3156. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 20 June 1818

3156. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 20 June 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 20 June. 1818

My dear Sir

I should have written ere {this} to express my thanks for the Lamp, if I had known in what direction to aim a flying shot. It arrived safely, & written directions came with it, sufficiently explicit, f I dare say, for its use. My daughter Edith could not rest till she had discovered the whole art & mystery of the mechanism. As yet it has not been lighted for two reasons; – first because we have had no darkness since it arrived, – that is, the evenings have been so long, that we have needed no artificial light till supper. And secondly (which reason xxx had it been given first might have swallowed up all the others like Aarons rod) [1]  there has till this day been no oil in Keswick which the shopkeepers could recommend, – this very day some is expected, & as soon as it arrives we shall certainly have an illumination. Pray make my best acknowledgements to Mrs Peachy for this favour. The thing itself (as well as the invention) is certainly a beautiful one.

Would Miss Barkers house [2]  suit Mrs Neave [3] ? or that which Capt Gee had at Rydale? [4]  either of these may be had. Gee is at Bowness. Mr Wilberforce has written to me about a house for the middle of August, & Calvert is willing to let him have his, [5]  – I am daily expecting the answer to this proposal.

Keswick is not altogether without news. They talk of lowering the Lake two feet, by clearing the bed of the river from the place where it leaves the lake to its junction with the Greta. Secondly – Monk Hall [6]  has been on fire this morning, & just saved from destruction & thirdly we have had a person here, who tho he is now acting the swindler is both by education, manners & profession a gentleman, & may perhaps not be altogether unknown to you. His name is May, [7]  & he practised as a Physician at Taunton several years ago, & afterwards I believe at Truro. This said Dr May wrote me a note from the Royal Oak, [8]  saying that he was well acquainted with my brother Dr S. [9]  & requesting permission to call upon me that I might give him directions as to the best method of seeing the country. This was late in the evening, & I accordingly invited him to breakfast the next day. My brother has never seen him, & there was no necessity of introducing himself with a lie, because he had seen Mrs Coleridge formerly at Stowey, & prescribed for her. [10]  He dined with Sir F. Morsehead that day, whose father he had known at Verdun. [11]  He talked incessantly, & very amusingly of his foreign adventures, – but not a word of the country, – & I understood that his head quarters were Kendal. Some ten days afterwards he returned & took lodgings at John Aireys [12] , & endeavoured to get into practise by offering to visit Edmondsons patients. Among others he went to Mrs Gritton [13]  who was then very near death; – he refused a fee, – but returned to Kendal, found out Grittons son, [14]  told him his mother was dying, & that it was of the utmost importance he should attend her, – made the poor fellow bring him over in a chaise, tho the woman (as he well knew would be the case) was in articulo mortis [15]  when he arrived, – accepted two guineas which Gritton had sent him after the visit, & extorted from him by a note three more. Airey soon got rid of him because he called up the family to light his fire at four o clock; & it was soon learnt that he was living by his sleights & had a heavy bill at Lowood. However he got shirts & cravatts from Miss Crosthwaite [16] , & inexpressibles from John Cockbaine [17] , making John procure the cloth, & Miss C. have the shirts made. He then gave out that he was going to Buttermere, locked the empty drawers at his lodgings (at Capt Scotts) [18]  & as no one would trust him with horse or carriage, (for he was in debt at the Royal Oak) set off on foot, with two boys, each carrying a trunk. It was not long before Scott discovered that he had decamped, & then young Jackson of the Oak [19]  set out on hors one horse to pursue him, & Mrs Cockbaine [20]  on another; but they went separately.

They learnt that he took the Penrith road, but could find no tidings of him at Threlkeld, however they guest rightly & pursued to Materdale. Jackson came up with him first, & got from him three pounds, being about half his debt; Mrs Cockbaine overtook him at Pooley Bridge, & demanded the money or the – inexpressibles. Would not this be a rich subject for Wilkie? [21]  She would follow him, she said, wher[MS torn] he went, & keep by his side, till he either restored the inexpressibles, or paid for them. The Doctor, I believe, has been a man of gallantry in his time, – but he was not desirous of Mrs Cockbaine for a companion, & with a very ill grace, he paid her one guinea out of £ 2–5/s which was Johnnys demand; & the Virago returned, in a soaking rain, as stiff as you may suppose after a ride of nearly forty miles, – but triumphant. What is become of him is not known; – but some part of his conduct bears marks of insanity. It is manifest that some how or other, he had blasted his character before he came here, & it would not surprize me to hear that he had finished his career by suicide.

You will see that Sir F. Vane [22]  stands for Cockermouth, & that the County is to be contested, – we know not as yet by whom. Should this contest be a severe one it will bring Senhouse down again. The effect of Hunts standing for Westminster is amusing enough, every vote which he gets is one lost to Burdett, & therefore half as good as if it were given for Sir M. Maxwell, or Romilly, [23]  – in such a contest as this one must even wish for Romillys success: tho for my own part I would rather give a vote for Major Cartwright thin as thinking him if he were in the house, far the least mischievous of the two.

The country has been in its utmost beauty, & we have now some refreshing rain. Mrs S. & her sisters [24]  join with me in kind remembrance to Mrs Peachy. Mrs L. continues miserably weak & ill. The rest are going on well; & I am expecting ere long my Acta Sanctorum (52 vol. folio) [25]  – a great event in my life.

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Major-General Peachy/ Post Office/ Salisbury.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 23 JU 23/ 1818
Seal: [partial] red wax, design illegible
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 184–187. BACK

[1] Exodus 7: 12, where Aaron’s rod turns into a serpent and devours the serpents of the Egyptian sorcerers. BACK

[2] Mary Barker was in serious financial difficulties and was trying to let the property she had built at Rosthwaite. BACK

[3] Unidentified: presumably, an acquaintance of Peachy’s. BACK

[4] Captain George Gee (d. 1827) of Wraxall, Somerset, who was renting Ivy Cottage at Rydal. He was the son of Thomas Gee, a Bristol merchant, and an old schoolmate of Southey’s in Bristol. He seems to have played an important backstage role in organising the Lowther family’s election contests in Westmorland in 1818, 1820 and 1826. BACK

[5] Greta Bank, near Latrigg, just to the north of Keswick. BACK

[6] A farmhouse near the River Greta in Keswick, once a fortified pele tower, now demolished. BACK

[7] William May (1763–1827) from East Looe, Cornwall, who received a medical qualification in Leyden in 1787 and became an Extra-Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1788. He seems to have practiced mainly in Truro and Plymouth. BACK

[8] A principal inn in Keswick. BACK

[9] This was not impossible, given that May was an Extra-Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Henry Herbert Southey was a Licentiate; and that both had published books on consumption – May’s Essay on Pulmonary Consumption (Plymouth, 1792) and Henry Herbert Southey’s Observations on Pulmonary Consumption (1814). BACK

[10] The Curate at St Mary’s, Nether Stowey in 1790–1800 was a Cornishman, William Roskilly (d. 1810). William May seems to have been a friend of Roskilly’s and, while visiting him in Nether Stowey, accompanied him to tea with the Coleridges and gave Sara Coleridge advice on weaning the young Hartley Coleridge; see Sara Coleridge to Thomas Poole, [June 1817], Minnow among Tritons: Mrs. S. T. Coleridge’s Letters to Thomas Poole, ed. Stephen Potter (London, 1934), p. 53. BACK

[11] Sir Frederick Treise Morshead, 2nd Baronet (1783–1828) lived at Derwent Lodge, Keswick; his father, Sir John Morshead, 1st Baronet (1747–1813), MP for Callington 1780–1784, MP for Bodmin 1784–1802, went to live in France in 1802 and, when war between Britain and France broke out again, was detained in Verdun, with many other British citizens. He was not able to return to Britain until 1809. He knew William May, who was also at Verdun; indeed May was imprisoned for 14 months in 1805–1806 for writing a letter in which he protested against Morshead’s treatment. BACK

[12] John Airey (dates unknown) was a bookseller, stationer and pencil manufacturer in Keswick. BACK

[13] Mary Gritton, née Russell (c. 1770–1818), wife of Thomas Gritton (1756–1828), the Minister of the Independent Chapel at Keswick 1793–1828. She died on 15 May 1818. BACK

[14] Percival Russell Gritton (1789–1880). At this time he was a pocket book maker in Kendal. BACK

[15] Death throes. BACK

[16] A member of a family that ran many businesses in Keswick. These included the mercers, drapers and grocers shop, run under the name M. and D. Crosthwaite. BACK

[17] John Cockbaine (1786–1873), Keswick draper and tailor. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] The innkeeper of the Royal Oak at Keswick at this time was Joseph Jackson (dates unknown), so this presumably refers to one of his sons. BACK

[20] Mary Cockbaine, née White (1793–1859). She married John Cockbaine in 1813 and the couple had nine children. BACK

[21] David Wilkie (1785–1841; DNB), painter of comic genre pictures of rural life, such as Village Politicians (1806). Sir George Beaumont was one of his patrons. BACK

[22] Sir Frederick Fletcher Vane, 2nd Baronet (1760–1832), of Hutton-le-Forest near Penrith, MP for Winchelsea 1792–1794, Carlisle 1796–1802, Winchelsea 1806–1807. He was a Whig and a supporter of Brougham’s assault on the Lowther family’s control of Westmorland at the 1818 general election. Possibly as a diversionary tactic, he agreed to fight Cockermouth in June 1818, though this was a burgage borough totally under Lowther control. He polled only 2 votes. The Whigs also put forward John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), MP for Carlisle 1786–1790, 1791–1812, 1816–1820, MP for Cumberland 1820–1828, to contest Cumberland, but he did not go to the poll and the sitting MPs were returned unopposed. BACK

[23] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), in contesting the Westminster constituency in the 1818 general election, threatened to split the radical vote and harm Sir Francis Burdett’s chances of re-election. The other candidates were Sir Samuel Romilly (1757–1818; DNB), the Whig politician and legal reformer; John Cartwright (1740–1824; DNB), the veteran radical; and, for the ministry, Sir Murray Maxwell, a naval hero (1775–1831; DNB). Burdett and Romilly were returned; Maxwell was financially ruined and also severely injured by a paving slab thrown from the crowd. BACK

[24] Sara Coleridge and Mary Lovell. BACK

[25] Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794): the massive compendium of hagiographies that Southey had bought in Brussels, no. 207 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)
Lowood (mentioned 1 time)
Rosthwaite, Borrowdale (mentioned 1 time)
Stowey (mentioned 1 time)