982. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Mary Barker, [14 October 1804]

982. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Mary Barker, [14 October 1804] ⁠* 

She that will not when she may,
When she will she shall have nay.
You chose last summer to delay –
Next spring we must go away –
Mary Barker – so I say
She that will not when she may,
When she will she shall have nay.
Will you come here while you may.
Ere the winter pass away?
Mary Barker – yea or nay?

The plain prose matter of fact is that our house has been sold over our head to one White, [1]  a fellow all paunch, whom I therefore compare to Bonaparte as being the great belly-gerent. & at Whitsuntide we must turn out for this moving mass of blubber, who being for sundry reasons sure of going to the Devil is now laying in a stock of suet which is to rise again with him & supply fuel for the wick of his soul to all eternity, whereby you see the fitness of a bodily resurrection for him.

Where we shall go, or what we shall do God knows. I am thoroughly puzzled. that however is nothing to the purpose of this letter, which is to tell you that if you do not forthwith set off for the Lakes – you must find somebody else to show you the country & some other head quarters than Greta Hall. As for the season, it is your fault if it be gone by. but the county as yet has only gained & will not lose anything by winter this month to come – & then you are to remember that this country suffers less than any other in its grand & peculiar features – or rather suffers nothing in them. I shall say no more, being more than half angry with you, & Edith more than three quarters.

A mail which leaves Manchester about two hours after your mail arrives there will carry you to Kendal – from whence it is two stages to Keswick of good road; you may reach us before the second night sets in.

This is the last time of asking – Madam Spinster.

So no more at present from

Yrs as you deserve


Sunday night.

I opened this letter to see if he had given you a most terrific scolding pray dont fancy he is jesting for his anger is sheer & down-right earnest & if you could but behold my two sisters [2]  & myself when we are talking about your behaviour you would certainly have an admirable subject for a drawing of the three Furies. [3]  My indignation is not to be expressed in this place, but appear, & tremble! The leg-twirl is mercy to what you must undergo; to be short, dont write unless in the affirmative, in that case, write immediately for my Sister Coleridge is going to pay a visit but will not fix any time untill your answer arrive


in great rage


I forgot to tell you the dear delightful George Dyer left us this morning, he passed a few days with us so I find you have opened a correspondence with him,  [4]  & he has in his pocket a letter for you. O brave! [5] 


* 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. 126–128.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 334–335.
Dating note: [Kirkpatrick’s note on the manuscript] In the pencilled data at the top of the MS., the ‘5’ has been written over with a larger ‘4’. However, in Selections the date is incorrectly given as 1805. The reference to the sale of Greta Hall established the date as October 1804. See Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 361–362. In his letter dated 15 October 1804 Southey states that George Dyer has gone, and in this letter Edith Southey reports that ‘George Dyer left us this morning’. Southey dates the letter ‘Sunday’, so this is presumably Sunday 14 October 1804. (The first dated reference to Greta Hall being sold is on 11 October 1804.) BACK

[1] Mr White (dates unknown), a local man who negotiated to buy Greta Hall from the builder and owner of the house, William Jackson. BACK

[3] The Furies or Erinyes were the Greek Goddesses of vengeance: Tisiphone (avenger of murder), Magaera (the jealous) and Alecto (constant anger). BACK

[4] George Dyer visited Greta Hall in October. His correspondence with Mary Barker cannot be traced. BACK

[5] The two last paragraphs are in Edith Southey’s hand. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 1 time)
Jackson, William (1748–1809) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 3 times)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)