1310. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 24 April 1807

1310. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 24 April 1807 ⁠* 

Keswick. Cumberland. April 24. 1807.

My dear Lightfoot

It is the fault of the printer that I have not written to you two months ago & Heaven knows if I continued to wait for him how much longer it might be before you would hear tale or tidings of me. The case stands this, – there is in the press an edition of my last & best poem, printed in such a form that it will be no labour to hold the book, whatever it may be to read it & I have been long in daily expectation that the forthcoming of this book would enable me to tell you it had been sent you, together with a copy of Joan of Arc – greatly revised & altered & amended, in place of that which Lewis borrowed. [1]  But being weary of expectation, & wishing also to hear of you, I now dispatch this to say that it shall be sent, as soon as it is published. – As to Lewis, [2]  if ever you get into his reading desk it may not be amiss to write under the eighth commandment “Mem: my book has been returned. N. L.”

Circumstances have prevented me from returning to Portugal so soon as I intended. I am however likely (God willing I may <say> certain, as far as human intentions can be so) of <to> procureng a whole holyday for your boys in the month of November next. Burnett will then lead me to London, & when I am so far South I have calls into the West, – having an Uncle & Tau Aunt near Taunton. The Barnstaple coach will carry me to Tiverton, – & for the rest of the way I have shoulders to carry a very commodious knapsack & feet to carry myself, – being a better walker than when we were at Oxford.

Your last letter is fourteen months old, & they may have brought forth so many changes that I almost fear to ask for my god child Fanny, [3]  – During that time I have had a son born into the world, & baptized into the church by the name of Herbert, who is now six months old, & bids fair to be as noisy a fellow as his father, – which is saying something, for be it known that I am quite as noisy as ever I was, & should take as much delight <as ever> in showering stones thro the hole of the staircase against your room door, & hearing with what hearty earnest good earnest you fool! was vociferated in indignation against me in return. O dear Lightfoot, what a blessing it is to have a boys heart! it is as great a blessing xxx <in> carrying one thro this world, as to have a childs spirit will be in fitting us for the next.

If you are in the way of seeing reviews & magazines they will have told you some of my occupations, the main one they cannot tell you for they do not know it, nor is it my intention that they shall yet a while. I am preparing that branch of the history of Portugal for publication first, which would have been last in order. had not xxx temporal circumstances given it xxx a peculiar interest, & I may add utility, – that which relates to Brazil & Paraguay. [4]  The manuscript documents in my possession are very numerous & the utmost importance, – having been collected with unwearied care by my Uncle during a residence of above thirty years in Portugal.

Burnett is about to make his appearance in the world of authors with, I trust, some credit to himself. [5]  When we meet I will tell you the whole course of his eventful history, – far more eventful it has been than any he could have prognosticated on his first entrance at old Balliol. He is likely now to be happier than he ever was. – Charles Collins (of Ch. Ch) died about twelvemonths ago. The last time I saw him was in 1798, at his own house where he forced me to dinner, & where he so disgusted me by his ostentation that from that time I took care to shun him. he died of a frenzy fever, & I understand his family now imputed to a sort of derangement that strangeness of conduct which had alienated him from his old friends. Elmsley, I am sorry to say, is fatter than ever he was, – he is one of my most intimate & most valuable friends. I hear from Duppa, or of him, frequently. His visit to Oxford at the Installation has been the occasion of throwing him quite into the circle of my friends in London. I sometimes think with wonder how few acquaintances I made at Oxford; – except yourself & Burnett not one whom I should feel any real pleasure in meeting. Of all the months in my life (happily they did not amount to years) those which were passed at Oxford were the most insufferable. What Greek I took there I literally left there, & could not help losing & the only thing <all> that I learnt was a little swimming (very little the worse luck) & a little boating, which is very greatly improved, now that I have a boat of my own upon this delightful lake. I never remember to have dreamt of Oxford, – a sore proof of how little it entered into my moral being; – of school on the contrary I dream perpetually.

Do you remember the mad Landor of Trinity who fired a pistol thro his window at one of the fellows, & told him he was a little lump of corruption? – He is the author of a very curious poem called Gebir, [6]  in which, after you have construed & unriddled it, there is a great deal of admirable poetry. I am very curious to see this man, who is quite as crazy as ever. [7]  – You seem to have <some of> the worst of the Balliol men in your neighbourhood, – & what a set they were! When I remember Jewell – Shepherd, – Mr Poole, Mr Phelps, [8]  Queen Phelps – that poor seven weeks child little Bradley – Spearing <the Apostles> – & a few more. [9]  I can but think what x specimens they were of that part of the youth of England who are selected for the cure of souls! Mr Poole I hear is gone melancholy, as they say; – for it is impossible to say of him that he has lost his wits. I heard also that Bailey [10]  had lost a fellowship at Balliol by his jests upon poor Thomas Howe: [11]  – who found them out, resented them, & marred his election: it was added that he was a curate at Devizes. Cad: [12]  is become a great disciplinarian. Some friend of Dr Aikins dined one day at Balliol, & I was made the subject of conversation in the Common Room; – poor Cad was my only friend – I believe he xxx xxx allowed that I must be damned from all my heresies to xxx <that was certain>, but that still it was a pity; – he xxx remembered me with a degree of affection which neither a dozen years nor that heart deadening & uncharitable atmosphere has effaced. I should be glad to shake hands with him again. [there follows a long deleted passage].

I beg my compliments & best wishes to Mrs Lightfoot. Let me hear from you – & believe me

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey


* Endorsement: 1807
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d.113. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 83–86 [in part]. BACK

[1] The second editions of Madoc (1807), which was published in a smaller, duodecimo format, and Joan of Arc (1806). BACK

[2] Richard Lewis (1771–1843): clergyman and schoolmaster. Educated at Balliol and Corpus Christi Colleges, Oxford (matric. 1792, BA 1796). He became a curate and master of the grammar school in Honiton, Devon. A friend of Southey’s at Oxford; they lost touch in later years. BACK

[3] Lightfoot’s daughter, her dates are unknown. BACK

[4] Southey’s History of Brazil was published in three volumes between 1810 and 1819. The remainder of his projected ‘History of Portugal’ was never completed. BACK

[5] Burnett’s View of the Present State of Poland and Specimens of English Prose Writers, from the Early Times to the Close of the Seventeenth Century were both published in 1807. BACK

[6] Gebir (1798), reviewed by Southey in the Critical Review 27 (September 1799), 29–39. BACK

[7] Southey met Landor in Bristol in 1808, for the fullest account of which see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 April 1808, Letter 1447. BACK

[8] Thomas Spencer Phelps (d. 1856), a student at Balliol College, Oxford, BA 1797. BACK

[9] Apart from Phelps these Balliol acquaintances have not been identified. BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

[11] Thomas Howe (dates unknown): clergyman. Possibly the son of John Howe of Honiton, Devon. Educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford. Howe was Rector of Huntspill, Somerset 1804–1823. He was Southey’s tutor at Oxford in 1793–1794. BACK

[12] Cooke Rogers (dates unknown). A Welsh student of Balliol college, who Southey knew briefly while he was there, and nicknamed Cadwallader. His first name and dates are unknown. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)