3299. Robert Southey to John King, [c. 21 May] 1819

3299. Robert Southey to John King, [c. 21 May] 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 30 June. 1819 [1] 

My dear King

You are the only friend I have in the world, who never sends me a line to tell me of his goings on, – & it so happens that I never by any accident happen to hear of you thro a third person. That you are very busy I know, – & so am I; – of my occupations indeed you will very shortly receive a substantial proof. But before I speak of that let me tell what provocation induces me to address you at this time.

A Lady for whom I am a good deal interested is at this time, & will <be> for three or four weeks more, resident within a few doors of you. I have given her reason to expect that you will call upon her as a friend of mine, & the reason why I have done so is this; – she is an invalid, – xxx to what degree I know not, but I know the value of your advice, – & to your attention to a like request of mine Alstone acknowledges that he is indebted for his life, [2]  – America will one day bear witness how well that life was worth saving. And perhaps this may be little less so, xxx for this Lady is unquestionably a woman of genius. My knowledge of h acquaintance with her as yet has only been thro the medium of pen, ink & paper, so you may gratify my curiosity by telling me what kind of personage she appears. & I have only to tell you that her name is Miss Bowles, & that she is at present at No 19 in the Mall on a visit to some relations.

And now a few words concerning myself. – I have a son: three months old, by name Charles Cuthbert, to all<->appearance a strong & thriving infant. He had very <nearly> cost his mother her life, & she has had ever since the birth a succession of complaints, from which she is not yet recovered, tho I trust now convalescent. The four girls [3]  are well, – Edith as tall as her mother. – I am hard upon the close of my 45th year, & perceive in myself certain infirmities connected with decay. My father xxx reached only to 48, – my mother only to 50. What the length of my lease may be God knows, & I have no other solicitude about it than to make the best use of while it while it lasts. Six years would enable me to compleat all that I have begun.

One great work is drawing fast toward its completion. The last chapter of my History of Brazil [4]  is far advanced in the press, & in the course of a month you will receive the concluding volume, – a work of prodigious labour it has been, this volume especially, being drawn in great part from manuscript materials. As soon as the last sheet is printed I set off for London where I shall remain from four to six weeks. [5]  Would that there were any likelihood of meeting you there! As soon as I return the history of the Peninsular War goes to press. [6]  Indeed the main reason for which I leave home is to see some papers relating to it. [7] 

My brother Tom removed into my neighbourhood this spring, & is now settled in Newlands, four miles off, – a most beautiful spot. He has five <six> children! [8] Hartley Coleridge has lately obtained a fellowship at Oriel. [9] 

The life of Wesley [10]  stands still during my absence. It will be a very curious book. – I have two poems in hand, – one a full-length narrative, the scene in New England, [11]  – the other will form a single small volume, the scene in Paraguay. [12]  the first in irregular rhyme, passing into the dramatic form occasionally, – the second in Spensers stanza. I am tolerably satisfied with both as far as they are advanced.

Write to me, & tell me of yourself & your family. [13]  – I hear about once a year from poor Cottle, – otherwise Bristol would hav I should have as little present connection with Bristol as with the deserts of Arabia. Remember me to Mrs King

& believe me always

yr affectionate friend

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John King Esqre/ Clifton/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 139–141.
Dating note: The letter is misdated 30 June 1819 by Southey. The content, in particular the references to the age of Cuthbert Southey, Caroline Bowles’s stay in Bristol, Southey’s progress with the History of Brazil and his plans to visit London rather than Scotland, make it clear that the letter belongs to c. 21 May 1819; see also Southey to Caroline Bowles, 21 May 1819, Letter 3297. BACK

[1] Misdated ‘30 June’ by Southey, the content makes it clear that the letter belongs to May 1819. BACK

[2] In 1813 Southey had recommended Allston, who was suffering from lead poisoning, to King as a patient. King treated him in late September and October of that year, operating on him for thickening of the colon. Although Allston never fully recovered his health, he credited King with saving his life; see The Correspondence of Washington Allston, ed. Nathalia Wright (Lexington, 1993), p. 64 n. 1. BACK

[4] Southey’s History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 696–879. BACK

[5] This visit was put off in favour of Southey’s tour of Scotland from 17 August until 1 October 1819. For his record of events, see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

[6] History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[7] Southey hoped to see papers connected to the Peninsular War in the possession of Sir Henry Bunbury and Edward Moor. BACK

[8] Tom Southey had six children: Margaret Hill Southey (b. 1811); Mary Hill Southey (b. 1812); Robert Castle Southey (1813–1828); Herbert Castle Southey (1815–1864); Eleanor Thomasina Southey (1816–1835); and Sarah Louise Southey (1818–1850). They were followed by: Nelson Castle Southey (1820–1834); Sophia Jane Southey (1822–1859); and Thomas Castle Southey (1824–1896). BACK

[9] Hartley Coleridge had been elected to a Probationary Fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, on 16 April 1819. He lost it at the end of the probationary year on grounds of intemperance. BACK

[10] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[11] Southey’s unfinished epic set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[12] A Tale of Paraguay (1825); it used the nine-line stanza of Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[13] The Kings had two daughters: Zoe (1803–1881) and Psyche Emmeline (c. 1809–1876). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Emerald Bank, Newlands (mentioned 1 time)