1628. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 May 1809

1628. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 13 May 1809 ⁠* 

You will be beginning Senhora to wonder that you hear no news from Keswick, & it is well that I have not bad news to communicate. Herbert has had the croup, – the particulars I shall not relate because I do not like to remember them. – thank God the disease was speedily subdued, & he is now recovering from the remedies. The marks of the blister are disappearing from the throat, & his complection to day has a healthier colour than it has had since he was waked out of his sleep to have six ounces of blood taken from the jugular vein. We have as you may well suppose, gone thro much anxiety. I have but four of the fourteen, yet & they bring with them a good deal of uneasiness, – nevertheless I’se for the whole number. Piggarel is not, but you know her of old, & I do not find that all her grumbling about them before they come makes her like them a jot the less when they are here. Bertha thrives, & Nurse says she is a beauty, which is more than I can say. Emma is grown a bonny wench, – & as for your truly begotten god-daughter she is taller than Sara. I hope you will be pleased to hear that she takes after her father, & professes a determination never to learn to dance, – tho her cousin dances all morning at the dancing-masters & all the evening at home.

We go on increasing in grandeur, – & the only thing I do not like in your Teddesleyfication [1]  is that it has prevented you from being a happy assistant in the great works of improvement, which are continually in hand. My room is finished, & the paper has not succeeded well – the seams have a bad appearance, & in some places the wall has changed its colour – by candle light these imperfections are not seen, & many of them will be hidden at all times if your Senhoraship will send me two drawings for the chimney-piece, – tho what I should like better would be a copy of a certain portrait in crayons which I saw at Congreve, & which I have coveted & desired ever since. [2]  – I can hardly tell whether I wish you to come to Keswick with a party or not, Sir E should see this country, that is certain, – but where he can be lodged is the difficulty. As for the next house that is out of the question – Just when you would be coming poor Jackson would be dying in the only decent bed-room there. He cannot live thro the summer – I am still getting my lease, in which that house is included, – of course for the only purpose of securing myself against an unpleasant neighbor. But Jackson has built another adjoining the wood-house, – poor man, thinking all along that he was accommodating us, – calculating that Coleridge would occupy his present tenement, & he himself remove into the new one. The shell is compleated, the only thing which makes me regard it with any complacency, is a sort of dream, that one of these days you may perhaps take up your abode there, [3]  & that when anything is to be said from one house to the other, I may vociferate the message from the Organ-room window.

Mr. White wrote me an intimation of Miss Seward’s death. [4]  I was right enough in supposing her farewell letter to me was not written in so desperate a state as it purported to be, for she recovered that attack, & died of a different complaint. She had however distinctly at other times expressed an apprehension of the particular disease which threatened her, & a conviction that her days were near their end. Her will, the Wolseleys [5]  tell me filled fourteen folio sheets, & Scott has a legacy of 100£, – for which he is expected to write her epitaph. [6] </note> A bequest of 500£, – for her own monument is the only foolish part of her arrangements, – that was a poor vanity, – the very verger when he shows the monument, will relate it to her discredit. I am glad I have seen her – glad too that you were present at the first interview, [7]  & not in [MS obscured] slightest degree surprised that when it rains legacies none should fall upon me. Every body who has money to dispose of, knows persons who ought to have it, – & they are greatly to be censured who give any part of their property to those who have no claim to it, – of course I include moral claims as well as those of kindred. Scotts legacy & her monument-money should have gone to Miss Fern. [8]  She might have left me a set of her works or some piece of her plate, & I should have shown such a token with pleasure. Her papers, which are in Constables hands are very numerous – the Letters alone would fill fourteen quarto volumes, – of which two are to be published.  [9]  Then I suppose I shall come in, & be adored to my face. – She was a woman of great abilities, – & if ever I pass thro Lichfield again I shall feel with regret that she is gone.

Burnett I hear is in a deep decline. God have mercy on him, never was a good heart so wofully corrupted by a vain head. It grieves me to think how differently this intelligence affects me from what it would once have done. He is better dead than living, – but it is shocking that I should think so. I think there was a time when that mans heart was as pure & innocent as the heart of man could be. That so beautiful a flower should have had its fruit so cankered! The question whether it would have been otherwise if he had never known me will occur to many persons. On that score I have nothing to repent. I set him no example but what was good. As long as he loved me he loved what was good.

I expect daily to hear of Harry’s marriage with Mary Sealy. – God bless you. I suppose Sir E. is in town & therefore do not inclose the letter


May 13. 1809.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire.
Postmark: 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. 312–316.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 137–139 [in part]. BACK

[1] Teddesley Hall was the home of Sir Edward Lyttleton for whom Barker acted as a nurse and companion. BACK

[2] Since Congreve was the home of Mary Barker’s father, the portrait may have been of her. BACK

[3] When Barker moved to Keswick in 1812, she lived in Greta Hall with the Southeys and then in the unoccupied house next door that he describes here, called Greta Lodge. BACK

[4] Anna Seward’s cousin Rev. Henry White (dates unknown), sacristan of Lichfield cathedral, Seward’s cousin and supporter. She died on 25 March 1809. BACK

[5] Reverend Robert Wolseley (d. 1815), son of William Wolseley, 6th Baronet (1740–1817). Wolseley married a Miss Hand (first name and dates unknown). The family seat was at Wolseley Park, Rugeley, Staffordshire, near Seward’s home at Lichfield. He was a friend of Seward’s, and also knew Southey as a fellow pupil at Westminster School. He and his wife visited Keswick several times in 1808 and 1809. BACK

[6] The following couplets written by Scott are inscribed on Anna Seward’s monument in Lichfield Cathedral:

Amid these aisles, where once his precepts showed
The heavenward pathway which in life he trode,
This simple tablet marks a father’s bier,
And those he loved in life in death are near;
For him, for them, a daughter bade it rise.
Memorial of domestic charities.
Still wouldst thou know why, o’er the marble spread,
In female grace the willow droops her head;
Why on her branches, silent and unstrung,
The minstrel harp is emblematic hung;
What poet’s voice is smothered here in dust
Till waked to join the chorus of the just,—
Lo! one brief line an answer sad supplies,
Honoured, beloved, and mourned, here Seward lies!
Her worth, her warmth of heart, let friendship say,—
Go seek her genius in her living lay.

[7] Southey visited Seward with Barker in March 1808. BACK

[8] Elizabeth Fern (dates unknown), Seward’s companion and housekeeper. BACK

[9] Some, but not all of Seward’s letters to Southey appeared in The Letters of Anna Seward Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, published by Archibald Constable (1774–1827; DNB) in six volumes in 1811. BACK

People mentioned

Littleton, Edward, (1726–1812) (mentioned 3 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 2 times)
Jackson, William (1748–1809) (mentioned 2 times)
Seward, Anna (1742–1809) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Bertha (1809–1877) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Emma (1808–1809) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

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