2741. Robert Southey to Mary Matilda Betham, 19 March 1816

2741. Robert Southey to Mary Matilda Betham, 19 March 1816 ⁠* 

Keswick. 19 March. 1816.

My dear Miss Betham

I have been so busy with my poem (which from its subject required the least possible delay) [1]  that your first letter, sharing the fate of too many others, has remained unanswered. What shall I say to it now? – You must be aware how difficult or how impossible, it is when you communicate the state of your mind to communicate the circumstances which have altogether produced the impression that disturbs you; – strong as their aggregate evidence may appear to you, they would be deemed ‘light as air’ by others. I am myself fully persuaded that your feelings & imagination delude themselves; – & that xx such a combination as that with which your mind is haunted, cannot possibly exist, & could not possibly be so carried on.

We have all read the Lay [2]  with great interest. The story is not perspicuous, & thence there arises a disappointment at the end, – but throughout the execution is original & striking. I do not remember ever to have seen the female heart so faithfully & so delicately delineated; & hence the poem derives a marked character, & a permanent value. – I expect much pleasure from your smaller pieces which I will carefully peruse whenever they arrive. [3]  But you stand in no need of verbal criticism. It is only in the place of longer compositions that a little fault–finding in time would be of any use to you.

Your note of today answers a question respecting Miss Barkers copy which I should else have asked you.

Where can I send you “the Poets Pilgrimage” when it xxx comes from the press, – which will be in about three weeks from this time? I hope to draw very near the conclusion of it this night. It has grown into a work of some length, above 2000 lines, in the six-lined stanza of which I used in Gualberto. [4] 

Herbert has an influenza-cough, & the young ones are all more or less indisposed; – the season is peculiarly xx uncomfortable. This indeed is always the most unhealthy time of the whole year, & in no year do I ever remember the weather to have been so continually xxx bad – perpetual alternations from one kind of discomfort to another, without one interval of genial sunshine.

All here desire their love. Edith-May began to recover as soon as she got within sight of the mountains & has been flourishing ever since, except that just now a cold has taken her by the nose.

God bless you I beseech you drive away these waking dreams of an over-wrought mind.

believe me

yours most truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Miss Betham Kimbolton March twenty fifth/ 1815/ Stoneham/ Suffolk
Stamped: [partial] MBOLTON
Endorsement: Southey/ & 1814–6
MS: Beinecke Library, Osborn MSS File ‘S’, Folder 14105. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[2] Betham’s The Lay of Marie: a Poem (1816), no. 278 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] Possibly shorter poems that were later published in Betham’s Vignettes in Verse (1818). BACK

[4] ‘St. Juan Gualberto’, first published in the Annual Anthology, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799–1800), II, pp. 1–19. BACK

People mentioned

Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)