3526. Robert Southey to John May, 16 August-18 November 1820

3526. Robert Southey to John May, 16 August-18 November 1820⁠* 

August 16. 1820.

My dear friend

Since my Aunt Marys arrival I have learnt from her a few circumstances which I did not know when my two former letters were written. <I must begin> This therefore must be a letter of scraps consisting of <with> corrections & additions, which in my transcript I will insert in their proper places. And first of my fathers family. – John Southey (my Grandfathers Uncle, who married the heiress) [1]  was as I had supposed him to be, an excellent man, very much respected & beloved. My grandfather regarded him with the utmost reverence; – it was always sufficient authority for him that his Uncle said, or thought so or so, – as one from whose judgement there could be no appeal. His wife was a proud woman, – & for that reason it seems to have been that his mother [2]  lived with her grandson Thomas, instead of with him. Both his daughters were married, – one to the last of the Periam family, whom she survived. [3]  Madame Periam she was called. My Aunt Mary in her childhood & early youth spent most of her time with her, or with her sister Madame Lethbridge. [4] John Southey (my Uncle) in like manner lived more with Cannon Southey [5]  than with his parents, in his boyhood & youth, – but it was a bad school for him. He was looked upon as the probable heir of the family, even after the birth of young Somerville, [6]  who was always a weakly child. – My grandfather was a quiet, contented, neat little old man, who lived to the age of fourscore.

My maternal grandmother [7]  had been addressed by her second husband [8]  before she married her first. [9]  She became acquainted with him at Bristol whither she had gone to visit some distant relations, – their family name I have forgotten, if I ever heard it, but one of them married a merchant by name Prankerd, [10]  & after his death, was went to Lisbon with Miss Tyler as a sort of Ama or Duenna. Mr Tyler killed himself by hard drinking, he left his children [11]  600£ each: & his widows jointure was 200£ a year. My grandfather, who in the interim had married also & become a widower, went down in due time to Herefordshire, quartered himself in the house, & took care the next morning to have his clothes xxxx spread out to air in full sight of the neighbours. He was a kind & indulgent husband, & she was a woman whom every body loved who knew her. But her life was embittered by her children, & especially by her son John. [12]  He sold the reversion of her jointure as he did every thing else, – & she parted with half of it to deliver him from prison.

The story of his marriage is worse than I had represented it. He picked his wifes [13]  pocket while she was asleep, & left her at an inn in Bath, with a Welsh servant girl, & three halfpence! A Welsh gentleman overheard them in the streets deploring their misfortune condition in their own language; & enquiring into the case, assisted them to get back to their own country.


During my Grandfathers life the three breeds of which his family consisted had continued in harmony with each other; & had it not been for the turn which affairs took upon his death, a marriage would probably have taken place between Capt Hill [14]  & Miss Tyler. But Capt Hill behaved most unfeelingly concerning the division of his property. He demanded his fathers clothes, & told the widow to pack them up for him; – she replied that she had not been used to perform such offices, & that if he chose to take them from the boys his brothers, he might pack them himself. This he actually did, & he even searched for the Tyler plate, but it was successfully concealed from him in a secret cupboard, made in the wall of my grandmothers bed chamber. I remember the place. Poor woman, she was obliged to hide the plate there from two of her own sons. – The dispute continued for years, & was not terminated when my Uncle Herbert took orders. [15]  An angry correspondence at that time past between them, in which the Captain told my Uncle that nothing but his gown protected him, & was told in reply that a red coat sometimes covered a coward. It ended in an incurable breach, – nearly fifty years have elapsed, thxx & & no approach has ever been made on either side to a reconciliation. This I have always regarded as unfortunate, – for my mother never spoke of her half-brother without affection. Ill as he behaved, he was not without good qualities; & perhaps disappointment took the form of irritation when he found that his father had left much less than he expected to inherit.

My grandmother’s jointure (from her first husband) was 200£ a year, which was probably equivalent to thrice that sum in these days. The Tylers had from their father 600£ each. Miss Tyler lived with her Uncle Bradford, [16]  of him & of her I shall speak hereafter. I must now speak of the Hills. My uncle (κατ εξοχηυ) [17]  – it is so habitual to me to speak & write of him, & of him only by that name, that I will not constrain myself to use any farther designation,) — My Uncle then & his brother Joseph [18]  went by day to a school in the village kept by one of the strangest fellows that ever wore a cassack or opened a school <took up the trade of tuition>. His name was Collins, [19]  & he was grandfather to Mrs Mitchell [20]  (the poor Commodores wife) & to Sir Rufan Donkin, [21]  who very probably may not know quite so much of his own family history as I do. He was a clever <&> profligate fellow, & eked out his ways & means by authorship. I remember one of his works among my Uncle’s books in Miss Tylers possession, its title is Hell Gates Open, [22]  but not having seen <looked into> it since I was a mere boy, I only know that it is satirical, as the name may seem to import. I sent for another of his publications some years ago from a catalogue, not as expecting any thing of value, but because he had been my Uncles first schoolmaster, & I knew who & what he was. It is a little book in the unusual form of foolscap quarto, & because it contains one fact which is really curious as matter of history I will give its title* [23]  at the bottom of the page. The publication is in no respect creditable to its author, & in one respect highly discreditable to him, – on the score of decency. But the fact which is well worth the two shillings I gave for the book, is, that as late as the end of George the seconds reign, or the beginning of George the third’s, [24]  there were persons at Bristol who from political scruples of conscience refused to take King Williams half-pence. [25]  <& these persons were so numerous that the magistrates thought it necessary to interfere, because of the inconvenience which they occasioned in the common dealings of trade & of the market>. They were then in common currency, – & indeed I myself remember them, having about the years 1786–1790 – laid by some half dozen with the single or double-head, among the foreign pieces & others of rare occurrence which came into my hands.

Devoid as his Miscellanies are of any merit, Parson Collins, as he was called (not in honour of the cloth) had some humour. In repairing the public road, the labourers came so near his garden wall, that they injured the foundations & down it fell. He complained to the waywardens, & demanded reparation, which they would have evaded if they could, telling him it was but an old wall, & in a state of decay. Gentlemen, he replied, old as the wall was, it served my purpose. But however I have not the least objection to your putting up a second-hand one in its place. This anecdote I heard full five & thirty years ago from one of my schoolmasters, who had been a rival of Collins’s, & is satirized in the Miscellanies. [26]  – His school failed him, not because he was deficient in learning, of which he had a full share, but for his gross misconduct. He afterwards kept something so much like an alehouse, that he got into a scrape with his Superiors; & to make the matter worse he had daughters who made themselves no <more> agreable to the guests than they ought to have done. They contrived however <some of them> to do better in life than might have been expected from such a beginning. One married a surgeon at Bristol, & this I believe <I think> was Mrs Mitchells mother (xxxxxxx this was a favourite sister) – but this poor woman behaved ill after marriage & died miserably. The <A> second <(her character I believe was blameless) went into Ireland as Lady’s maid with the family of a Lord Glenair [27]  or Glen-something like it, & married> married Rufan Donkin, [28] an officer in the army, who xxxx xxxxxxxxx <when I knew him in my childhood was> a Colonel, & died <is now> a General, & whose son is xxxx a KCB* [29]  & I know not what besides. A third daughter who was the very image of Sir Rufan kept a village shop at Chew Magna in Somersetshire, [30]  & dealt with my father for such things as were in his way. I remember her perfectly, she used to dine with us whenever she came to Bristol, & was always a welcome guest, for her thorough good nature <honest blunt manners> & her <comical> oddity. Her face was broad & coarse, like a Tartars, but with quick dark eyes, <& a fierce expression, –> & she was one of those persons who could say, quidlibet cuilibet xxx de quolibet. [31] 

I perceive that I should make an excellent correspondent for Mr Urban, [32]  & that I have mistaken my talent in writing histories & poems, instead of following the rich veins of gossip & garrulity. All this however is not foreign to my purpose. For I wish not only to begin ab ovo, [33]  but to describe every thing that relating to the nest. And he who paints a birds nest ought not to represent it nakedly <per se>, but <in situ> in its place & with as many of its natural accompaniments as his canvas will admit. It is not manners & fashions alone that change with us, – the very constitution of society may undergo (& in all likelihood will) as great a change in the course of the next two or three centuries, as it has done in the last. The change is likely to be more violent & far more rapid. And at no very distant time these letters may derive no small part of their interest & value from the sketches which they contain of a stage of society which shall have has (already) past away, & of a state of things which xxxx-shall <then> have ceased to exist.

Nov 18. 1820


* 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. 15–18 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Southey (1666–1728), a lawyer, who married Mary Cannon (1678–1730), heiress to the Fitzhead estate. He was the uncle of Southey’s grandfather, Thomas Southey (1696–1777). BACK

[2] Mary Southey (dates unknown). BACK

[3] Elizabeth Southey (1705–1767) married John Periam, of Sandhill Park, Bishops Lydeard (1701–1755). The Periams had originally been merchants in Exeter, but various branches of the family had become landowners in Devon and Somerset. The couple had no surviving children. BACK

[4] Mary Southey (1704–1789) married the landowner Christopher Lethbridge, of Westaway House, Devon (1685–1746). Lethbridge’s brother, Thomas Lethbridge (b. 1698), married Sarah Periam (d. 1771), a sister of John Periam, and their descendants inherited the Periam estates. There was a third sister, Jane Southey (d. 1722), who died young. BACK

[5] John Cannon Southey (d. 1768), son of John Southey (1666–1728). BACK

[6] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and Southey’s third cousin. He was the grandson of Mary Southey (1704–1789) and heir to his great-uncle, John Cannon Southey. BACK

[7] Margaret Bradford (1710–1782). BACK

[8] Edward Hill (1705–1765), a lawyer, of Bedminster, Somerset. BACK

[9] William Tyler (1709–1747), of Court of Noke, Pembridge, Herefordshire. BACK

[10] Possibly Richard Prankerd (or Pranchard), a Bristol merchant in the West India trade (dates unknown). BACK

[11] Elizabeth Tyler, John Tyler (dates unknown), William Tyler (1742–1789) and Edward Tyler (1744–1786). BACK

[12] i.e. John Tyler. BACK

[13] Unidentified. BACK

[14] Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hill (d. 1824) of the Royal Marines, the son of Edward Hill by his first marriage and step-brother of Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[15] Herbert Hill was ordained at Oxford in 1774. BACK

[16] Herbert Bradford (1701–1768), Herefordshire clergyman; Curate of Shobdon 1728–1768, Rector of Cefyn-Llys 1748–1768, Vicar of Aymestry 1762–1768. BACK

[17] ‘Par excellence’, ‘pre-eminent’, a signal of Southey’s affection for Herbert Hill. BACK

[18] Unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[19] Emanuel Collins (fl. 1732–1762), clergyman, alehouse-keeper, poet and schoolmaster. He ran a school at Shannon Court, Corn Street, Bristol. BACK

[20] Sampson Michell (1755–1809), British sailor who rose to be an Admiral in the Portuguese navy. His wife was Ann Shears (1765–1838), the daughter of Samuel Shears (dates unknown), a Bedminster surgeon, and a granddaughter of Emanuel Collins. BACK

[21] Sir Rufane Donkin (1772–1841; DNB), soldier, geographer and politician. His mother was Mary Collins (1748–1815), daughter of Emanuel Collins. BACK

[22] Hell-gates Open to All Men: or an Invitation to Persons of Every Age, Sex and Quality, to a Residence in the Infernal Regions (1751), by ‘Lucifer’. BACK

[23] * Miscellanies in Prose & Verse, consisting of Essays, Abstracts, Original Poems, Letters, Tales, Translations, Panegyricks, Epigrams & Epitaphs.

Sunt bona, sunt quædam mediocria, sunt mala plura
Quæ legis, hic aliter non fit, Avite, liber.
Things good, things bad, things middling when you look
You’ll find to constitute, my friends, this book. Martial
By Emanuel Collins AB. Late of Wadham College, Oxford. Bristol. Printed by E Farley in Small Street. 1762 [Southey’s note.] [Editors’ note: This is a free translation of Marcus Valerius Martialis (c. AD 38/41–102–104), Epigrams, Book 1, no. 16. The book was no. 663 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library and Southey had ordered it in 1809; see Southey to Herbert Hill, [started before and continued on] 22 December 1809, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1723.] BACK

[24] i.e. in about 1760, when George II (1683–1760; King of Great Britain 1727–1760; DNB) was succeeded by his grandson, George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[25] Emanuel Collins ‘To Mr. R – B–’, Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (Bristol, 1762), pp. 25–27. The persons in question refused to take coins bearing the head of William III (1650–1702; King of Great Britain 1689–1702; DNB) because they did not accept his right to the throne and supported the claims of James II (1633–1701; King of Great Britain 1685–1688; DNB) and his descendants. William III had ended the production of tin coins in 1694 and replaced them with copper halfpence and farthings. BACK

[26] Emanuel Collins, Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (Bristol, 1762), pp. 137–142, including ‘The Quack School-Master’. Southey interpreted this poem as an attack on William Williams (d. 1811), his schoolmaster at Merchants’ Hall School, Bristol, 1782–1786. BACK

[27] Unidentified. BACK

[28] General Robert Donkin (1727–1821); he married Mary Collins (1748–1815) in 1772. BACK

[29] * He is the person who managed that counter-intrigue in Sicily which is related in the Ed. Ann. Reg. Vol 4. 436; – he conducted the whole affair, & he it was whom the assassins were sent to murder, by the French General. [Southey’s note.] [Editors’ note: Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 436–437, describing a French plan to seize the navy of British-occupied Sicily.] BACK

[30] Patty Collins (dates unknown); the Collins family were originally from Chew Magna in Somerset. BACK

[31] ‘What pleases, to whom it pleases, about what it pleases’. BACK

[32] Correspondents to the Gentleman’s Magazine (1731–1922) addressed themselves to ‘Sylvanus Urban’. BACK

[33] ‘From the egg’, i.e. from the beginning. BACK

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