2750. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 3 [April] 1816

2750. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 3 [April] 1816 ⁠* 

My dear Harry

Herbert has been severely ill, & tho there has been an amendment, there is still reason for alarm. The first affection was a slight fever accompanied with pain in the right side, – the pain not severe & shifting. A pitch plaister seemed to relieve it, the fever abated, & for a few days I thought him well. Then came on a sudden cough which for a fortnight I supposed to be the only disease – & from then after it had lasted so long, I thought him materially better tho he complained of occasional pain in the chest & on the back as if straight thro. One of his best days, the weather being too bleak to be out of doors, I thought to amuse & exercise him by whipping a large top. In the evening he complained of great & sudden pain in his breast when he attempted to lie down on the ground as he was used xx xxxx & at night cried out with pain when he went to bed, – the pain evidently produced by the act of lying down, & going up soon afterwards Edmondson and I were inclined to think it was muscular proceeding from the too great exertion with the top. Symptoms however soon appeared of a bilious obstruction, a grain of calomel was given – observe that by this time he was very much weakened by the long continuance of indisposition. It was given at night & having produced no effect by eleven the next day morning, a second grain was given with as little effect – two ingestions proved unavailing. Therefore at night Edmondson gave two grains more combined with James powder. [1]  This produced towards morning a natural motion, a second bearing marks of medicine, – a third of the foulest nature xxxx looking like spinnage, – & this was followed by tenesmus which an anodyne draught greatly relieved. That night he lay down without pain, – & I then felt at rest, believing the cause had been removed. This was on Monday. Yesterday morning I found he had a still fouler stool in the night with small white specks in it, looking like a cream when it curdles in your tea. He had now a very great degree of fever, & said that he was much worse, – it was the calomel which now showed itself in having affected his mouth a different purgative was given he grew which did not operate till this morning, but he grew better towards evening – only he complained at times of the old pain in his chest, & cried out when he lay down at night. This morning another bilious stool with the same specks – which Edmondson & I suppose to be brimstone, – an old purgative taken some fortnight ago. at least we can think of nothing else but upon attempting to lie down he complained – & shed tears. There is some internal malady beyond all doubt: the fever continues & is now freshened, – he was better in the morning very considerably, – fatigue & the little food which he took at dinner (some fish) may easily explain this, – but how is the pain explicable? It is a dismal thing being so far from any good medical aid in a case of this kind. There is a liver affection I fear & believe & we cannot give calomel which would immediately salivate him.

It is almost idle to write to you upon this subject – five days must elapse before your answer can arrive, – & what can you tell me upon such a statement? There is no external soreness when he is touched; there have been no rigours & sudden perspirations as if abscess were forming. But that something is very much deranged is but too certain.

For many days I have been incapable of any employment, alternately hoping & fearing – today had been hopeful, till the return of this sudden pain in lying down has xx made alarm again preponderate. And I write now rather that I may not have cause to reproach myself for not having written than from much expectation xx that you can throw any light upon a case so imperfectly represented.

I cannot ascertain that the pain is decidedly toward the right side, but incline to think that it is. In the breast & the back he complains sometimes one sometimes the other, & generally lays his fingers in the middle of the sternum.

Love to Louisa & Mrs Gonne. Edith has no recollection of having lost a veil at Champion Hill [2] 

God bless you


Keswick 3 March. [3]  Wednesday.

I have received Haygarths drawing, [4]  & will write to him inclosing the letter he lent me, as soon as I can. His parcel lay long at Murrays.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 6 AP 6/ 1816
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 3. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: The letter is misdated ‘3 March’ by Southey; but the content and postmark make it clear that the letter is from one month later, during Herbert Southey’s final illness. BACK

[1] The popular fever cure invented by Robert James (c. 1703-1776; DNB) BACK

[2] The home of the Gonne family. BACK

[3] Southey’s misdating; the letter belongs to April 1816. BACK

[4] Probably a reference to William Haygarth (1784–1825), writer who made a series of sketches illustrating his travels in Greece, Italy and Switzerland. His Greece, a Poem (1814) was no. 1176 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. He was the son of the Bath physician, John Haygarth (1740–1827; DNB). BACK

People mentioned

Edmondson, John (d. 1823) (mentioned 3 times)
Gonne, Mary (1768-1825) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)