45. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [31 March 1793]

45. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [31 March 1793] ⁠* 

Ledbury. Herefordshire. Easter Sunday.

Had I my dear Collins the pen of Rousseau I would attempt to describe the various scenes which have presented themselves to me & the various emotions occasioned by them. that pen which instead of being pointed with fire was dipt in the milk of human kindness & knew so well to describe all the joys & agonies of sensibility was equal to any task — but enough of this fill-paper style. it deserves no better epithet — instead of Rousseau believe me plain democratic RS & be content with a little prose as unadorned & unpolished as myself. on Wednesday morning about eight o clock we sallied forth. my travelling equipage consisting of my diary — writing book, pen & ink silk handkerchief & Miltons defence. [1]  we reached Woodstock to breakfast where I was delighted with reading the Nottingham address for peace. [2]  perhaps you will call it stupidity which made me pass the very walls of Blenheim without turning from the road to behold the Ducal palace — perhaps it was so — but it was the stupidity of a democratic philosopher who had appointed a day in summer for the purpose — who was in haste to proceed & who only lamented the waste of building lavished upon a Duke [3]  — from thence to Enstone where curiosity tempted me to Henriettas water works. [4]  the good old woman was kind enough not to surprise me by wetting me all over but I learnt that the great amusement consists in getting women there & streaming up water from the ground. the maker must have been some fool who had more money than wit & more wit than charity for half the expence would have fed the hungry & cloathed the naked. we dined at Chipping Norton & slept at Morton. 27 miles from the celebrated seat of wigs & debauchery. this is journey writing & only wastes paper let me hurry over the remainder for I have a most delightful history. Evesham Abbey detained me some time. it was here where Edward defeated & slew Simon de Montford. [5]  often did I wish for you & your pencil for never did I behold so beautiful a pile of ruins. I have seen the abbeys at Battle & Malmsbury — but this is a compleat specimen of the simple Gothic. a tower quite compleat fronts the church whose roof is dropping down & admits thro the chasms the dim-streaming light — the high pointed window frames where the high grass waves to the lonely breeze & that beautiful moss which at once ornaments & cankers the monastic pile rapt me to other years — I recalled the savage sons of superstition — I heard the deep toned mass & the chaunted prayer for those who fell in fight. but fancy soon recurred to a more enchanting scene — the blind beggar of Bethnal green & his daughter [6]  — you know how intimately connected with this now mouldering scene that ballad is. over this abbey I could detain you Collins for ever so many & so various were the reveries it caused. we reached Worcester to dinner the second day. 56 miles from Oxford — there Collins when shall we walk so philosophically? the next morning we breakfasted with a clergyman of the name of Miller [7]  at Worcester. from him I learnt much of the Glasgow mode of education & all I learnt but served the more to disgust me with Oxonian stupidity. we reached the Hatthouse to dinner twelve miles onwards. imagine a house built in that stile which excluding fantastic ornament seeks only convenience — half way up what you would call a steep hill — at the bottom such a rivulet! rushing in natural cascades over huge stones gleaming with moss. the banks overspread with primroses & redolent of the violets that just appeared amid the moss around — I am not equal to the description — but I sit upon the broken rocks & los[MS blotted] myself in reveries — never without recurring to Rousseau & the Elysium of Madame Wolmar. [8] 

we walked by Mr Butts [9]  house at Stamford. it is a wonderful spot — such a view — the church immediately below — Sir Edward Winningtons [10]  just by. but he had built it as a parsonage house & I fear poor Martin will not inherit it. <to> Sewards brother in law who educated him at Abberley. his name Severne. [11]  do you recollect about six months back an advertisement stating that Joseph Stinton had forcibly taken Mary Severne from her governess & cautioning the clergy from marrying them. the story is this. they eloped together from her fathers at Bromyard whose bailiff he was. were married at Gretna Green in the presence of three witnesses & returned. the father would admit of no reconciliation unless they seperated. to this it was impossible to consent. he appointed thief takers to sieze them in bed & conveyed her away whilst the husband was sent to Sewards brother in law the Uncle. the only intelligence the <father> would give was that he had placed her in a conve family abroad. to this story he adhered. Stinton still thought she was in London he went & carried music about the town in hopes of discovering — frequently telling his story & encouraged by every body. at last he gave up the search — his friends persuaded him to stay one day more & whilst he sat at dinner he glimpsed his wife in the street. he ran out with his pocket full of silver giving to one & another to follow & watch that Lady — he followed them on — the wife looked back & he hid his face with his hands. at length he housed them & went to a coach makers opposite — is that house to be let? I want one in this part of the town but should not chuse it unless it had a back door. there is no back door to that the man replied — & Stinton was satisfied. he now kept a coach & four at the end of the street & waited for his wife the a coach was taken by the duenna to carry them to Greenwich & thence abroad — so critical was the moment. they came out. she saw her husband & ran to him but the duenna still grasped her arm — a man struck the arm Stinton carried his wife to the coach & away they drove — the pursuit was hot & the Uncle Severne the only friend to protect them — he told the true case every where. Sir E Winnington Ld Foley [12]  all the neighbourhood were interested for them. but no clergyman could remarry them. at length they were remarryd at Colonel Johns in Radnorshire[MS torn] [13] 

I wish I could recollect all the intermediate adventures — no romance ever equalled them. the husband has one of the best of characters — his Uncle at Abberley is instructing him — they are noticed by all the first people round & with one of them till they can be settled in a farm. I like the mans spirit he wishes never to see his father in law & does not desire his wifes fortune.

here we staid three days — I rode with Mr Severne to Kidderminster with intent to breakfast at Mr Butts but all the family were out. we returned by Bewdley. there is an old mansion once Ld Herberts [14]  now mouldering like aristocracy away in so romantic a situation that I soon lost myself in dreams of days of yore — the tapestried room — the listed fight — the vassal filled hall — the hospitable fire — the old Baron & his young daughter — these formed a most delightful day dream — how horrid it is to wake into common life from these scenes — at a moment when you are transported to happier times — to descend to reality — could these visions last for ever!

yesterday we walked 25 miles over Malvern hills to Ledbury. to Sewards brother. here I am before breakfast & how soon to be interrupted I know not. believe me I shall return reluctantly to Oxford. these last ten days seem like years to look back — so crowded with different picture — the mind always full of some delightful image save when I look to the gallant Dumourier [15]  & wish to conquer with him or die. you will think me mad to waste one thought upon him. perhaps I am but the idea fills me quite.

you have heard of the crash — the shock which public credit has sustained. the first fruits of war. Mr Severne professes aristocracy & yet is constantly practising like a democrat. we baited him most delightfully. —

10 o clock. you remember Arthur Youngs reflection — it is the fate of travellers just to glimpse those persons with whom he could wish to dwell for ever & then depart perhaps never to see them more.  [16] 

I never experienced the truth of this more forcibly than at present — this spot is delightful. there are attractions to detain one for ever. are not those persons happiest who have no souls like a friend of ours — who can behold every person & every place with equal indifference & who can tread over the hallowed grave of Rosamond [17]  with the same apathy they riot in the great quadrangle? I am inclined to think they are but nevertheless do not envy such happiness. when I look back one year only how surprizing does every thing — one year back on this very festival was I in a most unpleasing state of suspense — now when the agitation of the moment is abated I only wonder at its subsiding so quietly — poor number five [18]  — how wast thou insulted abused vilified misinterpreted & persecuted yet still insulted abused vilified misinterpreted & persecuted as thou art I am more proud of thy blasted cypress garland than of the most blooming laurel wreath which the Muses could bestow or the most gorgeous diadem which oppression could wring from poverty. Bedford will scold me for this as he will certainly see it, so by abusing him now it will save me from writing & he does not deserve a letter — ask him if he is not ashamed of such neglect? ask him if he has forgot [MS torn] or if he remembers only my faults — or if he wishes to forget me? or if he forgets [MS torn] friend in the democrat — I will not imagine that Bedford can carry politics so [MS torn] I am sure his heart as well as his head is too good & too liberal but negligence in [MS torn]pable, when it gives pain to a friend becomes a crime. church time approaches & [MS obscured] could wish my letter done. I do not think that you Collins would sacrifice such company [MS obscured]

this peripatetic Philosophy pleases me more & more. the 26 miles I walked yesterday neither fatigued me then or now — who in the name of common sense would travel stewed in a leathern box when they have legs & those none of the shortest fit for use? what scene can be more calculated to expand the soul than the sight of Nature in all her loveliest works? — we must walk over Scotland it will be an adventure to delight us all the remainder of our lives — we will wander over the hills of Morven & mark the driving blast perchance bestridden by the sprite of Ossian. [19] 

this Knight errant way of travelling is in England however barren of adventures — there are no distressed damsels & all the caitiffs have the once hospitable castles — instead of the echoing hall & hospitable hearth we must put up with an inn — instead of the Barons fair daughter be content with a chambermaid — instead of the merry minstrels song be forced to make them yourself — in Scotland the scene will vary — where there is little refinement there is much hospitality — the climate is cold but the heart of the highlander tremblingly alive to all the feelings of generosity —

I have been to church — but as there are terrestial angels as well as celestial ones & as visible beings are most calculated to attract the most useful sense my devotion was not as it ought — what would the musical Charles Collins say to hear anthems sung to a bagpipe by voices if possible less harmonious than the instrument? to see a namesake with <a> red face & a large wig drawling along almost to the tune of moderation — verily I think his eyes would have wandered as well as mine & his senses strayed — as for sleeping it was too cold. do not you think I should make a capital field preacher? the idea never struck me so forcibly before. I will persuade myself that I have had a call — the imagination will be as strong as the reality — I will hold forth in the true declamatory style & be enrolld in the calender of enthusiasts & spirits. such a life would be pleasant — I might travels like the Apostles only with a staff — but here is company entered such as would tempt you to forget a friend & make me rely upon forgiveness

yr peripatetic friend


direct to me at Sewards Sapey. near Clifton. Worcestershire. & write immediately lest I miss the letter


* Address: Charles Collins Esqre/ Maize Hill/ Greenwich/ near/ London/ Single
Stamped: LEDBURY
Postmark: [partial] EA/ 3/ 93
Endorsements: No Answer —; Recd April 3 [in pencil]
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44801. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 269–273 ; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 178–190 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (1651). BACK

[2] Possibly an address to the mayor of Nottingham in 1793 by 26 local gentlemen, urging the corporation to petition for peace and reform. BACK

[3] John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, (1650–1722; DNB). The building of Blenheim Palace had been financed by the public purse in gratitude for his victory at the battle of Blenheim in 1704. BACK

[4] A grotto and fountains erected by Thomas Bushell (bef. 1600–1674; DNB) on his estate at Enstone, Oxfordshire. Charles I (1600–1649; reigned 1625–1649; DNB) and his wife Henrietta Maria (1609–1669; DNB) visited them in 1636. BACK

[5] The battle of Evesham 1265, saw the defeat of Simon de Montfort (c. 1208–1265; DNB), leader of the barons, by Prince Edward (later Edward I) (1239–1307; reigned 1272–1307; DNB). BACK

[6] The ‘Beggar’s Daughter of Bednall Green’ was an Elizabethan ballad, included in Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1767) II, pp. 160–166. The ‘Beggar’ was an old soldier who had lost his sight at the battle of Evesham. His daughter’s suitors rejected her because of her poverty, but when her true love proposed to her it was revealed the ‘Beggar’ was really Henry de Montfort, son of Simon de Montfort. The real Henry de Montfort (1238–1265; DNB) died at Evesham. BACK

[7] Possibly a clergyman at Worcester, but otherwise unidentified. BACK

[8] In Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), the tutor Saint-Preux, his lover Julie and her husband Baron Wolmar led a virtuous life on the Wolmars’s estate at Clarens by Lake Geneva. BACK

[9] George Butt (1741–1795; DNB), the father of Southey’s schoolmate John Marten Butt. George Butt had worked as a tutor in the household of Sir Edward Winnington (1749–1805), who in 1771 had presented him to the rectory of Stanford (misspelt ‘Stamford’ by Southey) and the vicarage of Clifton. In 1787, Butt was presented by Lord Foley to the vicarage of Kidderminster, and was living there at the time Southey’s letter was written. He returned to Stanford in 1794. One of the circle of poets gathered round Anna Seward (1742–1809; DNB), he was the author of Isaiah Versified (1784). BACK

[10] Edward Winnington, 2nd Bart., MP for Droitwich from 1777 until his death. BACK

[11] Francis Severn (c. 1760/61–1828), Rector of Abberley, Worcestershire, 1780–1828. BACK

[12] Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley (1742–1793), MP for Herefordshire, 1767–1774, and Droitwich, 1774–1777. BACK

[13] Possibly the translator, agriculturist and colonel of the Cardigan militia, Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB). BACK

[14] Southey may have been thinking of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1582–1648; DNB), poet, philosopher and statesman. The mansion is certainly Ribbesford House, near Bewdley, Worcestershire, which had belonged to Herbert’s family. BACK

[15] Charles-Francois du Perier Dumouriez (1739–1823), French General, victor at Jemappes, 1792. After defeat at the battle of Neerwinden in March 1793, he switched allegiance to Austria and her allies. BACK

[16] A paraphrase of Arthur Young (1741–1820; DNB), Travels During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789, Undertaken More Particularly With a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources, and National Prosperity of the Kingdom of France (Bury St Edmunds, 1792), p. 79. BACK

[17] Rosamund Clifford (b. before 1140?, d. 1175/6; DNB), mistress of Henry II (1133–1189; reigned 1154–1189; DNB), reputed to be buried at the convent at Godstow, near Oxford. BACK

[18] Southey’s authorship in the fifth issue of the schoolboy magazine, The Flagellant, 29 March 1792, of an essay which claimed flogging was an invention of the devil and parodied the Athanasian creed, caused a scandal and led ultimately to his expulsion from Westminster School. BACK

[19] James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB) claimed to have translated the works of the Celtic bard Ossian. In Ossian’s writings, Morven was a mythical Gaelic kingdom. BACK

People mentioned

Collins, Charles (c.1777–1806?) (mentioned 4 times)
Butt, John Marten (1774–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Seward family (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Sapey (mentioned 1 time)