1126. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 27 November 1805

1126. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 27 November 1805 ⁠* 

I should have written sooner to you but for the daily expectation of hearing farther tidings – & the uncomfortable uncertainty which the disappointment occasions. – However it is a wise practical maxim that no news is good news & I shall write in that belief.

First & foremost we have to thank you for a pine apple & a side of venison which was very good, & indeed is so still, for there is a good hash remaining. If these things come from Sir Edward himself – I beg you will make my acknowledgments in suitable phrase.

Secondly I have to request help for D. Manuel Alvarez Espriella. [1]  Have you a Cookery-Book? there is at the end of Mrs Glass & all her succession, an admirable course of lessons in carving, from which I want the appropriate terms of winging thighing, lifting, displaying &c. [2]  It would be a woful blunder if I were to lift what I ought to unlace & vice versa. – In the next place I am going to write a letter about English music & the fugues. [3]  This will reach you on Sunday, & it is well you are not going to church, or you would laugh at this during the sermon; – but Senhora you must give me the criticism & the comparison & I will give you the seasoning, & when they who know me come to a wise dissertation upon the state of our music – they will never suspect me – that’s pretty clear. Besides I have an anecdote or two, & something to say about musical Misses, & the villainous words of the songs, – so do you supply what I really do not understand, & we will have a very good letter between us.

What do you suppose poor Tom has taken it into his head to send me from the West Indies by way of a useful present? – a turtle! [4]  The inconceivable absurdity of sending me a turtle, & the utter dismay of the women to think what was to be done with it kept me full half an hour laughing. Yes – he tells me a passenger has promised to look to it on the voyage, & see it shipt on board the coach from London to Keswick. I wrote immediately to Wynn begging him to look after the beast. [5]  & eat him out of my way – if indeed the Captain has not done it already. Upon my word when I see how venison & turtle & pineapples come in upon me I begin to think I am not in my proper situation, & that I really ought to be Lord Mayor of London.

There is a monthly review of Madoc in which Envy Hatred & Malice are exhibited stark mad and stark naked. – the work of some unsuccessful author who fancies that I have reviewed him severely. [6] 

My campaign is now fairly begun, & today the first parcel has been packed off for King Arthur. In this the make-weights for the second Vol. of Poems are gone. by the by this puts me in mind to say that in giving the list of my operas to Sir E. you should make him understand that the Poems should not be purchased till this new edition comes out – else the Vision will be had twice over. [7]  I say this because any person thus paying twice – for the same thing might very naturally blame me for an arrangement which is not mine, & which is really a good one. – So you see I am clearing off, – & the work goes on with more good will because it is to be the last of the kind. Something has been done to Espriella since you went. – It seems quite certain that Bedfords delays [8]  will compel me to go to London as soon as the reviewing is over. The journey will be very unpleasant & attended with some expence; tho when in town I shall find enough business, meaning certainly to show my Spanish friend every thing, that he may relate what he has himself seen. Besides this my resolution is made up about the Cid. [9]  Any thing which can be spared from my history [10]  should be spared for the sake of reducing its bulk. – & this story will be the better for having room. I am writing to Bristol for the two Chronicles & a book of Ballads, [11]  – shall do here all that can be done from the chief documents, & hunt in the Museum & in Lord Hollands library for additional notes. This little volume will like Amadis [12]  be praised by the Reviews, who are graciously pleased to allow that I do understand Spanish, & can translate very well. This hurt nobody, – what anybody could do, anybody may do without incurring the displeasure of the world. Common Readers are the worst of all Levellers.

I repented that I had not accompanied you to Kendal & seen you into the mail, & the uncertainty whether you found room in it or not was my punishment. You are missed, – still more in my study than below stairs. Your litter was become part of the furniture of the room, & I never like to lose what is become familiar. My daughter talks of you usually every morning. it is one of her first operations to talk over all her acquaintance, what they gave her, & where they are, with sometimes a trait of their characters – as in your case. Barter – tums – nuff – don away – sorry. this is her speech concerning you, & you will perceive in it all the elements of a character & an eulogium. She also talks of you when she looks at the tree on the screen, or the black sealing wax on her box. In addition to her love for the fine arts She has learnt to love story telling, & now the first thing in the morning is like the Sultan of the Indies [13]  to call upon her bedfellow for one of his pretty stories – & I am obliged to talk to her & sing to her till I am thoroughly awake.

Take my last song –

Over the water, & over the water
Together we go, papa & his daughter.
Where do we go-a, where do we go-a? –
Over the water to pretty Lisboa –
Over the water together we go
To the land where the grapes & the oranges grow.

& so God bless you.


Thursday. Nov. 27. 1805.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
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. 165–169.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 347–350. BACK

[1] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[2] Hannah Glasse (bap. 1708–1770; DNB), The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747). Carving methods are referred to in Letter 73 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella: Translated from the Spanish, 3 vols (London, 1807), III, p. 334. BACK

[3] Letters from England contains no discussion of English music. BACK

[4] The turtle did not reach Keswick, but died in quarantine; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 1–5 January 1806, Letter 1140. BACK

[5] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 November 1805, Letter 1125. BACK

[6] John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), a Scottish physician who practised medicine in Manchester and often contributed articles to the Monthly Review, including this one on Southey’s Madoc (1805). See Monthly Review (October 1805), n.s. 48, 113–122. BACK

[7] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published in 1806, with the ‘Vision of the Maid of Orleans’ – originally published in the second volume of Poems (1799) – printed at the end of the poem. The new 1806 edition of the Poems omitted ‘The Vision’ and filled the gap with these ‘makeweights’: ‘Translation of a Greek Ode on Astronomy, written for the prize at Cambridge, 1793’ (pp. 3–9); ‘The Retrospect’ (pp. 13–22); ‘To Hymen’ (pp. 25–39); ‘Remembrance’ (pp. 40–43); ‘To Recovery’ (pp. 49–51); ‘Youth and Age’ (pp. 52–53); ‘The Traveller’s Return’ (pp. 54–55); ‘Autumn’ (pp. 56–58); ‘The Destruction of Jerusalem’ (pp. 59–62); ‘The Spanish Armada’ (pp. 63–66); ‘St Bartholomew’s Day’ (pp. 67–69); ‘To a Bee’ (pp. 74–75); ‘Metrical Letter’, pp. 76–79. For the alterations, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), I. BACK

[8] Southey was growing impatient over delays by Bedford in their jointly-compiled anthology Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[9] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid was published in 1808. BACK

[10] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[11] In his letter to Danvers, dated 28 November 1805 (letter 1128), Southey requested the following from Bristol: Chronica de Espana (las Quarto Partes Enteras de la) que Mandó Componer el Rey D. Alfonso el Sabio (1541), a history book written on the initiative of Alfonso X (1221–1284; King of Castile 1252–1284), which was no. 3338 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (c. 1043–1099), Chronica de la Famoso Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez Campeador (1593), no. 3344 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; Lorenzo de Sepúlveda (fl. 1551), Romances Sacados de Historias Antiguas de la Chronica de Espana (1566), no. 3448. BACK

[12] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[13] Shahryār, the Persian king in the popular Arabian Nights who demands that Scheherazade tells him a new story every night. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)