1233. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 3 November 1806

1233. Robert Southey to Mary Barker [fragment], 3 November 1806 ⁠* 

Senhora you mistake the orthography of Aballiboozobanganorribo. [1]  you write it as if it were two words making the first syllable an interjection & the remainder either noun or adjective. In common cases the Ladies must be allowed their privilege of having but one rule for spelling & for every thing else, – that is – their own pleasure; & of treating his Magistys English with the same omnipotent caprice as they do his male subjects. But this prerogative does not extend to Aballiboozoganganorribo, which is no part of the Kings English, but is music & music alone. The mysteries of that word, as Joanna Southcote says of one of her books, [2]  are deeper than any one can conceive.

I have added half a dozen lines to make a hasty conclusion to those upon the death of John S. & will at no very distant time send them you, – but do not you let them be seen by any who may talk of them again, as that would not be so well. [3]  Except this finish they were literally thrown off the evening that the news reached me – I read the letter – drank tea – & having less matter to think of than I should have had had he left me a rich man, wrote verse to his memory which most likely I should never have done as his heir. Some evening when my conscience – both that which is I know not where, & that other one whose seat is in the purse, & which touches one sometimes in the breeches pocket – when these two will let me feel that I can honestly afford the leisure – I will draw a picture of the old man in blank verse, – & perhaps (the thought strikes me now when talking about it with the slow tongue of this soft Keswick-quill) perhaps go on & make a set of family portraits. in truth if I had leisure enough & could call up heart to speak of the dead, this idea might lead to some thing very delightful to myself & Tom, & worth something when he & I shall have rejoined those who are gone before us, & all our generation shall have past away also. I could say something about my mother in a plain tale which should go to the heart of thousands, & reach no heart without leaving some good feeling behind it. But here I am Senhora working six hours at every sheet of Palmerin, [4]  & resting from that only to turn to something else. It is very well as it is, but it might be better. It is better than law – better than physic – better than divinity, – in short better than any thing else that I could have done, – but it may be better yet; – & till it is I shall say Aballiboozobanganorribo, & when it is better I shall say so still –

Your last letter gave me some uncomfortable thoughts – tho it did not much surprise me. I fear you will have some domestic trouble in store. Your father [5]  like a bad government still kept his family together – the tie between brother [6]  & sister is easily broken. Like to like is not merely true in the loving sense [7]  but in the moral & intellectual – the value of a human being as if a jewel, must be understood or it will not be appreciated at its worth. I wish your interest & Fredericks were bound together by the plan you told me of. Without some such legal bond natural ones are too weak – what he said in his cups he may resolve upon afterwards – & literally turn soldier; – still more likely he may marry, – & then unless his wife be a rare woman indeed, she will fancy her interest & yours clash, & there is no dependence upon any thing except moral or intellectual strength, – of which it seems to me you have monopolized what, if it had been divided between you, would have made a whole family far above par. – I could tell your fortune without looking in the stars for it – but I will not, for tho it ends in content there is a dark middleground to be past over. However it is better not to be quite happy enough in this world, than to be too happy – trees that must be transplanted suffer most when their roots are deepest.

When I am a Cock-Simorg [8]  I beg & desire you will be pleased to come & perch by me, in the vale of my repose.

Coleridge is at last arrived [9]  – little improved in health of body & not at all so in health of mind. He is grown very fat – which he attributes to disease & his wife believes it – the fact is that he is always eating & drinking – morning noon & midnight, – hardly ever without rum & water beside him sugared to the utmost, – if he is not talking he must be eating – his mouth seems incapable of being at rest. If he does not sleep at night – up he gets for cold meat & spirits & water. If all this does not kill a man it must needs fatten him – & if he goes on he will be brought to as many stone as Peter [10]  was & by the same process. He came on Thursday last – a heap of letters which awaited him lies still unopened upon his table – increasing every day. He has begun to teach the two boys [11]  Greek! & I think it very possible that he may go on with them three days more. As you may suppose he is very entertaining, – but whether it be that he is really worsened, or that after so long an absence this thing becomes more striking – I never saw a human countenance express such intense & loathsome arrogance of self admiration. It is at times quite fiendish. His humour is now to be orthodox because he has made out some metaphysical arguments for the Trinity – In short I feel more than ever admiration & astonishment at his intellect & more than ever grief & indignation at all that it is coupled with. He goes to London to lecture. [12]  Mrs C I fancy has little wish to accompany him. – as I hope Tom may winter here I wish him gone. He & Tom dislike one another heartily, – as you may imagine; & I had rather they did not meet. –

The young one goes on well. Edith talks of you very often & with great delight. that child has all good seeds in her nature – she is slow to like – & still slower to leave liking – If she were not to see you these seven years your name would always excite in her pleasant recollections.

Mrs. Peachey is very ill – & there is no alarming the Colonel. He never will believe her in danger for half an hour at a time till she is in her coffin –

if Tom comes I will tell him to call at Congreve for the Evangelicals. [13]  Such a cargo ought to secure him from overtures –

God bless you


Nov. 3. 1806.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: No. 3. J.f. Bath
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. 208–212. BACK

[1] A word used in Southey’s The Doctor (1834–1847), I, p. 165, in humorous imitation of ‘certain letters of unknown signification’ in the ‘Koran’ (Qur’an), whose ‘commentators say that the meaning of these initials ought not to be inquired’. BACK

[2] In A Continuation of Prophecies, by Joanna Southcott, from the Year 1792, to the Present Time March, 1802, Southcott declares of her former predictions, ‘the last eight pages of the book of Letters are hastening on. The prophecies in that book are deeper than any man can imagine’. BACK

[3] ‘For the lines on John Southey, see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 17–18 October 1806, Letter 1228. BACK

[4] Southey was preparing for the press an English translation of Palmerin of England, by Francisco Moraes, published in 4 volumes in 1807. BACK

[5] Thomas Barker (dates unknown). BACK

[6] Frederick Barker (dates unknown). BACK

[7] In the left margin beside this sentence a large ‘S’ is written in pencil in Barker’s hand. BACK

[8] In Persian mythology, a fabulous undying bird; it features in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11. BACK

[9] Coleridge had travelled abroad to Malta for his health in 1804, taking up a temporary post there as Public Secretary to the British Civil Commissioner. He arrived back in England in August 1806 and though he returned to Keswick at the end of October, he did not stay to live there. BACK

[10] A pet pig owned by Barker. BACK

[11] Hartley and Derwent Coleridge. BACK

[12] Coleridge was to lecture at the Royal Institution upon ‘the Principles common to the Fine Arts’; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 18 October 1806, Letter 1229. He did not in fact lecture there until 1808, on the subjects of the Principles of Poetry, Shakespeare and Milton. BACK

[13] Copies of the Evangelical Magazine unwanted by Barker. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Congreve, Staffordshire (mentioned 1 time)