests in Carlisle. BACK

[7] While Netherhall was being renovated, Senhouse had been living abroad and at Fingest House in Buckinghamshire. BACK

[8] Southey’s tour of Scotland had lasted from 17 August until 1 October 1819. For his comments on Highland burial grounds, see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 127–128, 176. BACK

[9] Susan Kenyon (d. 1818). BACK

[10] Kenyon had visited Southey in 1804; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 21 November 1804, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 991. BACK

[11] Macbeth, Act 5, scene 3, line 23. BACK

[12] Isaac Fisher (c. 1773–1819), member of a Borrowdale farming family and a gold and silversmith in Cockspur Street, London, had bought Greta Hall in June 1817. However, legal complications arising from the previous landlord’s debts had halted the purchase. BACK

[13] John Fisher (c. 1760–1835), a wealthy farmer, of Seatoller House in Borrowdale. BACK

[14] Samuel Tolson, Junr (dates unknown). He had been imprisoned for debt in Carlisle gaol in 1817, leading to the abortive sale of Greta Hall to Isaac Fisher. However, Tolson retained the ownership of Greta Hall until after Southey’s death. BACK

[15] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset that Somerville had inherited. BACK

[16] Somerville’s mother was Elizabeth Cannon Lethbridge (d. 1765), the daughter of Mary Southey (1704–1789) and niece of John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). The latter had inherited the Fitzhead estate from his mother Mary Cannon (1678–1738). On his death, John Cannon Southey had left a complex, ill-advised will which named Somerville as his primary heir, and, if he should die without heirs, Southey’s father and two uncles as the residuary legatees, their rights passing, in turn, to their children. Of the three Southey brothers only Southey’s father married, leading the poet to believe (after the death of his father and paternal uncles) that he and his brothers were now the rightful heirs to the Fitzhead estate. BACK

[17] John Cannon Southey’s will had been the subject of earlier judicial hearings, all of which had struggled with the will’s complexities; for example, on 27 March 1807, Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine (1750–1823; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1806–1807, had delivered a judgment in the Court of Chancery in the case of Southey v. Lord Somerville. BACK

[18] Southey eventually decided not to pursue legal action. BACK

[19] Lord Somerville died ‘At Vevay, in Switzerland, on his return home, having spent the previous winter in Italy, and the last summer in France, for the recovery of his health’, Gentleman’s Magazine, 89 (October 1819), 370. BACK

[20] Southey’s companions included John Rickman and Thomas Telford. BACK

[21] Lockhart was the author of Peter’s Letters to His Kinsfolk (1819), no. 2223 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey had been given his copy in Edinburgh on 17 August 1819, Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), p. 4. BACK

[22] Wilson’s The Isle of Palms, and Other Poems (1812). BACK

[23] Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1817–1980); it had originally been named the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. It was owned and managed by William Blackwood. BACK

[24] Peter’s Letters was narrated by the fictional Welshman Peter Morris, and provided pen-portraits of key individuals in contemporary Scottish cultural life, including Francis Jeffrey and Walter Scott. BACK

[25] Senhouse’s cousins, Mary Anne Wood (1781–1860) and Frances Wood (dates unknown); and Senhouse’s children, Elizabeth (1805–1890), Catherine (d. 1853), Ellen (1808–1838) and Humphrey (1809–1834). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)