1079. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 6 July 1805

1079. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 6 July 1805 ⁠* 

You do well to read travels, which are almost the only modern books worth reading. You speak of Pallas just as I have spoken, for it fell to my lot to review his first volume in the first Annual. [1]  the second was sent to another hand, because I suppose mine did not quite please the publishers of a dull & dear book. I have not seen the other Travels which you mention. My own Letters I dislike because they would have been so infinitely better had I kept them unpublished till this time.  [2]  there are materials enough in this very room for another such a volume, which would cost me little more trouble than the mere manual labour of writing. I shall wait till I have been once more to Portugal, & then melt down the former volume & make a good book. Perhaps you may make the drawings – at least more unlikely things have taken place. for you have the inclination & I have the inclination, & if ever Edith should accompany me she would wish & want a female friend. Now gentle Jupiter do I beseech thee just entertain the Senhora [3]  with such a shower as you did Danae, [4]  – or gentle Apollo do I beseech thee indue one of my hands with the virtue of Midas [5]  – & I will actually & truly be very willing to take his ears into the bargain.

I begged & besought you to borrow or steal for me the Welshmans book about the fairies, & I do again intreat & implore you so to do. [6]  It will be a treasure to Don Manuel Alvares Espriella [7]  – to whom I shall be very happy to have the honour of introducing you. Forget not to pack up with you whatever you think may be of use to the Senhor Señor (mark you how his title is spelt – he being a Spaniard) – in particular all the documents about Joanna Southcote, [8]  & if she have published any pamphlets &c buy them for me – for doubtless, they will be to be had at Wolverhampton.– About your coming. Danvers is now on the road to occupy the bed which is to be yours. he will stay a month – so I conceive, not longer, – as soon as he is gone & of the time fixed for his departure you shall have early notice, – the sooner you make your appearance the better. not on account of season, for till Xmas all will be in the best order, – but because it is always foolish to lose time – delays are dangerous in making a visit, as well as in making love.

Madoc flourishes, – more than I had expected. it is a good poem, & on its present plan could not have been better, still I feel in myself powers which could have produced a better. [9]  Madoc himself is of too philosophic a character to be quite fit for poetry, – he may be admired & loved, – but cannot be sympathized with, because he is never in that state of feeling & passion which excites sympathy. Here is the advantage which Thalaba possesses. [10]  amid all that bustle of incident – that pantomimic change of scenery – that world of wonders – Thalaba is for ever present, the single figure to whom every thing relates, at first the object of curiosity, then of hope, lastly of pity. The two poems are not subjects of comparisons, but it is possible to give these advantages to the hero of a poem as dramatically true in its structure as Madoc, & this I have done. – I want you here, because I want to talk over a story which seems as if it would come to something. that of Pelayo the restorer or founder of the Spanish monarchy. I want to talk it over, & to decide whether that or the Deluge be the better subject for a poem to be pitched in a higher key than Madoc. [11]  Oh Senhora if I were but rich enough to write nothing but what I liked what a set of poems would I leave behind me! – I almost think that after this present year I shall give over reviewing altogether, & try whether the world will oblige me so much as to buy such a poem as Thalaba once in eighteen months, which, if they would do it, would supersede the necessity. A years reviewing certainly does not occupy so much thought, but it nearly employs as much time as such a poem would do.

I should have sent this off some days ago had not some visitors interrupted me. Among the tribe came a certain Mr Smith [12]  of Brummejam  [13]  who knew you – he is the gentleman for whom a Lady has just died for love, leaving him 7000l. – all that she could! – Senhora the more I know of this world the odder sort of a place does it seem to me, – & the more I hear of women the more am I convinced of the truth of an assertion which I often make in this family, – that men are scarce & valuable.

You are to make sundry drawings of this house which in four or five different situations form admirable subjects, as you vary the background of mountains. We have an artists chair for you. & the Fores’s pencils which you commissioned me to buy last year, – tho the best pencils in the world are made here at Keswick. [14]  bring a good stock of drawing paper – for you can get none here.

I am studying Swedenborgianism for Don Manuel. [15] 

Edith’s love.

God bless you.


July 6. 1805.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: MS untraced; text from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 156–159
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 331–333. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed Peter Simon Pallas (1741–1811), Travels through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the Years 1793 and 1794 (1802), in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 66–73. BACK

[2] The third edition of Southey’s Letters Written During A Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797) appeared with revisions as Letters Written During a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal (1808). BACK

[3] Southey’s affectionate nickname for Barker after meeting her in Portugal in 1800. BACK

[4] In Roman mythology Jupiter, the king of the gods, descended in a golden shower to the mortal woman Danae. BACK

[5] That is, the ability to turn objects into gold. BACK

[6] 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

[7] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[8] An account of the millenarian prophet Joanna Southcott is given in Letter 70 of Letters from England. BACK

[9] Madoc was published in 1805. BACK

[10] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[11] The story of ‘Pelayo’ would become the subject-matter of Southey’s poem Roderick, The Last of the Goths published by Longman in 1814. Southey did not write an epic on the Deluge (i.e., the Biblical Flood). BACK

[12] Unidentified. BACK

[13] Slang, based on the locals’ unique accent, for the city of Birmingham. BACK

[14] A lead mine at Seathwaite, Borrowdale, which had produced since 1555 a solid form of graphite used for the manufacture of pencils, especially valued by artists. BACK

[15] A religious movement that developed from the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Swedish scientist and theologian, who claimed to have received a new revelation from Jesus Christ. In 1788 his followers styled themselves ‘The New Church’. Southey’s account of Swedenborgianism is given in Letter 62 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)