3346. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 28 August 1819

3346. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 28 August 1819⁠* 

Aberdeen. 28 Aug. 1819

My dear G.

Here I am 250 miles from home, & in no very comfortable state. One of the tumours on my head which I offered to the knife in London but was advised to let alone has suppurated. This process did not begin till we had left Edinburgh. When I reached Perth I called upon Edward Collins [1]  & showed it to Dr Wood, [2]  ready to return home immediately if he should advise me so to do, or submit to an operation. He assured me there would be <was> no occasion for either, that it seemed likely to discharge itself, & that I had nothing to do but dress it with a little simple ointment. Telford accordingly acted as my surgeon till we reached this place yesterday. He & R. left me with the Ladies & children [3]  while they went to inspect some works to the Westward, & I went to the nearest Apothecarys to have the tumour dressed. A decent man with an honest face [4]  officiated, but withal told me then in the morning his brother, who was of the medical profession, would be there. And the said brother this morning wanted to enlarge the orifice & tells me that it may probably inflame <talked of communicating with the dura mater & so forth>. I proposed to set off homeward, – but he said this was not necessary, – & on the whole I concluded that he wanted to keep me under his hands, & finding that if I was to be laid up my resolution was that it should be in my own house, – he changed his note, & said I might as well proceed. I do not like the man because he manifestly endeavoured to deceive me, saying that the contents of the tumour could not suppurate, because they were without vitality – when they are suppurating. So too he says there can be no healing till a wound is made by art, & tho I suspect it is doing injustice to Nature who has made one for herself, & if I reason justly would be likely when the obnoxious matter was got rid off to set about healing xxx it without the assistance of an Aberdeen Laboratory-keeper, – xxxxx (you must know that Apothecary in Scotland signifies an Oil & Colour Man.) [5]  – On the whole therefore I am inclined to pursue my journey, thinking that easy stages (we travel with the same horses & therefore cannot exceed 35 miles xxx a day) are less likely to produce harm than two days & nights of mail coaching.

But it is not easy to make up my mind, & come to any decision under these circumstances. You know how little I am in the habit of complaining. I said nothing of this matter to any person of the party, till we reached Taymouth, & then perceiving that it had broke, I desired Telford who slept in the room with me by accident that night, to look at it. No one else has heard of it yet – merely because we thought it best not to give them any uncomfortable feelings about me, – my hair is long enough to cover the lint, so that it has not been observed. But I begin to think that they ought to be told & consulted, – & that it is not fair to proceed with them, with such a chance of being laid up on the way. – In short I am perplexed & uneasy, & heartily wish I were either at home, or in London. At present I have no pain, & endure no other inconvenience than that I cannot lie on my right side nor clean my hair properly as I use to do. It will be a week before we reach Inverness, – there I can either obtain advice if needful, or get into the stage for Edinburgh, – but after all the proper course will be to enquire who is the best surgeon here, & consult him at once, & act upon his opinion, – that is as to advancing or returning, – for as for lay lying by at an Inn, that I will never do xxxxx xxx <unless> it becomes inevitable.


½ past 2.

I have been to a chirurgeon with a head twice as big as the Laboratory-Mans, & of course, with twice as much brains therein. [6]  What he says agrees with Dr Woods opinion & with my own notions – So I proceed, & Telford will doctor or rather chirurgize me.

My course thus far has been from Edinburgh to Linlithgow, Sterling, Callander, Loch Kattern, Loch Earn Head, Killin, Taymouth, Dunkeld, Perth Dundee & so along the coast to this city. E. Collins was not arrivd from England, but was expected every hour. I had not heard of his fathers death. I saw his good little wife & Dr & Mrs Wood, – they were very xxx kind to me – & I was sorry that I had only an hour to pass with them.

It is not well possible for two men to be more opposite in their pursuits than I & Telford, – & yet it is not possible for two men to take to one another more cordially. He is of a kind, frank, chearful, generous nature, – & seems to take as much interest in looking the after the vile xxx sore upon my pericranium, as in inspecting any of his own stupendous works.

If there be any money forthcoming for me at the Exchequer, you may send it to Edith. I cannot tell you where to direct to me, we have such a zig-zag course before us, – & it will probably be nearly four weeks before I get home. But I will write a few lines from Inverness as you will be desirous to know how my volcano is going on. We shall be there I believe about Friday next

God bless you



* Address: [in another hand] Aberdeen Twenty Ninth August/ — 1819/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Fm/ JRickman
Postmarks: ABERDEEN/ 29 AUG 1819/ 528-E; AUG/ W 30 N/ 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Edward Collins (c. 1777–1841), Captain in the 21st Light Dragoons, was the brother of Charles Collins, Southey’s old schoolfriend. Southey missed seeing him, as Edward Collins had travelled south to deal with matters arising from the death of his father, William Collins (c. 1751–1819), naval engineer and inventor, on 23 April 1819 at his home in Maize Hill, Greenwich. BACK

[2] James Wood (d. 1825) of Keithick, Perthshire; he was the uncle of Edward Collins’s wife, Margaret Collins, née Wood (d. 1852). BACK

[3] Susannah Rickman; her two youngest children, William Charles Rickman (1812–1886) and Frances Rickman (dates unknown, she married Richard Brindley Hone (1805–1881), Vicar of Halesowen 1836–1881, in 1836); and their companion, Emma Pigott. It is difficult to be sure of Miss Pigott’s identity, but she might have been Emma Pigott (dates unknown), younger daughter and co-heiress of James Pigott (d. 1822) of Fitz-Hall, Iping, Sussex. Fitz-Hall was only five miles from Susannah Rickman’s home at Harting. Emma Pigott married, in 1824, Edward Brice Bunny (d. 1867) of Speen Hill, Berkshire. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] An ‘oil and colourman’ was a retailer of household goods, which might include quack remedies, but usually extended from soap and candles to ironmongery, chalk and pickles. BACK

[6] Rather worryingly, George Kerr (1771–1826) had claimed in his Observations on the Harveian Doctrine of the Circulation of the Blood (1816) that the body’s arteries only contained air, not blood. BACK

People mentioned