351. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 October [1798]

351. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 October [1798] ⁠* 

[start of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

A Ballad

Shewing how an old Woman rode double & who rode before her.

The Raven croakd as she sate at her meal.
And the old woman knew what he said,
And she grew pale at the Ravens tale,
And sickend & went to her bed.

Now fetch me my children & fetch them with speed
The old woman of Berkely said,
The monk my son & my daughter the nun,
Bid them hasten or I shall be dead.

The monk her son & her daughter the nun
Their way to Berkely bent,
And they have brought with pious thought
The holy sacrament.

The old woman shriekd as they enterd her door,
Twas fearful her shrieks to hear,
Now take the sacrament away!
For mercy, my children dear.

Her lip it trembled with agony
The sweat ran down her brow,
I have tortures in store for evermore,
Oh spare me my children now.

Away they sent the sacrament,
The fit it left her weak,
She lookd at her children with gastly eyes
And faintly struggled to speak.

All kind of sin have I rioted in
And the judgement now must be,
But I securd my childrens souls –
Oh pray my children for me.

I have suckd the breath of sleeping babes,
The fiends have been my slaves,
I have nointed myself with infants fat
And feasted on rifled graves.

And the fiend will fetch me now in fire
My witchcrafts to atone,
And I who have rifled the dead mans grave
Shall never have rest in my own.

Bless I intreat my winding sheet
My children I beg of you.
And with holy water sprinkle my shroud
And sprinkle my coffin too.

And let me be chaind in my coffin of stone
And fasten it strong I implore
With iron bars. & let it be chaind
With three chains to the church floor.

And bless the chains & sprinkle them,
And let fifty priests stand round,
Who night & day the mass may say
Where I lie on the ground.

And let fifty choristers be there
The funeral dirge to sing,
Who day & night by the tapers light
Their aid to me may bring.

And let the church bells all both great & small
Be tolld by night & day
To drive from hence the fiends who come
To bear my corpse away.

And ever have the church door barrd
After the even song,
And I beseech you children dear
Let the bars & bolts be strong.

And let this be three days & nights
My wretched corpse to save;
Preserve me so long from the fiendish throng
And then I may rest in my grave.

The old woman of Berkeley laid her down
And her eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came her breath & the struggle of death
Distorted every limb.

They blest the old womans winding-sheet
With rites & prayers due,
With holy water they sprinkled her shroud
And they sprinkled her coffin too.

And they chaind her in her coffin of stone
And with iron bard it down,
And in the church with three strong chains
They chaind it to the ground.

And they blest the chains & sprinkled them
And fifty priests stood round
By night & day the mass to say
Where she lay on the ground.

And fifty choristers were there
To sing the funeral song.
And a hallowed taper blazed in the hand
Of all <the> sacred throng.

To see the priests & choristers
It was a goodly sight
Each holding, as it were a staff,
A taper burning bright.

And the church <bells> all both great & small
Did toll so loud & long,
And they have barrd the church door firm
After the even song.

And the first night the tapers light
Burnt steadily & clear,
But they without a hideous rout
Of angry fiends could hear;

A hideous roar at the church door
Like a long thunder peal,
And the priests they prayd & the choristers sung
Louder in fearful zeal:

Loud tolld the bell, the priests prayd well
The tapers they burnt bright
The monk her son & her daughter the nun
They told their beads all night.

The cock he crew away they flew
The fiends from the herald of day
And undisturbd the choristers sing
And the fifty priests they pray.

The second night the tapers light
Burnt dismally & blue
And every one saw his neighbours face
Like a dead mans to view.

And yells & cries without arise
That the stoutest heart might shock
And a deafening roaring like a cataract pouring
Over a mountain rock.

The monk & nun they told their beads
As fast as they could tell
And aye as louder grew the noise
The faster went the bell.

Louder & louder the choristers sung
As they trembled more & more,
And the fifty <priests> prayed to heaven for aid
They never had prayed so before.

The cock he crew, away they flew
The fiends from the herald of day
And undisturbd the choristers sing
And the fifty priests they pray.

The third night came & the tapers flame
A hideous stench did make,
And blue they burnt as tho they had been dipt
In the burning brimstone lake.

And the loud commotion, like the rushing of ocean
Grew momently more & more,
And strokes as of a battering ram
Did shake the strong church door.

The bell men they for very fear
Could toll the bell no longer,
And still as louder grew the strokes
Their terror grew the stronger.

The monk & nun forgot their beads,
They fell on the ground dismayd,
There was not a single saint in heaven
Whom they did not call to aid.

And a sound was heard like the trumpets blast
That shall one day wake the dead,
The strong church door could bear no more
And the bolts & bars they fled.

And the tapers light was extinguished quite,
And the choristers faintly sung
And the priests dismayd panted & prayed
Till terror froze every tongue [1] 

And the choristers song their fear was so strong
Falterd with trepidation,
For the church did rock as an earthquake shock
Uplifted its foundation

And in he came with eyes of flame
The fiend to fetch the dead,
And all the church with his presence glowed
Like a fiery furnace red.

He laid his hand on the iron chains
And like flax they moulderd asunder;
And the coffin lid that was barrd so firm
He burst with his voice of thunder.

And he bad the old woman of Berkeley rise
And come with her master away,
And the sweat did stand on the dead corps
At the voice she was forced to obey.

She rose on her feet in her winding sheet,
Her cold flesh quivered with fear
And a groan like that which the old woman gave
Never did mortal hear.

She followed the fiend to the church door,
There stood a black horse there
His breath was red like a furnace smoke,
His eyes like a meteors glare.

The fiend with force flung her on the horse
And he leapt up before,
And away like the lightnings speed they went
And she was seen no more.

They saw her no more but her cries and shrieks
For four miles round they could hear
And children at rest at their mothers breast,
Started & screamd with fear. [2] 


[end of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

Martin-hall. Oct. 5.

My dear Tom.

Your aunt Molly was in town at the fair, & she has brought up a long rig-ma-role of gossiping about you & some Miss Kitty. but who Miss Kitty is your gossiping aunt forgot by the way.

I have been home some fortnight or three weeks, & set sail again on Monday on a cruise with Danvers, chiefly with the intention of seeing Maber, & learning something about sending Edward to St Pauls. the boy is shockingly managed now. I shall be from home not more than ten days, we walk, & I shall have the pleasure of seeing the bogs & waterfalls of the Black Mountains in Brecknockshire.

My mother continues well, & all things go on smoothly at Martin hall. My Letters & Poems [3]  will both make their appearance about Xmas, my Kalendar [4]  begins to look respectable in size, & I have begun the seventh book of Madoc. [5]  As for the Domdaniel, [6]  there is not room left in this sheet to explain enough of it to you. suffice it that it is <to be> a long poem, as long as Joan of Arc, designed to display all the pomp of Arabian fiction, & that I have the outline ready of a most magnificent plan. You will ask how I got the half information from Taunton. Martha Fricker heard it at Stowey from a Miss Cruikshank [7]  the lady to whom the Innamorata Incognita had written, but Martha d[MS obscured] her name by the way.

I have been to Shobdon, & to Dilwyn the place where my grandmothers [8]  family came from, & to Pembridge where she once lived. I think there are parts of Herefordshire & Worcestershire that would even in your eyes surpass Taunton Dean.

The Ballad which Edith has copied for you is said to have happened in the reign of Ethelwolf, [9]  Alfreds father at Berkley in Glocestershire, & was certainly believed all over Europe, as I have found given as a warning to all witches in a German & a Norwegian author, xx & in the an old English Historian. [10]  I like the ballad much. two others have I written since we came here, both upon true stories. [11] 

from Lisbon I have received some little matter for my Letters, but neither letter nor money, at which I wonder. I know not how my Uncle thinks we all subsist. however I work very hard, & keep the wheels going.

Ediths love & Margerys & my Mothers.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Mr Thomas Southey./ Royal George/ Plymouth,/ < off Ushant. >/ or elsewhere / <to be forwarded>/ Single.
Stamped: BRISTOL
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. (A)LS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] ‘The Raven ... every tongue’: Verse written in double columns. Southey adds note ‘these stanzas are misplaced. the last should be first.’ BACK

[2] Published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK

[3] Poems (1799) and Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1799). BACK

[4] The ‘Kalendar’, a sequence modelled on Ovid’s (43 BC–AD 17) Fasti, was never completed. BACK

[5] The fifteen-book version of Madoc, written in 1797–1799. BACK

[6] An early version of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). See Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188 for Southey’s initial plan of the poem. BACK

[7] Probably Ellen Cruikshank (dates unknown), sister of John Cruikshank (dates unknown), land agent for Lord Egmont at Nether Stowey, Somerset. A dream of John’s was the reputed inspiration for ‘The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’. Ellen herself is thought to be the ‘most gentle maid’ of Coleridge’s ‘The Nightingale; A Conversational Poem, Written in April 1798’, Lyrical Ballads, With a Few Other Poems (Bristol, 1798), p. 67. BACK

[8] Probably his maternal grandmother, Margaret Hill (d. 1782). BACK

[9] Ethelwulf (c. 795–858, reigned 839–858; DNB), father of Alfred, the Great (849–899, reigned 871–899; DNB). BACK

[10] The German author was Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514), and the story was told in his Liber Chronicorum (Nuremberg, 1493), fol. CLXXXIX; the ‘Norwegian’ was Olaus Magnus (1490–1557), Swedish ecclesiastic and writer, Historia de Gentibus Septsentrionalibus (1555), Book III, chapter 20; the ‘old English Historian’ was Matthew of Westminster, alleged author of the Flores Historiarum, the name given to a number of different manuscript chronicles of English history in Latin, from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (see C. D. Yonge, The Flowers of History, 2 vols (1853), I, pp. 400–401). BACK

[11] Possibly ‘The Cross Roads’ and ‘The Sailor Who Had Served in the Slave-Trade’, both published in Poems (1799). BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 3 times)
Fricker, Martha (1777–1850) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Maber, George Martin (d. 1844) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Mary (1750–1838) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Martin Hall (mentioned 2 times)
Stowey (mentioned 1 time)