3730. Robert Southey to 'Stumparumper' [Grosvenor Charles Bedford], 14 September 1821

3730. Robert Southey to ‘Stumparumper’ [Grosvenor Charles Bedford], 14 September 1821 ⁠* 

Keswick. 14 Sept. 1821.

Dear Stumparumper

Dont rub your eyes at that word Bedford, as if you were slopey. <The purport of> this letter which is to be as precious as the Punic scenes in Plautus, [1]  is xxxxxx in <to convey the give you some account tho but an imperfect one of the language spoken in this house by> Mrs Coleridge s language, <& invented by her>, a vocabulary of which I have carefully composed by the help of her daughter & mine, when she has been red-raggifying in full confabulumpatus. True it is that she has called us <persecutorums, &> great improprietors for performing this meritorious xxxxx <task>; & has often told me not to be such a stuposity; threatening us sometimes that she will never say anything that ends in lumpatus again; & sometimes that she will play the very dunder; & sometimes bidding us get away with our toadywidferings. And she asks me how I can be such a Tom-noddycum <(tho my name as she knows is Robert)> & calls me detesty, a mafrum, a goffrum, a chatterpye, a sillycum, & a great mawkinfort.

But when she speaks of you it is with a kinder meaning. You are not a vulgarum, nor a great ovverum govverum; the appellations which she has in store for you are either words of direct endearment, or of that kind <sort> of objurgation which is the playfullest mood of kindness. Thus you are a Stumparumper, because you are a shortycum; <& you are> a wattlykin, a tendrum, – a detestabumpus, & a figurumpus. These are the words which come from her chapset when she speaks of you; & you need not be told what they signifump.

I dare say you have set up a whickerandus at this, & I hope you will not be dollatory in expressing the satisfaction which you derive from knowing that you are thus decidedly in her good graces. Perhaps you may attempt an answer in the same strain, & show yourself none of the little blunderums who deserve to be bangated, but an apt pupolion which if you do you will deserve to be called as clever as De-Ciiggle.

Great light has been thrown upon the philosophy of language by Humboldt [2]  the traveller, who if we consider the variety & the extent of his attainments may justly be considered the most accomplished of living men. Mr Duponceau [3]  of New York is treading upon <in> his steps. From their researches & those of our countrymen in India [4]  it appears that <there> are two kinds of languages essentially different from those of Europe; the monosyllabic, which prevails in China & the adjacent countries; & the polysynthetic to which the various languages of the American Tribes belong. [5]  It is much to be regretted that Mrs Coleridges new language is not in like manner <investigated> by some profound philologist. – Mr Coleridge perhaps by xxxxxxx <the> xxxxxxx application of Kants [6]  philosophy might analyze & discover the principles of its construction. I tho an xxxxxly a diligent & faithful observer, <must confess that I> have but little insight into it. I can indeed partly guess why asses donkeys in this language are called jacks, & why peck is a nose; why some part of an Elephants trunk is a griper, but not why it is a snipe; why nog is a lump, bungay a bundle, & why trottlykins should stand for childrens feet; – but not why my feet & yours should be opprobriously termed hocksen & hormangorgs. So too when I hear needles called nowgurs, – ladies, laduls, whispering, twistering, – vinegar, wiganar, & a mist fogogrum, or fogrogrum, I have some glimpse, tho but a glimpse, of the principle upon which these neologisms are introduced. I can perceive also the analogies by which the new vocabulary is to be extended; for example, pie being called pie-īe-īe; it follows that pudding should be pudding-ūdding-ūdding. And a pew being called pewdiddledoo, to be consistent, we should speak of the Churchdiddledurch, the Clerkdiddlederk, & the Parsondiddledarson, – only that this might appear disrespectful to the Vicar.

But I should in vain seek to discover the rationale of other parts of this speech, though I were to study the subject till I were as tired as a dogs detested hinder. And tho I get at the meaning by asking an explanation, still no clue to the x xxx derivation is afforded. Thus for instance when it was said don’t roakin there & I desired to know what was intended by this xxxx prohibition, the answer was ‘every body says roakin’, & when I prest for farther explanation, I was informed that roaking was digging & grumping in a work-box. So too on the way from Mrs Calverts [7]  one evening, I was desired to stop till she had gathered up her doddens; & that word was interpreted to mean a plaid, a pair of pattens & an umbrella. If my foot happens to touch her chair, I am told that anything whidfetting the chair makes her miseraboble. If the children – the childerōpusses I should say, are bangrampating about the house, they are said to be rudderish & roughcumtatherick. Cuthberts mouth is called sometimes a jabberumpeter, sometimes a towsalowset. When the word comfortabuttle is used, I suppose it may be designed to mean that there is comfort in a bottle. But by what imaginable process of language and association Snoutarumpeter can be, as she declares it to be, a short way of calling Mother I am altogether unable to comprehend.

On one occasion however I was fortunate enough to see this extraordinary language, if I may so express myself, in the mint, & in the very act of its coinage. Speaking of a labourer, she said – the Thumper, the What-dye-callder, – the Undoer – I cant hit upon it! – the cutter-up. – these were the very words received & noted as they came fresh from the die; – & they meant a man who was chopping wood.

I must now bring this letter to a conclusion. The account indeed is very incompleat, but you may rely upon its fidelity. And tho of necessity I have spelt the words according to their pronunciation, I hope that this has not occasioned any disvuegurment, & that none of them in reading will stick in your thrapple. The subject cannot be so important to you, as it is to me, who live in a house where this language is spoken & therefore have been obliged to acquire some knowledge pay attention to it. Yet it will not be <appear> altogether uninteresting to you <incurious>, connected as it is with the philosophy of language <the science of philology>; & perhaps your regard for the inventor may give it a more than ordinary interest in your eyes.

I remain

my Dear Sir

Your obedient humble Servant

R. Southey.

P.S. I forgot to say that Apple-dumple-dogs are Apple dumplings. & that Dogroggarum is a word of reproach for a dog.


* MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 26. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 270–273.
Note on the MS: This note was enclosed in a letter to Bedford, [14 September 1821] (Letter 3729). There is a fair copy of the letter to ‘Stumparumper’, also in Southey’s hand, in the British Library, Add MS 47891. We have used the Bodleian Library version as copy text because the deletions indicate that it is clearly the first version of this letter. BACK

[1] Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BC), Roman playwright. His Poenulus (c. 195–189 BC) contains two speeches in Punic, the language of Carthage, which would have been unintelligible to a Roman audience, but preserved a rare example of the language. BACK

[2] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), German geographer, naturalist and explorer, especially in Latin America, who Southey may have confused with his brother, William von Humboldt (1767–1835), linguist, author of Researches into the Early Inhabitants of Spain by the Help of the Basque Language (1821) and expert on native American languages. BACK

[3] Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (1760–1844), authority on native American languages. BACK

[4] For example, Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB), ‘On the Chinese’, Dissertations and Miscellaneous Pieces Relating to the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature, of Asia, 2 vols (London, 1792), I, 209–234. BACK

[5] Du Ponceau had invented the term ‘polysynthetic’ to describe native American languages in his ‘Report of the Corresponding Secretary to the Committee, of his Progress in the Investigation Committed to Him of the General Character and Forms of the Languages of the American Indians: Read, 12th Jan. 1819’, Transactions of the Historical and Literary Committee of the American Philosophical Society, 1 (1819), xvii–xlvi, no. 63 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Du Ponceau referred to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s work in this article and the two men later corresponded. BACK

[6] Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), German philosopher, much admired by Coleridge. BACK

[7] Mary Calvert, née Mitchinson (dates unknown). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)