1678. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 September 1809

1678. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 8 September 1809 ⁠* 

A London Magistrate with some of his regular Thief-takers, would, I think, have settled this frightful business of Fredericks [1]  differently from what has been done at Stafford, [2]  – & indeed had he sworn positively to the men, the fact of the gun would have convicted one of them. Even now a person accustomed to the art of cross-examining might sift the matter out. I do not however think Frederick is in any farther danger, – marked as the wretches are by his accusation, & I may add found guilty as they must be in public opinion by the absurd alibis set up in their defence – they will not venture upon a second attempt, – especially as their only motive in this must have been to rob him.

We have had Miss Betham with us for some weeks. She left us a few days ago, having painted for me the best whole length miniature I ever saw of your god child & Herbert. of Edith also she has made a likeness which is not striking, but appears more & more like the more it is examined, & is indeed a very nice picture. With me she has not succeeded quite so well, – there is something like melancholy in the cast of countenance, which does not belong to me. But Senhora [3]  she has not made an assassin of me, not a hempstretch-gallows looking ruffian as somebody else did. [4]  Her pictures are gone with her to London to be framed. Yes yes Senhora, other people will do pictures for this study of mine, – & my walls will not be naked notwithstanding your abominations.

I have been thinking it is not unlikely you have heard of our goings on from the Wolseleys [5]  now that they are returned into Staffordshire, for if they see Sir Edward their talk will be about us. She is a thoroughly good natured woman, – we liked her well, & were so used to her that we were all sorry when she went away.

My lease is executed, [6]  – this you will be glad to hear. Poor Jackson is still alive, – that is all I can say, – & I hope he may not be so when this reaches you. I have secured his part of the house, – & have a sort of forefeeling as if you would one day inhabit it, [7]  & act the part of a dutiful Godmother by teaching Edith to draw, & initiating her in all the mysteries of kickmanjiggery. [8]  I have been looking out for a Latin Grammar for her this evening, – for she is old enough to have words put into her head, – & mere words acquired now will be knowledge hereafter. She is a fine girl – taller now than Sara, – I am sure you would be well pleased with her, My son too, tho not upon so large a scale, & I fear not quite so thriving, would delight you. As for Bertha she is yet too young to be talked about, – but doubtless if she lives I shall soon begin to love her a little more than is perfectly right.

As for my goings on you know their usual course, – working is with me as regular & as necessary a part of life as eating, & one day differs from another only the nature of the work & of the dinner. The Annual Review is dead. I write a little for the Quarterly at much better wages; so that change is for the better. Fifty four sheets of my history are printed & the first volume will be ready before Xmas that will be the first half of a great jobb off my hands. [9]  But I have a heavier job upon them which is to write the history of last year for an Edinburgh Annual Register, now starting by Ballantyne, [10]  at good pay but such late notice that I shall be inconveniently pinched (as we say in Cumberland) for time.

When we shall see you here Heavens knows; for I do not think Sir Edward will ever find his way to the Lakes. Rickman would have been with me at this time, had it not been for the sudden death of his father, his coming now is very uncertain. I hear that Duppa is in Northumberland, therefore think it likely he will take this place on his way back – At least I shall press him so to do. Coleridge goes on intermitting with the Friend. [11]  a number is published this week, & I hear it is ‘feared’ that there will not be one the next. I suppose in this way it will linger on till the irregularity of publication & obscurity of the work itself will make his subscribers withdraw their names, & so give him a reason for stopping short.

God bless you


Sept. 8. 1809.


* 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. 320–323. BACK

[1] Mary Barker’s brother, Frederick Barker (dates unknown). BACK

[2] Stafford was the county town near the Barkers home at Congreve, where the criminal court sat. The details of this incident have not been discovered. BACK

[3] Southey’s nickname for Barker after meeting her in Portugal. BACK

[4] Southey is referring to Barker’s sketch of him. BACK

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

[6] Southey signed a twenty-one year lease to rent Greta Hall. BACK

[7] After the death of Sir Edward Littleton in May 1812, Barker lived at Greta Lodge in Keswick, next to Greta Hall, until 1817. BACK

[8] Embellishment. BACK

[9] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810). BACK

[10] From 1810 to 1812 Southey contributed to the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810 in James Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[11] The Friend was a periodical written by Coleridge in 1809 and 1810, spanning twenty-eight issues and ending in March 1810. BACK

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