3451. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 March [1820]

3451. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 11 March [1820]⁠* 

My dear Harry

We have lost poor Wilsey, – & I have this day seen her laid in the grave. She had for some time been sinking gradually under the weight of seventy seven years. Her memory with regard to recent occurrences was quite gone, tho, as usual in such cases, it retained clearly all its early impressions. On Monday the 28th last she walked as far as the Church with the children, & went down with them into the vault of the Stephenson family, which the representative of that family chuses to have opened whenever he comes to Keswick, for the purpose I suppose of airing his ancestors. [1]  So long a walk she had not taken for many many weeks; but she came back in her usual good spirits, & declared that she was not tired. The next day she was as well as she had been during the winter. On the Wednesday morning she fell in getting out of bed, & grazed her forehead. She was found when Mrs C. & Edith went down to her, much shaken, & in a tremulous state. However she made a good breakfast, & walked about. But there was a manifest change in her countenance, which one of the maids had perceived before she fell out of bed & I have no doubt that the fall xxxx was occasioned by a slight stroke in the head. The head was inclined all that day a little on one side, & she was what they call in this country maffled, – that is, confused in her intellect. Edmondson saw her, & said that she had been younger or stronger he would have bled her, – but in her case bleeding might have produced death. She kept up during the day, & was left when we went to bed sleeping apparently well, & breathing naturally. One of the maids however slept in the room with her, as indeed she had always slept within call in case of necessity during the winter. At one o clock she awoke, insisted that it was time to get up, & could not be persuaded to the contrary, – drest herself, & made a good breakfast. Between six & seven we were xxxxxx with a called, – she was very ill, & had had a one or two fits, – & was then violently convulsed. When the convulsion left her, her sight, hearing & speech were gone. Edmondson did not suppose she would have lasted six hours. But she lived till the eighth day, the convulsions returned more than once, & while they lasted she moaned like one in pain. But on the whole there was little apparent suffering, & I believe no return of intellect, certainly not of any of the senses which she has lost. The extraordinary thing is that so feeble & exhausted a body should have continued to struggle with death so long, with no other sustenance than x now & then a tea spoonful of tea or coffee, – indeed little more than merely wetting the lips.

For some time she has been among our cares rather than our comforts – but her death makes a blank, xxx & both young & old will feel her loss. For there never lived a better creature. I never knew any one with a more generous spirit, or a more affectionate heart.

She has left 20£ to Hartley, 20 to Mr Christian of the Strand, [2]  who was her foster brother, & 5£ to each of the children, [3] Derwent & Sara Coleridge & Robert Lovell, the rest of her little money in legacies to friends & distant cousins here of 5 & 10 £.

It was gratifying to see how much interest her illness excited among the respectable people of the place, – those who had been taught to respect her by their parents, & those who remembered her when she was the handsomest young woman in Keswick, & more “looked upon” than any of her contemporaries, – her good conduct thro life having been as remarkable, as her person was in her youth.

She had been beyond this circle of mountains, – but was never out of sight of them. Carlisle was the farthest point of her travels, & there she had been but once. – The chance which brought us here contributed very materially to the comfort of her age. We have been here nearly 17 years, Mrs C. 20. & in all that time I never knew her do an unkind thing, or say an unkind word.

Love to Louisa. I shall be glad to see the children, – the youngest will be old enough to be handled by male hands. [4] 

God bless you


Keswick 11 March.

The packet from Windsor contains Peninsular documents, [5]  – the miserable remains of a collection lost for me thro a neglect of Crokers. Elton Hamonds papers ought to have been sent to your house long ago. Henry Robinson gave directions that this should be done.


* Address: To/ Dr Southey/ Queen Anne Street/ Cavendish Street/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 14 MR 14/ 1820
Seal: black wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, KESMG 1996.5.109. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 185–187 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Stephensons were a long-established and prominent Keswick family and included John Stephenson (1691–1768), MP for Sudbury 1734–1741, who made a fortune in India. John Stephenson had no children, and by this time his relatives were based in London, mainly engaged in banking (though the Stephensons still owned Scalesby Castle). BACK

[2] Joseph Christian (1743/4–1829) was born at Keswick, but moved to London, where he ran a linen draper’s shop. BACK

[4] Henry Herbert Southey’s third son, Charles Gonne Southey (1819–1861), later an army officer in India, was born on 23 October 1819. BACK

[5] Documents for Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). They were probably the papers of Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor (1775–1839; DNB), whose varied career included spells as Private Secretary to George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) in 1805–1811 and to Queen Charlotte (1744–1818; DNB) in 1811–1818; he was also MP for New Windsor 1820–1823 and Military Secretary 1820–1827. Edward Hawke Locker had offered to procure them for Southey; see Southey to Edward Hawke Locker, 1 January 1820, Letter 3410. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)