3555. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell, 14 November 1820

3555. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell, 14 November 1820⁠* 

Keswick 14 Nov. 1820.

My dear Sir

The original error in this unpleasant business can I think only be explained by supposing an error in writing 3 or 500 – instead of 3 or 4: – in reply you advised the larger sum, & most unluckily Mrs WR in her letter to me specified no sum when she said her “debt” was lying in the bankers hands at my disposal. [1]  – I desired Bedford to go with the draft, – not entering into any farther explanation with him, than that of telling him (as a friend to whom I tell every thing which concerns me) how I became entitled to such a sum. [2]  His reply, upon the receipt of which I wrote to you, said “yesterday I carried your draft for acceptance, & when it is due will take care that it shall be received. If I should go to the next world in the mean time, you must enquire for it of Mr Dickie, the Chief Clerk in Coutts’s House, [3]  who has kindly undertaken to do what is necessary in the business.” – Certainly I understood by this that he had carried it to Sir W Poles [4]  & that it had been accepted. – His This letter was dated Nov 4. Nov. 7 He writes the letter <of> which I sent you a copy, & upon re examining that letter x it appears to me that my first opinion was right, – ‘the house of Pole & Co refuse to accept the Bill which I presented to them &c. The inference seems to be that they accepted it at first conditionally, – as it was drawn (“as you have been or may be advised) – that they wrote concerning it to Ilam, & received the advice which led to its rejection. This seems to be the natural inference, & yet I can hardly think it possible. For if I had drawn beyond the intended amount Mrs WR would surely have concluded there was a mistake somewhere, not that I could have committed an action a fraudulent & scandalous action. But however that may be, my character is brought into question at the Bankers.

For the first time in my life I am utterly at a loss how to act. Bedford is at this time too closely engaged at the Exchequer, & also too much an invalid to go to the Bankers, – & indeed to enter into explanation with them, & ask their permission to draw for the smaller sum, would be to xxxx <like> putting myself on my defence, & expressing a doubt whether that permission might be granted. With the business of protesting it I had, as you know, nothing to do, – except to feel the whole impropriety & the whole inconvenience. The bill is in Bedfords hands, I can desire him to burn it & to pay the costs incurred, & I am inclined to think that the best – & only course I can pursue is to do this, & let the matter rest, till you have an opportunity of explaining it. The money would have come seasonably, – but come when it may now, it will be dearly earned, this vexation being taken into the account. [5] 

Of course I can have no stomach to continue the memoir [6]  while in this uncomfortable state, – otherwise I should now have been asking you some questions concerning the Aldgate school, – a topic of no small importance in such a memoir, – especially considering the paucity of facts which I have to work upon. [7] 

There is nothing which I dislike more than troubling any person about my concerns, more particularly when they are of a vexatious kind. And yet I am troubling & vexing you, who have so many & such important concerns of your own! – You no doubt understand that the unlucky act of noting the Bill [8]  was done by Coutts’s Clerk, on his own judgement, – he supposing it to be a matter of course. I have never got myself into a scrape since I left school, – but other persons have got me into a great many. Forgive me, my dear Sir

& believe me

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Dr Bell/ Sherburn House/ Durham
Seal: red wax, design illegible
Endorsement: Mr Southey 14 Novr/ 1820
MS: University of Kentucky Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The letter deals with an embarrassing, and potentially very damaging, situation relating to the refusal by a bank in London to pay a bill of exchange presented on Southey’s behalf because an incorrect (and higher) sum had been entered on the bill. It therefore looked as if Southey had deliberately, and fraudulently, overcharged for his services. The money Southey was owed was payment for writing an ‘account’ of David Pike Watts (1754–1816), a fabulously rich wine merchant and philanthropist, who had been an important supporter of Andrew Bell’s educational schemes and owned the Storrs Hall estate on Windermere. He was also the uncle of the painter John Constable (1776–1837; DNB). The work had been commissioned by Watts’s daughter and heiress, Mary Watts-Russell (1792–1840), who had married, in 1811, another heir to a business fortune, Jesse Watts-Russell (1786–1875), MP for Gatton 1820–1826. They lived at Ilam Hall in Staffordshire and had eight children. BACK

[2] For his instructions, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 27 October 1820, Letter 3544. BACK

[3] Andrew Dickie (d. 1834), confidential clerk in Coutts’s Bank and a partner from 1827. BACK

[4] The banking firm of Sir Peter Pole, 2nd Baronet (1770–1850), MP for Yarmouth, Isle of Wight 1819–1826, who were the bankers of Mary Watts-Russell. BACK

[5] Bell’s reply advised Southey to notify the bank that the bill was withdrawn and to defer asking Mary Watts-Russell for any payment for his services until after the memoir was completed. Bell also offered a loan to help Southey over any short-term financial problems created by this. See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 November 1820, Letter 3559. BACK

[6] Some Account of the Late David Pike Watts, Esq.: with Extracts from his Letters (privately printed, 1841). BACK

[7] On the recommendation of David Pike Watts, Bell’s educational system had been successfully introduced into the ‘charity school of St. Botolph, Aldgate, in the year 1798’. It was the first school in England to do so. See Some Account of the Late David Pike Watts, Esq.: with Extracts from his Letters (privately printed, 1841), p. 87. BACK

[8] i.e. writing on the back of the bill a note to the effect that it had been refused. This was not a legal requirement, but it was usual practice. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)