411. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 19 May 1799

411. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 19 May 1799 ⁠* 

Brixton. Sunday night. May 19. 99.

At last my dear Edith your letter has reached me, but not till yesterday, not till after much expectation & frequent disappointment. so much the more welcome was its arrival. I must not ask you to write again. I must not expect it – but Edith can I help feeling something like disappointment if no tidings of you should arrive before Saturday next?

I heard from God-knows-who & on I-know-not-what-authority that Wordsworth was returned. [1]  you will not I hope, I know you will not be persuaded to remain at Stowey longer than my confinement in London. On Monday night I shall be at home. it seems likely that you will come the same day from Bridgewater – I shall call at Cottles, however late it may be (noticing him of my intention) to learn some tidings of you. if however Carlisle should not proceed with me, (& I shall try to arrange it that he may not,) I will come by Sunday’s mail. Edith Edith only one week more – only one week – & how long does it seem! however Edith we will not be seperated only for one week again. there can be little doubt of your finding room in the long coach from Exeter. if you should be disappointed you must take chaises, it will be better than staying at Bridgewater & as for the expence – xx would you not buy off a few hours of the ensuing week at a high price?

Yesterday according to custom, finding leisure in town, I went to George Dyer, & put myself under his arm to be introduced to Major Cartwright, the venerable patriot, respectable for so many years exertion in the cause of parliamentary <reform.> [2]  he is a fine old man, still young in ardor & undecayed in intellect. one of his brothers <a xxxxxxx clergyman> whom I saw also was once a celebrated poet & is now a good mechanic. [3]  another is the very Major Cartwright who dwelt so long at Labrador & of whom you have frequently heard me speak, of his odd book & his marvellous appetite. [4]  my old acquaintance unluckily is not in town. I breakfast with the Major on Tuesday. there is no man whom I could more have wishd to see; nor man when the Pantheon of British Liberty shall be erected no man, whose name will more deserve to be inscribed on the columns of glory. – Yesterday I was fortunate enough to pick up the very book [5]  which Danvers has so long been trying to get from Dr Fox [6]  for me. it cost me but 1s. d6, & my Kalendar [7]  will derive much assistance from it.

For the next week my engagements are many. seven days more have I to pass in London. three dinners out of these at Grays Inn – Tuesday with Hamilton, [8]  Wednesday with Mr Peacock, [9]  tomorrow & Thursday are the only days disengaged. Tuesday I will see John May who will I suppose want me one day at Richmond, where I should willingly pass that time with him. oh that I were at home! – with you my dear Edith – then should I not have one restless wish, one wandering thought.

You ask me about Wales – I hear nothing to tempt me that way, nor have I any letter from Biddlecombe. it seems therefore likely that we shall go to Devonshire, whither I suppose my Mother will like to accompany us, & we may perhaps find a cottage in our way that will suit her, & please us as our summer home, for Edith we will not waste our two summers in London. I will have a Library there, two or three boxes of books, poems, romances, french &c, such as will not be most wanted in town, which would be heavy in carriage, will amuse us, & help me in my manufacture of verses.

By this time you must have seen Burnett. I thought he would have been in Bristol before you had left it. I hope Carlisle may follow me instead of accompanying me, & will endeavour to arrange it so, because it will be more convenient, & because I should so much rather be without any company on my return. – You will not Edith leave Stowey with much regret I suppose. how should you & I feel in an eight or ten months seperation? if a whim took me abroad? no no Edith – whenever I go abroad you shall go too. the duty of marriage is for two persons to render each other happy. Edith it often occurs to me what widely different beings we are from what a single life would have rendered us. a single man has no one to know him, thoroughly to understand him, at least I never should have had – & if you Edith had never known affection you would scarcely have understood your own capability of happiness. Edith it is five years since you & I first became intimate, five years ago at this season xx did you & I play with the lilac blossom in the Old Market. do you remember it? true affection increases with time, habit makes it a part of our identity. – never did I think of you more frequently or more fondly than during this absence from home.

I wrote to my Mother some time ago about Edward, & shall write again about my return. once I have heard from her; she wishes us home again. Why did you not go see Wokey Hole? [10]  it was an unpardonable neglect. however if we should travel westward in chaises, which if my Mother accompanies us we shall do, you shall see it then. it is a beautiful spot, one xx sight of which would repay a long journey. Wells <Cathedral> [11]  is very fine. the inside of all these buildings is less magnificent than the outside, for its vastness is divided into so many little parts. there are some fine spots in the neighbourhood, & the Tor [12]  makes a fine object in the views. of course you had no leisure to walk over Glastonbury, the holiest ground in England to the religionist, the patriot, & the lover of romance. [13] 

My dear Edith you have taken up my evenings most unconscionably – I will not <say> most unprofitably, for what could I have written to produce more pleasure? & therefore could I have been better employed? but you are not quite fair Edith. you do not make return enough when you are from me. – at home I have all cause for satisfaction & thankfulness to you – but now are you not somewhat my debtor & may I not remind you so? & may I not hope one letter to say you will meet me? I do not expect to write oftener than once more. you will perhaps leave Stowey on Saturday next. I do not understand the posts – & besides in the next seven days I shall have more to do than to relate. – Holcroft [14]  is going to quit England – I shall call there tomorrow. he has a book of mine which I should not willingly lose. I have not yet seen Godwin. Dr Aikin is beyond my reach, – & Mrs Barbauld I would not walk ten yards to see. I have to visit Gilbert Wakefield  [15]  & poor Flower  [16]  in prison.

Snivel [17]  has just been wounded in the toe by a rat whom she valiantly engaged. – Edith God bless you. you know not how your letter relieved me. if you do not open one from me without anxiety – should you not remember how more anxious a thing <it is> to expect tidings? once more God bless you. if you do not write I shall not be disappointed – if you do I shall be pleased.

yr Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ with Mrs Coleridge/ Stowey near Bridgewater,/ Somersetshire/ Single
Stamped: Bridge St/ Westminster
Postmark: MY/ 20/ 99
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 192–195. BACK

[1] William and Dorothy Wordsworth had returned from Germany on 16 May 1799. BACK

[2] The political reformer John Cartwright (1740–1824; DNB). BACK

[3] Edmund Cartwright (1743–1823; DNB), clergyman, poet and inventor of the power loom. BACK

[4] George Cartwright (1739–1816), Journal of Transactions and Events During a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador, 3 vols (Newark, 1792) recounted the unusual things he had eaten during his travels, including the ‘roasted quarter of a black bear’ (I, p. 12). Southey had met Cartwright in 1791 and therefore had first hand experience of his exploits as a trencherman; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 515–516. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] Probably the Bristol-based physician Edward Long Fox (1762–1835). BACK

[7] Southey’s planned, but uncompleted, sequence of poems. BACK

[8] The Critical Review, for which Southey was working, was owned 1793–1804 by the brothers Archibald (fl. 1790s) and Samuel (fl. 1790s-1810s) Hamilton. BACK

[9] Mr Peacock had been Southey’s landlord in London at 20 Prospect Place, Newington Butts from February-May 1797. BACK

[10] A series of caves on the southern edge of the Mendip Hill, Somerset, and a popular tourist site. BACK

[11] The medieval cathedral in the city of Wells, Somerset. BACK

[12] Glastonbury Tor, a conical hill rising out of the Somerset levels. BACK

[13] The Somerset town of Glastonbury was the site of an important medieval abbey and was associated in legend with Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. Southey had encapsulated its significance in his ‘Inscription. For the Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey’, published unsigned in the Morning Post, 12 October 1798. BACK

[14] The radical writer Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809; DNB) and his wife left for the continent in May 1799. They settled first in Germany and then France, only returning to England in 1802. BACK

[15] Gilbert Wakefield had been sentenced to imprisonment for two years in May 1799 for his A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Landaff’s Address to the People of Great Britain (1798). BACK

[16] Benjamin Flower (1755–1829; DNB) had been sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of £100 for a libel against Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB), the Bishop of Llandaff. BACK

[17] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 3 times)
Cottles (mentioned 1 time)