1000. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 December [1804]

1000. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 December [1804] ⁠* 

I should have noticed your letter sooner had I not been in a state of much uneasiness about my brother Tom. A country paper stated that he was killed – the Admiralty declared he is not, & there the matter rests. [1]  the probabilities look well, & I must be contented in the hope of receiving a letter from himself.

xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx would probably neither appear the one nor the other if looked at in another point of view. Xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx & if I have not mistaken Xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx.

By good fortune the Great Bellygerents bargain for the house is broken off & we shall remain in it yet a while. [2]  I would not therefore wish you to come just in the very midwinter – but I would wish you to take the very first chearful season – as soon as there are buds enough bursting to freshen up the landscape, lest any of those sudden chances to which we all liable, & which perpetually fall to my share, should send us God knows where. No but winter has its beauties and those of a very glorious character. but considering cold travelling, & mud & mire or frost & snow the only alternatives here – I am inclined to say come at Easter – but come when you will, – my own wishes would say the sooner the better.

The Edithling is inoculated with the cowpock – for a careless woman has brought the Small pox into Keswick. [3]  Were I an Emperor I would bigget her upon the summit of Skiddaw as a spectacle to all the country round.

I am safely delivered of my poem [4]  – God be praised – after fifteen years it is no little joy to see it compleat & out of the reach of accident. the notes are now printing. the preface & dedication proof lies on my desk & will go back by this nights post. There are some things in the book so good that I should have liked to have read them to you myself.

Fare you well. there is a load of reviewing to do, pressing on me like a dead weight.– poor Peter! [5]  & I have a dismal story to give you in return my Ass John – is a John Ass, & he has taken it in his head at present as Adam had before him in Paradise that it is not good for him to be alone. So that being most heroically in love with some unknown she Ass, like a Prince in the Persian Tales, – he set off today in search of her. Now it fell out that when John was engaged in this search there came over the bridge a man riding upon an Ass. John beheld him, gallopped after him in the middle of the town, attacked the rider for the love of the Ass, & fairly knocked him off into the dirt.

What is to be done in this case? had John been a Catholic Ass he might have been initiated in one of the monastic orders, like many of his bretheren, & been saved by his vows. Or had he been an Italian, been taught to bray in treble – but being an English & a Protestant Ass – what can I do for him?

A Dios.


Monday. 10 Dec.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: [partial] KESWICK
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 130–132. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission, 65 were killed or wounded, and Southey suspected that his brother was among the dead. The first lieutenant had been reported as dead, but Thomas was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in his stead and died in the attack. BACK

[2] Mr White (dates unknown), who had planned to buy Greta Hall from the builder and owner of the house William Jackson. BACK

[3] Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB) published his experiments on vaccinating against smallpox using cowpox serum in An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ in 1798. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805). BACK

[5] A note in Mary Barker’s hand is written on the letter in red ink: ‘Peter was a name given by me to a little Pig who followed me in the Gardens of my Father like a Dog. Southey saw him eat some Pine apple after Dinner in our garden dining-room, & was much amused – as well as with the other gentlemanly habitudes of Peter – so different from common pigs, that I hoped to have preserved him during many years – But, after an absence of some days – one of the first things I saw, in an inspection of my Father’s House, was a Tub full of very very fat, fine, newly salted Bacon. Alas! it was, Peter!!! My rage was inutile and the only effect from it was that I could not eat any bacon for twelve months afterwards. Mary Slade – née Barker’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)