3360. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 10 October 1819

3360. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 10 October 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 10th Oct. 1819

My dear Sir

Your letter found me just after my return from a long northern expedition, in company with my old friends Mr & Mrs Rickman, & Mr Telford the Engineer. I joined them at Edinburgh, & we performed a journey of six weeks under the pleasantest circumstances of every kind, especially in the important point of weather. [1]  We went by Linlithgow & Stirling to Loch Kattern, then by Loch Earn head, Killin, & Kenmere to Dunkeld, & so to Perth & Dundee. From Dundee up the coast to Aberdeen, across the B to Banff, & along the coast to Elgin. Then while the Ladies went on to wait for us at Nairn we struck inland up the Strathspey road to Grantown, crossing Craig Elachie Bridge upon the way, – a cast-iron bridge, equally remarkable for the beauty of its structure, & of its situation. The next day we returned to the coast at Forres. From Nairn we looked at Fort George, & went on to Inverness, the fine scenery on the Varrar & the Strathglas road which is called the Dream, – Dingwall, Tain, Bonar-Bridge & Fleet Mound which was our farthest point toward the north. This mound which is in sight of Dunb Dunrobin Castle is one of the greatest works that have been executed for the improv by the Commissioners. [2]  It is 990 yards in length, extending across an estuary. Lord Gower [3]  gains by it about 400 acres from the sea; but the great advantage is that you go over a fine road instead of having to cross a ferry. We returned by the Fearn road to Dingwall, over the fells instead of along the coast; sent the Ladies [4]  to Inverness, & crossed the island to the western sea at Jean town, intending there to have crossed Loch Carron, & return to Inverness by Glenelg & Glenmoriston; but the new ferry boat upon which we had depended was not launched, so we & as there was no means of getting the carriage across we retraced our steps. We remained three days at Inverness, – one morning was given to the Vitrified Fort, & another was past in going up the Caledonian Canal to Loch Ness. Then we proceeded to Fort Augustus, & remained two days there, inspecting the works of the canal which are in progress between that place & the head of Loch Lochy. We were three days at Fort William, – one day was employed in inspecting the canal from its western end to the end of Loch Lochy, – another in visiting the Parallel Roads in Glen roy, – <one of> the greatest curiosities in Scotland, – or perhaps in any other country. Balachulish ferry was our next stage, thence by Glencoe & Tyandrum to Inverary, & so by Glencroe, & Loch Lomond to Glasgow, Lanark & Carlisle.

On the part of my two companions this was a journey of business, to inspect the piers, roads & bridges constructed by the Commissioners, & the Caledonian Canal. [5]  The latter work I had the satisfaction of seeing in all stages of its progress, – for it is compleated at the two ends, & in the intermediate portion the excavations & other operations are going on. It is truly a stupendous undertaking, & perhaps its magnitude can be fully felt by those only who like myself have seen the extent of masonry which will be concealed under water, when the whole is finished. The locks are made large enough for a 32 gun frigate, & at the western end there are eight of these in immediate succession. The whole length is 500 yards, the whole ascent 64 feet. When we saw it the water was falling from one lock to another, in so many smooth cascades, shining & sparkling like polished steel, – more resembling a scene in a pantomime than any thing real. The workmen have given this place the name of Neptunes stair case. [6]  There is a certain character of sublimity about it, which is felt the more because you have at the same time the greatest natural object in Great Britain in sight – Ben Nevis. But the most astonishing sight is the off-let for lowering the canal, if the waters should at any time flow into it faster than they carried off by the ordinary outlet. Three sluices each 4 feet by 3 open into a strong arch about 25 feet high, which is built upon a rock, – & needs indeed such a foundation. For when these sluices are opened the incumbent weight forces out the water with such scarcely conceivable velocity that the whole part of the canal between the stair-case & the regulating lock, six miles in length may be lowered one foot in an one hour. They were opened for us, & I never saw any thing comparable to the prodigious force with which the water filled the whole arch, & formed in a few minutes a torrent which would have swept away the strongest swimmer into the river Lochy.

I must not begin to describe the Highland Roads, – this paper has not [MS torn] left for entering upon a description of them. You know perhaps that a mail coach goes to Thursoe, – & that the most beautiful roads in the world are those in the Highlands of Scotland.

On my return I found that Senhouse had been at Keswick. By the time you receive this he will probably have returned to Fingest Grove. [7]  A large flight of Cantabs have past the season here, – among them two sons of Sir John Kennaway, [8]  who brought introductions to me, – both very pleasant men. – Mr Denton [9]  has had a slight paralytic stroke; – about eight weeks ago. He preached for the first time since his recovery to day, – but the Clerk [10]  read the lessons for him, – & he faltered sometimes in a manner which it was painful to witness.

Your friend the Bishop of London favoured me with a call in the month of August, – his Lady [11]  was with him. He regretted that you were not here. Mr Morritt of Rokeby, [12]  & Mr Gurney the Counsel [13]  had been here during my absence.

Thank you for your kind invitation to Yarmouth. You will probably have moved your quarters before I shall be able to leave home. For I shall now in all likelihood delay my movements till the best season; & aim at being in London in February & March. – I learn that there is a talk of calling Parliament together before Christmas, God knows it is high time that some efficient measures should be taken! [14]  – I know not whether I am more indignant at the inefficiency & inconsistency of Ministers, – or at the villainy of the Opposition who for the sake of annoying Administration, are acting in favour of the veriest wretches that ever defied & deserved the gallows. However things are becoming so bad that the Country is beginning to see its danger.

The Ladies [15]  desire their kindest remembrances to Mrs Peachy, – present mine also, & believe me my dear Sir

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Major-General Peachy/ Yarmouth/ Norfolk./ <Mrs Halls/ North Gate/ Bury>
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 199–202. BACK

[1] Southey’s tour of Scotland lasted 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

[2] 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

[3] Earl Gower was a subsidiary title, held by the heir to the Marquessate of Stafford, but Southey is probably referring to the Marquess himself, George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758–1833; DNB), 2nd Marquess of Stafford and (from 1833) 1st Duke of Sutherland. The latter’s marriage to Elizabeth Sutherland (1765–1839; DNB), Countess of Sutherland in her own right, gave Stafford control of enormous Scottish landholdings. BACK

[4] 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

[5] Rickman was Secretary to the Commission for Highland Roads and Bridges, and to the Commission responsible for constructing the Caledonian Canal 1803–1822; Telford surveyed and designed these works. BACK

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

[7] Netherhall, Senhouse’s residence in Cumberland, was being extensively renovated, so he had temporarily rented Fingest House, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. BACK

[8] Sir John Kennaway, 1st Baronet (1758–1836). The two sons who visited Southey were: John Kennaway (1797–1873) of Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1821), who later succeeded to his father’s baronetcy; and Charles Edward Kennaway, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge (B.A. 1822). BACK

[9] Isaac Denton (c. 1758–1820), Vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick 1786–1820, whom Southey often called the ‘Reverend Porpoise’. BACK

[10] Anthony Gibson (dates unknown), the long-serving Parish Clerk at Crosthwaite Church. BACK

[11] Mary Frances Howley, née Belli (1783–1860). BACK

[12] John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1771–1843; DNB), traveller, classical scholar and member of the Society of Dilettanti. He had gained the nickname ‘Troy’ for his endeavours to prove that the city had been a real place, not an invention of Homer. He owned the Rokeby estate, where he entertained a large circle, including Humphry Davy, Walter Scott and Southey. BACK

[13] John Gurney (1768–1845; DNB), barrister and later Baron of the Exchequer 1832–1845. In 1793–1794 he had served as defence counsel in a number of trials of radicals for sedition and treason. By this time his views were distinctly conservative and in 1820 he conducted the successful prosecution of two of the Cato Street conspirators. BACK

[14] Parliament reassembled on 23 November 1819, mainly to pass the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation. BACK

Places mentioned

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