925. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 18 April 1804

925. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 18 April 1804 ⁠* 

First & foremost no news of Edith. – you shall hear the first. [1] 

Next to your drawing. [2]  it is exceedingly beautiful, & almost induces me to say that you who manage a pencil in so masterly, or mistressly – a way, ought never to use a brush – it is exceedingly beautiful – dont wonder that I write a phrase twice which I have ejaculated about twenty times. But, – there is a fault in the drawing – with reference to its purport – which I did not discover for full half an hour, & that is that if large trees are introduced, the scale of proportions will reduce the poor Beaver to a very diminutive personage indeed, – in fact he will look as a portrait of a man would look taken in, & taking in the inside of St Pauls. I will make something to fit this beautiful bank – & you must make another bank to fit the Beaver – where you may have as many reeds, flags, colts-foots, & stumps of trees as you please – but no tree. And for the Beaver himself I will bring you down a portrait from London. The animal is a beautiful animal, & his tail so ridiculously convenient that it looks exactly as if he had bespoken it.

I thought to have been in London by this time, & am vexed to be thus delayed in daily expectation. it keeps one on the fret or the fidgets, & half unfits me for doing anything.

You will grieve & groan for a burro here, we have fine things enough from the windows, but to get at them a long way & not a pleasant one. In our direction I can shorten the disagreable in a way which would not be quite so convenient for you – by doffing shoe & stocking & fording the Greta at the bottom of the orchard. To boat it is dearer than coaching in London & less convenient. however by good fortune the finest river scenery lies within two miles of the house – & not a tourist has ever heard of it. You will delight in the Greta, & curse the Bishop of Llandaff for cutting down its woods.

What you say of the difficulty or impossibility of getting decent design, if you bespeak them of a trade artist I know well. – & that makes me the more desirous to have as little to do with them as possible. If you can manage the scenery, we may trust a Londoner to insert a figure, introduced solely to exhibit dress, or armour, or arms, not for any passion – or interesting part of the poem – for that would inevitably be ruined. And the scenery it is very certain you can manage.

I am now transcribing the first part of Madoc to take to London & leave with the Printer. [3]  this & the Specimens [4]  will keep me hard at work till my departure which I trust will soon take place, or we shall all be out of patience. Edith is well, bating the ventoseness which is her old grievance. I overwalked myself yesterday, & have a headache, so you must excuse a cheating letter – for half a letter is cheating – nor would I send it but for the supposition that if I were silent you would be uneasy. You shall hear as soon as there is any thing to say.

God bless you.

R S.

April 18. 1804


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ 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. 107–109.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 272–273. BACK

[1] Edith gave birth to the Southeys’ second child, Edith May, on 30 April 1804. BACK

[2] Southey had asked Barker to make designs of a beaver and other animals and scenes from Madoc; see Southey to Mary Barker, 17 February 1804 (Letter 896), 3 March 1804 (Letter 906) and 29 December 18[04] (Letter 1009). BACK

[3] The poem was in fact printed by James Ballantyne in Edinburgh and was published in 1805. BACK

[4] Specimens of the Later English Poets, jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman, in 1807. BACK