403. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 1-3 May 1799

403. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 1-3 May 1799 ⁠* 

I have just made tea & am sat down to a solitary meal. I am alone my dear Edith I want somebody to talk to & therefore with scarce light enough to guide a bad pen that I cannot see to mend – begin to converse with you – my head aches – every limb is fatigued. I want rest – I want to be at home – I want to be with you. this accursed London! I cannot walk a street without wanting to wash my hands – the air is so thick that my very lungs feel dirty. nothing but noise & nastiness. even the sight of my friends is fatiguing – after absence there is so much to say that I hear & talk till my head throbs with the unremitting exertion. one never enjoys till the company of a friend till we have been long enough together to be silent.

To the history of yesterday I have little to add. after sealing my letter I left the Coffee house, & at the door met Burnett & Wm Taylor, I engaged them to tea, left Tom to dine with them, went to Gray’s Inn suffered there little the usual time & repaired to my lodgings. after tea, Tom, ever restless, went with Burnett to see Bluebeard [1]  which disappointed them both. I sat comfortably conversing with William Taylor till he left me at nine & then went to bed.

This morning they breakfasted here. I went after to Wynns where I staid till one. he shewed me Barkers drawing. [2]  it is Mary sitting when mad – the ruin & the gibbet in sight. I do not think that it struck me with so much pleasure as it ought to have done, but it pleased me more, the more it was seen. the face is well done, beauty would be out of character, & it has the composure of settled distress. We called on Lamb who seems well – on both the Cottles [3]  without seeing either & on George Dyer. then we seperated & I again dined at that blackguard Inn. I expect Wm Taylor & Burnett to eat some bread & cheese here. Tom is with them, but Tom is somewhat out of his element – he says Wm Taylor does not look like a gentleman & that I have a queer set of acquaintance. he looks too much at the outside. Tom growls admirably at London & its filth. he passes tomorrow & will probably hurry away. Wm T. goes Friday, Burnett on Saturday to Bristol. I shall immediately then go to Brixton, finish Madoc, take down a Dutch grammar with me & read the poetry of Jacob Cats. [4]  it will be a great comfort to me to get there, to enjoy quiet, rest & regularity. the air is not quite disoxygenated there. I may have the library to myself & be as comfortable as I can be anywhere from home. this is a cursed place – it always disgusted; but now it disorders me. Oh for a draught of good Westbury air – & you have wind to spare sometimes – one gale from the Welch mountains were luxury! –

Friday morning. I write from a coffee house in the Hay Market – for in this runabout life it is my only resting place. as I was writing Wednesday evening Tom came in with his dinner party Wm T, Burnett & two other men. Thursday we were engaged at Brixton but Toms passing prevented him from going there. I went first to Wynns & we saw the Exhibition at eight o clock, in order to see the pictures without being incommoded by the company. breakfasted at his rooms on ginger tea which he always drinks. we then set out to see Barkers picture, but on the way called on Matthew Lewis, the Monk or rather the Monkey Lewis. [5]  he was at breakfast, & actually had his gentleman to sugar his coffee for him! as his ballad volume [6]  is to be a superb quarto I did not hesitate at giving him mine because a superb quarto never can hurt the sale of my pocket modesty. Barkers picture is very fine indeed. I have again seen it this morning with Tom & it grows upon me. the scene is wintry – covered with snow, the abbey a back ground caught from Tintern [7]  – this he wishes to alter as the real scene is Kirkdale Abbey [8]  in Yorkshire.

I dined & slept at Brixton. you can hardly tell with what comfort even Brixton air filled me after I had been so dirtied by the smoke of town. here I am now. Tom has passed his examination with flying colours & we are waiting till the Admiralty hours allow him to finish his business.

You can hardly tell how perfectly disagreeable it is to write in this hasty hurried scrawling way. it destroys all the comfort of writing – it is not possible to think of what I am about – noise – noise – hurry – bustle filth & fatigue – this is all I am sensible of. today I finish my law eating – Tom I believe & understand departs tomorrow – in that case I remove. Brixton is quiet – I shall have leisure, the library, every comfort that I can have except somebody without whom comfort cannot exist. Edith you have spoilt me. I could once be contented anywhere, & now you have made xx xxxx my own way of life as dear to me as any old batchelors.

You must not abuse me for my pen & my scrawl a-la-mode Lloyd or any worse scrawler if worse exists. I cannot mend my pen – my hand is not steady enough. if you would know how I am the best answer I can have – is that I have not the maladie du pays, but the maladies du ville – that I am city sick – troubled with the London complaint – that is that my head aches my feet ache my limbs ache – that I am <as> tired as a dog & as dirty as a a pig – a very pretty situation & sensations such as these I always have felt & always expect to feel in this cursed place.

God bless you. direct to Wynn & write

yrs R Southey


* Address: Mrs Southey <near Durdham Down> Mr Cottle’s High Street Bristol/ C W Williams Wynn/ London May three 1799
Postmarks: 3 May 99; Bristol/ May 4 99
MS: Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, WLL/ Southey, Robert/ ADMS/ 1 2001.50.19. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] George Colman (1762–1836; DNB), Blue-Beard; or, Female Curiosity! A Dramatick Romance (1798), performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 2 May 1799. BACK

[2] Thomas Barker (1767–1847; DNB), who was working on a painting based on Southey’s ‘Mary’ (1797). BACK

[4] The Dutch statesman and poet, Jacob Cats (1577–1660). BACK

[5] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), author of the controversial gothic novel The Monk (1796). BACK

[6] Lewis’s Tales of Wonder (1801), to which Southey contributed. BACK

[7] The ruined Cistercian abbey at Tintern, on the English-Welsh borders. BACK

[8] Southey was mistaken: the legend of Mary Clarkson (‘the maid of the Inn’) was linked with Kirkstall Priory in Yorkshire. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned