412. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 20 May 1799

412. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 20 May 1799 ⁠* 

Brixton. Monday 20. May. 1799.

At last my dear Edith I can write of my return with certainty. Carlisle will not come to Bristol till some days after me. therefore I will take my place by Sundays mail, & if no accident intervene hope to be at Westbury to dinner on this day week. you will therefore I suppose leave Stowey on Saturday if no Sunday coach goes – & by this time this day week my dear Edith we shall have met once more. six days more – & <a> mail-coach night – the pleasantest night my Edith that I have past since I left you.

I had a letter today from Burnett with the news of his fathers [1]  death, & am about to write to him. the death of a parent is, where parents have done their duty, a severe & irreparable loss; but it is an event the probability of which has ever been contemplated, & which affects us less deeply as it happens in the common course of nature. it is the death of the young, of children, friends & those we love still more dearly, that desolates life. I should hope that in our next state of existence death will not be permitted; at least that the ties of affection will not be cut asunder, but that when it be time to proceed to some more advanced being, friends & families may emigrate together. I must not lose you thro eternity my Edith – at least if I thought it a thing probable it would deaden all earthly enjoyment. I shall on finishing this write to Burnett – not that there is any thing in the common consolation still to be said, for all that I could say he knows – but to be silent on these occasions looks like unkindness & indeed is unkind; & the very sight of a letter from a friend alleviates painful feelings in some degree by breaking in upon them. I am anxious to know if Burnetts father has left him anything, if it be but a few hundred pounds, enough to float him in his studies I shall be easy. but George has had enemies at home whom I wish were now to be buried instead of the poor old man. The sooner he can come to us the better. to stay at Huntspill, unless business detains him, will be only making himself uncomfortable & benefitting nobody.

But Edith let me turn to pleasanter subjects. three weeks have I been absent – & the last week of absence is begun. x I hope that it will be many many months before we are seperated for a day again. about our summer plans I have written in my last – we may go where we please, & no place seems to lie more conveniently situated than Devonshire, or to offers situations more beautiful.

Perhaps I am writing I know not that I shall write again, the next week will be crowded with business, & with what possible matter could I fill another letter? you hear all the little unimportant uninteresting occupations that fritter away my time from eight in the morning till eleven at night, the two pleasantest periods in the day, because when I get up I reflect that another day is begun, & when I lie down comfort myself with the thought that it is over. time does not hang so heavily at home. Saturday evening we were at the Smiths [2]  here, Grosvenors Quaker friends – I wishd myself at home, wished myself here, anywhere where a pen or a book might have relieved me from the tedium of strange society. they are according to all that has been told me very good people. but he seems to be sixty years old, & his wife does not look above thirty. this is a vile & unnatural disproportion. I have no conception of husband – & wife – feelings between two persons so differently aged. Edith could you share the identity of a husband old enough to be your father? – I do not like the Quakers. many good points they have, & like most sects act upon the perception of some important truth. but there is a profession of kindness, an affected meekness & amiability about them which always puts me upon my guard. they are so plaguey civil that they must be insincere.

you tell me nothing about Stowey in your letter – how you like the place, how you like the people, how you are received & all those little things which would be dull to anyone but me, but in which I should be much interested. however all this will be matter for conversation. you will <not> I think be persuaded to remain at Stowey so as to let me arrive & look for you & not find you. it is true you will have been but a fortnight at Stowey, but you will have been some months with your sister, & it is her you wishd to see not Stowey. I do not stay in London one hour after my business is done, but drive from the dinner table at Grays Inn to the Coach.

I have had many little interruptions in writing this letter. Carlisle is here working by the fire at one of his out-of-the-way plans. a neighbour dropt in to tea & Horace returned from angling for with a huge trout which we all got up to see weighd. – you have had vile weather for the country – I am afraid so as to prevent you from much exercise – Edith I have to scold you for saying nothing of your health – not a word – whether or not the change of air has done you good – & surely you know that this is a subject which must interest me. ought I not to insist upon a letter on purpose to remedy this?

I expect to get your books [3]  tomorrow. my others I shall send down before me, all that I shall want, because in the mail there is generally more luggage to be carried than there is room to stow it in. but your little books shall go in my hand Edith.

& now God bless you my dear dear girl – if I do not but find you well when I reach Westbury I will not complain of four weeks wasted so unprofitably & unpleasantly here. not that either or you would purchase the pleasure of meeting by the sacrifice of four weeks – but the pleasure is not the less real. once more God bless you my Edith.


Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ with Mrs Coleridge/ Stowey near Bridgewater/ Somersetshire/ Single
Postmark: CMA/21/99
MS: Boston Public Library, MSS Acc 461. ALS. 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Burnett (d. 1799), a farmer at Huntspill, Somerset. BACK

[2] Thomas Woodroffe Smith (c. 1747–1811), a wealthy Quaker merchant, who lived at Stockwell Park, Surrey, near the Bedfords. In 1789 he married as his second wife Anne Reynolds (dates unknown) of Carshalton. BACK

[3] Possibly the edition of Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794) which Southey had bought for Edith during his stay in London; see Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 9 May 1799, Letter 405. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 5 times)
Westbury (mentioned 2 times)