1065. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 11 May 1805

1065. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 11 May 1805 ⁠* 

If I do not answer a letter as soon as it is received – it is likely to remain long unanswered – & that is the history of my long silence. Just as the thing is fresh there is a disposition to talk in reply, – but if this be suffered to go off – the whole evaporates like the life of a glass of bottled ale – Besides be pleased always to take it for granted when you do not hear from us that all is going on well, & just as usual. Any calamity – any good fortune – if an earthquake were to shake down the house – or the sky were to fall – the tidings would reach you quite soon enough.

I have [three line deletion] it came into my head to say this because [three line deletion].

Should my little girl live, which God knows is of all dreams the one which I least venture to indulge – I mean that she shall be taught to draw – chiefly I hope by your Senhoraship – as soon as she can hold a pencil. & I mean to make it subservient to useful purposes. for instance I will have the whole history of a tree in a series of drawings. – the first appearance of the seed above ground – & so on thru all its stages – the various appearances of its foliage from the first bud to the fall – its flower – fruit &c – & thus thro all the English trees. – But I will talk of something else – for to lay up hopes is to lay up evil for oneself if they be frustrated.

My great book [1]  Wynn tells me is almost as universally admired as he could wish, & that he says so is as much as I can desire. The great admirers of Thalaba [2]  will probably prefer Thalaba, – the difference is as between the Tempest & the Coriolanus or the Timon. [3]  The one poem relates to fancy; the other to human character. I have just been saying in another letter that Madoc looks as if I were grown old before my time – the tone of thought & feeling is so sober, & the whole colouring so like that of an evening sunshine. but the whole character was given it before Thalaba was written, – it was pitched seven years ago. [4]  – I am satisfied with it – & die when I may, my monument is made. Senhora that I shall one day have a monument in St Pauls [5]  is more certain than I should chuse to say to every body – but it was a strange feeling which I had when I was last in St Pauls & thought so. How think you shall I look in marble? they will wrap me I suppose in some outlandish dress – such as Edith would not let me wear, & indeed such as I should not chuse to wear in this cold climate. but if my own opinion may be taken I beg leave to inform posterity that I am at this present drest in corderoy pantaloons – a waistcoat after the fashion of the year of our Lord 1804. & a brown jacket – which once was a brown coat. all which I should like better than a fancy dress – tho perhaps trousers which I wear quite as often are better than tighter cloathing. I am never for sacrificing costume to beauty. Whoever should paint Queen Elizabeth [6]  without her ruff & stomacher, or Harry the 8th [7]  with his hat straight upon his head – ought to be whipt at the carts tail.

We have no sweet-scented violets in this country – nor any cowslips near Keswick. bring some seeds with you – & let us leave them as a legacy to Cumberland. there is a stone – or rock it may be called some three & a half miles from hence. fretted by the weather in such regular lines that they appear like cornices, & the whole looks like an architectural ruin. It is exquisitely overhung by little trees & I had remarked it long before I discovered that Gilpin had remarked it before me. [8]  he just mentions it – enough to show that its singularity had struck him. It has escaped all other tourists & guides. – I have named it Gilpins Stone – in honour of a good man, – & should like to sow round it the first violets which have ever grown in Cumberland. this stone you are to draw, for it is as beautiful as it is extraordinary.

I am correcting Joan of Arc for a new edition. [9]  the property is not my own, so that this trouble is as unprofitable as it is unpleasant.

Get me I beseech you the Welsh Parsons book about the Fairies! [10]  it will be of infinite use for my Spaniard. – & collect for me anecdotes of Joanna Southcote. [11] 

God bless you


May 11. 1805.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: KESWICK/ 298
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 151–154.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 323–325. BACK

[1] Madoc, which was published in a luxury quarto, costing 2 guineas, in April 1805. BACK

[2] Southey’s poem, Thalaba the Destroyer, published in 1801. BACK

[3] Plays by Shakespeare: The Tempest, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens. BACK

[4] On the protracted genesis and rewriting of Madoc see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II. BACK

[5] There is a bust of Southey in Westminster Abbey, another in Bristol Cathedral, and a monument in Crosthwaite church, Keswick. BACK

[6] Elizabeth I (1533–1603, Queen of England and Ireland 1558–1603; DNB). BACK

[7] Henry VIII (1491–1547, King of England and Ireland 1509–1547; DNB). BACK

[8] ‘In our passage through the valley of Watenlath, we met with many fragments of rocks, in which the several component strata were very strongly marked. In some they could not have been more regularly formed by a rule and chissel: and in a few, (whose softer lares the weather had decayed,) as perfect cornices remained, as art could have produced’, William Gilpin (1724–1804; DNB), Observations, on Several Parts of England, Particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London, 1788), I, p. 221. BACK

[9] A third edition of Joan of Arc was published in 1806. BACK

[10] Edmund Jones (1702–1793), A Relation of Ghosts and Apparitions which Commonly Appear in the Principality of Wales (1767). Jones is cited in Barker’s A Welsh Story, 3 vols (London, 1798), I, p. 53n: ‘See the Rev. ____ Jones’s invaluable account of the Welsh Fairies, lately published’. BACK

[11] An account of the prophet Joanna Southcott is given in Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807), Letter 70. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Crosthwaite Church (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)