3352. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 21 September 1819

3352. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 21 September 1819⁠* 

Fort William. Tuesday 21 Sept. 1819

After a long route we have come thus far on the way homewards. We left Edinburgh on the 20th of last month. The course we took was to Stirling, Callendar, Loch Kattern, Loch Earn Head, Killin, along the side of Loch Tay to Kenmore or Taymouth, Dunkeld, Perth, Dundee, & so up the coast to Aberdeen. Then across the country to Banff, & again along the coast to Elgin. From thence we struck inland to Grantown one day, & to the coast at Forres the next, Inverness, Dingwall & up the coast as far as Fleet Mound, [1]  which is near Lord Staffords [2]  seat at Dunrobin, & within sight of the Ord of Caithness. We returned, in part by a different road to Dingwall, sent the Ladies [3]  to Inverness, & crost to the Western sea at Jeantown. Back to Inverness, & thence along the line of the canal to this place. Tomorrow we move southward, & expect to reach Inverary on Friday. I believe it will be thought best to keep keep clear of Glasgow & the mob-countries, & therefore to go from Dunbarton to Stirling, & so by cross roads to Lanark. Telford parts company from us at Carlisle, & the Rickmans [4]  go on with me to Keswick, where I hope to arrive in the course of a fortnight.

The weather & indeed every thing else has been hitherto as favourable as possible. And the only unpleasant circumstance which occurred is ending well. That xxx excrescence on my head which the Duke & the Marquis will remember by the name of Skiddaw, is gone. It became troublesome the day I left Edinburgh, & suppurated shortly after. I showed it to a physician with whose family I happened to be acquainted at Perth, [5]  & afterwards to one surgeon at Aberdeen [6]  & another at Inverness. [7] Telford drest it for me morning & evening. The tumour is now entirely gone, the sack has been discharged, & the wound is almost healed, so that I expect to reach home with a whole skin

I found two books at Edinburgh of which I had long been in search, the Relations concerning Madagascar & Brazil [8]  which you had sight of once, – & Gombervilles translation of Acuñas voyage [9]  – four small volumes in two, – a very neat copy. They are by this time at Keswick.

My opportunities of seeing the great works which are carrying on along the coast & throughout the north of Scotland have been very favourable. Every where we have had the person with us under whose direction they are executed. I believe it may safely be said that so much was never done by any Government for the improvement of a country in the same length of time. Above 1000 miles of the finest roads in the world have been pasd thro tracts which were inaccessible before, & 1500 bridges – great & small have been erected. Harbours of all sizes have been made & are making – from small piers which cost only a few hundred pounds, to such enormous ones as require an expence of 70 or 80,000. And the canal which I have now seen along its whole course, & in every stage of its progress, is truly a stupendous work. The locks are large enough for a 32 gun frigate, & at this end there are eight in succession, with a rise of eight feet in each, – lifting the vessel 64 feet in a distance of 500 yards. [10]  Where the canal is full it is like a fine river, & where the excavation is still going on, the scene of human activity & power exceeds any thing which I ever beheld elsewhere. The dredging machine which is employed for deepening the small Lake (Loch Oich) brings up 800 tons in a day. If this had been one of Buonapartes [11]  works half the English would have gone to see it.

I suppose my third volume [12]  has been published long ere this, – but we are out of the world of news & of newspapers, – & all we know is from a provincial paper – now & then. This is enough to show the danger of the times [13]  & the miserable imbecillity of the Government, all whose measures are just calculated to bring itself into contempt, when two or three wholesome laws would instantly put all to rights, – for instance a law declaring all public meetings unlawful unless the requisition for them were signed by a certain number of persons, holding a certain qualification, – & making those persons responsible for the proceedings of the meeting; – a law making transportation the punishment for sedition; – & another demanding sureties from the publisher of every newspaper & journal. – We shall get at the same end by worse means. For xxxxx things are so bad, that the property of the country are taking the alarm, – & when one of these cursed manufacturing towns has been set on fire, – or that a regular action has taken place in its streets, I suppose the good sense of the country will begin to show itself, & originate in Parliament those measures which the Ministers have not courage to xxxxx set on foot themselves. The virulence of the disease has shown itself so decidedly xxx in time that I augur well of the event.

Love to my Aunt

God bless you


Wm Heathcote would have found me if he had taken Keswick in his way out. He was at Dunkeld on his way back, two days before me. I saw his name there, [14]  – & heard of him at Bran Castle from a Mr Hare, – a friend of Blackstones. [15] 


* MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, WC 186. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Fleet Mound was a massive causeway, commissioned in 1803, designed by Telford, and built between 1814–1816, to carry the road over Loch Fleet. It comprised an earthwork, and a bridge with self-regulating sluice gates that allowed the waters from the river to flow out, but prevented seawater from coming in. BACK

[2] George Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford (1758–1833; DNB), created 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1833. His marriage in 1785 to Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland (1765–1839; DNB), added Dunrobin Castle and most of Sutherland to his estates. 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] John Rickman and his wife. BACK

[5] Southey arrived in Perth on 24 August to see Edward Collins (c. 1777–1841), Captain in the 21st Light Dragoons and the brother of Charles Collins, Southey’s old schoolfriend. Southey missed seeing him, as 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. Southey did see Collins’s wife, Margaret (d. 1852), and her uncle, James Wood (d. 1825), of Keithick, Perthshire. Dr Wood was ‘a delightful old man’ who ‘set me at ease concerning one of the tumours on my head’, Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 49–50. BACK

[6] George Kerr (1771–1826). BACK

[7] Fortunately for Southey, he was treated by one of the most eminent doctors in the north of Scotland: William Kennedy (c. 1761–1823), Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, first President of the Medical Society of the North and one of the founders of the Royal Northern Infirmary, Inverness. BACK

[8] Francois Cauche (1616–1699), Relations Veritables et Curieuses de l’Isle de Madagascar et du Bresil (1651), no. 2363 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] Marin le Roy de Gomberville (1600–1674), Relation de la Rivière des Amazones (1682), no. 7 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; the book was a translation of Cristóbal Diatristán de Acuña (1597–c. 1676), Nuevo Descubrimiento del Gran Río de las Amazonas (1641). BACK

[10] Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie, near Fort William, completed in 1811. This is a staircase lock on the Caledonian Canal, comprising eight locks, which raise (or lower) boats 64 feet in a distance of 180 feet. It is the longest staircase lock in the United Kingdom. Southey visited it on 19 September 1819, Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 202–207. BACK

[11] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[12] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) was delayed by a missing proof and was not published until after his return from Scotland. BACK

[13] The ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 16 August 1819, when the magistrates’ decision to break up a public meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester led to at least eleven deaths, had produced an enormous public outcry. BACK

[14] On 23 August Southey visited Dunkeld and walked in the grounds of Dunkeld House, the home of John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl (1775–1830). He wrote his name in the visitors’ book at the porter’s lodge and saw the names of Heathcote and his travelling companion, Arthur Perceval (1799–1853; DNB), later a High Church clergyman and Royal Chaplain 1826–1853. BACK

[15] On 11 September 1819 Southey had called at Brahan Castle, home of James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie (1784–1843). There he had met Augustus William Hare (1792–1834; DNB), a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and later a clergyman and writer. Hare was a friend of Frederick Charles Blackstone (1795–1862), a relation by marriage of Hill. Blackstone’s mother was Margaret Bigg-Wither (1768–1842), a sister of Hill’s wife Catherine. Blackstone became Rector of Worting, Hampshire, 1819–1831, Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill having held this living since 1815 until such time as Blackstone wished to take it up. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)