720. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, [21-]23 September [1802]

720. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, [21-]23 September [1802] ⁠* 

You will have received a letter from Pyle. this goes from Swansea, Tuesday evening 20th Sept. We reached Neath yesterday & after dinner delivered our credentials to Mr Davies. [1]  that evening we walked to look at a house which perhaps is to be let furnished – as I think nobody will buy it. it is a lovely place – but too small. the furniture most expensively elegant – more showy than good – a huge swing looking glass as big as I am. five bed rooms but all too little. Tom says there is not room to swing a cat – but I do not want or mean to swing a cat – but my books would actually fill the house – & what to do with the boxes! this morning we were introduced to the surgeon at Neath – Mr Gronow. [2]  poor man he is in great affliction about one of his children who is dying of dropsy. he tells me of a house – furnished, which by all accounts will do exactly. on our return to Neath we are to see it. it lies eight miles – or rather seven & a half from Neath – but the canal passes within a field of the house – & affords daily conveyance for what may be wanted. the owner is a Mr Williams [3]  – who lives in a larger house near – a married man with a family, who wants a neighbour – there is moreover a Unitarian Minister <Morgan [4]  by name> said to be a very clever man. We are to visit Mr Williams on our return & see this place which is in the finest part of a fine country – near the river – & still nearer the canal which brings coals from the pit about six miles off. there is a good garden – & a field before the house we may have for a cow. I am much pleased with Gronow who seems an interesting man & was uncommonly civil. he is an independant man in his circumstances – & it would be a great convenience to have the frequent opportunity of seeing him visiting Mr Williams as xxx a friend – & indeed the neighbourhood medically.

We had a very pleasant walk under the guidage of a Mr Smith [5]  who lives with Davies – down to the sands – & so to Swansea. here I have cut my beautiful blister – changed my linen – & am now writing to you & pausing at due intervals to swear for my dinner – which no ordering & no swearing seems to accelerate.


Tom found an acquaintance at Swansea – & so my letter writing was broken off. the country round that town is not beautiful – not to be compared with Neath. we had a hard march yesterday of eight & twenty miles thro a hilly tract. which brought us to Caermarthen – but at the expence of my other foot who I believe must be indulged with a days rest here. we go from hence (Caermarthen) to Llanidlo, 15 miles an easy stage to see Dinevor, thence by Gellignon Mr Rees’s [6]  again to Neath. If you will write by Saturdays mail directed post office Neath – Glamorganshire the letter will reach me – & indeed I am anxious to hear of you – tho but a line to say that you & the child are well. this will reach you tomorrow.

The passion these people have for whitelime is very striking, chimney backs – church towers – house-roofs – garden walls – even to a single stone in a garden bank – all are whitelimed – & this they tell us about once a month. the little stones round their graves whitelimed too. You know the graves are all planted with flowers. the country has disappointed me in most places – but about Neath it is remarkably fine & the house of which we are in hopes is in the richest part in a vale among mountains. If it turn out a desirable residence which by all accounts seems very probable we shall directly strike home & be with you about Tuesday. the house is called Maes Gwyn. the canal lands coals within a field of the house – & would bring meat regularly from the Neath butcher. we should soon have a dairy of our own. I started an objection of distance from medical assistance. Gronow answered he rode there in half an hour. I believe him by his looks to be a man whose talents might be trusted, & am sure we should often see him. Of course I shall conclude nothing till I see you & know your opinion. but this seems a very promising place. the climate excellent – & regular vessels to Bristol which will bring down any body to see us for half-a-crown! a fine conveyance for books – grocery – wine – & porter – till we learn to brew our own beer. there are also vessels to London – so that my books will go the whole way by water.

Our umbrellas have been of the greatest use. we have regularly mounted them as parasols & swung our hats from the coat button. Tom is short enough to fasten his umbrella under the belt in his waistcoat pocket. very Robinson Crusoe [7]  figures. add to this an improvement of mine – the turning up the cuffs of the coat – which else get wet with perspiration – it has been cruelly hot. I eat as if I were travelling in Portugal & drink like a fish. but as for Welsh ale alas we have only begged one bottle in the whole way – & that was the Landlady’s private stock. oh it was bono! Bristol porter is the liquor every where – & excellently good.

We dined in the travellers room at Swansea. there came in after dinner the balloon adventurer Barrett [8]  to spunge a glass of wine. tell King I have seen a greater rogue than Solomon. [9]  this same Barrett who took in the people at Greenwich – & who wrote a book called the Magus – of which I have seen the title page & his own rascally portrait as frontispiece. My gentleman professes to teach the occult sciences. unhappily I did not know this was the fellow when I saw him else I would have gone thro his sciences – & he puts all the letters in the Alphabet after his name to look like honorary titles. A dog – he had better break his neck from a balloon to save the country the expence of hanging him.

Tomorrow for Dinevor. today my toes have a holiday. poor toes they have been sorely galled. my feet never used me so badly before but the grand blister is getting well & we shall get on bravely. if Maes Gwyn should not do – we come home by way of the waterfalls to Merthyr eat a dinner with Maber – & so from Abergavenny to Tintern & home – which we shall in that case reach by the fortnights end. you will hear of us as soon as we have seen Maes Gwyn. neglect not to write as soon as you receive this. how is Mrs Danvers? remembrance there. God bless you Edith.


Thursday 23. Sept.  Caermarthen.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ Kingsdown/ Bristol/ Single
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. 288-290.
Dating note: The letter was begun on Tuesday 21 September 1802, not 20 September as stated by Southey. BACK

[1] David Davis (1778-1846), Unitarian minister and schoolmaster in Neath 1801-1827. His father, David Davis (1745-1827; DNB), was an old friend of the publisher Owen Rees’s father, Josiah Rees (1744-1804; DNB). BACK

[2] William Gronow (d. 1830) of Court Herbert, who described himself as ‘Surgeon, Apothecary and Man Mid-wife’. BACK

[3] Rees Williams (d. 1812) of Aberpergym, prominent landowner and coal owner in the Vale of Neath. He was a patron of the literary revival in Glamorganshire. BACK

[4] Thomas Morgan (1737-1813), pastor and schoolmaster at Blaen-gwrach in the Vale of Neath, 1772-1810. BACK

[5] An unidentified friend of the Unitarian minister David Davis. BACK

[6] Josiah Rees, Unitarian minister at Gellionen church 1767-1804 and editor of the first Welsh-language periodical, Trysorfa Gwybodaeth (1770); father of the publisher Owen Rees. BACK

[7] The hero of Daniel Defoe’s (c. 1659-1731; DNB) Robinson Crusoe (1719), made himself an umbrella on his desert island. BACK

[8] Francis Barrett (fl. 1780-1814; DNB), balloonist and writer on the occult. His publications included The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer; Being a Complete System of Occult Philosophy (1801). Barrett had recently given an exhibition of ballooning at Swansea. BACK

[9] Samuel Solomon (1768/9-1819; DNB), manufacturer and promoter of the best-selling quack medicine ‘Cordial Balm of Gilead’. BACK