3487. Robert Southey to Katharine Southey, 28 May 1820

3487. Robert Southey to Katharine Southey, 28 May 1820⁠* 

Cambridge, Sunday, May 28. 1820.

My dear Kate,

Your letter followed me to Cambridge, where I received it this morning at breakfast, and a great comfort it was. For although all the intelligence which came from home had been good, still I looked uneasily for what the next post might bring. Had it not been for this sort of anxiety, which you know nothing at all about, I dare say I should have written some queer letters to you and your sisters. But I am not so comical a papa anywhere else as at home.

You, and Bell, and Bertha are all very good girls, and have written me very nice letters, which had pleased me very much. One or two of my friends who know you all three, have seen your letters, and said what good girls you were, and how nicely you wrote. Nevertheless it will still be proper for me not to forget that receipt which we used to talk about for the pickle. You and Isabel, I dare say, remember it. Very soon I shall begin buying the other things which I am to bring home, such as the books, and the prayer books, and the pretty things for Cuthbert. You may depend upon my returning the last week in June, if it please God that I continue well.

Among the comical things which I had to tell you all, was how I went to St. Paul’s Church, when a sermon was preached for the benefit of the Children of the Clergy, on which occasion there is the grandest church music ever performed in these kingdoms: [1]  and there was a fat lady before me very finely dressed in a velvet pelisse; but she sat so that I could see her stumpy grey bristles under a brown wig, and could not help seeing a dirty under petticoat through her pocket-hole. Remember therefore when you are an old maid, or an old wife, that you have your wig made long enough to cover your poll, and that you never wear dirty petticoats, either upper or under.

Yesterday I came here to dinner, and dined with Mr. White. To-day I have been twice to church, first to hear Dr. Clarke, the traveller, [2]  preach; secondly, to hear Mr. Benson, [3]  a brother of that lady with whom I travelled in the coach from Keswick. [4]  He is a very admirable preacher. Now I am going to dine with Mr. Townsend, and there I shall meet Mr. Francis, [5]  and Mr. Noel, and the Mr Kennaway. [6]  To-morrow I dine with Mr. Tillbrook; and go back to London on Tuesday.

My Kate, do you know that I am taking it into serious deliberation whether I shall or shall not be made a Doctor; and as it is said the woman who deliberates is lost, [7]  so I begin to think that the man who deliberates is likely to be Doctored. I have been asked on the part of the Vice-Chancellor at Oxford [8]  if it would be agreeable to me to accept of this honour; and as it is to be conferred upon Lord Hill [9]  and the Duke of Wellington at the same time, and, perhaps, upon Sir Walter Scott, this sort of company certainly tempts me. I shall not make up my mind without consulting one or two friends; some expense in money, and about three days of precious time being to be weighed against what is of no other use or value than as a mark of very high respect on the part of the University.

Your dutiful father,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 195–197. BACK

[1] The annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy, held in May at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and famed for the quality of its music. It raised money for impoverished clergy and the widows and orphans of clergymen. In 1820 the Festival was on 18 May, Morning Chronicle, 19 May 1820. There was a huge attendance by dignitaries of the City of London, judges and senior clergy. The sermon was by James Stevens (1777–1870), Lecturer at St Margaret’s, Westminster 1808–1820, Rector of St James Garlickhythe 1814–1820, Dean of Rochester 1820–1870. BACK

[2] Edward Daniel Clarke (1769–1822; DNB), traveller and antiquarian. He presented a number of Greek statues to the University of Cambridge and was Professor of Mineralogy at the University 1808–1822. He was also a clergyman and Vicar of Harlton 1805–1822 and Rector of Yeldham 1809–1822. BACK

[3] Christopher Benson (1788–1868; DNB), a native of Cockermouth, B.A. Trinity College, Cambridge 1809. He became a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1820, the first Hulsean Lecturer 1820–1822 and later Canon of Worcester Cathedral 1825–1868. He was a noted preacher (though an evangelical, which would not have been to Southey’s taste). His sermon at St Mary’s, the University church, was one of his Hulsean lectures on the ‘evidences of Christianity’. It concluded with a section on the need for education and was followed by a collection for the National School for Boys. BACK

[4] Possibly Mrs Wheatley (c. 1770–1845), widow of John Wheatley (d. 1808), Rector of Kirkbampton 1796–1808. BACK

[5] Clement Robert Francis (1792–1829), clergyman, Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, and nephew of Southey’s friend, James Burney. BACK

[6] Either John Kennaway (1797–1873) of Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1821), who later succeeded to his father’s baronetcy; or his brother Charles Edward Kennaway, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge (B.A. 1822). They had both visited the Southeys in Keswick. BACK

[7] Joseph Addison (1672–1719; DNB), Cato; A Tragedy (1713), Act 4, scene 1, line 31. BACK

[8] Southey had been offered an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law at the University of Oxford by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Frodsham Hodson (1770–1822; DNB), Principal of Brasenose College 1809–1822, Vice-Chancellor 1818–1820, Regius Professor of Divinity 1820–1822. Southey accepted, one of sixteen men to do so, and the degree was conferred at a ceremony on 14 June 1820. BACK

[9] The eminent military commander Rowland Hill (1772–1842; DNB), who had played a central role in the Peninsular campaign. Hill was awarded an honorary degree at the same time as Southey. Wellington and Scott were not. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)