3382. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 November 1819

3382. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 November 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 6. Nov. 1819

My dear Grosvenor

Thank you for the half-bills.

The relationship between myself & Lord Somerville [1]  was so remote, that I really do not know in what degree of cousinship we stood to each other. But his mother [2]  was of Southey extraction, & on that side I was his nearest kinsman. A certain Cannon Southey [3]  of Fitzhead in Somersetshire bequeathed his estates to him in his childhood, as his nearest relation, & xxxx xxxxxx the xxx entailed a part of them in case of his dying without issue, upon my father & his two brothers, [4]  & their issue male. The whole estates are about a thousand a year, – whether the part which is entailed be worth contending for is very doubtful. Lord Somerville sold the whole, – to thex with this part he could not possibly convey a good title, unless he had <had> a son of age to join with him in cutting off the entail. My action would be against the present tenant, – his against Lord Ss representatives. [5]  I know just enough of the business not to be disappointed if I am advised to let it rest: It was a most miserable will, – never out of Chancery while my two Uncles were living. Lord Erskine had it brought before him, & exclaimed at the name, for he remembered it xx when he was young at the bar. [6]  I have desired Osiris to consult with Turner. & as Turner may advise so I shall do.

In the year 1790 or 91 when my father was a ruined man, a person called upon him, & offered to treat with him for the purchase of his remainder. My father was too angry at the proposal to enquire who sent him. He always believed that his children had their chance in the lottery of life, & I believe common opinion in Somersetshire has always magnified that chance much beyond its real value; if it be now of any value.

To myself it is of very little consequence. My habits of labour are so fixed, that whether I wrote for a subsistence or not I should be just as deeply engaged in the press, & the only difference would be that I should give up reviewing, – & become perfectly indifferent to the sale of my books as a matter of profit. – I am older in constitution that in years, – & older in heart than in constitution. And I believe that if it were not for my children I should not bestow even the thought that a mere enquiry occasions concerning any worldly inheritance. Six feet by three in the N.W side of Crosthwaite Churchyard will be a sufficient estate for me. [7] 

Do not however imagine that I am out of spirits. I xxx <may> live to do good service, & ten years more of health & tranquillity would enable me, I dare aver to you, to do more as an historian than has ever been done by any man before me. [8]  For I have great plans & great preparations.

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] E/ 18
Endorsement: 6. Novr. 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 157–158 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset, which Somerville had inherited. BACK

[2] Elizabeth Cannon Lethbridge (d. 1765); her mother was Mary Southey (1704–1789). BACK

[3] John Cannon Southey (d. 1768); he was Mary Southey’s older brother and thus the great-uncle of Lord Somerville. John Cannon Southey’s and Mary Southey’s mother, Mary Cannon (1678–1738), was co-heiress of the Fitzhead property. BACK

[5] Lord Somerville had died unmarried. His title was inherited by Mark Somerville, 16th Lord Somerville (1784–1842), a half-brother who was unconnected to the Southeys. BACK

[6] Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine (1750–1823; DNB). As Lord Chancellor 1806–1807 he had delivered a judgment in the Court of Chancery, on 27 March 1807, in the case of Southey v. Lord Somerville, one of many legal actions arising from the fantastically complex and ill-advised will of John Cannon Southey. BACK

[7] This became the location of Southey’s grave. BACK

[8] Probably a reference to Southey’s History of the Peninsula War (1823–1832) and his unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Crosthwaite Church (mentioned 1 time)