1889. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 24 March 1811

1889. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 24 March 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 24. 1811.

My dear Senhora

I was right glad to see Sir Edward’s hand this afternoon – sadly as it seems to have shaken. Now that I know where you are to be found let me gallop over a sheet of paper, – if the pen Senhora could but run as fast as the tongue, mine would soon distance the most expert short hand writer, supposing me to write as fast as I talk.

First you must send me your little modelling masters direction, – for Grosvenor Bedford said something about having my bust taken, – which be it known is the only operation connected with the fine arts that I will ever submit to again, – & if this is to be done your little friend shall do it. [1] 

Mrs. Carr [2]  is a clever woman. She knows me but very little – I once dined at her house, – some fourteen or fifteen years ago, & have met her once or twice since. James Losh gave me a letter to her husband [3]  when I went to London to lodge in 1797. He was too civil, and I did not take to him, – so the acquaintance dropt because I was not civil enough, – which was of course the natural consequence. – I cannot agree with Mr Wilson in thinking there is much in Longman, except an exceeding good nature, [4]  – & I verily believe a thoroughly kind heart, – in spite of a very heart-hardening trade, – for such that of a publisher is. I like him, & am always more glad to see him than I am to see nine tenths of my acquaintance.

You over-value the criticism in the Annual Register. [5]  It talks foolishly of Wordsworth & ridiculously of Campbell [6]  who is the mere creature of party criticism, & whose verses, one & all, are tinsel & trumpery. It overlooks Landor altogether, overpraises Crabbe, [7]  undervalues Bowles, & cruelly despises Bloomfield. Between ourselves the writer (God knows who he is) is right enough in placing me upon an equality with two of my contemporaries – but he had not sense enough to find them out. [8]  They are Wordsworth & Landor. – Coleridge might have been added if he pleased. Scott has that sort of talent in narrative poetry, which the Castle Spector [9]  exhibits in the drama, – the power of conceiving fine stage situations – this is his excellence, & if any person chuses to think that in this he excells me I shall not object to the decision. Upon no other point I humbly conceive can there be any comparison between us. As for Tom Commel as the Scotch call him, – upon my soul I should just as soon have expected to be measured with Tom Thumb upon a difference of opinion respecting which was the tallest.

I am closely employed upon the Register for 1809 [10]  which for my sins will be half as long again as that for the preceding year & till it is done I cannot stir. It will not be possible for me to set out these six or seven weeks. Whether Edith goes with me depends upon the state of the child – Katharine is very ailing, & I begin to fear it will hardly be possible to wean her by that time. [11]  Perhaps you may see me at Bath on my way back.

Kehama I believe is the way of being tolerably well abused, [12]  – for which Kehama himself cares quite as much the author. It is liked by all whom I wish to like it, & agree with you so far as to believe it will be a long while before the world will see anything else as good. Longman told me a month ago he had disposed of 322 copies. – 500 only were printed. This was the first sale, & then it is likely to stop. My name carries off anything to that amount, – the after sale depends for some years upon what such coxcombs as Jeffray  [13]  may please to pronounce upon it, – & so it is to be counted for nothing. – Pelayo [14]  hangs upon hand for want of time rather than inclination, – & more truly still for want of sleep rather than of time. The infant disturbs me, & so in the morning hours when I should be at my desk I am getting a little sound rest. Only 700 lines are written, – they are in the tone of Madoc, [15]  & what they should be. I have planned another poem & sent to America for books relating to it, – it being an American story. [16]  You will laugh to hear that the chief personage is a primitive Quaker.

My brother Tom has a daughter, – & something of the same kind is expected soon by Harry .

God bless you



* Address: To/Miss Barker
MS: text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 349–352
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s bust was finally sculpted by James Smith (1775–1815) in 1813. He may well have been Mary Barker’s ‘little friend’. BACK

[2] Frances Carr (c. 1765–1836). Her house in Hampstead was a meeting place for many literary figures and she was a friend of Anna Laetitia Barbauld. BACK

[3] Thomas William Carr (1770–1829), solicitor to the Board of Excise. He was from Eshot in Northumberland and probably knew Losh through this local connection. Southey recorded meeting Carr on 9 February 1797 in Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1851), IV, p. 39. BACK

[4] Longman published John Wilson’s The Isle of Palms, and Other Poems (1812) and Wilson may have been dissatisfied by his negotiations with the publisher. BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 417–443. BACK

[6] Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB), Scottish poet, Whig and favourite of the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[7] George Crabbe (1754–1832; DNB), clergyman and poet. BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 419 had announced that ‘our most successful poets are Scott, Southey and Campbell’. BACK

[9] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), The Castle Spectre (1798). BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[11] Katharine Southey was born in August 1810. BACK

[12] Especially by Jeffrey in his review of the Curse of Kehama (1810) in Edinburgh Review, 34 (February 1811), 429–465. BACK

[13] Jeffrey pointed out that there were three editions of Joan of Arc, two of Thalaba, and only one of Madoc, and he concluded that the decreasing sale of Southey’s poems was a measure of what posterity’s judgment would be (p. 431). BACK

[14] The poem that became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[15] Madoc (1805). BACK

[16] Southey’s unfinished Oliver Newman: A New England Tale was published in 1845. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)