1690. Robert Southey to (Mary) Matilda Betham, 10 October [1809]

1690. Robert Southey to (Mary) Matilda Betham, 10 October [1809] ⁠* 

Keswick. Tuesday Oct. 10.

I had begun to write in enquiry what was become of you, when your letter arrived, nearly three weeks after its date: − mine probably would have been finished & dispatched before that time, −− had it not been for a growing uneasiness respecting the Dutchess of Gordon, [1]  − which made me put it off from day to day, in daily hope that the next paper might enable me to congratulate you upon good news. There is this good & substantial ground of hope that so many ships are missing: their number rendering it less likely that they should be lost, & more likely that they should be captured. This I think is to be expected, − & the evil in this case will have some mitigation, because prisoners taken in the E or W Indies are exchanged.

We missed you when you left us. Herbert has not yet xx ceased to ask where is Miss Betham gone? & why did she go? − to which he adds frequent enquiries concerning his boy – what is to be done to him, & when he is to be put. We were dreadfully alarmed about him on Thursday last – When his mother went up as usual, the last thing at night, to look at him. – she heard the croup sound in his throat. − & you may conceive the agitation into which it threw us. But it seems that the disease wears itself out when it does not prove fatal at first, & it appears to be got under, God be praised, without the necessity of xxx recurring to those remedies which so greatly tormented & reduced him before. Poor fellow, − I have so deep & ever-present a sense of the precariousness of an infants life, − that had you talked of taking his picture before me, I believe I should have tried to invent some excuse for why it should not be done, − when the real reason would have been – a secret dread lest it should ever become to me an object of pain. He will not be persuaded that his father loves him too much, − but his father is very well convinced of it himself.

Mrs Lovell has been a month from home. She went first to the Senhouses, & they have persuaded her to go to Gilsland [2]  & try the waters there, – it is a place about 50 miles from hence, where a few people go because they are unwell, & a great many because they are idle: & there she is at present. Poor Jackson lingered some eight or ten days after you left us, & was then released. I saw him laid to rest, & wore black f as the only mark of respect for him which it was in my power to show till a day or two ago, when I became impatient of being longer with dirty hands. Duppa arrived here on Thursday last, & departs tomorrow. – This is the history of our proceedings since your departure.

You were here in an unlucky season, & I am vexed that it should have been so, − but I hope & trust it will not be your only visit to Keswick − & that when next you come we shall be better provided both with weather & society for you. It was very much my wish that you would have planned a poem here, when I might have scrutinized its defects with the severest sincerity; − five minutes may alter that in a plan, which when executed becomes unalterable, − I did not press this upon you − as I would have done at any other time, because I was aware that then you were more uneasy respecting your brother than you expressed yourself to be, − & this I fear will for a long while xxx be the case.

By the time this reaches you Longman should have sent a cargo of books to New Cavendish Street, which I hope to increase before Xmas with the first volume of my History, [3]  & not very long after it with Kehama, now soon to go to press. [4]  I am working hard for the Scotch Register [5]  & wishing the work were done, at least all that part of it which relates to parliamentary affairs, over which I feel myself addicted to ominous yawning. The best thing connected with this employ is that I receive the Times every day on account of the Publishers, so that we have two newspapers instead of one, − the Times the best which is published.

I think Duppa will knock at your door & ask to see his Keswick friends, & I have a design of getting the sweetest woman I have know in this world to do the same, if Edith can be prevailed upon to write to her. You have probably heard her speak of Mrs Gonne, Edaws Godmother, the only person I ever saw whom every body that ever came near her seemed to love as tho she were their sister. – Bertha is much grown & very much improved since you were here; − she is now become delicate kissing − tho as yet short of the age in which all those reasons for kissing become valid which hold good at present between me & the Moon of the family.

Pray remember us very kindly to George Dyer whenever you chance to see him – which by the by reminds me to say that his he should be framed in company with the others destined inhabitants of my chimney piece. – I am sorry you fell in with a drunken Landlady – so little is my acquaintance with the live-stock of the neighbourhood that this is the first time I ever heard of her good qualities. Ediths love. my daughter has just given me a kiss to inclose. − & Herbert enquires ‘ere did she lose her ikky bit of bue.’

God bless you –

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] Oswestry Octr thirteen 1809/ Miss Betham/ 14 New Cavendish St/ London/ CW Williams Wynn
Stamped: FREE/16OC16/ 1809
Watermark: T BOTFIELD
MS: Morgan Library, MA 63. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 516–518. BACK

[1] The East Indiaman ship, Jane, Duchess of Gordon, (first launched 1804) was lost during a voyage to Ceylon and Bengal, having been last sighted off the coast of Mauritius in March 1809. Betham’s brother Edward (dates unknown) was among the drowned. BACK

[2] The village of Gilsland in Cumbria is situated northeast of Carlisle. BACK

[3] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[4] Southey’s The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

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

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)