3665. Robert Southey to John May, 7 April-1 September 1821

3665. Robert Southey to John May, 7 April–1 September 1821⁠* 

April 7. 1821.

I know not whether Digges [1]  withdrew upon discovering that Miss Tylers fortune was very inferior to what he had expected, judging from her appearance at Lisbon, or whether a discovery to the same effect was made on her side, but for one or other of these reasons, or perhaps for both an end was put to an intimacy which my Uncle from the beginning had strongly disapproved, & which gave my Grandmother [2]  much uneasiness while it continued in England. Miss Tyler then took a house at Bath, & there my earliest recollections begin, great part of my earliest childhood having been past there.

The house was in Walcot parish, in what five & forty years ago was the skirts of the city. It stood alone in a walled garden, & the entrance was from a lane. The situation was thought a bad one, because of the approach, & because the nearest houses were of a mean description: in other respects it was a very desirable residence. The house had been quite in the country when it was built; one of its fronts looked into the garden, the other xxxxxxx into a lower garden, & over other garden grounds, to the river, Bath wick fields – (which are <now> covered with streets,) & Claverton Hill, with a grove of firs along its brow, & a sham Castle in the midst of their long dark line: – I have not a stronger desire to see the Pyramids, than I had to visit that sham Castle [3]  during the first years of my life. There was a sort of rural freshness about the place. The dead wall of a dwelling house which formed one side of the garden-enclosure was covered with fine fruit trees; the way from the garden door to the house was between that wall & a row of espaliers, behind which was a grass plat, interspersed with standard trees & flower beds, & having one of those green rotatory garden seats, shaped like a tub, because I suppose <that where> the contemplative person within may like Diogenes, be as much in the sun as he pleases. [4]  There was a descent by a few steps to another garden, which was chiefly filled with fragrant herbs, & with a long bed of lilies of the valley. Ground rent had been of little value when the house was built, the kitchen looked into the garden, & opened into it; & by the kitchen door was a pipe supplied from some <of the> fine springs with <with which the country about Bath abounds, & -> a little stone cistern beneath. The parlour door also opened into the garden <it was bowered with jessamine>, & there I often took my seat upon the stone steps.

My Aunt who had an unlucky taste for such things, fitted up the house at a much greater expence than she was able to afford. She threw two small rooms into one, & thus made a good parlour, & converted built a drawing room over the kitchen. The walls were covered with a plain green paper, the floor with a Turkey carpet; there hung her own picture by Gainsborough [5]  with a gauze curtain to preserve the frame from flies & the colours from the sun; & there stood one of the most beautiful pieces of old furniture I ever saw,—a cabinet of ivory <ebony> & tortoise shell, in an ebony frame. It had been left her by a Lady of the Spencer family, & was said to have belonged to the great Marlborough. [6]  I may mention as part of the parlour-furniture a square screen with a foot-board & a little shelf, because I have always had one of the same fashion myself, for its convenience; a French writing table, because of its peculiar shape, which was that of a cashew-nut or a kidney, the writer sate in the concave, & had a drawer on each side; – an armed chair made of fine cherry wood, which had been Mr Bradfords, [7]  & in which she always sate, —because if any visitor who was not in her especial favour sate therein, the leathern cushion was always sent into the garden to be aired & purified before she would use it again; – a mezzotinto print of Pope’s Eloisa, [8]  because of its supposed likeness to herself; – two prints in the same stile of engraving from Angelica Kauffman one of Hector & Andromache, the other of Telemachus at the court of Menelaus, [9]  because they were in frames of Brazilian wood; & the great print of Pombal, <o grande Marquez>, [10]  in a similar frame, because this was the first portrait of any great man with which I became familiar. – The xxx establishment consisted of an old man servant, & a maid, both from Shobdon. [11]  The old man used to feed the crickets, & died in her service.

Here my time was chiefly past from the age of two till six. I had many indulgences, but more privations, & those of an injurious kind, – want of playmates, want of exercise, – never being allowed to do any thing in which by possibility I might dirt myself, – late hours in company, that is to say late hours for a child, which I reckon among the privations (having always had the healthiest propensity for going to bed betimes) & late hours of rising, which were in every respect far <less painful perhaps but in other respects> worse. My Aunt chose that I should sleep with her, & this subjected me to a double evil. She was in the habit of having her bed warmed, & during the months while this xxxxxxxxxx, <practice was in season,> I was always put into Mollys [12]  bed first, for fear of an accident from the warming pan, & removed when my Aunt went to bed, – so that I was regularly wakened out of a sound sleep. This however was not half so bad as being obliged to lie till nine & not unfrequently till ten in the morning, & not daring to make the slightest movement that could disturb her during the hours that I lay awake, longing to be set free. These were indeed early & severe lessons of patience. My poor little wits were upon the alert at those tedious times of compulsory idleness, watching the light from the crevices of the window shutters, – till it served me at last <by its progressive motion> to measure the lapse of time ), – wondering at the motes in the <slant> sunbeam, – & fancying figures & combinations of form in the curtains. Thoroughly injudicious as my education under Miss Tyler was, no part of it was so irksome as this.

I was inoculated at Bath at two years old, & most certainly believe that I have a distinct recollection of it, as an insulated fact, & the precise place where it was performed. [13]  <my Mother sometimes fancied that my constitution received permanent injury from the long preparatory lowering regimen upon which I was kept. Before that time, she said, I had always been plump & fat; but afterwards became the lean lank greyhound-like creature that I have ever since continued. She came to Bath to be with me during the eruption; except the xxxx spots upon the arm I had only one pustule; afraid that this might xx not be enough she gave me one <a single> mouthful of meat at dinner, & before night above an hundred pustules were produced, – with fever enough to frighten her severely. The disease however was very favourable. A year or two after I was brought to the brink of death by a fever, – & still remember the taste of one of my medicines, & the cup in which it was administered. On both these occasions Dr Schomberg &c> Dr Schomberg attended me, – an unlucky man whose literary attempts were not creditable to him, & who was afterwards obliged to leave Bath upon a charge of pocketing money one day at the Church door when he held the plate <for some charitable collection.> [14]  The accusation was made upon the spot, it is very possible that he xxx had put some of the money in his pocket, lest it should fall from the plate, & being thus rudely accused, in an x evil moment thought it better to deny the fact, than state the simple truth, which malice would immediately <have> construed into an excuse, & proclaimed as a confession. My Aunt believed that there was an intention of purloining, because Schomberg was notoriously fond of money; but she considered the inhumanity of exposing him, & thereby bringing shame & misery upon his family, [15]  as a greater crime, & she was one of the few persons who did not in consequence renounce their acquaintance. I mention this to her honour. One of his sons was the midshipman who was much talked of some forty years ago for having fought Prince William Henry, then one of his shipmates. I think he is the author of a history of our naval achievements. [16]  Alexander another son was a fellow of Corpus, & died in 1790 or 91, [17]  having lost the use of his lower limbs by a stroke of the palsy. [18]  I had the mournful office of going often to sit by him as he lay upon his back in bed, when he was vainly seeking relief at Bath. Boy as I was, & till then a stranger to him, he was glad of the relief which even my presence afforded to his friendless <deplorable> solitude, – for he had no friend with him.

Miss Tyler had a numerous acquaintance, such as her person & talents (which were of no ordinary kind) were likely to attract. The circle of her Herefordshire connections extending as far as the sphere of the three Music Meetings in the three diocese of Hereford, Worcester, & Gloucester, [19]  she became intimate with the family of Mr Raikes, [20] a pr the printer of the Gloucester Journal, one of whose sons introduced Sunday Schools* [21]  into this country, & others became India Directors Bank Directors & so forth in the career of mercantile prosperity. [22]  A daughter who was my Aunts friend, married Francis Newberry [23]  of St Pauls Church Yard, son of that F. N. [24]  who published Giles Gingerbread, Goody Two shoes, & other such worthy histories in sixpenny books for children splendidly bound in the gilt Dutch paper flowered & gilt Dutch paper of former days. As soon as I could read, which was very early, Mr Newberry presented me with a whole set of these books, more than twenty in number, which I dare say were in Miss Tylers possession at her death, & in perfect preservation; for she taught me never to spoil nor injure any thing. This was a rich present, & may have been more instrumental than I am aware of, in giving me that decided determination to literature which manifested itself from my childhood upwards. I can trace with certainty the rise & direction of my poetical pursuits: it grew out of my Aunts intimacy with Miss Palmer.

Mr Palmer [25]  (her father) acquired considerable property as a wax & tallow chandler at Bath, & vested great part of it in a very curious manner for an illiterate tradesman. He had a passion for the stage, which he indulged by speculating in theatres. One he built at Birmingham, one at Bristol & one at Bath. Poor man he outlived his reasonable faculties, & was when I knew him a pitiable spectacle of human weakness <& decay>, hideously ugly, his nose having grown out in knobs <& bulbs> like an underground artichoke, his fingers crooked & knotted with the gout; dirty, irascible, & weaker than <helpless as> an infant in xxx reason <& feebler than one in mind>. In one respect this was happy for him. His wife, [26]  a kind, plain-mannered domestic woman, xxx <caught> her cloathes on fire, ran into the street in flames, & was burnt to death; & he tho in the house never knew what had befallen her. He survived her several years, & would frequently say she had been gone more than a week to Devizes, & it was time she should come back. He lived with his two daughters Miss Palmer, & Mrs Bartlett [27]  (a widow) at Bath, in Galloways Buildings, in a house at which I often visited during fifteen of my life, sometimes for weeks at a time with my Aunt. And I was sometimes taken to see this deplorable old man, the sight of whom always excited in me a mingled feeling of fear <horror> & disgust, not to be recalled without some degree of pain. – Xxxx In consequence of his incapacity the property of the Bath & Bristol theatres devolved upon his children, & was managed <administered> by his son, [28]  who by the institution of the Mail Coach has contributed so large to change almost the very constitution of society. He was in truth a remarkable & rememberable person, even if he had not struck out so efficient & operative a plan.

He must have been about five & thirty when I first remember him, a man of fine great talents & fine person, with a commanding air & countenance, kind in his manners & in his nature, – yet there was an expression in his eyes which I felt before I ever heard of physiognomy, or could have understood the meaning of the word. It was a wild xxxxxxxless unquiet look, a sort of inward emanating light, as if all was not as it should be within I should pronounce now that it was the eye of a man predisposed to insanity, & this I believe to have been the fact, tho the disease manifested itself not in him, but in his children. They indeed had double reason to apprehend such an inheritence, for their mother was plainly crazed with hypochondriacism & fantasticalness. She was a widow & an actress when he married her, [29]  & her humours soon made any place more agreable to him than home. The children were my playmates at the rare times when I had any. The eldest son [30]  was taken from the Charter House literally because he was almost killed there by the <devilish> cruelty of the boys; – they used to lay him before the fire till he was scorched, & shut him in a trunk with saw dust. The Charter House at that time was a sort of Hell upon earth for the under boys. He was of weak understanding, very like his mother in person, & I believe died insane as did one of his sisters who was his perfectly resembled him. Two other boys were at Eton,* [31]  Tom, [32]  the elder of the two had one of the most beautiful countenances I ever remember to have seen, – only that it had his fathers eyes, & a more fearful light in them. He was a fine, generous, <overflowing> creature, but you could <not> look <at him> without fearing <that> some disastrous xxx fate would befall one so rash, so thoughtless, & withal so keenly susceptible. When he was at Cambridge he gave orders to his Gyp by blowing a French horn, having a tune for every specific command, till this <so noisy & unacademical> practise was forbidden. His dismal history There he ran wild, & contracted debts in all imaginable ways, which his father, the most indulgent of fathers, again & again discharged. On the last of these occasions, when a large sum had been paid for him where his conduct had been highly culpable, Mr Palmer did not utter a single reproach, but in the most affectionate manner entreated him to put away all painful recollec thoughts of the past, & consider <look upon> himself as if he were only now beginning life. The poor fellow could not bear his father kindness, & blew out his own brains <knowing perhaps too surely, that he could not trust his own resolutions to amend his life, blew out his own brains.>

I had not seen him for several years before his death. When we were boys I admired him for his wit, his xxxxx xxxxxxx spirits <hilarity, his generous temper> & his countenance which I might better be called radiant than described by any other epithet: but there was in something which prevented <precluded> all desire of intimacy. If we had been thrown together in youth, there would have been an intellectual attraction between us, – but intellect alone has never been the basis of my friendships, except in a single instance, – & that instance proved the sandiness of such a foundation. – Yet we liked each other, – & I never think of him without a hope, – or rather a belief, – an inward & sure persuasion – that there is more mercy in store for human frailty than even the most liberal creed has authorized us to assert.

In what manner my acquaintance with this family was the means of leading

My favoured footsteps to the Muses Hill,
Whose arduous paths I have not ceased to tread
From good to better persevering still, –  [33] 

shall be shown in the next letter.

Sept. 1. 1821.


* MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. AL; 5p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 32–41 [in part]. BACK

[1] Thomas Atwood Digges (1742–1822), of Maryland; expatriate and embezzler. Digges and Tyler had met in Lisbon in 1774. BACK

[2] Margaret Hill, née Bradford (1710–1782). BACK

[3] Sham Castle, Bathampton, built as an eye-catcher in 1762. BACK

[4] The Greek philosopher Diogenes (c. 400–325 BC). He reputedly told Alexander the Great (356–323 BC, King of Macedon 336–323 BC) to move out of the way because he wished to continue sitting in the sun. BACK

[5] The fashionable portrait painter, Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788; DNB). The portrait was painted c. 1775 and was commissioned by John Bateman, 2nd Viscount Bateman (1721–1782), of Shobdon Court. It is currently in private hands. BACK

[6] The army officer and politician, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB), whose younger daughter, Anne (1683–1716), married Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland (1675–1722). Their daughter, Lady Anne Spencer (1702–1769), married the Whig politician William Bateman, 1st Viscount Bateman (1695–1744). The Batemans lived at Shobdon Court and were on excellent terms with Herbert Bradford (1701–1768), Curate of Shobdon 1728–1768, and his niece, Elizabeth Tyler. The ‘Lady of the Spencer family’ who left the ornate cabinet to Elizabeth Tyler was therefore probably Anne Bateman. BACK

[7] Elizabeth Tyler’s uncle, Herbert Bradford. BACK

[8] The print was based on Alexander Pope’s (1688–1744; DNB) verse epistle ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ (1717). BACK

[9] The prints were probably of the following paintings by Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807; DNB): Hector Taking Leave of Andromache (a version of this was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1769) and Telemachus at the Court of Sparta (c. 1773). BACK

[10] ‘The great Marquis’; Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquess of Pombal (1699–1782), Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777. BACK

[11] Unidentified. BACK

[12] Miss Tyler’s maid, unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[13] * ‘See p. 5’ [Southey’s note, to indicate the insertion that follows, ‘My Mother … Dr Schomberg’, can be found on the fifth manuscript page of the letter. We have restored it to its place in his narrative.] BACK

[14] Ralph Schomberg (1714–1792; DNB), a German-born physician and prolific writer (and plagiarist) on medical and literary subjects, who established himself in medical practice in Bath in c. 1761. He was notorious for his avarice, and even, in 1747, instigated a legal case against his own father, the physician Meyer Löw Schomberg (1690–1761; DNB), for a fictitious debt. In 1778 Ralph Schomberg was accused of stealing money from a church collection plate. His accuser was an equally colourful character, the quarrelsome travel writer Philip Thicknesse (1719–1792; DNB). Schomberg left Bath under a cloud, eventually settling in Reading, where he died in 1792. BACK

[15] Schomberg had married the heiress Elizabeth Crowcher (1719–1807). They had ten children, most of whom died in childhood. BACK

[16] The naval officer and historian Isaac Schomberg (1753–1813; DNB). In 1786 he had been appointed First Lieutenant of HMS Pegasus, then in the West Indies. Part of his role was to act as mentor to the ship’s commander, the inexperienced Prince William (1765–1837; King of the United Kingdom 1830–1837; DNB). The two men clashed repeatedly and matters came to a head when the station commander, Horatio Nelson (1758–1805; DNB), had Schomberg arrested and confined in his cabin until a court martial could be held. This did not take place and Schomberg was returned to England. He resumed active service in 1788, and held his last command in 1794–1795. In retirement he wrote a five-volume Naval Chronology, or, An Historical Summary of Naval and Maritime Events from the Time of the Romans to the Treaty of Peace, 1802 (1802). He also had charge of the sea fencibles, the naval militia, from Southend to Harwich (1801) and Hastings (1803–1808), and was a Commissioner of the Royal Navy 1808–1813. BACK

[17] ‘1,’ is written over ‘2,’. BACK

[18] Alexander Crowcher Schomberg (1756–1792; DNB), poet and writer on jurisprudence. He was educated at Winchester College and Magdalen College, Oxford, and was a Probationary Fellow of Magdalen (not Corpus Christi) 1782–1792. His works included Ode on the Present State of English Poetry (1779) and An Historical and Chronological View of Roman Law (1785). He died in Bath and was buried in the Abbey. BACK

[19] The Three Choirs Festival, founded in the early eighteenth century. BACK

[20] Robert Raikes (c. 1690–1757; DNB), co-founder and printer of the Gloucester Journal, which commenced publication on 9 April 1722. BACK

[21] * I know not where or when they were first instituted, but an Ordnance of Albert & Isabel, in 1608 speaks of them as then existing in the Catholic Netherlands, & enjoins the Magistrates to see to their establishment & support, in all places where they were not yet set on foot. [Southey’s note.] [Editors’ note: Isabella (1566–1633) and Albert of Habsburg (1559–1621) were joint sovereigns of the Spanish Netherlands, 1598–1621.] BACK

[22] Raikes’s eldest son Robert (1736–1811; DNB) took over the Gloucester Journal and the printing company from his father, and was famed for his promotion of Sunday schools, where children from poorer backgrounds could receive religious instruction. The following of Raikes’s brothers were London merchants: William Raikes (1738–1800); Thomas Raikes (1741–1813), Governor of the Bank of England 1797–1799; and Charles Raikes (1745–1828). Richard Raikes (c. 1753–1823) was, however, a clergyman. BACK

[23] Mary Raikes (1748-c. 1829) married the publisher Francis Newbery (1743–1818; DNB) on 29 May 1770. BACK

[24] Francis Newbery was the son of John Newbery (c. 1713–1767; DNB), the first publisher to create a dedicated list of books for children. BACK

[25] John Palmer (1703–1788). BACK

[26] Jane Palmer, née Long (1714/5–1783). BACK

[27] Elizabeth Bartlett (1748–1830). BACK

[28] John Palmer (1742–1818; DNB), theatre proprietor and postal reformer; MP for Bath 1801–1808. He devised a postal system that used fast and secure mail coaches. BACK

[29] Palmer married Sarah Mason (dates unknown), a widow, on 24 August 1769. The couple had six children. BACK

[30] John Palmer (1773–1851), the eldest recorded son of John Palmer, did attend Charterhouse, but his later career did not follow the trajectory outlined by Southey; Palmer attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and became a clergyman, ending his career as Rector of Peldon, Essex, 1817–1851. BACK

[31] * Charles the second of these is at present member for Bath; – that Col: Palmer who appeared in the prosecution of Col. Quintin. [Southey’s note.] [Editors’ note: Charles Palmer (1777–1851; DNB) was educated at Eton (1791–1793) and at Oriel College, Oxford. He served in the army, rising to the rank of Major-General, and sat as Whig MP for Bath (1808–1826, 1830–1837). He inherited his father’s theatrical concerns and also owned vineyards in the Gironde. In 1814 Colonel George Augustus Quintin [also ‘Quentin’] (1760–1851) of the 10th Hussars, or Prince of Wales’s Own regiment, was court-martialled on three counts of neglect of duty and one of general laxity of discipline. He was found guilty on part of the first charge, for which offence he was reprimanded. Quintin’s wife was rumoured to be the Prince Regent’s mistress, and the verdict was felt in many quarters to be the result of influence and favouritism. The officers who had accused Quintin were, in contrast, treated more harshly. They were ordered to leave the regiment and were distributed among other cavalry regiments. They included Charles Palmer, who on 23 November 1814, used his position as an MP to attack the verdicts in parliament.] BACK

[32] Thomas Palmer (b.1775/1776) attended Eton and was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1793, moving to Trinity Hall in 1795. He joined Lincoln’s Inn in 1794. His date of death is not recorded. BACK

[33] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (London, 1816), ‘Proem’, lines 122–124. BACK

People mentioned

Tyler, Elizabeth (1739–1821) (mentioned 12 times)
Palmer, Miss (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)