2304. Robert Southey to Edith May Southey, 20 September 1813

2304. Robert Southey to Edith May Southey, 20 September 1813 ⁠* 

Streatham. Sept. 20. 1813.

My dear Edithling

I owe you a letter, & it is time the debt should be paid; so your Mamma will let me write to you instead of her, especially as I have been stationary at Streatham ever since I wrote, & consequently can have nothing to communicate.

As I know you read the newspaper for the sake of seeing whether Buonaparte has been killed, how the King [1]  is, & whether there are any new murders, you may probably have seen there that your father is to be Poet-Laureat. [2]  Son-Lunus who is an unbeliever about Pegasus, [3]  will perhaps not believe that the Prince is going to give me a right to wear laurel round my head; but if you & he will look in a book about Petrarch [4]  which is at the Senhora’s, & is one of those upon which she has bestowed a paper-morocco back, they you will see the portrait of a Poet Laureat with his crown on. The laurels must should be gathered from the grove on that mountain where the nine sisters take care of my winged horse; [5]  & it is not proper that I should wear any others.

I am teaching the two eldest of your Cousins to say la, la, la, look at the lamb & the lark: & wa, wa, wa, we will walk. Herbert learns this much more readily than his brother. They are very good children, & are grown very fond of me. I tickle & toss them whenever we meet, & sometimes kiss Duke Bruin, who is Ursa Major or the Great Bear, & is the best kissing of the three. But kissing him is a very different thing from kissing my own Bertha Bruin, & Kate, & Isabee-bo-bell. My Aunt would be very willing to visit us, & bring the three Bears with her, but I fear my Uncle will not be persuaded to move. Earl Bruin, the little wee bear, is very little older than Isabel, & does not talk; but Marquis Bruin, the middle Bear, has an ursine language of his own which is very winning. His daily subject of complaint is that nobody will be married, & so he can get no wedding cake.

You must tell your Mamma that I have seen a letter to day, from Mrs Piozzi [6]  to Mr Davies, [7]  which concerns me, & which as the writer is only seventy five years of aged, may perhaps make her jealous, if she heard of it from any other quarter than from me myself. Mrs Piozzi hearing that I am at Streatham, & expecting to find me there when she comes herself, bids me beware of “a solitary woman” with “bright blue eyes” altho “her hair be grey.” – She writes a sprightly letter, full of life & spirits, & in a firm, full, strong hand, which as a sample of pen-womanship is remarkably fine, but considering her time of life, is really wonderful.

I have bought for you some Arabian Tales in three volumes, [8]  wherein you will find mention of the Dom daniel which Thalaba destroyed: & I have bought for Herbert the Persian & Turkish Tales. [9]  I am writing at this time upon your desk, which is the size of your Mamma’s, & I mean to buy the fellow to it for Thisbe. [10]  I shall also buy bricks & pictures for Bertha & Kate.

Do not forget your lessons while I am absent. I shall not be pleased if you lose ground. Tell Lunus to look over the poems which I made for him about the <his> Greek & have them all at the tip of his tongue when I return.

Your Mamma will like to know all the news of my intended operations which I can send her. Tell her then that I am getting on well with my business, in every sense of the word. That I go to town on Friday, when Coleridge will be asked to dine with me at Harry’s: on Sunday I dine & sleep at Holland House, – the Wednesday following dine at Mr Vaughans [11]  with Elmsley, & the next day with Madame Stael. [12]  Next week will compleat my main business, & then another fortnight will set me free from London. I mean to stop a day on my return at Worcester for the purpose of seeing Lucien Buonaparte. [13] 

And now my dear Edithling, farewell. Give my love to Wilsey; – the Doctor enquired particularly for her. Say to your Aunt Coleridge that I long to sneeze & snap my toes at home once more: & tell the Senhora that poor I am getting sleepy, for it is half past nine o clock, sufficient for the day hath been the labour thereof. I am Simorghish [14]  at all times, & when absent from home it is better to be asleep than awake.

I hope Lord Nelson, Bona Fidelia, & Madame Catalani continue well. [15]  Sir John Murray has probably gone the way of all geese. How is Paul the Pig, & how go on his distant relations from Guinea?

God bless you

your affectionate father [signature cut-off]

Next week I shall write to Herbert.


* Address: To/ Miss Southey/ Greta Hall/ Keswick/ Cumberland
Postmarks: 7 o’Clock/ SP. 21/ 1813 N.T.; B./ S.E./ 21/1813
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 36. AL; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 327-330. BACK

[1] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). He had been unable to conduct public business since October 1810. BACK

[2] Southey’s appointment as Poet Laureate was reported in the Morning Chronicle, 18 September 1813. BACK

[3] The winged horse of mythology. BACK

[4] Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), who was crowned poet laureate with a laurel wreath in Rome in 1341. Southey could be referring to a number of books in his collection. One possibility is Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (1747–1813; DNB), An Historical and Critical Essay on the Life and Character of Petrarch (Edinburgh, 1810), which contained such an engraving of Petrarch as a frontispiece [unpaginated]. The book was no. 2224 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] i.e. Mount Olympus, home of the Nine Muses. BACK

[6] The writer and celebrated Bluestocking, Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741–1821; DNB). BACK

[7] Reynold Davies (1752–1822), Curate of Streatham and a neighbour of Herbert Hill’s. He ran a school for small boys on land which he leased from Hester Lynch Piozzi’s estate at Streatham Park. BACK

[8] Arabian Tales, translated into English in 1792 by Robert Heron (1764–1807; DNB). The ‘Dom-daniel’ the ‘chief nursery and retreat’ of evil magicians features in vol. 4 of Heron’s translation (esp. pp. 102, 191, 308, 339); and Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[9] Probably a volume of the Persian and Turkish Tales. From the French of M. Petis de la Croix (1809), translated by William King (1663–1712; DNB). There was, however, a problem with the book Southey had purchased; see Southey to Thomas De Quincey, 19 January 1814, Letter 2366. BACK

[10] A nickname for Southey’s niece Sara Coleridge. BACK

[11] Possibly Thomas Wright Vaughan (1774–1859), author of A View of the Present State of Sicily (1811). BACK

[12] Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817), the writer and salonnière, who was much feted during her 1813 visit to England. BACK

[13] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), brother of Napoleon. Since 1810 he had been living under house arrest in England, at Thorngrove in Worcestershire, and writing Charlemagne, ou l’Eglise Delivree (1814), an epic poem which it had been suggested that Southey should translate. BACK

[14] A mythological (and sleepy) bird. It has featured in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11. BACK

[15] Cats owned by the Southey family. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 4 times)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 4 times)
Southey, Bertha (1809–1877) (mentioned 2 times)
Barker, Mary (c. 1780–1853) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Isabel (1812–1826) (mentioned 2 times)
Hill, Edward (1809–1900) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Elmsley, Peter (1774–1825) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 3 times)
Holland House (mentioned 1 time)