1534. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 November 1808

1534. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 November 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

The intelligence which I have to communicate will surprize you, if you have not already heard it from some other quarter. My Uncle is married. The Imperial Colonel told me this was to be the case, some eight or nine weeks ago, adding that he had seen the Lady, but there are so many Hills in the world that I utterly disbelieved his reported rumours. Married however he is to the fourth daughter of Lovelace Bigg Wither, a gentleman of great weight in the county of Hampshire, & of the very ancient & good family of my old friend George Wither the poet. It seems however that he must have taken the name for an estate, for his daughters name was Bigg. [1]  I learn from John May that her fortune is said to be about 4000£. – with the expectation of something more at her fathers death. Of her age or of any thing else I know nothing, [2]  except that she hopes to see Edith & me when we visit ‘the more enclosed parts of England’ – xx is not this eempraunce in any body who lives by the Black Mountains [3]  to call Skiddaw uncivilized?

I am heartily glad of this, for it frequently made me uneasy to think how solitary the remainder of my Uncles life was likely to be. He has none of those inveterate habits which often render late marriages uncomfortable, – all his habits have been plucked up by the roots, & he had new ones to acquire. The evil is that if he should have children there is no hope of his living to see them grow up. That however is a remote evil. There will be enough for their education, & if I am living there will be somebody to superintend it. Cousin Robert will not do for a play fellow, when the age of riding pocko is over, [4]  but he will do for something better.

And so Tom we have got another Aunt by the Lord! – How will this be relished in the College Green? [5]  – I am very curious to see this new relation, with whom, in case of a family, it is likely that one day I must have be so nearly concerned. My Uncle may be trusted for chusing well. Aunt I shall not call her, being too old to consider her as such. It seems more as if a brother had married, than a kinsman of another generation.

And now after this Gazette Extraordinary, comes the flat part of the newspaper, filled up how it can. It is time that another Letter should arrive from you, & I am daily looking for it. Two proofs of Thalaba have reached me, the notes are in a very beautiful type, & this edition will greatly x excel the former in its appearance. [6]  Kehama is just now in great glory – he has won the Swerga, & Kalyal is riding abroad in the huge chariot of Jagerenaut, as the Idols bride: [7]  I have got on to 2500 lines, – probably half the poem.

A few days ago came a letter from Bedford, communicating to me the as yet secret intelligence, that it is thought expedient to set on foot a Review for counteracting the base & cowardly politicks of the Edinburgh. Walter Scott it seems was the suggestor, to some of the men in power. – xx Gifford – (the Baviad & Massinger Gifford) is to be Editor, & he commissioned Bedford to apply to me. The pay will be as high as the Edinburgh, – & such political information as is necessary will be official communicated from official sources, – for in plain English the ministers set it up. But they wish it not to wear a party appearance, – only to breathe at this time the right English at-him-Trojan spirit. Would I write about Spain was asked. I have asked in return if they can bear to have the principle avowed of no peace while Bonaparte lives, – & if I may damn Sir Hew Dalrymple, [8]  – sine-qua-nons upon the subject with me. And I have offered to take those departments for which I conceive myself sufficiently qualified. [9]  Next week will probably bring in tidings how this is settled, – & by the time these Annuals are off my hands, – a parcel on the new account may be expected to arrive. They require no pledge to any party or set of opinions – I [have] [MS torn] taken care that there shall be no mistakes about mine, – explicitly informing Gifford that I am an enemy to peace-mongers, an enemy of Catholic emancipation, a friend of the Church Establishment because I am a heretick requiring toleration, an almost Quaker, – a damner of Sir Hew Dalrymple & Co – & a friend to reform as being the only thing which can prevent revolution. All fair & above-board. The articles which are in fashion will most likely weigh down those that are not. But is it not amusing that such an application should be made to me from such a quarter!

Little Mr De Quincey is at Grasmere – he was here last week, & is coming again – I wish he was not so little, & I wish he would not leave his great coat always behind upon the road. But he is a very able man, with a head brimful of information.

Nothing can be done in the way of a County meeting against Ld LonsdaleWordsworth therefore is now writing a pamphlet about the Convention, [10]  which doubtless will do your heart good. Curwen [11]  called here the day after we met him at Calverts – pressing me to visit him at Workington. If I go it will be with W. – for the sake of tracing the Derwent the whole way. [12] 

God bless you


Keswick. Nov. 12. 1808


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock Torbay/ Single
Endorsements: Correction made to address [in another hand].
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 106–108. BACK

[1] Lovelace Bigg (1741–1813) inherited the estate of Manydown, Hampshire, in 1789. He then took the name Bigg-Withers and brought up his children there. George Wither (1588–1667; DNB), the poet, was a distantly-related ancestor. BACK

[2] Catherine was thirty-three. BACK

[3] A range of rough hills, scarcely inhabited, on the Welsh side of the river Wye near Hay-on-Wye, and a few miles from Hill’s parish of Staunton. BACK

[4] A name for Southey when his son, Herbert was riding on his back. BACK

[5] That is, at the Bristol residence of Southey’s aunt Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[6] A second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1809. BACK

[7] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 14. BACK

[8] Southey’s exasperation was caused by the Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple. Public outcry led to an inquiry, after which Burrard and Dalrymple never again took command. BACK

[9] For this, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 November 1808 (Letter 1530) and 11 November 1808 (Letter 1532). BACK

[10] Wordsworth’s Concerning the Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra was published in 1809. BACK

[11] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), Whig MP for Carlisle, Workington landowner. BACK

[12] The river Derwent, after passing by Southey’s home Greta Hall, flows north and west to meet the sea at Workington. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)
Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 1 time)