857. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [27 November 1803]

857. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [27 November 1803] ⁠* 

[Fifteen words crossed out] Senhora & thats all I have to say [five words crossed out] & for the impropriety of your song, either Mr. [ten words crossed out] seriously expects Bonaparte [1]  to conquer England & you to be hung upon the same principle that Edward the first [2]  executed the old Bards – or else the Mans a fool. by the by that execution is finely narrated by old Sir John Wynne – ‘he caused them all to be hanged by martial law, as stirrers of the people to sedition.’ [3] 

We go on pretty much as usual. Edith but ailing – Coleridge quacking himself for complaints that would teaze any body into quackery – I myself pretty well I thank ye, bating eyes that like Bonaparte are always threatening mischief. Coleridge & I are the best companions possible in almost all moods of mind – for all kinds of wisdom & all kinds of nonsense to the very heights & depths thereof. I have a large room as a study – so large that God help me I look in it like a Cock Robin in a Church. the walls have only their first coat of plaister on (dont be frightened tis quite dry & has been so these two years.) the ceiling has all the cross lines of the trowel. my furniture is about as much as a poor fellow has in the Fleet Prison. [4]  two chairs & a little round table. the wind comes in so diabolically that I could sometimes fancy myself in the cold provinces of Lucifer-land – if it were not that the view from the window is as heavenly as these on earth can be – so that from the mixture you may set it down to be my Purgatory – a state of torment with heaven in view. But I am going as we used to do at Westminster to string curtains across & so partition my self up into a corner with the fire place. here I sit alone. Piggarell only being permitted to enter. she passes about half her time here, I – all, but at meal times or when we walk. Here I have worked like a negro. One cargo of the “killed & wounded” i-e- the reviewed books – is sent away. A damned regiment are still to be killed off – all the trash that disgraces the English press – which is indeed at a miserable ebb. & I expect every day another batch to include Gobwins Life of Chaucer. [5]  Oh! do you know who is the man who has published a volume of Poems under the assumed name of Peter Bayley Junr Esqr. [6]  he talks of his native Wever [7]  – which may be a sham – but that you know is in your part of the world. The Lord in Heaven have mercy upon that Gentleman – Scoundrel whosoever he be! for I have got him upon my thumbnail & shall – crack him Senhora, for a fidalgo. [8]  He hath committed high treason against me in the first place, but what he is to be damned for is – first having stolen by wholesale from the Lyrical Ballads [9]  – & then abusing Wordsworth by name. I will break him upon the wheel & then hook him up alive in terrorem [10]  & make his memory stink in the noses of all readers of English present & to come. I wish he could know that his book has been sent to me to be reviewed & that Wordsworth has now got it to claim his own whenever he finds it. Every peacocks feather shall be plucked out & then his tail will be left – in a very fit & inviting condition for a cat-o-nine-tails.

I believe Coleridge has made up his mind to go to Malta for a change of climate & will set out by the first ship. [11]  Remember you that this not being a country of fine trees summer & winter make a less difference to the painter than in the West of England. & as soon as the Spring begins to make every thing alive you must please to come & make us alive. do – do – draw figures instead of kickmanjiggery that you may make me some de[signs] for Madoc – which in good earnest I do mean to publish as soon as ever I can get a decent number of subscribers – I have got on bravely with it – & if my paper were larger could find in my heart to send you a delicate morsel. I will try to publish it myself for it is damned hard to spin out the very guts of ones brain & after all get less than a fellow in Paternoster Row, [12]  because his breeches pocket is as full as my head, – heigh ho! Senhora! & my breeches pocket as empty as his numscull.

Will you not rejoice to hear that I am going to blow the Trumpet of alarm [13]  against the Evangelicals? having got a History of the Methodists [14]  to review. I will point up with precious effect of their Bands & Classes – the utter ignorance of human passions on which they are founded, & the utter destruction of all morals to which they tend. Is it not a happy hit to call them the Ecclesiastical Corresponding Society? indeed it is an alarming evil. the Wesleyans have in 30 years increased more than five fold – they are by their own statements 110,000 persons – & certainly the Whitfield [15]  – the Calvinistic Branch must be more numerous. I write no more verses for the M. Post [16]  – too much disgusted with its cant & folly & abominable proposal of giving no quarter  [17]  – since Stuart – has sold it & given up the management. My fraternal remembrances to Peter with a piece of the next pineapple. [18] 

Harry is gone to Edinburgh to commence his studies there. – John Thelwall is expected to dinner here to day on his Lecturing Tour. John is thriving by Lecturing upon Elocution, & his name is in high odour – in spite of all old stories and prepossessions. he is a very honest-hearted man. a very excellent husband & fond father & I am heartily glad he is doing well. What news more? Only that Miss Bengay or Benjay or Bunjay or Bungy [19]  tells everywhere the story of my playing at Pope Joan [20]  & how she was disappointed [21]  − there Miss Malice− that’s a sugar-plumb for you.

God bless you

yrs very truly RS.



* 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. 71-75 [dated late November 1803]
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 253–256 [in part; dated Keswick 1804].
Dating note: Dated from internal evidence; Sunday was 27 November in 1803. BACK

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

[2] Edward I (1239-1307, King of England 1272-1307; DNB). BACK

[3] Sir John Wynn (1553-1627; DNB), The History of the Gwedir Family (London, 1770), p. 62. BACK

[4] A prison for debtors and bankrupts off Farringdon St, in London. BACK

[5] William Godwin, Life of Chaucer, the Early English Poet (1803), reviewed in Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462-473. BACK

[6] Peter Bayley (1778-1823; DNB), Poems (1803). ‘Bayley’ was not an assumed name. The first poem in his collection, ‘An Apology for Writing’, lines 46-55 and Note, attacked Southey’s Joan of Arc (1796) and (1798). The penultimate poem, ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, could be read as a parody of Wordsworth and lines 115-119 had a Note, ‘The simplicity of that most simple of all poets, Mr Wordsworth himself, is scarcely more simple than the language of this stanza. Absit invidia dicto [let ill will be absent from these words].’ Southey contributed a coruscating review of Bayley’s book to the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 546-552. BACK

[7] The River Weaver in Cheshire. Bayley was from Nantwich, on the banks of the Weaver. BACK

[8] The Portuguese for ‘gentleman’. BACK

[9] Lyrical Ballads, With Other Poems, first published in 1798, with new, expanded editions in 1800 and 1802. BACK

[10] The Latin translates as ‘To cause terror’. BACK

[11] Coleridge left for Malta in April 1804. BACK

[12] Southey’s publishers, Longman and Rees, had offices in Paternoster Row, near St Paul’s Cathedral. BACK

[13] Zephaniah 1: 16, ‘A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against high towers’. BACK

[14] William Myles (1756-1828), A Chronological History of the People Called Methodists (1803), Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 201-213. BACK

[15] George Whitefield (1714–1770; DNB), inspirer of Calvinistic Methodism. BACK

[16] Southey’s ‘Epigram. Gallus et Taurus’, Morning Post, 15 December 1803, was his final publication in the newspaper, though it had probably been submitted much earlier. BACK

[17] These paragraphs appeared in the Morning Post, 6-7 October 1803 BACK

[18] Peter was the name of Mary Barker’s pet pig. BACK

[19] The dramatist and novelist Elizabeth Benger (c. 1775-1827; DNB). BACK

[20] A board game played with cards and counters. BACK

[21] In 1802, Charles and Mary Lamb had talked George Dyer into believing he was in love with Elizabeth Benger. BACK

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