1785. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 June 1810

1785. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 June 1810 ⁠* 

Since last you heard of us we have performed the great effort of a journey to Durham, – the two Ediths [1]  & myself, – we past two days with James Losh on our way back, & reached home again on the nineteenth day after we left it. Tom went with us, but did not return with us as was intended. Look you Senhora by <upon> what strange contingencies the main events of life depend. I went to Durham at this time for the sake of seeing the Long Main, [2]  – which perhaps you may not know is the great exhibition of Cock fighting, & but for this I should probably have delayed my visit till the autumn, when Tom, who was full loth to leave the Lakes at this season, would not have been ashore to go with me. He meets with a certain Miss Castle, – sits down to beseige that Castle in form, – makes his advances, – presses the siege, – & xxxxx his xxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxx in short next Wednesday he is to be married, – & by the end of the week I expect him & his wife at Keswick. Quick work, – but there is nothing like dispatch xxxxx in war, making love & taking physick.

In answer to the fifty questions which you are ready to ask first I must tell you that as to money matters I do not suppose either of them would venture upon marriage unless there was something on her side – but it cannot possibly be much. Her father [3]  is an attorney at Durham, a very respectable man, – but his affairs were in a bad state only last year – something very like bankruptcy, – & Losh told me that the daughter (whose character is very high) behaved uncommonly well during his difficulties. Some few years ago she was engaged in marriage to a young man who died, & his relations entertained such a respect for her that they settled upon her an annuity of 100£. I cannot tell whether this settlement was for life or if it were merely at pleasure, & therefore likely to cease now – But I rather guess that she has this, – & that she cannot have <little if> any thing else – Tom <however> is to tell me his plans when we meet, – & I have sufficient confidence in his good sense to hope with some reason, that they are not so imprudent as they appear. – She is a very interesting woman – about 30 – or verging toward it, – what little I saw of her pleased me very much indeed.

You cannot expect more news than this in a single letter, & I suppose you know that another unborn is on the way, & expected to appear next month. If a boy the name is to be Danvers, – if a girl I am unprovided with one to my liking – Ellen or Elinor seem to please me best. [4] 

Kehama [5]  will yet be eight or ten weeks before it is published – the whole poem is printed, & I am in daily expectation of the sheets that the notes may be fitted to their place & sent off. – This evening the last proof of the Register is returned to the printer. [6]  O Senhora what a job is that to have off my hands! – & no sooner is it off than it comes on again, – for documents for 1809 are probably now on their way in the waggon. I shall never be left to grow fat in idleness. There is a freedom as well as a force in what I have said written for this Register, which will displease all parties, & mortally offend many persons, – but which will do your heart good to see. Mine is the easier for having had vent. Certes there is no wholesomer habit than that of plain speaking. Pray you remember when you read that the author is one of his Majestys pensioners. [7] 

How are you? this is a question which I want you to answer oftener than I can find leisure to ask it. Summer is the less welcome here, because you do not come with it, as you were used to do. Here is Herbert grown out of your knowledge & Edith our of your remembrance, – & Bertha Bruin whom you have never seen. She is fancied so like you that Tom always calls her the Senhorita. What a fine foundation for some of your precious Uncles [8]  to work upon if she had happened to be a few years older!

God bless you


Keswick. June 13. 1810.

Pray present my respects to Sir E. I do not often think of these things, & therefore they are worth mean something when I do think of them.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Misc. c. 107. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s wife and eldest daughter. BACK

[2] A week of organized cockfighting which accompanied the main horse race meeting at Newcastle, in the last week of April, or first week May. BACK

[3] Samuel Castle (d. 1815), a well-known solicitor in Co. Durham. He was Clerk of the Crown in the county and held various legal offices in the Bishop of Durham’s household. BACK

[4] Katherine Southey was born in August 1810. BACK

[5] The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. BACK

[6] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810) printed by James Ballantyne and Co. Southey wrote the sections on history. BACK

[7] Southey’s annuity of £160 from Wynn had been replaced in 1807 by a government pension for the same amount. BACK

[8] Mary Barker had four living uncles on her mother’s side of the family, all of whom were connected to the iron trade: Jeston Homfray (1752–1816); Samuel Homfray (1762–1822; DNB); Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB) and Thomas Homfray (1760–1825). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)