2997. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 17[-19] May 1817

2997. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 17[-19] May 1817⁠* 

Paris. Saturday 17 May. 1817.

My dear Edith

Nothing could be more prosperous than our journey has been thus far. I wrote to you from Calais informing you of our safe arrival there on Sunday morning. Whom should I meet there, but Biddlecombe, who is come to France with his daughter [1]  in hopes that the climate may cure her of hysteria & habitual headache, – she is short & plethoric with a countenance of prepossessing good nature. They are sometimes at Calais, sometimes at Boulogne, fearful as yet of going farther lest she should want an English physician, – but if she continues better they move on to Montpelier. We shipt off Mrs Vardon for Brussels by way of St Omer & Lisle & started ourselves at half past four in the afternoon; a little delay having been occasioned by the want of horses, for Lord Granville (Leveson Gower) [2]  carried off xx 24 the same day. On the way to Boulogne at a place called Marquise we were delayed nearly an hour by the same cause –but it was well repaid by a conversation with a woman of 74 [3]  respecting her own sufferings in the Revolution. She had been bred up in an English family, spoke English not merely well, but beautifully. I have no time to transcribe from my journal what she said, but never in real life did I hear any thing finer than the passion with which she expressed herself. As soon as we reached Boulogne which was not till night had closed (owing to this delay) I set off in search of Sir Jere [4]  but found at his door a bell which had no tongue & a knocker which nobody would answer, so I was fain to return from the bootless quest. On Monday however S & I after the laudable custom upon which we had resolved & having waited till after eight, went again to Sir Jere’s door, as, it was daylight I saw how to get in & then knocking at the house door the youngest son [5]  made his appearance, & called Sir Jere into a balcony from his private apartments. You may guess his surprize at seeing me, his hearty welcome & his pressing hospitality. We breakfasted with him. Nothing could be more gracious than my Lady [6]  was to that Poet Man, – she talked of the Eubanks, the Lockyers & my poor godfather Tommy Stephens, [7]  and we became old acquaintances presently. The two grown up daughters [8]  are of very pleasing appearance, – but the eldest son, take him for all in all, is one of the most interesting & hopeful men whom I have seen. Adversity has not been lost upon him He is engaged to go to Lima upon a scheme of draining the mines in Chile, – I hope he may be disappointed in this as it is probable he will be, but wherever he may go, if his life be spared, he cannot fail to distinguish himself. [9]  From Boulogne we made a short days journey, not starting till ½ past 12, as far as Montrieul. Tuesday to Amiens. Wednesday to Chantilly to the hotel kept by Mr Nashs widow, [10]  – whose picture was taken by Chaucer five hundred years before she was born – for she is precisely his Wife of Bath. [11]  Thursday we arrived at Paris about one o clock, & I had the resolution after having cleaned myself, not to stir out till I had brought up my journal. We then walked for an hour or two, dined at home at a late hour & got to bed early. Friday S & I rose as usual at six & walked to Montmartre before breakfast to obtain a view of the city from those heights. After breakfast we went to the Bankers & then separated. My first business was to leave a card with Sir C Stuart. [12]  Next to Mackenzies [13]  – a personage employed to arrange the claims of English subjects upon this government. Herries had given me a letter to him & he insisted upon our dining with him today when we are to meet Mathias. [14]  I then went in search of Chateaubriand [15] xx with whom I left a card & Stoddarts [16]  letter. – M. Verdier [17]  was not to be found. From the place where I looked for him I got to M. Beaudouins brothers [18]  having seen half Paris on the way. I should tell you that Wordsworth in giving me his address had told me what I knew before but he added that it would not be necessary or pleasant to myself to appear to be acquainted with it. The daughter was the only person at home when I was admitted. – she did not know my name & spoke no English. I made myself understood with my French, explained that I came to enquire for M Eustace B whom I had seen in Cumberland with Mr W. She immediately said M. W was her father, & we had a tete a tete of about an hour long very much like a scene in a sentimental comedy. She is a very interesting young woman, with much more of natural feeling than of French manners, & intriguingly like John Wordsworth, [19]  much more than his own sister. The little French Dorothy [20]  is very like her mother, a sweet infant, in perfect health & good humour. I waited some time in expectation that the husband would come in, & when I could afford to wait no longer, I promised to breakfast with them the next morning. She wept a good deal & was very much affected during our conversation. – I returned to the Hotel according to appointment and went with my fellow travellers to call on Helen Williams – she was not at home. Next to the Police Office, then to dinner at a Restaurateurs, where we fared sumptuously. From thence first to an act of French comedy at one Theatre, secondly to an act of French tragedy at another (I pray you admire our economy of time), and thirdly to the Coffee House of the Thousand Columns, of which you may read in the Visit to Paris, [21]  where we concluded the day with coffee, noyau, [22]  ice, and a sight of the Lady who sits at the bar to be looked at – a very odd play, and as I remarked to my companions utterly unlike any thing at Watenlath [23]  or even in Borrodale. We got home and to bed before ten o clock. This morning S. and I started again at six, leaving Nash to his slumbers. We perambulated half Paris, before at nine o clock he left me at M. Beaudouins door. The mother was there to meet me – not a word of English could any of the three speak, and I had to make my way in French which I did to admiration. M. Beaudouin is like his brother, but considerably taller, very fond of his child, a fair presumption that he is not less fond of his wife. She on her part (and her mother also) speaks of him as the best of husbands. We parted sworn friends, and I was stopt on the way down stairs to take leave of the baby, who had been pleased to smile very graciously upon us and take me into favour. They live in small lodgings pleasantly situated. I breakfasted in their fashion upon meat pie, gruyere cheese, and white wine, after which the mother made me drink coffee, would have made me drink tea also if I had not obstinately refused, and proposed punch. This was a curious visit. It lasted about two hours, after which I returned home and began this letter. I have been walking again since for about three hours, buying books, and eating ice. Now I am drest in my nankeens and white waistcoat, and we are waiting for Nash to proceed to dinner at Mr Mackenzies. Helen Williams has invited us for tomorrow evening at 8 o clock. We start at six for Versailles where I shall find Eustace Beaudouin, whom I hear from his brother has not forgotten Miss Barker, and retains his dislike to potatoes.

Sunday evening. 6 o clock. Just returned to Versailles. M. Beaudouin has danced off for Paris, much to my disappointment, and something I dare say to his own. We have had a fatiguing day in walking thro the enormous palace of Versailles, the two Trianons, and the gardens. I am employing the few minutes while dinner is preparing in hastily concluding this for tomorrows post, and at 8 o clock we go to H. M. Williams. Chateaubriand has called during our absence. Tomorrow we go to the Catacombs and the Louvre and dine again with Mackenzie for the purpose of meeting the man in the world whom I most desire to meet, Espoz y Mina. [24]  Humboldt [25]  also will be asked to meet me. Probably I may see him this evening also. The weather is delightful. We are all as well as can be, and the last week seems like a whole year from the rapid succession of scenes thro which we have past. Tuesday morning we depart. I shall write from the first town in Switzerland where we shall halt long enough. You may guess how difficult I find it to keep up my journal. As for Paris it is as extraordinary a place, as the most extraordinary accounts describe it, a perpetual mixture of Ranelagh [26]  and Bartholomew Fair [27]  in the streets and public walks, filth and finery. The whole population seems to live in public, as if their houses were only built to sleep in. They eat at Restaurateurs, drink at coffee houses, and sit in the streets, men and women alike. There are sixteen well drest young women, gay and lively, sitting round a table all day on the Boulevard, at work upon womens shoes. Dancing dogs, puppet shows, gambling, battledore and shuttlecock – tis like Bedlam let loose, or the manners of a masquerade exhibited in real life. I have seen Sharpsten Punches; [28]  and what is more extraordinary this evening (Sunday evening) seeing a great crowd in the place where the King [29]  was beheaded I went up and found it was a girl standing on her head. But the beauty – the picturesque beauty of the city– exceeds any thing that has been said of it. In that point of view a painter would find it inexhaustible. The river is wider than the Severn at Worcester, and divides itself more than once. The quays are open and spacious. There are heaven knows how many bridges, and the mixture of them with old building, modern palace, and trees forms an assemblage as unique as it is striking. I have seen the face of Paris compleatly, and shall feel heartily glad to leave it. It will absolutely feel like rest to get into the carriage for our departure. It is a wretched place for books except for their own modern publications, and as for the literature of other countries, I have more French books in my library – very many more – than there are English ones in all the book sellers shops which I have entered.

The Cook has allowed me to get nearer the end of the page than I had expected, for which I am not sorry tho the wolf is impatient. We had some wild boar for dinner the first day, collared, [30]  and a great delicacy it is. Frogs are out of season. About this day week I suppose this letter may reach you. I shall think of you at the post time, and at that time I trust we shall be in Besancon, or not far from it. We have been one week in France, and I see no reason to apprehend that we shall outstay our intended time by a single day. Three weeks will probably bring us to Milan, a fourth to Geneva, and allowing another whole week for Switzerland on this second traverse, we shall travel from Basle to Calais with perfect ease in a fortnight, giving M. Ouverx [31]  a day upon the road.

Monday morning. I have got time to tell you that at H. Williams’ last night I met Kenyon, which was a very great pleasure. He will write to Mrs. C. It is a villainous wet morning. Nash is gone about our carriage, and I remain at home the while to make up my dispatches for England. And now God bless you. Considering how little time can be saved in such a place and during such a life, this is a very respectable letter. Tell Shedaw that I have seen the cats with tails like squirrels, one tabby, the other tortoiseshell, clearly a distinct variety produced by crossing the Persian and European breed. Love to all.



* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland/ England
Stamped: PORT-PAYE
Postmarks: FPO/ MY 24/ 1817; A MY/ 24/ 1817
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp.159–163. BACK

[1] The name of Biddlecombe’s daughter (b. 1799) is unknown. BACK

[2] Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville (1773–1846; DNB), Ambassador to Russia 1804–1805, 1806–1807 and Ambassador to France 1824–1828, 1830–1835, 1835–1841. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB), a Welsh ironmaster and speculator in mineral rights, living in Boulogne since being declared bankrupt in 1813. Homfray was the uncle of Mary Barker. BACK

[5] Robert Shedden Homfray (1804–1845), later a salt agent in Bengal. BACK

[6] Mary Homfray, née Phillips (1770–1830), wife of Sir Jeremiah Homfray. Though born in Cardiff, she went to school in Bristol and knew many of Southey’s childhood acquaintances. BACK

[7] When Southey was born at his father’s draper’s shop at 11 Wine Street, Bristol in 1774, the property at 12 Wine Street was occupied by George Ewbank and Thomas Stephens, milliners (dates unknown). James Lockier (dates unknown) was an upholsterer, timber merchant and property developer whose premises were at 45 Wine Street. BACK

[8] Probably Charlotte Homfray (d. 1855), who married James Lewis (d. 1855) in 1824; and Marianne Homfray (1788–1819), who had married in 1806, but had been divorced under Scottish law in 1813. Possibly Catherine-Diana Homfray (1801–1858), who married Jacob-Aemilius Irving (1797–1856) in 1821 and Harriet Newte Homfray (b. 1805) were too young to qualify as ‘grown up’. BACK

[9] Jeremiah Homfray (1790–1850) had been ordained as a Church of England clergyman in 1814, but his father’s bankruptcy compelled him to go out to Bengal, where he played a role in the development of the Indian coal industry. BACK

[10] A widow, who ran the Hotel Bourbon Conde in Chantilly and had proposed marriage to Nash in 1814. She had married since that time. BACK

[11] The garrulous, greedy, shrewd, comic and egotistical pilgrim in Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400; DNB), Canterbury Tales. BACK

[12] Charles Stuart, Baron Stuart de Rothesay (1779–1845; DNB), Envoy Extraordinary at Lisbon 1810–1814, Ambassador to France 1815–1824, 1828–1830, 1841–1844. BACK

[13] Colin Alexander Mackenzie (?1778–1851), a wealthy Scot who was employed on a number of delicate diplomatic missions and may well have been a government spy. In 1815 he was appointed one of the Commissioners of Liquidation, Arbitration and Deposit, who adjudicated on claims by British citizens for loss of property against the French government. Southey dined with him on 17 May 1817. BACK

[14] Thomas James Mathias, (1754–1835; DNB), satirist, author of The Pursuits of Literature; a Satirical Poem (1794) and translator from Italian. BACK

[15] François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), the writer, diplomat and supporter of the Bourbon regime. BACK

[16] Sir John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB). An acquaintance of Coleridge in Malta, Stoddart was a lawyer who became the editor of the Times 1814–1816. After he was dismissed from that post in 1816, he edited a new pro-ministry paper, the New Times 1817–1826. His note to Chateaubriand probably concerned their collaboration in a short-lived Anglo-French conservative journal, The Correspondent, which Stoddart had just launched. BACK

[17] Timoteo Lecussan Verdier (1754–1831), Portuguese man of letters and mill-owner, of French origin. Southey had met him in Portugal in March 1801. BACK

[18] Eustace Baudouin (b. c. 1792) was the brother of Jean Baptiste Baudouin (b. c. 1780). The latter was married to Anne Caroline Vallon (1792–1862), Wordsworth’s daughter by Annette Vallon (1766–1841). Eustace, a prisoner of war in Britain, had previously visited Wordsworth and Southey on his release; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 10–14 July 1814, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2458. BACK

[19] John Wordsworth (1772–1805), William’s sailor brother, drowned when his ship, the Abergavenny, foundered off Portland Bill. BACK

[20] Louise Caroline Baudouin (1816–1869). BACK

[21] John Scott (1784–1821; DNB), A Visit to Paris (London, 1814), pp. 131–132. BACK

[22] Crème de noyaux, an almond-flavoured liqueur. BACK

[23] A secluded valley on the east side of Derwentwater, about six miles south of Southey’s home. BACK

[24] Francisco Espoz y Mina (1781–1836), Spanish guerilla leader in campaigns against French forces occupying his country during the Pensinsular War. He fled into exile after attempting a revolt against the absolutist regime in Spain in September 1814. BACK

[25] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), geographer, naturalist and traveller in South America. BACK

[26] Ranelagh Gardens, where the London public, rich and poor, enjoyed outdoor entertainments. BACK

[27] The annual four-day fair held at Smithfield, London, every September until 1855, featured shows and spectacles of all kinds. BACK

[28] Presumably Punch and Judy shows seen by Richard Sharp during his time in Paris. BACK

[29] Louis XVI (1754–1793; King of France 1774–1792). He was executed on 21 January 1793 at the Place de la Revolution. BACK

[30] Strips of boar rolled and slow cooked. BACK

[31] Francois-Joseph Ouwerx (dates unknown) of Huys, a soap manufacturer, whom the Southeys had met on their tour of the Netherlands in 1815. BACK

People mentioned