2324. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 5 November [1813]

2324. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 5 November [1813] ⁠* 

I have something to tell you, which you will not be sorry at,
Tis that I am sworn into the office of Laureat.
The oath which I took, there could be nothing wrong in,
Twas to do all the duties to the dignity belonging.
Keep this I charge you as a precious gem,
For this is the Laureats first poemm.
Nov 5. 8 o clock.

There my dear Edith are some choice verses for you. I composed them in St James Park yesterday, on my way from the Chamberlain’s office where a good old Gentleman-Usher by name Wortham or Worthan, [1]  a worthy sort of a fat old xxxx man in a wig & a bag & a snuff-coloured full dress with cut steel buttons, & a sword, administered an oath in which I swore to reveal all treasons which might come to my knowledge, & to obey the Ld Chamberlain upon the Kings service, & in his stead the Vice Chamberlain. [2]  The Lord Chamberlain is the Marquis of Hertford, & Harry says that the Marchioness may perhaps be the Vice-Chamberlain. [3]  Today or tomorrow I shall pay the fees.

Inclosed are half-bills for 160£. [4]  I cannot yet learn when the Levee [5]  will be. Rickman thinks not till Thursday, in that case I intend to get off on Friday, – but there is danger <a chance> of delay from a circumstance over which I have no controul. You must know that there is a possible danger that the Prince may ask me to dine with him, & no engagement is allowed to interfere with such an invitation. I do not think this will happen, & heartily hope that it may not, but it has been suggested by one or two persons that it may, & therefore I cannot venture to take my place in the mail, while there is this possibility of being compelled to lose it. At the worst it will be but a day or two delay, – bad enough. Xx At the best it exposes me to the chance of not finding a place in the mail when I go to take one after the Levee.

Upon this chance therefore you will give me a few lines by return of post to acknowledge the halfnotes. After paying Danvers, fees & all London bills & expences, & reserving ample enough for my journey & contingent expences, this is no xx scanty surplus which I now remit to you.

I came to Rickmans last night. Writing hastily, & at an uncomfortable distance from a poor fire I am rambling on without order or connection. While I was as the Pursuits of Literature said of me “musing in the Park, – my six lined poem – not a Joan of Arc” [6]  Bedford met me, & we went together to Chelsea to look after a Mr John Lack, [7]  the Uncle of the woman [8]  xxx <to> whom Edward says he is married. This person he described as being such a man as Tom Southey. – I went to learn the girls history, & was prepared by this character to expect a sour & ill natured report. But I found an excellent old man & a dismal history of his brother the father of this girl, of her & all her connections. [9]  It seems she past at one time for another mans wife, & most probably is not married now. The old man who was represented to me as a rich curmudgeon has impoverished himself in assisting this wretched family & at this time chiefly supports the girls mother, – tho she was never married to his brother. – this, he said, was her only fault, & but for this he never knew a more excellent <worthier> woman. He is between 70 [MS torn] 80 & has sons who are well off in official situations & in fortune. [10]  The tears ran down his cheeks when he xx spoke of this poor woman, who is at this time dying, & told me how his rascally brother had forsaken her & was at this living with another woman in wretchedness & xxxx beggary, by xxx whom he has another family.

Wynn is in town & I go to him after breakfast. We left Woburn [11]  at seven yesterday morning, & I did not see a newspaper till I got to the Chamberlains office at three. Was there ever such glorious news! [12] 

I will see Martha to day, & Robert tomorrow. It is needless to say how I am hurried, & how incessantly occupied & engaged. A few days more will set me free, & if the levee be on Thursday I xxx heartily hope to be at home on the Sunday, – earlier, if an earlier day be fixed.

Breakfast is ready – so God bless you. Love to all – kiss the children for me – I cannot tell you to xxx xxx to xx discharge the same commission of love to yourself. – dear Edith once more farewell.



* Address: [in another hand] London Novr. five 1813/ Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ James Graham/ Cumberland
Postmark: FREE/ NO 5/ 1813
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 45 [undated; in part]; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 86-88. BACK

[1] Hale Young Wortham (1747–1820), First Gentleman Usher and Daily Waiter on His Majesty. BACK

[2] Francis Charles Seymour-Conway (1777–1842; DNB), who, as heir to the Marquessate of Hertford, held the courtesy title Lord Yarmouth. He was a close friend of the Prince Regent, who appointed him to the post of vice-chamberlain in 1812 – the Chamberlain was his father, the Marquess of Hertford. BACK

[3] Isabella Anne (1760–1834; DNB), who had married the Marquis of Hertford in 1776. She was an intimate friend, some said mistress, of the Prince Regent and therefore a power to be reckoned with in Court circles. BACK

[4] i.e. half-banknotes – a secure way of sending money in the post, by tearing banknotes in half and sending the two halves separately. BACK

[5] Southey’s official presentation at Court as Poet Laureate. BACK

[6] A paraphrase of ‘and ponder in the park/ A six-weeks Epick, or a Joan of Arc’, Thomas James Mathias (1753/4–1835; DNB), The Pursuits of Literature, 2 vols (London, 1797), II, p. 48. BACK

[7] John Lack (1739–1824). He had served as Secretary to Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool (1729–1808; DNB), during his time as President to the Board of Trade, 1786–1803. BACK

[8] The first name of Edward Southey’s common law wife and the name of her mother are unknown. BACK

[9] James Lack (b. c. 1744) had been married to Mary Goley (b. c. 1740). James and Mary had two daughters, Phyllis (b. 1769) and Elizabeth (b. 1772). BACK

[10] John Lack had two adult sons, Thomas (1770–1841) and John (1773–1850). Thomas was an official in the Board of Trade, rising to be Secretary to the Board. John was a customs officer. BACK

[11] The seat of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB), the patron of Herbert Hill’s living at Streatham. BACK

[12] The London newspapers on 5 November 1813 carried accounts of the decisive victory of the Sixth Coalition over French forces at Leipzig on 16–19 October 1813. BACK