408. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 13 May 1799

408. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 13 May 1799 ⁠* 

Monday. May 13, 1799.

Where are you my dear Edith? with people whom I know not and in a place I know not, but wherever you are Edith you think of me, and wish for me I am sure. Half the time of my town residence is thank God just over. Another fortnight and we shall meet at Westbury. I forgot to say I had seen Betsy Thomas [1]  – she was almost as shy as the first minute she saw us, and looks as thin as if she had been at the ashes and tobacco-pipes again. Yesterday I called at Opie’s. [2]  Mrs O’s father [3]  whom I knew at Norwich was there, and Parson Este [4]  a man of much notoriety whose daughter was then sitting for her picture. Mrs Opie was extremely civil, and prest me to come that evening and meet Mrs Inchbald. [5]  However I shall have a bed at Carlisles, which will allow me to make evening visits.

Monday. When Grosvenor came from town this morning I lookd for a letter and felt disappointed at receiving none. It is not that you and I expect news from each other, but the mere sight of the handwriting creates a more substantial communication than mere thought. I am writing tho with nothing to communicate you see. There is such a sameness in my days work that one days history suffices for the whole. Here I have to versify for Stuart, to review, and books to read – and the standing employment to write to you – an employment Edith which I heartily wish I had done with – now if you are frowning at that remember why I say it and smile into good humour. When I go to town my time is fully employed in morning visits and hunting the book-stalls. Oh if I were behind Time how I would kick the lazy old loiterer! However Edith this day fortnight shall I be in the coach.

Carlisle is coming to Bristol – his business is with Beddoes – to talk with him upon a scheme which I may tell you but which you will not speak of till it be made public, lest any thing prevent it. It is a plan he has for knocking up the rascally exorbitance of physicians, surgeons and apothecaries – by combining with a physician of known skill to receive small fees, and a druggist to administer prescriptions pure and at a just price. His stay will of course be very short, and Beddoes and Mr Wedgewood will I suppose engross him – but I suppose he will bed with me.

Edith I am determined that no cursed moneysaving scheme shall ever again keep me a month from you. I save five guineas – and lose three weeks comfort – a vile bargain and I will make no more of them.

Mary Hayes I have not yet seen but shall look for her tomorrow, and George Dyer is going with me to visit Gilbert Wakefield  [6]  in the King’s Bench, and poor Flower  [7]  in Newgate. These are evil times and I believe I may write the epitaph of English Liberty! Well well Buonaparte is making a home for us in Syria, and we may perhaps enjoy freedom under the suns of the East, in a land flowing with milk and honey. [8]  Mrs Opie is to take me to Mrs Inchbald [9]  – I shall be glad to have a town bed on more accounts than one. There are inconveniences here as well as comforts, and when I am from home I want society, the company of men who think, literary conversation, and the dear dear seasoning of the good principles. At home I have no wants – and being with you, all other society company is never wanted and not always welcome. But here to my misfortune I am batchelorized, and understand what Godwin and Tobin [10]  and those men who do not know home comfort, talk about society.

Here is a noble cat parading upon the table. I must cut his nails for the rogue quilts confoundedly thro my worsted pantaloons when he is pleased.

Wynn dined here a few days since. After dinner we walked together in the garden, and for the first time, he spoke of his disappointed attachment and the remembrance it had left. He had conceived himself ill used – refused after a markd and obvious preference – but afterwards he learnt that she had married only in obedience to her mother, to one she did not love. I did not imagine this disappointment had left an impression so deep and so little likely to be effaced. He saw my scene of Queen Mary [11]  and was very much pleased with it. The law-plan he recommends is thus to pass one year only with a special pleader, to do no special pleading myself – which I willingly accede to as then business will not so detain me from you – and to trust wholly to the bar – to which I may be called at Xmas 1801. [12]  He advises me if I do not get quite well by autumn, to winter at Lisbon. If there were peace I would go to the South of France for the sake of climate – but Edith you know that nothing shall ever take me anywhere without you. Dear dear Edith you can hardly feel how very much I long to return! I hope Arch [13]  will do your books neatly. I shall have a rare parcel to bring home for our country house library – I have been unusually successful in finding French poems. Edith I am almost tempted to buy for you a beautiful edition of Racine [14]  – if you feel a wish to read the best French plays. A single hint that you should like the books – and I will purchase them.

My reviewing will soon be done and I look on to a little respite after clearing my hands of that work. Hamilton [15]  will I believe pay me, and I shall get the Reviews which I have not yet had from him. As for the Magazine Men [16]  they shall not have my head till I have done with it. I am sorry there was not time for you to read the Fr. Novel of Emilie et Alphonse  [17]  which I have to review – part of it is delightful – as beautiful as the Letters from Lausanne. [18]  Love to Moses and remember me to your sisters. [19]  God bless you. Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To Mrs Southey with Mrs Coleridge Stowey near Bridgewater Somerset
MS: MS untraced; previously in the collection of Sadie Spence Clephan, sold at Christie’s, London, 1 July 1970, purchaser unknown; text is taken from Kenneth Curry (ed.) New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (New York & London, 1965)
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.) New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (New York & London, 1965), pp. 183–186. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] The portrait and history painter John Opie (1761–1807; DNB). BACK

[3] Dr James Alderson (d. 1825), Norwich physician. BACK

[4] Possibly Charles Este (1754–1829), author of A Journey in the Year 1793: Through Flanders, Brabant and Germany to Switzerland (1795). BACK

[5] Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821; DNB). BACK

[6] Gilbert Wakefield had been sentenced to imprisonment for two years in May 1799 for his A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Landaff’s Address to the People of Great Britain (1798). BACK

[7] In 1799, Benjamin Flower (1755–1829; DNB) had been sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of £100 for a libel against Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB), the Bishop of Llandaff. BACK

[8] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; First Consul, 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814) was advancing into Palestine from his base in Egypt and besieging Acre. Exodus 33: 3 describes Palestine as ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’. BACK

[9] Elizabeth Inchbald (1753–1821; DNB). BACK

[10] Either the playwright John Tobin (1770–1804; DNB) or his brother the abolitionist James Webbe Tobin. BACK

[11] Southey’s proposed play set during the reign of Mary I (1516–1558; reigned 1553–1558; DNB); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192. BACK

[12] A Special Pleader was an expert in drafting ‘pleadings’ (the formal documents used in court). It was usual to practice as a Special Pleader before being called to the Bar. BACK

[13] John and Arthur Arch (fl. 1792–1838), publishers, booksellers and stationers, whose premises were at this time at 23 Gracechurch St, London. BACK

[14] The dramatist Jean Racine (1639–1699). BACK

[15] The Critical Review, for which Southey was working, was owned 1793–1804 by the brothers Archibald (fl. 1790s) and Samuel (fl. 1790s-1810s) Hamilton. BACK

[16] Probably the editors and proprietors of the Monthly Magazine, to which Southey contributed both poetry and letters. BACK

[17] Adélaïde-Emilie Filleul, Marquise de Souza-Botelho (1761–1836), Emilie et Alphonse (1799). Southey’s review does not seem to have been published. BACK

[18] Isabelle de Charrières (1740–1805), Letters Written From Lausanne (1799). BACK

People mentioned

Opie, Amelia (1769–1853) (mentioned 3 times)
Beddoes, Thomas (1760–1808) (mentioned 2 times)
Flower, Benjamin (1755–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Wedgwood, Thomas (1771–1805) (mentioned 1 time)
Godwin, William (1756–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Hays, Mary (1759–1843) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Westbury (mentioned 1 time)
Norwich (mentioned 1 time)