3499. Robert Southey to Bertha, Kate and Isabel Southey, 26 June 1820

3499. Robert Southey to Bertha, Kate and Isabel Southey, 26 June 1820⁠* 

26 June. 1820.

Bertha, Kate & Bel, you have been very good girls, & have written [MS obscured] I was much pleased. This is the last letter which I can write in return; & as I happen to have a quiet hour to myself, here at Streatham, on Monday noon, I will employ that hour in relating to you the whole history & manner of my being Ell-ell-deed at Oxford by the Vice Chancellor. [1] 

You must know then that because I had written a great many good books, & more especially the Life of Wesley, [2]  it was made known to me by the Vice Chancellor, thro Mr Heber, that the University of Oxford, were desirous of showing me the only mark of honour in their power to bestow, which was that of making me an L. L. D. that is to say, a Doctor of Laws.

Now you are to know that some persons are ell-ell-deed every year at Oxford at the great annual meeting which is called the Commemoration. There are two reasons for this: first that the University may do itself honour, by bringing persons of distinction to receive the degree publicly as a mark of honour; & secondly that certain persons in inferior offices may share in the fees paid by those upon whom the ceremony of ell-ell-deeing is performed. For the first of these reasons the Emperor Alexander was made a Doctor of Laws at Oxford, & the King of Prussia, & old Blucher, & Platoff. [3]  And for the second, the same degree is conferred upon noblemen, & persons of fortune & consideration who are anyways connected with the University or City or County of Oxford.

The ceremony of ell-ell-deeing is performed in a large circular building called the Theatre, [4]  of which I will sh[MS obscured] & this theatre is filled with people. The undergraduates (that is the young men who are called Cathedrals [5]  at Keswick) [MS obscured]ely fill the gallery. Under the gallery there are seats which are filled with Ladies from all the country round in full dress, separated from the Gentlemen. Between these <two divisions of the ladies> are seats for the Heads of Houses & the Doctors of Law, Physic & Divinity. In the middle of these seats is the Vice Chancellor, opposite the entrance which is under the orchestra. On the right & left are two kind of pulpits from which the prize essays & poems are recited. The area, or middle of the theatre is filled with Batchelors & Masters of Arts, & with as many strangers as can obtain admission. Before the steps which lead up to the seats of the Doctors, & directly in front of the Vice Chancellor a wooden bar is let down covered with red cloth, & on each side of this the Beadles stand in their robes.

When the Theatre is full the Vice Chancellor & the Heads of Houses & the Doctors enter; those persons who are to be ell-ell-deed remain without in the Divinity schools [6]  in their robes; till the Convocation [7]  have signified their consent to the ell-ell-deeing, & then they are led into the theatre, one after another in a line, into the middle of the area, the people just making a lane for them. The Professor of Civil Law Dr Phillimore went before, & made a long speech in Latin, telling the Vice Chancellor and the dignissimi Doctores what excellent persons we were who were now to be ell-ell-deed. Then he took us one by one by the hand, & presented each in his turn, pronouncing his name aloud, saying who & what he was, & calling him many laudat[MS obscured] to show what [MS obscured] we were, each [MS obscured] The xxx xxx audience then [MS obscured] liked the person, [MS obscured] Vice Chancellor stood up, & repeating the f[MS obscured] words in issime ell-ell-deed the person, the beadles lifted up the <bar of separation,> and the new-made Doctor went up the steps & took his seat among the dignissimi Doctores.

Oh Bertha Kate & Bel if you had seen me that day! I was like the other issimis, drest in a great robe of the finest crimson scarlet cloth, with sleeves of rose coloured silk & I had in my hand a black velvet cap like a beef-eaters, [8]  for the use of which dress I paid one guinea for that day. Dr Phillimore, who was an old schoolfellow of mine, & a very good man, took [MS obscured] me by the hand, in my turn, & presented me: upon which there was a great clapping of hands & huzzaing at my name. When that was over the Vice chancellor stood up & said those words whereby I was ell-ell-deed, Doctissime et ornatissime vir (all in issime [9]  you see!) ego pro auctoritate meâ et totius Universitatis hujus, admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in jure civili, honoris causâ. [10]  These were the words which ell-ell-deed me; & then the bar was lifted up, & I seated myself among the Doctors

Little girls, you know it might be proper for me now to wear a large wig, & to be called Doctor Southey, & to become very severe, & leave off being a comical Pappa. And if you should find that ell-ell-deeing has made this difference in me, you will not be surprized. However I shall not come down in a wig, neither shall I wear my robes at home. I have [MS obscured] sent prayer books bound in red morrocco [MS obscured] Edith & Bertha & Bel Kates godmother, Mrs Hill having sent her one, with a bible. And I have bought for the use of all, the history of King Arthur & his kxxg Knights in three volumes [11]  & Fairy Tales in two volumes, [12]  & Eastern Tales in one. [13]  Tomorrow I shall buy some pretty things for Cuthbert, & as I am going to the shop for the ketchup, I shall not forget the pickle. Berthas Telemaque [14]  is ordered for her. Little girls I shall have a great many pictures to shew you, & a great deal to tell you about your sweet little cousins & mine. Bertha must prepare a rifler for me. God bless you all

Pappa the Ell ell dee.


* Address: To/ Bertha, Kate & Isabel.
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, WC 197. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 38–41 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey had been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law at the University of Oxford on 14 June 1820. The Vice-Chancellor at the ceremony was Frodsham Hodson (1770–1822; DNB), Principal of Brasenose College 1809–1822, Vice-Chancellor 1818–1820, Regius Professor of Divinity 1820–1822. BACK

[2] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[3] Alexander I (1777–1825; Emperor of Russia 1801–1825); Frederick William III (1770–1840; King of Prussia 1797–1840); Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher (1742–1819), Prussian General; and Count Matvei Ivanovich Platov (1751–1818), Russian General, all received the degree of Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford on 15 June 1814. BACK

[4] The Sheldonian Theatre (built 1664–1668), the main centre for ceremonies at the University of Oxford. BACK

[5] ‘Cathedrals’ was the name given in Keswick and its environs to young men from the University of Cambridge who visited the Lakes in study parties. It arose, initially, from a ‘comical confusion’ between ‘Collegian’ and ‘College’, and, later, between ‘College’ and ‘Cathedral’; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19–20 August 1821, Letter 3715. BACK

[6] A medieval building next door to the Sheldonian Theatre. BACK

[7] Theoretically the governing body of the University of Oxford, consisting of all people with a Master of Arts degree from the University. BACK

[8] A cap like that worn by the Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London, a ceremonial body founded in 1485. BACK

[9] i.e. all the preceding adjectives had been superlative forms. BACK

[10] ‘Most learned and most decorated man, by my authority and by that of this whole University, I admit you to the degree of Doctor in civil law, for the sake of honour.’ BACK

[11] Possibly La Mort d’Arthur. The Most Ancient and Famous History of the Renowned Prince Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Sir T. Malory (1816). BACK

[12] Possibly Fairy Tales and Novels. By the Countess d’Anois. Translated from the French. With a Biographical Preface (1817). BACK

[13] Possibly Eastern Tales and Allegories (1814). BACK

[14] Francois Fénelon (1651–1715), Les Aventures de Télémaque (1699), a didactic novel for children. The engraver Charles Taylor (1756–1823; DNB) produced a popular English translation in 1792. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Streatham (mentioned 1 time)