790. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Mary Barker, [late May-]1 June 1803

790. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Mary Barker, [late May-]1 June 1803 ⁠* 

D. D. stands for Daughter Drivel
M. S. for Margaret Snivel.
N.B. she has a cold in her head.
Her mouth it is from ear to ear,
Her forehead bunches out –
She has a cold in her grey eyes,
And her nose is like a snout.

Better late than never if not among the Proverbs of King Solomon, [1]  is one of my proverbs & will serve as a text to a long delayed letter.

We are still in quest of a house & still without success – but – whenever you come the better pleased shall we be: My brother is gone to fight the French & we can offer you his bed – to have offered you half of it you know would not have been exactly proper. And here is Margaret almost old enough to learn the rest of her commandments, for you must know I have made a sort of synopsis of the law & gospel adapted for her tender years & condensed into one commandment. ‘thou shalt not heydiddlediddle thy father.’ If you were here I should have one job which would I am sure please you to do for me – to copy a drawing – a likeness – a portrait, drawn in India – & from the life of the Simorg. [2] 

And I will show you here a clump of trees whose fluted & twisted trunks, & bare roots, would beyond all comparison form the finest study for a painter that ever I beheld. & which are worth coming from Congreve to study. do trees grow in Staffordshire? & I will show you the Boiling Well [3]  which no painter can paint & if you attempt any thing in the Cipriani style [4]  – the little naked Loves – I will show you a live Cupid. [5]  And I will show you Garci Ferrandez [6]  finished, & K Ramiro & his wicked Wife, [7]  & Queen Urraca & the five Martyrs of Morocco. [8] 

One other inducement I know not if it be quite delicate to mention. a gentleman – a single gentleman – & a great favourite of yours who you saw in London – & – who admires you greatly, is come to reside in Bristol – & – if you come to visit us who knows what may happen? I however do beforehand stipulate & insist that I do have a large portion of the wedding cake if you should espouse the Author of Alfred. [9] 

I have done a world of work here in Bristol. Amadis [10]  four volumes – of which two are printed & the other two printing & all my part done. if you do not like that book I’ll cut my ears off, if indeed it would not be more proper to inflict that operation upon yours. & so many dull books I have reviewed that I have used up all my stock of paper. & some Madoc & some Kehama & a great deal of History. [11]  – Oh – I thought I had something to say. A Lady whom I know & like very much, has made a curious collection of hand writings. now if you could give me a scrap – a letter would be better – of Charlotte Smiths [12]  – & of Mrs Inchbalds [13]  for that collection, to give her – I should be very much obliged by being thus enabled to oblige her.

[start of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

I am glad there is no date to this letter for I should be ashamed were you to know how long it has lain in this unfinished state, & all my fault, I requested it might be left for me to finish but this god daughter of yours occupies so much of my time I have no leisure for anything. This is a pretty scrawl of Southeys & some nonsense I think, notwithstanding, I beg you will attend to its contents I mean the part which concerns your coming, to Bristol do lay by your Weasel  [14]  & come, bring some of your small Tackle with you, you will find plenty of employment in this neighbourhood, I expect you will paint all our pictures, Southey says if he cannot get a Weasel here for you he has no doubt but he can procure a Ferret there being several Rabbit Warrens near us, how exceedingly witty he is, How do you like this his first Poem upon Margaret, you must come to see her, from his description you will think her a little monster. I assure you she is not so ugly. her eyes are not grey, neither are they sore. her face is full of intelligence she is almost too lively, she will soon manage me, if she want anything of me she can help herself. as you are such an excellent manager of children do come & be here at the weaning, yet no I shall not wean her these three months & we will not wait so long for your coming as that. Margaret has cut one tooth at last. & left off her cap –

[end of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

Miss Snivel in great sooth
Has got a snag tooth.
And by very good hap
She has left off her cap

[start of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

it was not enough for me to tell you in Prose but he must tak xxx pen & tell it you in verse – If I were you I should be provok xxx burn his letters before I had read them half thro with his trumpery Poetry. I have been obliged at last to send Bella [15]  home to Cumberland, she has scarcely been well a month together since we left London, she had the Influenza & has not been well since I hope you all escaped it at Congreve. we were all ill in the house, except Mary, we lost our good friend & neighbour Mrs. Danvers, of whom you must have heard us speak very frequently. I am afraid there was some truth in what you heard in the stage Coach concerning the Keenans, [16]  a very intimate friend of Mrs Keenans told Southey the reason Mrs. K. did not remain in London with her husband was because he kept a mistress, drank a good deal, & neglected his business. if it be true (I fear it is for this young lady corresponds with Mrs K.) I am exceedingly sorry for her, she expects daily to be confined, dont you think he must be a great hypocrite?

many persons who saw Southeys picture in the Exhibition [17]  were exceedingly pleased with it, they said there was no occasion to look in the Catalogue for it, it was so good a likeness. Pray write soon and say when we shall see you, & dont fret yourself to Fiddle-strings about the subject of your last letter to me.

God bless you –


June the first. Margaret is nine months old to day. Mary & Martha send their love to you. remember me to your Sister. [18] 

[end of section in Edith Southey’s hand]


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ near Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: [partial] TOL 803
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick Jnr, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 44-48 [where it is dated 1 June 1803]
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Solomon (c. 1011-931 BC, King of Israel c. 971-931 BC) was traditionally ascribed authorship of the Book of Proverbs. BACK

[2] In Persian mythology, a fabulous bird; it features in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11. BACK

[3] The Boiling-Well, a spring near Stoke’s Croft, Bristol; described in Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11, lines 361-373. BACK

[4] Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727–1785) introduced the Italian high baroque designs for ceilings and interiors into England in 1755 and was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy. BACK

[5] Charles Danvers’s dog. BACK

[6] ‘Garci Ferrandez’ was dated ‘Bristol, 1801’ in Southey’s Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837-1838), VI, p. 121. However it does not seem to have been published until nearly a decade after its composition, first appearing in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), II, pp. 637-641. BACK

[7] ‘King Ramiro’, Morning Post, 9 September 1803. BACK

[8] ‘Queen Urraca, And The Five Martyrs of Morocco’, Morning Post, 1 September 1803. BACK

[9] Joseph Cottle, Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (1800). BACK

[10] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[11] Southey had finished a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication; he had also reached Book 3 of The Curse of Kehama (1810) and was working on his unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[12] Charlotte Smith (1749-1806; DNB), poet and novelist, and friend of Mary Barker. BACK

[13] Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821; DNB), novelist and dramatist. BACK

[14] A pun on ‘easel’. BACK

[15] The Southeys’ servant, she died in 1804. BACK

[16] John Keenan (fl. 1780–1819), portrait painter and miniaturist. Mrs Keenan (dates unknown) was the sister of Daniel MacKinnon (fl. 1800s), whose Tour through the British West Indies (1804) was reviewed by Southey in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 50–56. Mrs Keenan apparently went to Boulogne with Miss Barker in 1819 and was still there with her daughter when Southey visited Boulogne in 1825. BACK

[17] John Keenan’s portrait of Southey, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803. BACK

[18] Mary Barker had at least two sisters whose names and dates are unrecorded. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Congreve, Staffordshire (mentioned 2 times)
Stokes Croft (mentioned 1 time)