3520. Robert Southey to John May, 1-15 August 1820

3520. Robert Southey to John May, 1–15 August 1820⁠* 

Tuesday 1 August. 1820

Mrs Hill my grandmother, [1]  was at the time of which I am now writing, a widow for the second time. Her maiden name was Bradford. I know nothing more of her father [2]  than that he <was> must have been a Herefordshire man, <& must have been> of respectable property <& connections,> as appears by his marrying into one of the best families in the county, & by his sending a son [3]  to College. His wifes name was <Mrs> Margaret Croft [4]  <I have it written in gold letters, with the date 1704 in a copy of Nelson’s Festivals & Fasts, [5]  which descended as a favourite devotional book to my mother>. They had three children, Herbert, <so named after the Croft family> another son (William [6]  I think by name), who was deaf & dumb, & just lived to grow up, & my grandmother Margaret. Mr Bradford did not live to be old, & his widow degraded herself by marrying a man much beneath her station, who after her death, had the run of her sons house for the remainder of his life. His name I think was Welling, [7]  or something like it. He made full use of his privilege in the cellar, & drank more cyder than the servants would draw for him. They endeavoured [8]  once to frighten him, by placing a fellow in a white sheet, with a ghostly face, behind the cask, to rise up when he approached. Welling started at the apparition, but presently collecting himself, he went coolly & cautiously to the cask <barrel>, filled his cup, & looking the figure in the face said to it, Be’est God or Devil I’ll drink to thee!

My grandmother was very handsome: little Georgiana Hill, my Uncle says, reminds him strongly of her; – & I remember her enough to see <recognise> a likeness in the <shape of the face, & in the> large, full, clear light brown eyes. Her first husband Mr Tyler [9]  was of a good family in Herefordshire, – nephew I think he must have been to the xxx one of that name who was Bishop of Hereford. [10]  He lived at Pembridge; the seat of the family was at Dilwyn, where his elder brother lived, [11]  who was either not married, or left no issue. I have heard hardly any thing of him except that on his wedding day he sung a song after dinner which was not very complimentary to his bride. It began “Ye gods who gave to me a wife Out of your grace & favour, To be the comfort of my life, And I was glad to have her” – & it ended with saying that whenever they thought fit he was ready to resign her. It happened however that the resignation was to be on the wifes part. He died in the prime of life leaving four children [12]  Elizabeth, John, Edward & William [13]  & his widow, after no very long interval, married Edward Hill, [14]  of Bedminster, near Bristol, & was transplanted with her children into Somersetshire <to that place>. This was not a happy marriage either for herself, or them. But I am too nearly concerned in the consequences to call it an unfortunate one.

Edward Hill was the seventh in succession of that name, his fathers had lived & died respectably & contentedly upon their xxx own lands in the beautiful vale of Ashton, which you see from Clifton, – the place of all others which I remember xx with most feeling. You see it from Clifton, <on the other side the river Avon.> – Warton has well characterized it in one of his Odes, calling it Ashtons elmy vale. [15]  They <Hills> are called gentlemen upon their tombstone in Ashton Churchyard, – where my father, two of my brothers & my three sisters are deposited with them. [16]  Edward Hill the seventh was a lawyer & a widower; he had two children <by his first marriage> a son [17] named after himself <(Edward the eighth)> & a daughter, old enough I believe at the time of his second marriage for the daughter [18]  to be married, & the son to have a commission in the marines. He was a fine handsome man, of considerable talents, & of a convivial temper. I have heard him spoken of with admiration by some who were intimate with him in their youth. He could make verses too, – after the fashion of that age. I have somewhere a poem of his, in his own writing, which came to my mother after her mothers death. & in like manner descended into my possession: it is not therefore without a mournful feeling that I recall to mind the time when it was first shown me, & my the amusement which it then afforded me. It was a love poem addressed to my grandmother during the days of courtship; it intimated a jealousy of a rival who was called Strephon, [19]  & there was a note to this poetical appellation, explaining it to mean “the young Justice.”

I am afraid my grandfather behaved ill to his wifes children, & not very well to his own, – of whom by this second marriage he had three who grew up, Herbert, Joseph, [20]  & Margaret, my mother. He disliked the Tylers, & by his treatment of them encouraged a propensity to low company & bad habits, which seems to have belonged to their disposition <characters>. John [21]  was a fine handsome person, but of an evil disposition, – tyrannical & cruel. He went into the army, obtained a commission in the Marquis of Granbys regiment, & served in Germany, [22]  where he played away the whole of his property one night at pict; [23]  & leaving the service in no very reputable manner had nothing to subsist on but his half pay. This too he sold to get rid xx <of> some ale house embarrasments. I remember him at Bedminster, where his occasional visits gave no pleasure to his mother, or to any one else: a short time after her death he married a farmers daughter in Herefordshire, [24]  a woman with a lame arm, – for what motive we never could tell, except it were to have an excuse for living awhile <quartering himself for a time> upon her parents. The poor father came to my fathers to enquire about him, & I who happened to be present, remember tho but a mere child at the xxxxxx time, his distress when all his suspicions concerning the real character of his son in law were confirmed. The wife did not live long, & time seemed to sober John Tyler & bring him into decent habits. Lacon Lambe, his first cousin (father of that Dr Lambe [25]  who fancies that all water is poisonous, lives upon raw vegetables, & believes that man never ought <not> to drink any thing) – recovered his half pay for him, the transaction of selling it, not having been legal, & he spent the latter days of his life in a small cottage at Dilwyn, within a hundred yards of the mansion House, [26]  of his forefathers, which but for his own xxxxxxxxxxx would have been his own & upon the very lands which had been his own.

His misconduct I believe was wholly imputable to himself, – my grandfather may be excused for disliking a youth with such propensities & such a temper. William Tyler, [27]  the next brother was a more remarkable person. Owing to some defect in his faculties, so anomalous in its kind that I never heard of a similar case, he could not never learn <be taught> to read, – the letters he could tell separately, but was utterly incapable of combining them, & taking in their meaning by the eye. He could write, & copy in a fair hand any thing that was set before him, whether in writing or in print; but it was done letter by letter without understanding a single word. He was quite As to self-government he was entirely incompetent, so much so that I think he could hardly be considered responsible as a moral being for his actions; yet he had an excellent memory, an observing eye, & a sort of half-saved shrewdness which would have qualified him, had he been born two centuries earlier, to have worn motley, & figured with a cap & bells <& a bauble> in some Barons hall. Never did I meet with any man so stored with old sayings <saws> & anecdotes gathered up in the little narrow sphere wherein he moved. I still remember many of them: xx the motto to Kehama, [28]  as the Greek reference when the abbreviations are rightly understood will show, is one of my uncle Williams sayings. – When it was found impossible to make any thing of him by education, he was left to himself, & past more time in the kitchen than in the parlour, because he stood in fear of his step-father. [29]  There he learnt to chew tobacco & to drink.

Strange creature x xx as he was, I think of him very often, often speak of him & quote some of his odd apt sayings, & have that sort of feeling for his memory, that he is one of those persons whom I should wish to meet in the world to come.

The man of whom he learnt the use, or rather the abuse of tobacco, was a sottish servant, as ignorant as a savage of every thing which he ought to have known, – that is to say of everything which ought to have been taught him. – My mother when a very little girl once reproved him for swearing. For shame William Thomas, [30]  she said, – <you should’nt> say such naughty words! for shame. Say your prayers Thomas. No Missey, said the poor wretch, I shant. I shant say my prayers. I never said my prayers in all my life, & I shant begin now.” – My Uncle William (the Squire he was called in the family) provoked him dangerously once. He was dozing before the fire xxx with his hat on which as <is> still common with the peasantry, he always wore in the house. You perhaps are not enough acquainted with the mode of chewing tobacco to know that in vulgar life a quid commonly goes thro two editions; & that after it has been half done with, it is taken out of the mouth & reserved for a second indulgence <regale>. In its intermediate state my Uncle William, who had faithfully learnt the whole process from Thomas, used to call it an old soldier.* [31]  Thomas’s place for an old soldier <between two campaigns>, while he was napping & enjoying the narcotic effects of the first mastication, was the brim of his hat; from whence the Squire on this occasion stole the veteran quid, & substituted in its pl stead a dead mouse from the <a> trap. The sleeper, half-wakening, without opening <unclosing> his eyes, & half stupefied put up his hand, & taking the mouse xxxxxxx with a finger & thumb of <in> which the discriminating sense of touch had never been instead of xxxxx called forth had been blunted by coarse work & unclean habits, opened his mouth to receive it, & with a slow sleepy tongue endeavoured to accommodate it to its usual station, between the double teeth & the cheek: happening to put it in head foremost, the hind legs & the tail hung out & some minute or more was spent in vain endeavours to lick these appendages in, before he perceived in the substance, consistence & taste something altogether unlike tobacco. Roused at the same time by the <a> laugh which the Squire could no longer <be> suppressed, & discovering the trick which had been played, he started up in a furious rage, & seizing the poker would have demolished my Uncle William <the Squire> for this practical jest, if he had not prexxxxx provided for his retreat by having the doors open, & taking shelter where Thomas could not, or dared not follow him.

Enough of Uncle William for the present. Edward [32]  the remaining brother was a man who if he had been properly brought up, & brought forward in a manner suitable to his birth & connections, might have made a figure in life, & have done honour to himself & his family. He had a fine person, a good understanding, & a sweet temper, which made him too easily contented with any situation & any company into which he was thrown. My grandfather has much to answer for on his account. Except sending him to a common day school, kept by a very uncommon sort of man, [33]  (of whom more hereafter) he left him to himself, & let him run to grow up & run to seed, in idleness.

My grandfather would have acquired considerable property if he had not been cut off in middle age. He had undertaken to recover some disputed rights for the Church of of which he was a parishioner, at his own risk & expence, on condition of receiving the additional tithes during a certain number of years, – or of being remunerated out of them in proportion to the cost & trouble of the adventure. The points were obstinately contested; but he carried them all, – & died almost immediately afterwards, about the year 1764 – or 65.

Tuesday. Aug. 15.



* MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 9–15 [in part]. BACK

[1] Margaret Bradford (1710–1782), Southey’s maternal grandmother. BACK

[2] Edward Bradford (dates unknown) of Dilwyn, Herefordshire. BACK

[3] Herbert Bradford (1701–1768), Herefordshire clergyman; Curate of Shobdon 1728–1768, Rector of Cefyn-Llys 1748–1768, Vicar of Aymestry 1762–1768. He attended Trinity College, Oxford. BACK

[4] Southey believed Margaret Croft (dates unknown) to be a member of the Croft family, Baronets of Croft Castle, Herefordshire. BACK

[5] Robert Nelson (1656–1715; DNB), A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England (1704). This provided accounts, in the form of catechisms, of the saint or occasion, homilies, collects and other suitable prayers, for every day designated by the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer as having a special service. It was extremely popular, going into some forty editions. BACK

[6] William Bradford (dates unknown). BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] endeavoured: closing ‘ed’ written over ‘ing’. BACK

[9] William Tyler (1709–1747), of Court of Noke, Pemberton, Herefordshire. He married Margaret Bradford in 1738. BACK

[10] John Tyler (1640–1724), Dean of Hereford 1692–1706, Bishop of Llandaff 1707–1724. BACK

[11] John Tyler (1703–1737) of the Great House, Dilwyn; Sheriff of Herefordshire 1729. He was married to Sarah Rogers (dates unknown), but they had no children. BACK

[12] Southey’s aunt, Elizabeth Tyler, and his uncles John Tyler (dates unknown), William Tyler (1742–1789) and Edward Tyler (1744–1786). BACK

[13] Edward & William: 1 and 2 and a line inserted over these in the manuscript indicates they should be transposed. BACK

[14] Edward Hill (1705–1765), a lawyer, of Long Ashton, Somerset. BACK

[15] Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB), ‘For His Majesty’s Birth-Day’, line 27; Gentleman’s Magazine, 60 (June 1790), 552. BACK

[16] Southey’s siblings who died in infancy: John Cannon Southey (1773–1774), Eliza Southey, Louisa Southey (1779–1782), John Southey (b. 1782) and Margaretta Southey (1787–1788). BACK

[17] Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hill (d. 1824) of the Royal Marines. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] Strephon was a traditional name for the male lover in pastoral poetry. BACK

[20] Unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[21] John Tyler is unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[22] Lieutenant-General John Manners, Marquess of Granby (1721–1770; DNB), British commander in the Seven Years War in Germany 1758–1762. BACK

[23] A card game, possibly picquet. BACK

[24] Unidentified. BACK

[25] William Lambe (1765–1847; DNB), physician and vegetarian. His father was the lawyer Lacon Lambe (1728–1807), of Henwood, Dilwyn, who had married Elizabeth Tyler (dates unknown), sister of John Tyler’s father, William Tyler (1709–1747). BACK

[26] The Great House, Dilwyn. BACK

[27] William Tyler (1742–1789). BACK

[28] The Greek epigraph: ‘Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost’, The Curse of Kehama (London, 1810), [unpaginated]. BACK

[29] Edward Hill (1705–1765). BACK

[30] Unidentified. BACK

[31] * a sailor deposits it in, or if there be such a word, reposits it in his tobacco-box. I have heard my brother Tom say, that this practice occasioned a great dislike in the navy to the one & two pound bills: for when the men were paid in paper, the tobacco-box served them for purse or pocket-book in lack of any thing better, & xx bills were often rendered illegible by the deep stain of a wet quid. [Southey’s note.] BACK

[32] Edward Tyler (1744–1786). BACK

[33] Emanuel Collins (fl. 1732–1762), clergyman, alehouse-keeper, poet and schoolmaster. BACK

People mentioned