613. Robert Southey to Edith Southey [fragment], 14 October 1801

613. Robert Southey to Edith Southey [fragment], 14 October 1801 ⁠* 

Dublin , Wednesday, Oct. 14. 1801.

.             .             . On Sunday, after delaying till the latest possible moment for the chance of passengers, we dropped down the river Dee. The wind almost immediately failed us; I never saw so dead a calm; there was not a heaving, a ripple, a wrinkle on the water; the ship, though she made some way with the tide, was as still as a house, to our feelings. Had the wind continued as when we embarked, eighteen hours would have blown us to Dublin. I saw the sun set behind Anglesea; and the mountains of Carnarvonshire rose so beautifully before us that, though at sea, it was delightful. The sun-rise on Monday was magnificent. Holyhead was then in sight, and in sight on the wrong side it continued all day, while we tacked and retacked with a hard-hearted wind. We got into Beaumaris Bay, and waited there for the midnight tide: it was very quiet; even my stomach had not provocation enough, as yet, to be sick. In the night we proceeded: about two o’clock a very heavy gale arose; it blew great guns, as you would say; the vessel shipped water very fast, it came pouring down into the cabin, and both pumps were at work, – the dismallest thump, thump, I ever heard: this lasted about three hours. As soon as we were clear of the Race of Holyhead the sea grew smoother, though the gale continued. On Tuesday the morning was hazy, we could not see land, though it was not far distant; and when at last we saw it, the wind had drifted us so far south that no possibility existed of our reaching Dublin that night. The captain, a good man and a good sailor, who never leaves his deck during the night, and drinks nothing but butter-milk, therefore readily agreed to land us at Balbriggen; and there we got ashore at two o’clock. Balbriggen is a fishing and bathing town, fifteen miles from Dublin, – but miles and money differ in Ireland from the English standard, eleven miles Irish being as long as fourteen English.         .         .

To my great satisfaction, we had in our company one of the most celebrated characters existing at this day; a man whose name is as widely known as that of any human being, except, perhaps, Bonaparte! [1] 

He is not above five feet, but, notwithstanding his figure, soon became the most important personage of the party. ‘Sir,’ said he, as soon as he set foot in the vessel, ‘I am a unique; I go anywhere, just as the whim takes me: this morning, sir, I had no idea whatever of going to Dublin; I did not think of it when I left home; my wife and family know nothing of the trip. I have only one shirt with me besides what I have on; my nephew [2]  here, sir, has not another shirt to his back: but money, sir, money, – anything may be had at Dublin. ‘Who the devil is this fellow? thought I. We talked of rum, – he had just bought 100 puncheons, the weakest drop 15 above proof: of the west of England, – out he pulls an Exeter newspaper from his pocket: of bank paper, – his pocket-book was stuffed with notes, Scotch, Irish, and English; and I really am obliged to him for some clues to discover forged paper. Talk, talk, everlasting; – he could draw for money on any town in the United Kingdoms; ay, or in America. At last he was made known for Dr. Solomon. [3]  At night I set upon the doctor, and turned the discourse upon disease in general, beginning with the Liverpool flux – which remedy had proved most effectual – nothing like the Cordial Balm of Gilead; at last I ventured to touch upon a tender subject – did he conceive Dr. Brodum’s [4]  medicine to be at all analogous to his own? ‘Not in the least, sir; colour, smell, all totally different: as for Dr. Brodum, sir, – all the world knows it – it is manifest to everybody – that his advertisements are all stolen, verbatim et literatim, [5]  from mine. Sir, I don’t think it worth while to notice such a fellow.’ But enough of Solomon, and his nephew and successor that is to be – the Rehoboam [6]  of Gilead – cub in training.

Mr. Corry is out of town for two days, so I have not seen him. The probability is, Rickman tells me, that I shall return in about ten days: you shall have the first intelligence; at present I know no more of my future plans than that I am to dine to-day with the secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, [7]  and to look me out a lodging first.

But you must hear all I have seen of Ireland. The fifteen miles that we crossed are so destitute of trees, that I could only account for it by a sort of instinctive dread of the gallows in the natives. I find they have been cut down to make pikes. Cars, instead of carts or waggons; women without hats, shoes, or stockings. One little town we passed, once famous, – its name Swords; it has the ruins of a castle and a church, with a round tower adjoining the steeple, making an odd group; it was notoriously a pot-walloping borough: [8]  and for breeding early ducks for the London market, the manufactory of ducks appeared to be in a flourishing state. Post-chaises very ugly, the doors fastening with a staple and chain; three persons going in one, paying more than two. The hotel here abominably filthy. I see mountains near Dublin most beautifully shaped, but the day is too hazy. You shall hear all I can tell you by my next. I am quite well, and, what is extraordinary, was never once sick the whole way.             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             .             Edith, God bless you! I do not expect to be absent from you above a fortnight longer.

Yours affectionately,

R Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.) Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 164-167. BACK

[1] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821; First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] Samuel Solomon (1768/9-1819; DNB), manufacturer and promoter of the best-selling quack medicine ‘Cordial Balm of Gilead’. His MD, from Marischal College, Aberdeen, was probably obtained fraudulently. BACK

[4] William Brodum (fl. 1795-1814), quack medicine seller. He had been the mentor of Samuel Solomon. BACK

[5] The Latin translates as ‘word by word and letter by letter’. BACK

[6] Rehoboam succeeded his father Solomon (King of Israel 971-931 BC) as King of Judah (931-915 BC). BACK

[7] Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834; DNB), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1801-1805. His private secretary was Charles Lindsay (1760-1846), later Bishop of Kildare 1804-1846. BACK

[8] Swords returned two MPs to the Irish House of Commons until its abolition in 1800. It was one of only ten Irish boroughs that had a potwalloper franchise, i.e. any householder with a hearth big enough to boil a pot could vote. Despite (or because of) this relatively wide franchise, the borough had a reputation for corruption. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Dublin (mentioned 7 times)