1790. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [c. June 1810]

1790. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [c. June 1810] ⁠* 

My first impulse on seeing the fatal intelligence from Verdun [1]  was to have written to you, – the same post happened to bring letters & papers of business requiring immediate answer, – & being once delayed, – the difficulty of knowing what to say, – rather the impossibility of saying any thing to the purpose, became a cause of farther delay. What can be said! – of all the persons whom I have ever known you have been the most unfortunate in your family, – but even this, aggravated as it has been by this last stroke, is a less painful consideration to me than to think on how frail a tenure the only connection rests in which you have found any kind of compensation. You yourself have never appeared to me to be sensible on how very frail a thread it hangs, [two words crossed out] an ill digested meal of the next influenza may destroy it, – [fifteen words crossed out] Do not call me one of Jobs Comforters, [2]  what I have at heart is, that having this before your eyes, you should be prepared with your future plans, – & that your resolutions should be taken, whenever that event happens, to come & take up your abode here. – I do not think any thing could conduce more to your own happiness, – I am sure nothing could add so much to mine, – & I am willing to believe that as you have no friend who possibly can love you better, – so there should be none to whose society you should more naturally look for as much enjoyment as the untoward circumstances of life have left to be your portion. Ten years intimacy, & more intercourse during those years than often falls to the lot of persons of different sexes who are not related have given us a thorough knowledge of each other, & mutual esteem. And without assenting to the system of your worthy Uncle [3]  respecting the fitness of having two wives, – there is certainly a very great fitness that my daughter and your god-child should have two mothers.

This is not perhaps the sort of letter that you would expect on such an occasion, – yet surely it is a fit occasion to say that there is one person in the world who feels for you as sincere an affection as if he were your brother, respecting & loving your good qualities as thoroughly as he perceives & understands them. God bless you! – I have some other things to say, but they would be flat & unprofitable here, both to you & to myself. I will write [two words crossed out] again very soon. Once more God bless you my dear Senhora.

[two words crossed out] Robert Southey


* Address: To/Miss Barker
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 345–6 [dated January 1811]
Dating note: Dated from contextual evidence. This letter is written after the death of Lieutenant Barker on 18 February 1810 and about 10 years after Southey and Barker met in June 1800. Therefore c. June 1810 seems likely. BACK

[1] Lieutenant Edward Barker of the Hussar, who was a prisoner at Verdun, was killed in a duel with another British prisoner on 18 February 1810. This news appeared in the Paris papers on 16 March 1810 and in British newspapers in late March (e.g. Lancaster Gazette, 31 March 1810). Lieutenant Barker was possibly a cousin of Mary Barker. BACK

[2] In the Book of Job, Job’s comforters provided him with no comfort at all. BACK

[3] Probably one of Mary Barker’s mother’s brothers, several of whom were known for their strong opinions, e.g. Samuel Homfray (1762–1822; DNB) or Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB). BACK

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