1305. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 April 1807

1305. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 April 1807 ⁠* 

The worst part of your letter is that which relates to your own health; look well to that & Time will do the rest. It is better to have a sister dead than that – that is certain, – but it is better to have her dead than miserable, – than for instance to have her years in dying of a cancer, or what is worse of a broken heart from the ill usage of a husband, like Mrs Gonnes sister. I am very glad you thought of Carlisle, – he is truly a kind hearted man, & even his profession has not hardened him. xxxx  [1]  is perhaps the very ablest practitioner xxx xxx to whom you could have gone; & you may rely upon him with the most perfect confidence that he will do whatever can be done by human skill. He is no favourite of mine, but of his talents I have the highest possible opinion. – It is useless to afflict yourself. Against this calamity, & against still greater ones you can bear up, & must bear up. Did you ever read Mrs Carters Epictetus? [2]  – next to the bible it is the best practical book & the truest philosophy, in existence.

As for your damned cousins or uncles or whatever they be I could wring their necks off, – & if xxx were in my hands his would be in some danger, [3]  xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx – This cause of trouble however time will wear down: the first thing the human mind does under any affliction, is to set about bearing it, – as instinctively & as surely as life sets about healing a cut as soon as it is inflicted, – & happily few mental wounds are mortal. What other evils you allude to of course I cannot guess, & perhaps if I knew them should not allow that they were such as ought to make you unhappy. – Look to your health, & as soon as you can xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx – come once more to Keswick, – lakes & mountains are good friends, & will do you more good than a host of comforters or buckets full of physic.

I have now much to tell you concerning myself – & had indeed begun to tell it you in a more playfull mood. Know then that I am settled at Keswick, for an indefinite time, with no prospect of removing from it. Some plans of Coleridge made it necessary for me either to determine upon quitting this house at a given time or upon remaining with it. The first I could not do, for want of means – which is in plain English for want of money; so I determined upon the second, & it so happens that this topsey-turvey in the ministry has made me well satisfied with my choice. [4]  Of course my prospects are gone out with them – hopes I will not call them, for I never thought enough about them for them to become hopes, – & to confess the truth like best to be left alone & not put out of my way. Well, – Wynn procured for me ‘out of the fire’ as he says, the offer of a place in the West Indies [5]  worth 600£ a year, – which he refused for me – as there was no time for my answer. [6]  Instead he has got me a pension of 200£ – (by the Lord Senhora you shall smile at my having a pension from the Treasury.) You may congratulate me, – but not upon an accession of fortune; – for the truth is that hitherto I have received 160£ a year from Wynn (which is all I have except what I earn) – & that now of course I shall receive this no longer, – for Wynn is not a rich man. And as his Majesty is graciously pleased to give me 200, so is he graciously pleased to stop 56£ xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx out of it for fees & taxes, & eke – also to pay it so irregularly, that I am told he who is only a quarter in arrears is in good luck. I am therefore a loser by this bounty of 16£ a year during the war; When the income tax is taken off I shall be 4£ a gainer – but always have the inconvenience of uncertain remittances. I gain by it in as much as I cease to receive any fresh obligations, – tho it would be absurd to say there was much pain in this – for in such cases I just take as I would give. Had Wynn his brothers fortune, or were he still a single man with his own, I should even have preferred receiving from him rather than from the public – but as it is, it is best as it is.

Accordingly settled I am in this house – we are inclosing the garden & planting currant trees & shrubs. The parlour is to be papered with cartridge paper – & the abominable curtains died of a chocolate brown which will make them decent – they are making fringes for them. – My room to have white curtains – a carpet, – & all the books coming – All the books – think of that Senhora! – We wait only for fine weather to have the plaisterers, then the painters, & then our work begins. See now how useful you would be in the way of beautifying & think how many a ragged regiment of books will stand in need of you. See now if it be possible for you to come, whether you can in your conscience refuse coming!

Mrs Coleridge is gone to her husbands relations in Devonshire, [7]  & he meets her somewhere on the road. Your god-daughter talks of you everyday She is very unmanageable, & very amusing, & I like her well My son is rather ailing just now, as we suppose with his first teeth. he has had an eruption over his head for about three months which is now wearing off. His eyes are as Tartarish as his sisters, so I call him the little Mayortes & the Caõzinho – for reasons which I & Palmerin will explain to you hereafter.  [8]  He is a great tyrant, – farther I cannot say of him except that he gives good proof of taste by pricking up his ears, & brightening up his countenance when I begin to warble to him.

Jackson assists me in Reptonizing [9]  the garden with hearty satisfaction. We have a right hand man named Willy, [10]  – when you come you shall hear the story of the three days-&-nights battle between him & his wife. He is a very odd fish & talks to me about truth & allegory & fable, – & the craziness of his wife at the full of the moon.

Write without delay, to say how you are. Edith’s love –

God bless you.


Friday. April 10. 1807.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ with Thomas Wilson Esqr/ Hampstead/ Middlesex
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: 10 o’clock Ap 13 1807; E/ APR13/ 1807
Endorsement: No. 23. To Miss Barker Keswick April 10. 1807. Pension
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), 224–228.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 1–4. BACK

[1] Name deleted. Warter supplies ‘B——— ‘, meaning Beddoes, to whom Southey had previously referred in similar terms; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 2 January 1807, Letter 1255. BACK

[2] Epictetus (AD 55–AD 135), the Stoic philosopher, was translated by Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806; DNB), The Works of Epictetus, the fourth edition appearing in 1807. BACK

[3] The cause of the family squabble is not known, but may have related to the estate and the business of Barker’s father, Thomas Barker (dates unknown), an ironmaster in Congreve, Staffordshire, who died in September 1806. Her brother Frederick (dates unknown) took over the running of the business. BACK

[4] Wynn, who held office in the Ministry of All the Talents, procured for Southey, as it fell in March, a state pension, since his chance of obtaining employment in Portugal would lapse with Wynn’s departure from government. BACK

[5] The post of Register of the Vice-Admiralty Court of St. Lucia. BACK

[6] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [25 March 1807], Letter 1298. BACK

[7] Mrs. Coleridge had gone to Bristol to join Coleridge and Hartley on their way to visit George Coleridge in Ottery St. Mary. A misunderstanding arose between the brothers, and the visit never took place. BACK

[8] In Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze, 4 vols (London, 1807), I, p. 54, Mayortes is identified as the first leader to call himself the Great Khan (Gran Can), because he had once been enchanted into the form of a dog. ‘Caõzinho’ is Portuguese for ‘doggy’. Southey’s humorous point is that his children’s eyes resembled those of central Asians. BACK

[9] Humphry Repton (1752–1818; DNB), the landscape gardener. BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Congreve, Staffordshire (mentioned 1 time)