2014. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 January 1812

2014. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 January 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 8. 1812.

Senhora I say nothing to you of the sixteen shillings, — a proof of forbearance which will show you that I have not read the book of Job [1]  without profiting by it.

How are you going on at Teddesley? Not a line have you written since the Imperial visit, — a silence which might almost lead a politician to suspect, (considering the nature of the visit) that some treaty was in agitation — for raising a certain personage to the Imperial throne. How we are going on you may easily guess, — on my part the same exercitations of vocal powers below stairs, & the same “stood-stood” (as the Exeter servant called it) [2]  all day above. Mrs. C. vituperating my singing as usual, & vituperation acting upon me irresistibly as an encore. Here is Edith a great girl, — Herbert with the finest countenance you ever saw, Bruin the Bear , alias Queen Henry the Eighth, alias the Senhorita so like you, that scandal might find a pretty foundation for a pretty story on the resemblance, & Katharine trotting about like the miniature in form of Lady Eleanor Butler, [3]  or struggling in Sarahs [4]  arms, like Gulliver in the Monkeys [5]  Indeed Gulliver is one of her names for this reason. The worst news is that the succession seems at a stand for the present. at which Nurse is very properly displeased, & I myself somewhat in the dumps — for upon fourteen I had set my heart.

I shall leave Mrs Lovell to tell you the history of a young couple here [6]  the husband 19 — lately expelled from Oxford for printing a treatise in six pages called the necessity of Atheism, [7]  & sending it round to all the Bishops, requesting them to convince him of his error, — if in error he was. Oh how you would like this heir to six thousand a year who, now, that he is got to the Pantheistic stage of his progress, is the very ghost of what I was at his age, — poet, philosopher, & jacobin, & moralist & enthusiast. Chance has brought him to this place, & he is likely to get more good here than the whole Bench of Bishops could have done him. A D.D. [8]  to whom he sent one of the circulars with this taking title recommends Prayer to him as the way to settle his doubts, — & he prayed for two months. His own heart will lead him right at last. and for all the vagaries on the way, — why Senhora you would say as I do, & as King Henry did of that son of his whose head was like unto a mule, his nose unto a boar, “No matter for that, I like him the better therefore.” [9] 

Now for myself — which I do freely confess to be not so good a subject as what I am leaving for Mrs. Lovell, — but she can tell you Shellys story, & cannot tell you my winter operations. My ordinary occupations you know, — The Register [10]  & Pelayo, [11]  both going on. My extras are these. The article in the Quarterly upon Bell & the Dragon, altered & extended, & now in the press to form a little volume called the Origin Nature & Object of the New System of Education. [12]  — in a few weeks I hope to send one to Teddesley. It will make you clearly understand a subject which there has been a great deal of pains taken to perplex. I have planned two books with the hope & expectation of fitting them upon the establishment of schools of the National Institution. [13]  — for the purpose of training up our youth in the way that they should go. The Book of the Church, & the Book of the Constitution, [14]  — being at once the philosophy & the flowers of our ecclesiastical & civil history. This is the outline of the first. — 1. The religion of our British Roman & Saxon ancestors, being the evils from which the conversion of this island delivered us 2. A picture of popery. 3. a picture of puritanism. 4. methodism. all this given in historical form, showing the evils from which our Ch. Establishment has delivered us, — & those from which at present it preserves us. In short I want to make people feel & understand, what they neither understand nor feel now. & the Book of the Constitution is the parallel of these. Shall I not Senhora be well employed in executing this in such a manner as shall at once suit the comprehension of youth & satisfy the understanding of mature judgements? In reading for this purpose I dwelt over Fox’s book of Martyrs [15]  till I was tormented all night with fire and faggots.

God bless you

yrs affectionately,


Our respects to Sir E. I hope he is well enough to receive them.


* 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. 374–377
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The central figure of the Book of Job suffered misfortune uncomplainingly. BACK

[2] Not identified. BACK

[3] Southey visited the Ladies of Llangollen in the summer of 1811. BACK

[4] A childrens’ nurse employed by the Southeys. BACK

[5] Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Part II, ‘A Voyage to Brobdingnag’, Chapter 5. BACK

[7] Percy Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism (1811). BACK

[8] A Doctor of Divinity. Not identified. BACK

[9] ‘Queen Eleanor’s Confession’, lines 69–72, a popular ballad about Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122/1124–1204; DNB). BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[11] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[12] The Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education (1812), an expansion of Southey’s review in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. BACK

[13] The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church was founded in 1811 to promote Anglican education. BACK

[14] The Book of the Church (1824). Southey never wrote his defence of the British constitution. BACK

[15] John Foxe (1517–1587; DNB), Actes and Monuments (1563), popularly known as the ‘Book of Martyrs’. Southey owned an edition of 1684, no. 975 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

Places mentioned

Teddesley (mentioned 2 times)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)