2908. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 28 January 1817

2908. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 28 January 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 28 Jany. 1817.

My dear Sir

This letter, I trust will find you after your long travels comfortably settled for the winter in the great city, which tho’ the ugliest of all capitals, is nevertheless, take it for all in all, without an equal either in ancient or modern times. I hope you will not have left London before the middle of April, – by which time it is my intention (if no unforeseen circumstances should occur to prevent me) to be there, – for two or three weeks, & probably I may visit Paris before my return. [1] 

My brother the Captain has lately been with me. He is settled at Warcop, a village between Brough & Appleby, pleasantly situated, in a beautiful country, & in compleat retirement, – which agrees very well with his habits &, inclinations & half-pay. But he says he is obliged to lay in a stock of every thing, as he used to do on board ship. The commonest article of earthenware is not to be obtained without sending for it to Penrith, – not even a bason! – It is a cheap country, with not more law than we have at Keswick, & about as little Gospel; but luckily there as well as here, little or no distress is heard of, & we have no village Hampdens, [2]  nor associations of the kind for mending the Constitution.

We are going next week to Senhouse’s for a few days, It is more than eight years since I was there, & I shall see the place much altered. It was my intention to have gone this day, but I have been prevented by the promise of a visit from Owen of Lanark, [3]  – a very interesting personage, whose establishment you probably have seen. He is full of plans for the poor, & this, I suppose takes him to London at this time. He has written a most injudicious pamphlett, [4]  & has is possessed with some very erroneous opinions; – but withall his intentions are so truly benevolent, his conduct so frank & upright, & above all the good which he has effected at Lanark is so clear & undisputed that I cannot but entertain a high respect for the man.

So you have been to Amsterdam before me! I hope you ate of the best cheese; & the best herrings, & tasted the finest Hollands. [5]  Time was when you should have had the best Constantia there also, – but the Con vineyards belong to England now. [6]  The newspapers have lately conferred upon me some Amsterdam honours, saying that I am appointed a <chosen> member of the Royal Institute, – from any place such honours would be gratifying, – I need not tell you how peculiarly so from Amsterdam. [7]  But I cannot display this new title in my title-pages, as no official intimation has been sent me. To say the truth the Dutch are the last people from whom I should have expected this, & (except the French) the last from whom I have deserved it. And perhaps if the Institute had seen the second vol. of the History of Brazil they would not have chose elected me for an associate. This volume is now compleated, – I sent off the preface last night. [8] 

Did I tell you in my last that Col. & Mrs Scroggs favoured us with a visit on their marriage. [9]  I did not recognize her at first sight, & when the voice & the features were recalled to remembrance, I was surprized at how an early an age she was shrunk & faded. He seemed a placid gentlemanly person, with little of the soldier about him, & less of the bridegroom.

Were we talking together just now we should probably be speculating upon what Parliament would do to check the revolutionary spirit which is going abroad ‘like a Lion seeking whom it may devour.’ [10]  It is a spirit that may easily be laid, if Government act promptly & decidedly; – but if they suffer it to go on, I know not where the mischief will end. The simple measures of reviving Ld Grenvilles bill against seditious meetings, [11]  & making transportation the punishment for seditious libel, would be sufficient: & if owing to the temper of the times there should be any difficulty in convicting such a fellow as Cobbett, – in that case they should without hesitation suspend the Habeas Corpus, & lay him in Limbo. [12]  – I happen to know that the Proprietor of one of the greatest morning papers is fool enough to believe that Hunt [13]  will overthrow both the Ministry & opposition, – & knave enough to trim his paper accordingly!

Miss Barker is painting with great industry & great success. – Our winter tho unusually stormy, is unnaturally mild, – the cattle are in the fields, & the polyanthuses in full blossom! Mr Fryer [14]  had one of his chimnies blown down at some weeks ago, – the gales have done no other mischief here, – except that of destroying the only pear tree upon these premises which bore good fruit.

Mrs S. & her sisters [15]  join with me in kind remembrances to Mrs Peachy

believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Major-General Peachy/ 39 George Street/ Portman Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 31 JA 31/ 1817
Seal: black wax; design illegible
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.

[1] Southey undertook an extensive continental tour in May–August 1817. BACK

[2] John Hampden (1594–1643; DNB) was a leader of parliamentary resistance to royal authority. ‘Village-Hampdens’ derives from Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB), ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ (1751), lines 57–58: ‘Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast/ The little tyrant of his fields withstood’. BACK

[3] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the mills and model community at New Lanark in Scotland 1799–1825. BACK

[4] Robert Owen’s An Address delivered to the Inhabitants of New Lanark ... at the opening of the New Institution Established for the Formation of Character (1816). BACK

[5] A juniper-flavoured traditional spirit, from which gin evolved. BACK

[6] Constantia was a blended wine from the Cape Colony in South Africa that was a favourite in Royal Courts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Cape Colony was finally transferred from the Netherlands to Britain in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty (1814). BACK

[7] According to the Courier, 2 January 1817, Southey had been appointed an Associate of the Second Class of the Royal Institute of Science, Literature and the Fine Arts of the Netherlands (founded 1808). The Institute’s headquarters are the Trippenhuis in Amsterdam. BACK

[8] The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819), published in 1817, dealt with the struggle between the Dutch and the Portuguese 1621–1654 to control Brazil. BACK

[9] Mrs Dansey (d. 1826), widow of Lieutenant-Colonel William Dansey (d. 1793), was an old acquaintance of Southey’s from Taunton. She was also known to Peachy, whose first wife, Emma Charter, was from Bishop’s Lydeard, only five miles from Taunton. On 11 July 1816 the Danseys’ only daughter, Sibyll Jane Dansey (d. 1848) married Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Scroggs (c. 1770–1845). BACK

[10] 1 Peter 5: 8. BACK

[11] The Seditious Meetings Act 1795 clamped down on political protest by requiring licenses from magistrates for public meetings of fifty persons or more, and for all debating rooms where politics might be discussed. Lord Grenville had moved the bill in the House of Lords. BACK

[12] Habeas corpus was suspended in February 1817, allowing imprisonment without trial. In March 1817 Cobbett fled to America. BACK

[13] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB). The newspaper concerned was The Times; John Walter II (1776–1847; DNB) was variously its owner, manager and editor 1803–1847. BACK

[14] Joseph Harrison Fryer (1777–1855), surveyor, geologist and mining engineer from Newcastle. From 1808 he spent part of each year at Keswick. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)