1486. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 August 1808

1486. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 August 1808 ⁠* 

August 3. 1808.

My dear Tom

I was, as you may well suppose, right glad to learn that you had joined your ship at last, & now God speed the Dread nought! [1] 

How provoking that you should not be here! The Floating Island came up ten days ago, & there it is now. – & xx if you had been here, we would have put our wits to work, & tried all sorts of experiments upon it. It is about half an acre of the bottom of the Lake forced up to the top, & kept there by what cause Heaven knows, – but probably the same as that which produces the bottom winds. A Mr Wolseley [2]  who is laking here for the summer, & brought letters from Miss Seward, ventured on it, & had some difficulty to get off again, – he says there is a frightful hole in the middle, – which it would be certain death to approach. The first time I saw it was about 20 hours after its appearance. the waters were quite still & I could see the rough sides of its banks, – there were near it holes in the bottom like peat-bogs, – & at a little distance a thin steam might plainly be seen rising from the water. This was not there a few days ago, & the edges of the island, instead of being just on a level with the lake, – or rather just above it, had bent downwards, like the flaps of a table which is heavy laden & supported by insufficient brackets. A very very odd thing it is, & I heartily wish you had been here, – we would have sounded in all directions, got at the hole in the middle by means of planks, & tried whether the island was moveable or not, for the thing desirable it is to tow it away, & examine the place from whence it came.

Lakers have flowed in upon us like a spring tide. Stafford of Liverpool was the first; – he came with a Mr Duckworth of Manchester, [3]  a man whose appearance was very prepossessing & who brought a large family of daughters with him. Sharpe made his appearance next & remained a week at the Queens Head. [4]  Lord Darnley [5]  called upon him here one morning which I suppose was meant as the least formal way of being introduced to me, – a very good natured man. I dined with him at the R Oak, [6]  & he begged leave to renew his acquaintance when he came again, He & his Countess have fallen in love with the Island, – but tho I like them well, I should be very sorry to change the Lady of the Lake for any other Lady, & the Imperial for any thing less than Imperial. [7] 

Wolesley [8]  was at Westminster with me, – at the head of the school when I went there. he is botanizing, & learning Welsh out of my books. His wife is a goodnatured woman, & xx but she makes unmerciful morning visits. [9]  You may remember the name of an Admiral who was his Uncle. [10]  – Beside them a Mr Browne & his daughter are lodging here, they are young & not handsome, but to be much liked when they are known – & the father a fine respectable man, with a good solid understanding. He also wants the island, – & would buy Pocklingtons house [11]  I believe if it be to be sold. Miss Barkers Uncle from Llandaff called on Monday – post haste in the way to Glasgow, – he would not stay to sup here press him whatever I could, – & he sent Edith a brace of excellent pines, [12]  – which you should have been here to have criticised, & compared with those which grow in the open air in their native climate.

Tom Smiths present of a N Wiltshire cheese came last week, & the rug which had travelled in company as far as Kendal was left there for another carriers-day.  [13]  Tomorrow we expect it. Clarksons Hist. of the Slave Trade is arrived – as a presentation copy. [14]  The title page of the Cid [15]  was returned yesterday to the Printer. Freres translations are by this time in his hands; they are to be printed in an Appendix, with the original below, in a smaller type & this & the Table of Contents will fill about three sheets more. A fortnight will compleat the whole & by that time it will probably be published. My last [16]  told you I was just finishing the 9 section of Kehama, [17]  – the 10th is now just drawing to its end: it is a long one 270 lines written, – & about thirty or forty more to compleat it. When compleated the new part of the poem will be rather longer than what was written before. Your transcript stands still – because as all the new part is written in rhyme, it becomes necessary to rhyme all before it, except what is in some very strongly marked metre, – or has some very strong passion to bear it up.

Miss Wood [18]  has been prevented from coming by a most unpleasant circumstance. Some friends of Humphrey Senhouse were on a visit at Nether hall, – & the Lady owing it is said to travelling in the hot weather fell ill, & was in danger when we last heard.

My cold is fairly gone – I was up Skiddaw last week with Wolseley, – a magnificent cloud rose under our feet when we were on the top, – it rose from the Dod, – filled it compleatly, & cut off our view of Basenthwaite, – but repaid us with something far finer. It was truly a grand sight to behold it rising below like bright smoke in the sunshine. The boat wants you. We took Sharpe out to tea in it, & I have rowed the women up to the floating island, which is near the shore, by the birch grove between Pocklingtons [19]  & Lodore. The Lake has been so low that one day when I went out to bathe & took Job with me, in going across the oars touched the bottom <at> every stroke, – & it was not possible to get into the river. Our weather has been <as> fine since you left us as it had been for six weeks before, – & yet there has been rain enough in the night, & in day showers.

Pelayo [20]  is not yet begun, nor will it be till I flag with Kehama which will not be yet for one or two cantos, for I see my road clear before me. In the next Arvalan is to be smashed against the great adamant at the Pole, – & then he will lie ‘cased in polar ice’ & howling to his father, till Kehama accomplishes that sacrifice which Ladurlad spoilt by killing the horse, – & ousts Indra from the Swerga. [21]  Then there is to be ‘boderation’ in that Heaven, – the Curse takes effect again & Kalyal is sent to the famous temple of Juggernaut – where all sorts of strange things will are to happen. [22]  There will be bustle & business enough, & the farther it gets on, the finer it is likely to be.

Herbert is in Bettys [23]  phrase ‘a grand talker grown’ he tries to say every thing, & seldom fails to make himself understood. Emma continues as quiet & as good a sleeper as ever & my daughter is the worthiest of children.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought./ Plymouth Dock
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 477–480. BACK

[1] HMS Dreadnought was a 98-gun second rate ship of the line launched in 1801. She had fought at Trafalgar (1805) and was now under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[2] Reverend Robert Wolseley (d. 1815), son of William Wolseley, 6th Baronet (1740–1817). The family seat was at Wolseley Park, Rugeley in Staffordshire. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] An inn in Keswick. BACK

[5] John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767–1831). BACK

[6] Another Keswick inn. BACK

[7] Derwent Isle, the usual summer residence of the the Lady of the Lake – Emma Peachey – and her husband the Imperial, Lt. Col. Peachey. BACK

[8] See note 2. BACK

[9] Wolseley married a Miss Hand; her first name and dates are not known. BACK

[10] William Wolseley (1756–1842; DNB), naval officer, who was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1804. BACK

[11] The house on Derwent Isle, where the Peacheys spent their summers, had been built for Joseph Pocklington (1736–1817), who had bought the island in 1778. Pocklington also had there a Druids’ circle and a fort and battery, from which he fired cannon during the annual Derwentwater regattas. BACK

[12] Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833), was Mary Barker’s maternal uncle; his gift was of pineapples. BACK

[13] For Southey’s letter acknowledging these, see Southey to Thomas Smith, 15 August 1808, Letter 1492. BACK

[14] Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846; DNB), History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament (1808). BACK

[15] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[16] For this, see Southey to Thomas Southey, 11 July 1808, Letter 1478. BACK

[17] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[18] Isabella Wood (dates unknown), cousin of Humphrey Senhouse. BACK

[19] Derwent Isle. BACK

[20] Southey’s original name for the poem which became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[21] Events in The Curse of Kehama, Book 11. BACK

[22] The Curse of Kehama, Book 14. BACK

[23] A servant of the Southeys. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)
Lodore (mentioned 1 time)