3019. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 26 August 1817

3019. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 26 August 1817⁠* 

My dear Harry

I have no right to abuse you for not writing “by waggon” upon the direction of the box of books, because I myself was guilty of the same omission at Streatham: the waggon goes from the same inn as the coach, & the people there according to the usual roguery in their vocation have sent both by the most expensive mode of conveyance – so I have paid 1£ 000 for the box from Streatham & £1–7- for that which you dispatched.

On my return I found some letters of compliment, some of abuse, & one which is entitled to a distinguished place among my curiosities. It is from a gentleman signing himself N. T. P. who describes himself as being in the middle class of society, & wanting nothing – except a wife: Being in suit of one with the expectation of all other parties & in good hope of winning the Lady a Rival had stept in with a copy of verses, & by this means, the Lady ‘being passionately fond of the Muses” – outstript him in her affections. He therefore thinking that if he could produce better verses he should sans doubt win the prize, intreats that I will favour him with an acrostick upon the word Rebecca, & if I should be unable to include in seven lines all the ideas which he has suggested – Rankin may be added – the place of her abode, (as he chuses to say, thinking thus stupidly to disguise her name). [1]  This would look very like a hoax if there had not been a twenty shilling bill inclosed ‘to defray postage,’ an ingenious & delicate mode of paying me for the expected verses, which were to be addressed to him at Rochford Essex. I have written him word that his twenty shillings has been expended on giving four poor old women a flannel petticoat each, – & instead of the acrostick have given him a rap over the knuckles in prose.

The General had neither seen the Flying Tree, [2]  nor the Fair Elizabeth [3]  nor the Eleven Thousand Virgins. [4] 

If you should be near Chancery Lane shortly, I wish you would call on Pople, & purchase for me Clarendons Hist. of the Rebell & the Cromwelliana, [5]  which he will let me half xx have much below the selling price. Do you pay for them – which Grosvenor will settle with you, & let him transmit them thro Longman, – together with Landors poems [6]  if he can find this latter book.

I am busy upon the mines of Brazil. [7]  The weather here has been very bad, & is still as chearless as possible. All here tolerably well. I do not think that I have been handsomely used about the purchase of the house; – & therefore place no great confidence in Fishers large language of his willingness to do every thing for making it comfortable &c. – He seems a good natured & very weak man; exceedingly ambitious of being noticed by me. [8] 

Let me hear how Ham [9]  is going on I hope Richmond air agrees with him, & that his new Nurse may agree with him. The travellers by this time, or before this time are at Paris. Love to Louisa.

God bless you


Keswick 26 Aug. 1817.

I have a letter from Koster, in consequence of which I have been obliged to – write to the Bishop of London [10]  about appointing a chaplain for Pernambuco. The xx resolution of the English was sent to me, instead of being transcribed officially. However I have taken care to excuse myself from any xxxt suspicion of having willingly obtruded myself.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 30 AU 30/ 1817
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 4. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Rebecca Rankin (1795–1871), eldest daughter of William Rankin (c. 1769–1833), a prominent farmer in Bocking, Essex. On 30 October 1817 she married Charles Stock (1781–1835), a ‘gentleman’ who later became a coal merchant. The identity of ‘N.T.P.’ is a mystery. BACK

[2] Peachy had completed a continental tour shortly before Southey. On his tour of 1817, Southey reached Alpnach in Switzerland on 11 July 1817. There he saw the eight-miles long ‘Slide of Alpnach’, erected to convey logged spruce trees from the mountain-side to the lake below. The trough, a feat of engineering supported on a timber frame over several ravines, was so angled as to transport the tree trunks from forest to shore in no more than six minutes. BACK

[3] On 7 July 1817 Southey had reached Unterseen in Switzerland. There he met Elisabetha Grossmann (1795–1858), a shopkeeper’s wife who had gained some fame with visitors from rowing them on the local lake. She was known as ‘La Belle Bateliere’ or the ‘beautiful Elizabeth of Brientz’. Southey compared her to Mary Robinson (1778–1837; DNB), the ‘Maid of Buttermere’, another local beauty. BACK

[4] The church of St Ursula in Cologne contains an enormous reliquary in which supposedly lie the bones of this fourth-century British saint who, according to legend, was killed, with her eleven thousand virginal handmaids, on a pilgrimage to Cologne, by the Huns besieging the city. The reliquary is extraordinary because, in addition to its size, it displays the bones arranged in patterns and so as to form letters and words. Southey visited Cologne on the return leg of his tour of 1817. BACK

[5] Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674; DNB), The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1816); James Caulfield (1764–1826; DNB), Cromwelliana; a Chronological Detail of Events in Which Oliver Cromwell Was Engaged, From the Year 1642 to His Death in 1658 (1810), no. 708 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Landor’s Idyllia Nova Quinque Heroum atque Herodium (1815). BACK

[7] Chapter 32, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 40–85. BACK

[8] Greta Hall had been sold in June 1817 and bought by Isaac Fisher (c. 1773–1819), a member of a Borrowdale farming family and a gold and silversmith in Cockspur Street, London. BACK

[9] Henry Herbert Southey’s infant son Robert, born on 1 June 1817. BACK

[10] Since 1633 the Bishop of London had been responsible for appointing overseas chaplains in areas where there were no bishops. BACK

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 2 times)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)