3593. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 28 December 1820

3593. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 28 December 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 28 Dec. 1820

My dear Sir

The watch, [1]  for which I have to return my daughter Edith’s best thanks, has been safely delivered by Mr Senhouse; & is now awaiting Ediths return from Mr Wordsworths, where she has been upon a long visit, & whither I am going early in the next week, for the purpose of bringing her home. Thank you also for the liberal supply of Quassey seeds, [2]  – for which I must not forget that Mr Ponsonby [3]  desires me to return his acknowledgements. I have given some to Calvert, Mrs Crothers & Wordsworth, so that you have stocked the country. This reminds me of your garden & by an easy connection, of a question which I found lately in one of St Pierre’s works, which & which your friend Mr Andrew Knight [4]  is more likely to explain than any other person: – how is the common fact to be accounted for, that a peach-stone is frequently found broken to pieces in the fruit, the fruit itself having received no injury? St Pierre asks if it is caused by “electricity, vegetable or animal,” – with reference I suppose to some of his fanciful theories. [5]  The fact is common enough, & I wonder at not having wondered at it & asked myself the question before. The possible solution which occurs to me is that the kernel may have grown too large for its shell & burst it: – there must be some reason why the stone instead of being smooth like that of other fruit is fretted with hollow-work; – it would give way, I think, more easily because of that formation, to an internal force.

My radical neighbours here behaved well in their triumph for the Queens escape from justice: they illuminated their own houses but did not molest the half-dozen persons in the town who put up no light on the occasion. [6]  I was glad when the night was over, having hardly expected to escape without a few stones. At all times I would face a mob, & should do it by day-light with as much confidence as Wesley [7]  himself; – but the chance of making any impression upon them would be very much lessened by darkness. The eye has as much power as the voice, perhaps more; – & besides you see to whom you <to> address yourself. – This mention of Wesley brings to my mind a communication which I have recently received concerning him from the Dean of Worcester, [8]  affecting his character seriously very seriously. It is the copy of one of those letters which Mrs Wesley carried off when she finally separated from him. [9]  The Dean vouches for its authenticity, & has given me references by which to authenticate it. The letter is from one of his female disciples, [10]  & bears strong marks of authenticity, – I am sorry to say. She was a virtuous <young> woman over whose mind he had obtained the most unbounded influence, & with whose person he, at the age of sixty five, had taken the most unwarrantable liberties, – such as both to shock & alarm her, while she yet remonstrates in the strongest language of reverence as well as affection: – I put it in a green bag [11]  before I laid it upon the Ladies table below stairs for their perusal & judgement. Should it prove authentic (which I fear it will do) I cannot avoid making the fact public, & a very great stir it will inevitably excite. [12] 

At present I am enjoying the proof sheets of my History of the War, [13]  having received the first four on Christmas day. This is a great pleasure. I have also sent to the press the poem in hexameters [14]  of which you saw the commencement: they who bear me no good will, will abuse both the metre & the matter; – which they may do till their hearts ache without in the slightest degree affecting my tranquillity. The first proof has not reached me yet, & I am curious to see how such long lines will look in print. As I have something to say concerning the metre in a preface, [15]  the book will be thick enough to make something more than a pamphlett, & therefore to be put in boards & take an upright place upon the shelf. I trust you will receive it in the course of four or five weeks.

Mrs S. & her sisters [16]  desire their kindest remembrances. They & the children [17]  are at present, thank God, tolerably well. Winter is only now setting in, with keen, high winds, which visit me far too roughly by the fire side. I hope you have good accounts from Wade. [18]  We shall begin soon to think of Turkey as a good settled government. – The great Powers have a difficult task at this time – My advice would be to let Naples, as well as Spain alone, – & the condition of both countries would soon serve as an aweful warning. [19]  Remember me most kindly to Mrs Browne & your daughters, [20]  – not forgetting Mary, [21]  & believe me

my dear Sir, yours very truly Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Wade Browne Esqre/ Ludlow
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 219–221. BACK

[1] A present for Edith May Southey that Browne had ordered from Paris; see Southey to Edith May Southey, 25–29 April 1820, Letter 3470. BACK

[2] Probably seeds of the shrub, Quassia amara. BACK

[3] John Ponsonby (dates unknown), a retired officer in the Royal Navy who lived at Ormathwaite. BACK

[4] Thomas Andrew Knight (1759–1838; DNB), of Downton Castle, Herefordshire. He was a leading horticulturist and botanist, and President of the London Horticultural Society 1811–1838. BACK

[5] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), Harmonies of Nature, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 85–86. BACK

[6] Under extreme pressure from George IV, the Cabinet had reluctantly agreed to introduce a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive the King’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore had announced the Bill would be withdrawn. As was customary when a national victory was celebrated, many householders put lighted candles in their windows. This occurred at different dates in different towns, mostly between 11 November and 16 November 1820; in Keswick the celebrations occurred on 15 November 1820. BACK

[7] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB). Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820) had included many anecdotes of how ‘Wesley … never, on any occasion, lost his calmness or his self-possession’ (II, p. 31) when faced with an angry mob. BACK

[8] John Banks Jenkinson (1781–1840; DNB), Dean of Worcester, 1817–1825, Bishop of St David’s 1825–1840. BACK

[9] Mary Wesley (1709/10–1781). She was a widow at the time of her marriage to John Wesley in 1751. The relationship was troubled and on 23 January 1771 Mary left her husband for the final time. She took with her ‘part of his Journals, and many other papers, which were never restored’, Southey, The Life of Wesley; and The Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), II, p. 302. BACK

[10] Elizabeth Briggs (1751–1822), whose family were devout Methodists and close friends of John Wesley. BACK

[11] The evidence, much of it relating to sexual misconduct, in support of the Bill of Pains and Penalties to deprive Caroline of Brunswick of her title of Queen and dissolve her marriage to George IV, was famously presented to parliament in two green bags. BACK

[12] Southey went to great pains to investigate the authenticity of his information; see Southey to [Glocester Wilson], 29 December 1820, Letter 3596. He eventually decided the matter was unproven and did not publish it. BACK

[13] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[14] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[15] A Vision of Judgement (1821), ‘Preface’, pp. ix–xxvii. BACK

[18] Wade Browne (1796–1851), only son of Wade Browne and later a country gentleman at Monkton Farleigh in Somerset. He had graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1819 and was travelling in Europe and the Near East. BACK

[19] A series of liberal revolutions in Italy had begun with a mutiny in Naples in July 1820. An army mutiny in Spain in January 1820 had led to the restoration of the Constitution of 1812 in March 1820. Both countries, though, were in considerable turmoil. The revolution in Naples was crushed by Austria in 1821, and that in Spain was ended by French intervention in 1823. BACK

[20] Browne’s three daughters by his first marriage: Lydia (c. 1789–1864); Elizabeth; and Sarah. BACK

[21] Mary (dates unknown), Browne’s only child by his second marriage. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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