835. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 September [1803]

835. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 September [1803] ⁠* 

Send me your Ink receipt – & without loss of time, for look what a vile mulatto composition is here, & all kickman-jiggery of manuscripts must be at a stand till I get something better. this being of the first importance comes first. in the same letter tell me when you will set forward for these Lakes & Mountains. God bless them! I look with something like awe & envy at their unchangeableness. It is but two years since I left them, & I would give two ears to wake and find it all but a dream, & that I was as in September 1801. but ones dreams are not at our own disposal. by day I am the great Autocrat of my own thoughts & feelings, & could, I am sure, utter jokes & quaintities upon the rack. but by night the poor brain gets loose, – I & the Blue Devil battle it like the Persian Gods [1]  with alternate victory in light & darkness. by day I beat him – but the cowardly Indigo Beelzebub gets at me when I am asleep, & it is but poor consolation to abuse him thus in the morning after a nights suffering.

Edith cannot sleep, & till she overgets this she cannot be better. opiates take no good effect upon her. She bore the journey well & we arrived safe & sound yesterday, the third evening

We took such excellent care of our baggage
that we have great reason to be glad
Having lost nothing but my old great coat, & a bundle of
dirty linen in its pockets, & Ediths new green plaid

So I made this poem, & then you know could laugh by way of consolation. I have you to thank you for all the kind attentions we received at Congreve. Edith was certainly the better for being there. She is at first somewhat more dispirited here as I expected. indeed the sight of the little Sara, & her infantine sounds produce in me more shootings of recollection than are good. [2]  Coleridge had taught me to expect something beautiful in her – she is a fine child – but like other fine children. My poor Margaret was the little wonder of every one who beheld her. Sometimes I feel as if it were fit that she should grow up an Angel. few men have had more of these weanings of the heart from earth than have been dealt to me! All who were about my infancy are gone – I have no friends left but those of my own making – all the faces that I first learnt to love have been taken away, & all prematurely. as far as survivorship gives the feeling, I am old already – but this has been the heaviest blow & has gone the deepest.

Come! if I twisted language into every possible form of invitation it could not mean more. I shall hardly have enough power over myself to quit the fireside till you go with me into the fells & vallies. tell me that you will come & I will write full directions where to stop &c. You must see this country once, & when could you see it so well? I have no fixture-feeling about me. no symptoms of root-striking here. Alas! what am I but a feather driven by the wind & God knows where the wind may drive me next. When I so far forget ten years experience as to form a plan or indulge a hope – my heart goes to Portugal. this is a wonderful country here, it does every thing to the mind except gladden it – but there is a life & joy-giving power in the very air of Portugal – even to breathe was a pleasure there – I would give one eye to blind Fortune if she would let me look on the Tagus with the other. N.B. She should have the sore one tho!



Thursday Sept 8.

Edith left her silver knife at Congreve. remember us all thankfully to your sister. [3]  I am indebted also to Mr. Lewis [4] 

Our direction is Keswick Cumberland. Coleridge likes to have Greeta Hall prefixed.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
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. 66-69
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 229–231. BACK

[1] Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the principles of light and darkness in the Zoroastrian religion. BACK

[2] Sara Coleridge was born 23 December 1802 and so was three months younger than Margaret Southey. BACK

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

[4] Possibly A.F. Lewis (dates unknown), a doctor who is listed among the subscribers to Mary Barker’s novel, A Welsh Story (1798). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Congreve, Staffordshire (mentioned 2 times)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)