1512. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 27 September 1808

1512. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 27 September 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick Tuesday Sept. 27. 1808

Snow on Helvellin.

Dear Senhora

So long is it since I have written to you, that I know not even whether the receipt of the last letter has been acknowledged, – Piggarell I will be bound has not done it – & whether I have myself or not is more than my memory will reach to. As little can I remember whether or not you have been told that my old Letters have been made fit for reading, & sent again to the press, in which way, if the edition sells (as sooner or later it will) these present politics will put about sixty or seventy pounds in my pocket. [1]  Shortly after the accomplishment of that job which took up just a weeks close application, Miss Wood [2]  came over & staid with us nine days. In the course of that time I walked above fifty miles with her, & showed her the Vale of St Johns, Thirlmere, &c – to the greatest possible advantage. – whenever you come again you will profit by the discoveries we made of points of view &c. I & the two Ediths [3]  went back with her to Netherhall, & after a visit of five clear days, we returned yesterday. Here I found a letter from the Long Man in the Row telling me that the edition of Thalaba has at last come to an end, & he thinks with rather an accelerated pace, & recommending that another be sent to the press with as little delay as may be. Accordingly I am now making many little emendations, inserting additional notes, & doing my best to improve what is already so good as to be well worth improving, for be it known Senhora, that I, who am in downright earnest a fair judge, think that said poem a very fine one. [4] 

As for Sir Arthur & Sir Hew, – for the first time in my life I was so irritated by public news as to pass a sleepless night in consequence. There is a straight & easy way of proceeding in such a case – which is to break the convention, & shoot those who made it; or else, after the manner of the Romans, deliver these up to the enemy with ropes about their necks. Sir Arthur ought to be shot for fighting when he did. he was afraid of being superseded before he won a battle, & for that reason fought with only half his own force, – for fear if he had waited till the other half came up Sir Hew should land & take the command. Sir Hew – Lady Hew I ought rather to say for the creature has long been known to be an old woman, – then suffered Junot to fall back about thirty miles after the battle, & during the negociations, – & so between them they have sacrificed the honour of England & the interest of Spain. [5]  But the root of all evil lies in the Duke of York [6]  who appoints such wretches. It is one comfort that the general opinion is so openly & loudly expressed, – & I hope & trust an example will be made of the commander. My own opinion is that no man could possibly consent to let Junot carry off his plunder, unless he had been promised a share of it for so doing. This will be laughed at & generally scouted, – but the man who could subscribe such a convention is capable of any degree of baseness; – & there are but two possible motives for his conduct, – cowardice or corruption. the former with a victorious & superior army seems to be out of the question. & for the latter – I am afraid Senhora that they who sell their votes at home would not have much scruple at selling their country abroad.

Mr. Horton [7]  seemed to be all that is deaf & good natured. His wife is as unpleasant a woman as one shall meet on a summers day. – out of humour with every thing, Borrowdale was nothing to Dovedale, & the roads were intolerable, too bad for any body’s horse or carriage. The daughter (whom I named Miss Nobs from a strong likeness which she bears to the hero of that noble story of Dr Daniel Dove of Doncaster) [8]  has more of her fathers temper & would have been well enough pleased if she might.

I have heard that the Mountagues mean to travel hitherward. In this marriage she risks something which he does not, – but having already taken the children, the worst part of the bargain was made & the rest to be expected. I am curious to see her. Coleridge is now settled at Grasmere, [9]  & the boys [10]  are going to school at Ambleside. He has been over here twice, – the last time while we were at Netherhall, – & then he was in villainous humour & there was a good deal of cat-&-doggery going on, as I dare say Mrs Mountague will hear when she gets to Grasmere. I do not expect to see much of him.

Rickman comes next month, – a matter of great joy, he being one of the men whom I like best in the world. – sound headed & sound hearted.

Heaven & Mr Frere  [11]  know why the Cid has been delayed – I do not. But they tell me it was expected to be published yesterday – so I trust Sir Edwards copy will have arrived before this reaches you. I need not bid you admire this book, a great part of which will assuredly be after your own heart.

Kehama [12]  & everything else have been standing still lately. I am now setting out again on a fresh campaign. Paper may be expected to fall, & the next news which I shall have to send you will, it is to be hoped, be that my Brazil [13]  is in the press. Make my respects to Sir Edward – take Ediths love, & believe me very affectionately yours – Robert Southey.

Your God daughter makes poor work with her pencil, & cries (literally) for Barker to come & teach her to do it better. Oh that you could see my son such a beautiful fellow, & so gloriously noisy – Train up a child [14]  &c says Solomon, – & I am following his advice so well, that there is good reason to think Herbert will at least equal his father in this domestic accomplishment.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
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. 296–300. BACK

[1] Southey’s Letters written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797) were being reprinted in an expanded form as Letters written during a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal. BACK

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

[3] Southey’s wife, and daughter Edith May. BACK

[4] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer appeared in 1809. BACK

[5] Southey’s exasperation was caused by the Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple. Public outcry led to an inquiry, after which Burrard and Dalrymple never again took command. BACK

[6] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827), Commander in Chief of the army. BACK

[7] Not otherwise identified. BACK

[8] Dr. Daniel Dove’s horse in Southey’s novel The Doctor (1834–1847). On the tale and its origin, and Coleridge’s role in disseminating it, see David Chandler, ‘“As Long-Winded as Possible”: Southey, Coleridge, and The Doctor &c.’, Review of English Studies, 60 (2009), 605–619. BACK

[9] Coleridge, having separated from his wife who remained living at Greta Hall, took up residence with the Wordsworths at Allan Bank, Grasmere. BACK

[11] Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid; publication was delayed because Frere took a long time to return proofs. BACK

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

[13] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[14] Proverbs 22: 6. BACK

Places mentioned

Netherhall (mentioned 2 times)
Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)