3413. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 7 January 1820

3413. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 7 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 7 Jany. 1820

My dear Turner

I have just received a letter from my good Aunt. She is going to search the register at Wellington [1]  as soon as the frost breaks, & if her authority may be trusted, I am beyond all question heir at law to Cannon Southey. [2]  “I know (these are her words) that my great grandfather [3]  had but two sons that lived to be married. John, [4]  the father of Cannon Southey, & Robert, [5]  my grandfather. He had two daughters [6]  likewise, but they have left no descendants; nor are there any descendants of my great grandfather living, but those of Thomas Southey, [7] my father – <&> I. [8]  – This is very explicit, & I can have xxxx <little> doubt of its accuracy, – but the registers will decide, & these will be sent to my brother, as soon as she has obtained them. And when this first essential point is settled, then I think no time should be lost in taking the opinions you mention.

I learn likewise from my Aunt that of the five estates which xxxxtixxed Cannon Southey left (exclusive of Fitzhead) two were not sold by Lord Somerville. She describes them thus –

East Combe farm in the parish of Bishops Lydiard.

Holford farm in the parish of Lydiard St Lawrence. [9] 

Pyleigh farm. Do. (not sold.)

Preston farm in the parish of Milverton, near the town of Milverton. (not sold) this is the best of the estates & is worth about 300£ a year.

Upton – a hunting seat about twenty miles from Fitzhead. of this my aunt appears to know least, for she says she thinks it is in the county of Somerset. All the rest are in that county, & all freehold.

The whole of the parish of Fitzhead is held by lives, under the King & Lord Coventry. [10]  The Bishop of Bath & Wells has purchased the reversion of the Lordship, & of the Fitzhead estate for his son. [11] 

This is the whole of her intelligence. & if the right should be found to rest in me, it would seem to be a fortunate circumstance that some of the estates have not been sold. Is it not advisable to see whether Lord Somerville has disposed of them in his <by> will, – or whether he has died intestate, & left them to take their chance at law? [12] 

There is an old saying that the man who is not handsome at twenty, wise at forty & rich at fifty, will never be either handsome, wise, or rich. I am getting on fast toward the latter term, – & with too much reason to apprehend that I shall never have any other chance for independence than what this remote inheritance may give me. Be that as it may, I am, & ought to be, contented & thankful. I shall have enough, as long as I am able to work for it: & whenever it may please God to remove me, there will be a sufficiency for my family, – a life insurance for 4000£ (which if I live a few years longer will be worth 5 –) – books – copyrights & papers.

The paper upon the Monastic Orders suffered by mutilation. [13]  I am well read upon that subject, & very desirous of entering into it at xx some length. Indeed I believe that three or four octavos under the convenient title of Sketches of Monastic History would form one of the most interesting books, in every point of view that could be written. [14]  I should be tempted to repine at the manner in which my time has been wasted in writing for reviews, while I had all the disposition imaginable for employing it more worthily, if I did not remember that it would have been less suitably employd had I engaged in any other profession, – except indeed that of the Church, – for which my own erroneous opinions disqualified me till it was too late in life to think of the change.

My little boy has been very ill this week, but is now we hope, recovering. A more promising infant could hardly be found. I however never look at him without feeling the uncertainty of human life & of all earthly hopes.

It is not unlikely that I may bring forth a little volume ere long in the form of dialogue, upon the prospects of society. The plan xxxxx xxxx was suggested by Boethius, & in like manner will allow an intermixture of verse. [15]  The motto is a happy one from St Bernard – Respice, aspice, prospice [16] . I am just finishing the introduction in a manner which satisfies myself, & is very likely to attract notice.

Edith & her mother join me in the kindest remembrances to you & yours.

God bless you

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

I am inclined to suspect that the reason why Lord S. did not sell the remaining estates may have been a suspicion about the title


* Address: [in another hand] Rhuabon Jan. ten. 1820/ Sharon Turner Esqre/ Red Lion Square/ London/ CW Williams Wynn
Postmark: FREE/ 12 JA 12/ 1820
Endorsement: 7 Jany 1820
MS: British Library, Add MS 59737. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The parish register at Wellington, Somerset, the home of Southey’s ancestors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. BACK

[2] 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 that Somerville had inherited from his great-uncle John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). On his death, John Cannon Southey had left a complex, ill-advised will which named Somerville his primary heir and, should he die without heirs, Southey’s father and two uncles as the residuary legatees, their rights passing, in turn, to their children. Of the three Southey brothers only Southey’s father married, leading the poet (encouraged by his Aunt Mary) to believe (after the death of his father and paternal uncles) that he and his brothers were now the rightful heirs to the Fitzhead estate. Southey was the heir at law of John Cannon Southey, i.e. he was entitled to inherit his real property if he was intestate. However, this did not help Southey’s claim on the Fitzhead property. BACK

[3] William Southey (dates unknown); the great-great-grandfather of the Poet Laureate. BACK

[4] John Southey (1666–1728), a lawyer. BACK

[5] Robert Southey (1670–1726), the great-grandfather of the Poet Laureate. BACK

[6] Anne and Joan Southey, dates of both unknown. BACK

[7] The Poet Laureate’s grandfather, Thomas Southey (1696–1777). BACK

[8] The only descendants were Aunt Mary, Southey and his three brothers and their children. BACK

[9] This property was the home of Southey’s grandfather, Thomas Southey. BACK

[10] Real property in Fitzhead was held under copyhold for lives, which meant that the copyholder held the property for their own life and also nominated the next two successors to the property, a situation that was recorded in the court rolls of the local manor. The family of the Earls of Coventry held the Lordship of the local manor under a similar system, i.e. for the term of a number of named lives, one of which at this time was George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). As Lords of the Manor they held certain rights over property in Fitzhead. BACK

[11] Richard Beadon (1737–1824; DNB), Bishop of Bath and Wells 1802–1824, had purchased the right to be the next Lord of the Manor for his only son, Richard (1779–1858). He had also, under the copyhold for lives system, bought the right for his son to be the next copyholder of the Fitzhead estate. The Beadons went on to consolidate their holdings in the area, when in 1824 Richard Beadon (the Bishop’s son) bought the Somerville (formerly Cannon Southey) lands in Milverton and Wivelscombe, including Preston farm. These were the fourth item in Mary Southey’s list of properties, and the most valuable. BACK

[12] Lord Somerville did not die intestate. BACK

[13] Southey’s review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102. He had complained to Gifford about the changes the latter had made in it; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 December 1819, Letter 3405. BACK

[14] Southey’s proposed ‘History of the Monastic Orders’ was not written. BACK

[15] This became Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). Southey’s model was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. The published version of Colloquies included less verse than Southey had originally envisaged. BACK

[16] ‘Look to the past, the present, the future’, words attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). This motto appeared on the title page [unpaginated] of vol. 1 of Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829). BACK

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