1401. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 21 December 1807

1401. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 21 December 1807 ⁠* 

My dear Senhora

I am flattered & gratified by Sir Edwards offer of becoming godfather to the unborn, [1]  & you will express to him any thankful acceptance of his offer in the best terms you can find. You have contrived to mingle something unpleasant with this by requesting me to change the name intended: I have told Danvers that should the child be a boy Danvers is to be his name, – & assuredly Danvers his name must be. [2]  I have as great a respect for Sir Edward as is possible to have for any person with whom I am well acquainted only by hearsay report, & have seen so seldom. But were I to name a child of mine after him, the immediate question would be is he a particular friend of yours, – & to this what reply could be made? – It would be paying him a very mean compliment thus to set aside one of my oldest & dearest friends, a man whom I most entirely love, honour – & esteem, & whose name, I verily believe, if there be anything good in the boy who bear it, will operate as an incitement in him to every virtue. If I judge rightly of Sir Edward Littleton he would think within himself ‘what am I to Southey that he should show me this preference?’ – & judge me to be one of a suppler spirit than it has pleased God to make me. – When you have reflected a little upon this, you will feel that I am right, – & as for the never-forgiving of which you talk, it is I, Senhora, who have to forgive you the imprudence with which you have subjected me to this risque of displeasing Sir Edward, & appearing insensible of the honour he has done me. Out of this you must bring me as you best can. I have a sort of feeling about naming my children after my friends just as the Catholics have for calling them after their favourite saints. Should I have a third son his name would be Edmund Seward, & a fourth would have a good chance of being called Rickman. – On looking back one thing requires explanation – you may perhaps take it in your head (are you liable Senhora to that female complaint which Doctors call the pet? – I think not.) – you may I say possibly think that if I will not call the boy Edward Littleton, I may as well let Danvers be his sponsor; – the fact is that Danvers is one of those dissenters who reject this ceremony altogether, & look upon godfathership as a relic of Popish superstition. I have a different feeling upon the subject, & think the more ties there are of good will to bind man & man together, the better.

If this unborn does not appear some time in January it will be very extraordinary, – for as nature is as punctual as I am in all her operations he may certainly be expected about that time. You may therefore look for me in less than six weeks. Tom will accompany me as far as our roads lie together, which will probably be just to Penkridge – then he strikes for Bristol & I for Litchfield [3]  & London. – This expulsion of the English from Lisbon strips my Uncle of half his income, – that half on which he himself lived. Miss Tyler, & what he allowed Harry engrossing the other: My friend John May loses the bulk of his fortune by it –20,000 £. I know no man who ever made a better use of affluence, & there is none who will bear up against adversity more like a man. Whether my Uncles ‘great friends’ will do any thing for him remains to be seen. I generally suspect that a mans great friends are so called on the old law of contrarieties, because they are very little his friends. – As for the Doctor he gets into a scrape wherever he goes, – & certain it is that the most prudent thing he can do is to marry as soon as he can, – tho in any body else so circumscribed it would be a great imprudence. But he never can get into practice till he has a wife to make fathers & mothers easy. Mary Sealy (do you remember her?) is the present object. Her father [4]  has refused him, – but I believe every thing is settled between him & the Lady, & as soon as he can find a place to go to Harry will start with no other property in the world than a wife. Huzza! we were not born to sink in the world, or we had long ago gone to the bottom. I knew little of Mary Seeley – except that she has a sweet face, indication of much good. & Mrs Gonne preferred her greatly to all the young Lisboners, & always said every thing that was good of her. Now I look upon her opinion on such subjects as infallible. Of all human beings (damn the Count! –) whom I have ever seen that woman is the most like what Angels must be, & we usually like best those persons whom we resemble most. So I am very well satisfied with my sister elect, tho a little more anxious than I would wish to be about their outset in life. – I think sometime of the cr[MS obscured] that fall from the rich man’s table – or rather of the guineas which are locked up in the bureau of that wretched Uncle at Taunton, whom I always call Mr. Southey, by way of disowning.

Thank you for your very very very amusing letter about the Reverend. I cannot tell you how much it amused us. And now the best thing you can tell me is that his Reverence is off again, for as fortune must have shuttle cocks to knock about, she cannot chuse a fitter one than Kurles, [5]  as you call him. Lady Hollands is a very handsome present. eight volumes in Russia binding – with R.S – on the back. I only regret that she did not know ‘my partiality for black letter.’ – as the Ordinary said to Jonathan Wild about the punch, when Jonathan proposed a bottle of wine to him in Newgate. [6]  – Espriella seems generally known. [7]  I can only console myself by proving that the world had no reason for knowing it because it only knows me as a poet & Espriella is not in the same stile as Madoc Thalaba or Joan of Arc. [8]  It cannot be helped, & it is no matter. – Pray rummage up your memory for the new volumes. [9] 

Today, being the shortest day, I have a library-table come home, – of dantzic oak, [10]  standing on two claws, & with drawers all round. Handsome enough for me, well made & excellently convenient. We all admire it much. Worse news – two brothers were drowned yesterday on the lake, – attempting to cross it on the ice! – a great shock as you may well suppose it to everybody here; – knowledge of the place seeming in some degree to affect us like knowledge of the persons.

Hartley has been writing, by her desire, to your friend Mrs Skepper, [11]  & I am asked if the letter may not be franked up to you to be franked on. So expect it in a blank cover. – My first batch of reviewing goes off this evening. Did I tell you that overtures were made me from the Edinburgh offering about double pay to what the Annual gives? [12]  – You would have been pleased with the way in which I rejected this offer on the ground of my decided disapprobation of the system on which that journal was conducted – & all the opinions which it professed. [13] 

God bless you


Monday. Dec 21. 1807.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker
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. 254–259
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 36–38 [in part]. BACK

[1] Emma Southey (b. 9 February 1808); Littleton did become her godfather. BACK

[2] For this letter, see Southey to Charles Danvers, 28 July 1807, Letter 1347. BACK

[4] Richard Sealy (c. 1752–1821), an old Lisbon acquaintance of Southey’s. BACK

[5] Perhaps the Rev. Kyrle-Ernle Money, vicar of Much Marcle, Herefordshire. BACK

[6] See Jonathan Wild in The Works of Henry Fielding, ed. Leslie Stephen (London, 1882), V, p. 192. BACK

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

[8] Madoc (1805), Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and Joan of Arc (1796). BACK

[9] A sequel to Letters from England never appeared. BACK

[10] Oak from Danzig. BACK

[11] Anna Dorothea Benson (1773–1856), the widow of Thomas Skepper (c. 1771–1805), a lawyer in York. After being widowed, she became the housekeeper of the friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Basil Montagu. She married Montagu in 1808, becoming his third wife, and conversed on literary subjects with the Wordsworth circle. BACK

[12] Archibald Constable (1774–1827; DNB), the Edinburgh publisher of the Edinburgh Review and Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) and Marmion (1807), had asked through Scott whether Southey would become a contributor to the Edinburgh Review; see Southey to John Rickman, 1 December 1807 (Letter 1387) and Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 11 December 1807 (Letter 1396). BACK

[13] For this see Southey to Walter Scott, 8 December 1807, Letter 1392. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Teddesley (mentioned 1 time)