3690. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 2 June 1821

3690. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 2 June 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 2. June. 1821

My dear Lightfoot

Your letter brings to mind how it happened that the last which I received from you remained unanswered. – I began a reply as soon as immediately, but having expressed <a hope> that business might probably soon lead me into the West Country, & intimated a little too confidently the likelihood of my succeeding to some good family estates there in consequence of Lord Somervilles death, – the letter was laid aside, till I could be more certain. [1]  Shortly afterwards I went to London [2]  & the result of my legal enquiries there was, that owing to the clumsy manner in which a will was drawn up, estates to the value of a thousand a year in Somersetshire which according to the clear instruction of the testator ought now to have devolved upon me, xxxxx <had been> adjudged [3]  to Lord Somerville to be at his full disposal, & were by him either sold, or bequeathed to his half brothers: [4]  – so that the whole is gone to a different family. You know me well enough to believe that this never deprived me of an hours sleep nor a moments peace of mind. The only ill effect was that I fancied your letter had been answered, & wondered I did not hear from you again, – which wonder, nothing but never-ending business has prevented me from expressing to you long ere this.

God knows how truly it would have rejoiced me to have seen you at Oxford. [5]  My heart was never heavier than during the only whole day which I past in that city. There was not a single contemporary whom I knew: – the only person with whom I spoke whose face was familiar to me was – Dr Tatham! [6]  – except poor Adams & his wife, [7]  now both old & infirm. I went in the morning to look at Balliol, & as I was coming out he knew me & then I recognized him which otherwise I could not have done. I dined there in the hall, at ten o clock at night, & the poor old woman would sit up till midnight that she might speak to me when I went out. – After the business of the Theatre [8]  was over I walked for some hours alone about the Walks & Gardens, where you & I have so often walked together, – thinking of the days that are gone, – the friends that are departed, – (Seward, & C Collins & Allen & poor Burnett,) – time, & change & mortality. Very few things would have gratified me so much as to have met you there. I had applause enough in the Theatre to be somewhat overpowering, & my feelings would have been <very> different if you had been there, – for then there would have been one person present who knew me & loved me.

My lodging was at Oriel in the rooms of an undergraduate whose Aunt is married to my Uncle. Copplestone introduced himself to me & asked me to dinner the next day, but I was engaged to return <to London> & dine with Bedford. There is no one of our remembrance left at Balliol except Powell, & him I did not see. [9]  The Master [10]  & the Fellows there shewed me every possible attention, – I had not been two hours in Oxford before their invitation found me out.

Your son is well placed at Exeter, [11]  which is now as decidedly one of the best Colleges, as it was one of the worst in our time. But the age of the Raffs & the Radfords [12]  is pretty well gone by. My wifes nephew whose misconduct & misfortune you notice – had his home under this roof, till he went to college. He has been very culpable, – but he has also been hardly dealt with, – perhaps with some injustice, certainly with great rigour. [13]  No intimation whatever was given to me of his intended rejection, tho it had been determined upon before I was there; – surely upon the first discovery of such ill behaviour as made them entertain the thought of such consequences, some information should have been given to those who were most concerned in his welfare, that the chance of a timely warning might have been trie[MS torn]

You are right in ascribing to me the account of the S.S. [14]  In the next number you will probably see a life of Oliver Cromwell, [15]  which I am now finishing, the first proof indeed being at this time on the table beside me.

I hear from time to time from my unfortunate brother Edward, whom it has been utterly impossible to rescue from the way of life which he chose for himself, – two attempts in the navy, & two in the army have proved this; – & after the total loss of character which he incurred there, there could be no answering for him in any situation where character was required. Nothing can be done but to give him the very little assistance which he sometimes asks for, & to enlarge it when the times of necessity may come.

The King sent me word that he had read the Vision of Judgement twice & was much pleased with it; [16]  & he afterwards told my brother (Dr. S.) at the Leve Drawing Room, that I had sent him a very beautiful poem, which he had read with great pleasure, [17]  – this was the most gracious thing he could have said to my brother. –

I shall send you a little book very shortly, containing a strange episode, which because of its length was cut out from the History of Brazil. [18]  You will be pleased to hear that both the Bp. of London, the Bp. of Durham [19]  & Lord Liverpool told me, when I was in town last year, that the Life of Wesley [20]  was a book which in their judgement could not fail of doing a great deal of good.

God bless you. Make my best compliments to Mrs L. [21]  Give my love to my god-daughter. [22]  Tell your son that I shall be glad to shake him by the hand whenever we may meet. Never think about franks when you feel disposed to give me a letter, & believe me my dear xxxxxx Lightfoot

always & affectionately yours

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] London June five 1821/ Revd. Nicholas Lightfoot/ Crediton/ C W Williams Wynn
Postmark: FREE/ 5 JU 5/ 1819; [partial] JU/ 5/ 1821
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 110. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 82–85 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. Somerville’s mother was Elizabeth Cannon Lethbridge (d. 1765), the daughter of Mary Southey (1704–1789) and niece of John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). The latter had inherited the Fitzhead estate in Somerset from his mother, Mary Cannon (1678–1738). On his death, John Cannon Southey had left a complex, ill-advised will which named Somerville his primary heir, and Southey’s father and two uncles the residuary legatees, their rights passing, in turn, to their children. Of the three Southey brothers only Southey’s father married, leading the poet to believe (after the death of his father and paternal uncles) that he and his brothers were now the rightful heirs to the Fitzhead estate. BACK

[2] Southey visited London in May–June 1820. BACK

[3] There were a number of legal disputes over the Fitzhead estate; Southey is here probably referring to the case between Lord Somerville and seven others, heard in the Court of King’s Bench on 27 January 1795. BACK

[4] Somerville’s half-brothers were: Mark, 16th Lord Somerville (1784–1842); Kenelm, 17th Lord Somerville (1787–1864); and William (1789–1857). They had no blood ties to the Southeys. BACK

[5] Southey had been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law at the University of Oxford on 14 June 1820. BACK

[6] Possibly Edward Tatham (c. 1749–1834; DNB), Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, 1792–1834. BACK

[7] Adam and his wife were college servants at Balliol. During Southey’s time there, Adam had served as ‘hair-dresser’ and supplier of fruit, and his wife had been a laundress; see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 August 1820, Letter 3523. By the time of Southey’s visit in 1820 Adam was a college porter. BACK

[8] i.e. the conferring of Southey’s degree at the Sheldonian Theatre (built 1664–1668), the main centre for ceremonies at the University of Oxford. BACK

[9] A native of Herefordshire, George Powell (1764–1830) had been elected to a Fellowship at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1786. Southey’s failure to ‘see’ Powell was not surprising because the latter had become increasingly reclusive. As an obituary explained, ‘he for many years secluded himself from general society, and appeared wholly indifferent to the habits of Academical life’, Gentleman’s Magazine, 147 (March 1830), 279. BACK

[10] Richard Jenkyns (1782–1854; DNB), Master of Balliol College, Oxford 1819–1854. Southey had been an undergraduate at Balliol 1792–1794, but never completed his studies and left without a degree. BACK

[11] Exeter College, Oxford, where John Prideaux Lightfoot was a student. BACK

[12] ‘Raffs … Radfords’ struck through in another hand. Arundel Radford (d. 1824) of Lapford, Devon, was an Oxford contemporary of Southey’s. He studied at Exeter College, gaining his B.A. in 1796. He became a clergyman and was Curate of Nymet Rowland from 1796. ‘Raffs & Radfords’ was possibly slang used by Southey and his college friends to denominate fellow students they disapproved of. BACK

[13] Hartley Coleridge had lost his Fellowship at Oriel College, Oxford, in 1820, at the end of his probationary year, on grounds of intemperance. BACK

[14] Southey’s review of The Works of the Reverend William Huntington, S. S. Minister of the Gospel, at Providence Chapel, Gray’s Inn Lane, Completed to the Close of the Year 1806 (1811) had appeared in Quarterly Review, 24 (January 1821), 462–510. BACK

[15] Southey’s ‘Life of Cromwell’, Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 279–347. BACK

[16] A Vision of Judgement (1821) was dedicated to George IV and Southey had arranged for a specially bound copy to be presented to him by Sir William Knighton; see Southey to William Knighton, 30 March 1821, Letter 3661, for the King’s opinion of the poem. BACK

[17] Henry Herbert Southey had possibly met George IV at the King’s levée on 2 May 1821, the court event closest to his official birthday on 23 April. BACK

[18] Southey’s The Expedition of Orsua; and the Crimes of Aguirre (1821), originally intended to be part of the History of Brazil (1810–1819) and first published in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), i–l. BACK

[19] Shute Barrington (1734–1826; DNB), Bishop of Durham 1791–1826. BACK

[20] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). Southey met these eminent supporters of his work during his visit to London in May–June 1820. BACK

[21] Bridget Prideaux (dates unknown), whom Lightfoot had married in 1801. BACK

[22] Frances Jane (Fanny) Lightfoot (1806–1882). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 2 times)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)