2618. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 18 June 1815

2618. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 18 June 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 18 June 1815.

My dear Lightfoot

You cannot think of me more frequently, nor more affectionately than I do of you. These recollections begin to have an autumnal shade of feeling, & habitually joyous as my spirits are, I believe, that if we were now too meet, my first impulse would be to burst into tears. I was not twenty when we parted, & one & twenty years have elapsed since that time. Of the men with whom I lived at Oxford Wynn, Elmsley & yourself are all that are left. Seward is in heaven. Charles Collins is dead, Robert Allen is dead, Burnett is dead. I have lost sight of all the rest: And chance that throws strangers in my way by scores every summer, has never yet brought a single person whom I knew at College, except Douglas, who having succeeded to his patrimony at Kelso, & settled there as a physician, brought a bride here for two days, some three or four years ago. [1]  The elder Moncrieffe is dead in consequence of hard drinking. He had an official situation at Malta, & having destroyed his constitution embarked for England as a last hope, about two years since. Before he arrived there came tidings that the plague was at Malta, – his ship was put in quarantine, & he died in consequence, literally dying in sight of land where his life might certainly have been prolonged, & possibly saved if he coul could have landed. [2] 

My family continues in number the same as when you heard from me last. I am my sons schoolmaster, & in the process am recovering my Greek, which I had begun to forget at Balliol. How long I may continue to abide here is uncertain; the first term of my lease will expire in the spring of 1817, – if I do not go remove then I must remain for another seven years, & I am far too sensible of the insecurity of life to look beyond that time. Having many inducements to remove nearer London, & many to remain where I am, the trouble & enormous expense of moving (for I have not less than 5000 books) will very probably turn the scale, – certainly they will weigh heavy in it. It is not that I have any business in London as Poet Laureate; – that office imposes upon me no such necessity; – it only requires as a matter of decorum that when I happen to be there I should sometimes attend a Levee, – especially on the birth-day. [3]  But it is not expected that I should make a journey for this purpose, & accordingly I have never been at Court since I kissed hands upon my appointment. [4] 

Is it impossible for you to give me one whole Midsummer holydays, & to give the boys an additional week that you may have a clear month to enjoy yourself among these Lakes & Mountains? You would bear away with you recollections which would always give you pleasure, – for you have never seen any thing like this country, – the finest parts of Devonshire bear no resemblance to it. The stages are Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester & Kendal, each an easy days journey for one who may not prefer night-travelling. And a coach daily coach from Kendal arrives in Keswick at twelve in the noon. – I who think expedition the best economy, have come from Bristol to this house always in 43 hours. Make me a visit – & I will faithfully return it hereafter.

I have just been reading the Ludus Literarius of my friend Dr Bell, – happy is the schoolmaster who profits by it, & reforms his school upon the Madras system. [5]  I pray you give the subject a serious consideration. The only real obstacle is the want of initiatory books, but they would be very easily made, & I believe that very few pieces of literary labour would be so largely repaid. It is quite certain that his system removes 99 parts in 100 of the miseries both of the schoolboys & the schoolmaster.

My chief literary employment at present is in finishing the History of Brazil, the last volume of which is about half thro the press. [6]  I have done a good deal lately for the Quarterly Review, – there will be two articles of my handy work in the forthcoming number, – that upon the French Expedition to Egypt, [7]  & the Life of Wellington. [8]  A long labour lies before me. The history of the Peninsular War will go to press as soon as the History of Brazil is finished, or perhaps before: & then I hope to compleat the great labour of my life, – the Hist: of Portugal. [9]  – My friends in Spain have just made me Member of a second Academy [10]  – the R. Academy of History, – one of the most thoroughly erudite & active bodies in Europe.

Thus Lightfoot my life passes, as uniformly & as laboriously as yours, there is one difference in your favour, – you perhaps look on to an end of your labour, – which I never must do till my right hand forget its cunning. But I am very happy, & I dare say so are you. The chearful man’s a King, [11]  says the old King, & if this be true, both you & I are royal by nature. If you had a large round hole opposite your door, & I lived near you, I should be as much inclined to throw stones thro that hole for the sake of hearing them rattle against the door as I was two & twenty years ago.

God bless you my dear Lightfoot. remember me kindly to your wife, & give my love to my God-father God-daughter. [12]  Is she yet old enough to read her God-fathers books?? – believe me most truly & affectionately

Your old friend

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] London June Twenty one 1815/ Revd Nicholas Lightfoot/ Crediton/ C W Williams Wynn
Postmark: FREE/ 21 JU 21/ 1815
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d.110. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 112–113 [in part]. BACK

[1] Dr James Douglas (1775–1846) of Kelso, an old friend of Southey’s from Balliol College, Oxford. He had married Frances, daughter of James Robson of Samieston, in Edinburgh, on 10 December 1810 and visited Southey shortly afterwards; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 December 1810, Letter 1839. BACK

[2] William Wellwood Moncreiff had died on 5 September 1813. The eldest son of Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, 8th Baronet (1750–1826; DNB), he had been His Majesty’s Advocate in the Admiralty Court at Malta. BACK

[3] The Prince Regent’s birthday, 12 August. BACK

[4] This event occurred on 11 November 1813. BACK

[5] Andrew Bell, Elements of Tuition, Part III: Ludus Literarius, the Classical and Grammar School (1815), a Madras system (i.e. one in which advanced students were used to instruct more junior pupils) for teaching the classical languages, originally formulated by Bell in 1808. BACK

[6] The final two volumes of the History of Brazil appeared in 1817 and 1819. BACK

[7] Jacques François Miot (1779–1858), Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 1–55. BACK

[8] Southey reviewed George Elliott (dates unknown), The Life of the Most Noble Arthur Duke of Wellington, from the Period of his first Achievements in India, down to his Invasion of France, and the Peace of Paris in 1814 (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275. He went on to review a further series of books relating to Wellington in the Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526. BACK

[9] The History of the Peninsular War was published in three volumes between 1823–1832. The long-projected ‘History of Portugal’ was never finished. BACK

[10] The Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, established in 1738. Southey was already a member of the Royal Spanish Academy. BACK

[11] Isaac Bickerstaff (1733-after 1808; DNB), Love in a Village (1762), Act 1, scene 6, line 49. BACK

[12] Frances Jane (Fanny) Lightfoot (1806–1882). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)