3305. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 29 May 1819

3305. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 29 May 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 29 May. 1819

My dear Lightfoot

So long a time had elapsed without my hearing from you or by any accident of you, that I began to fear what might have been the cause of this long silence, & was really afraid to enquire. I am very sorry that Mr Bush [1]  did not make use of your name when he was at Keswick last summer: – he could have brought with him no better introduction, & I have always time to perform offices of attention & hospitality to those who are entitled to them. He left a good impression here, as an excellent preacher; – indeed I have seldom he or never heard a more judicious one. The account which he gave you of my way of life is not altogether correct. – I have no allotted quantum of exercise, – but, as at Oxford, sometimes go a long while without any, & sometimes take walks which would try the mettle of a younger man. And a great deal more of my time is employed in reading than in writing; – if it were not, what I write would be of very little value. But that I am a close student is very true, & such I shall continue to be as long as my eyes & other faculties last.

You must apply in time if you design to place your son at Oriel, – it is now no easy matter to obtain admission there, nor indeed at any College which is in good reputation. [2]  I almost wonder that you do not give the preference to old Balliol, for the sake of old times, now that the College has fairly obtained a new character, & is no longer the seat of drunkenness, raffery & indiscipline, as it was in the days of the Apostles. [3]  It is xxxx even doubtful whether if I were an undergraduate now, I should be permitted to try my skill in throwing stones for the pleasure of hearing them knock against your door. Seriously however, altered as the College is, there would be an advantage in sending your son there, where you have left a good name & a good example. Poor Thomas Howe I believe led but a melancholy life after he left College, without neighbours, without a family, without a pursuit, he must have felt dismally the want of his old routine, & sorely have missed his pupils, the Chapel Bell, & the Common Room. A Monk is much happier than an old fellow of a College who retires to reside upon a x country living. And how much happier are you at this day, with all the tedium which your daily occupation must bring with it, than if you had obtained a fellowship, & then waited twenty years for preferment.

It has pleased God to give me another son, – born in February last. My youngest child being more than seven years old I had ceased to consider such an event as anyways probable. & now I build as little upon hope as nature will allow me. xx The child is doing well, – the mother has had a succession of serious complaints, – from which I trust she is now recovering, but still far from being in good health. The four girls [4]  are well as could be wished, – the eldest is just fifteen, – Mr Bush’s antagonist at chess – just such a chess player as I was, with a hawks eye for the game, & a greyhounds speed.

I am upon the eve of compleating the History of Brazil, – the greatest labour of my life. the last chapter is in the press, [5]  & as soon as it is finished I set off for London, – for a two months absence from home. The business which calls me away is to examine & collect the contents of certain papers relative to the peninsular war before I put my great work upon that subject to the press, which will be as soon as I return. [6]  I have a life of John Wesley in hand, which includes that of Whitefield, & is indeed the history of the Rise & Progress of Methodism, – a curious subject, the whole importance of which perhaps few persons as yet comprehend. [7]  One volume is printed, & the second in the press, but its progress must be suspended during my absence. – About six years I think, if it please God that I should live & preserve my faculties so long, would enabl[MS torn] me to bring to a conclusion the works which I have undertaken; – not all that I had dreamt of & in part prepared for, but those upon which a considerable stock of labour has been actually expended. I am within ten weeks of compleating the 45th year of my age. My father died at 48, my mother at 50. – You I believe are about two years my senior. How many of our contemporaries have we outlived! It is five & twenty years since we saw each other last. Every body else whom I cared for in this world I have seen somewhere or other in that interval, & most of them many times. But I have both the hope & the intention of seeing you, whenever I can make time for it.

What the question was concerning my god daughter [8]  to which you give me an answer – I have totally forgotten; – & this is your fault, for not replying to it when it was fresh in recollection. I will forgive you, when you tell me what it was, & not till then; so rexxxxxx remember, you are under my displeasure until you write again. Give my love to her meantime, & tell her we shall not always remain strangers. Present my best wishes to Mrs Lightfoot, [9]  & believe me my dear Lightfoot

Yours affectionately, – as in old times

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] London June three 1819/ The Revd Nicholas Lightfoot/ Crediton/ Devonshire/ C W Williams Wynn
Postmark: FREE/ 3 JU 3/ 1819
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. 342–343 [in part]. BACK

[1] Probably James Bush (1791–1849), Lord Byron’s fag at Harrow and graduate of Oriel College, Oxford; in 1819 he was Curate at Stockleigh Pomeroy, Devon, and thus a near neighbour of Lightfoot. BACK

[2] John Prideaux Lightfoot entered Exeter College, Oxford, in 1820. BACK

[3] Balliol College’s reputation had suffered disastrously under the long reign of Theophilus Leigh (d. 1785), Master of Balliol 1726–1785, and the College was almost bankrupt by 1780. Its revival was due to the discovery of coal under some of its estates in Northumberland, and the leadership of John Parsons (1761–1819; DNB), Master of Balliol 1798–1819, who reformed both the College tutorship system and the University’s examinations. It is not clear who ‘the Apostles’ were. BACK

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

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

[7] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 48–56, 136–154, dealt with the significance of George Whitefield (1714–1770; DNB), as well as discussing the life of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB). BACK

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

[9] Bridget Prideaux (b. 1778), whom Lightfoot had married in 1801. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Balliol (mentioned 1 time)