410. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 16 May 1799

410. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 16 May 1799 ⁠* 

Brixton. Thursday night. May 16. 1799.

If I am again disappointed tomorrow, I must actually write down a great oath of anger. moreover I must cease writing – for perhaps you may be at Wells [1]  or God knows where, & here am I writing writing writing to Stowey without knowing whether or not my letters reach you.

Probably I shall remove to town on Tuesday next. for I dine that day with Hamilton, [2]  & Wednesday with Mr Peacock, [3]  & Thursday I must dine with Lamb, as I have promised him one day & the Friday Saturday & Sunday belong to the blackguard Grays Inn, where however I shall take my pleasantest town dinner because it will be my last. [4]  I was bitterly vexed to day after a long walk to look for a letter; disappointment has left an uncomfortable impression upon me & I am a little more angry & much more uneasy than you would wish me. Edith Edith you will have a great debt to pay me when we meet.

Today young Towers [5]  called after me in the street. I was glad to see him, because he was very civil to me about the Library, & because he is an honest young man – I wish he would wash his hands for they dirted my cotton gloves, & they < which> happened to be clean on. – I went to the India house. among other things Lamb told me he dined last week twice with his Anna [6]  – who is married, & he laughed & said she was a stupid girl. there is something quite unnatural in Lambs levity. if he never loved her why did he publish those sonnets? [7]  if he did why talk of it with bravado laughter, or why talk of it at all? – my opinions are for the world but my feelings are to myself – I would proclaim the one under the gallows, but shrink from the indulgence of the other in presence of my nearest friends. this is not generally the case, & therefore is the world so full of amiable people who are rogues. Lamb loves to laugh at every thing – he speaks of every body with in a joke except Bishop Taylor. [8]  from Lloyd he has not heard since his marriage, but Priscilla Lloyd [9]  has written to him, & says her brothers feelings are not yet composed enough to write – a pack of nonsense – what would the man persuade us he is made of?

I am sorry William Taylor has left London. he is one who makes other mens conversation fall flat upon the ear. his is the character I like – unostentatious, careless of applause, beloved by all around him, making all around him happy. I wish he was married – & this is the best wish that can be formed for him. – Of Grosvenor I see little. what with his office & his soldiering he is very much from home. he does not improve nor is he likely to. he has no opinions of his own, no principles of his own, no knowledge on which to erect any. he can utter some xxxxx prejudice with violence – just to the feeling of the moment. as for mending him, it would not be worth while – twould be little like putting claret in a cracked bottle. Horace is the ablest of the brothers. the younger has great talents but he is spoilt & has got a cursed trick of jesting at every thing which will do him more mischief than he is aware of. Miss Henderson [10]  is married – that foolish Grosvenor who complains that he never sees any young women to have a chance for marriage – never thought of her.

On Saturday I go with Mary Hays to see Barrys Pictures [11]  – by the by she fairly took me in for this piece of civility which I should very willingly have dispensed not but I like Mary Hays, but you know I do not like to trip about with any body. – here Edith do I write to you where I have been, where I am going, all the idle business of yesterday today & tomorrow, & all the nonsense that comes from mine own heart, so to xx my head &c – you know how it gets to the dribbling. & you tell me nothing! where are you? how are you? forget not to answer that. where is Burnett? what news of George? write my dear Edith lest I think you unkind.

We will go into Devonshire Edith. Ask Mr Poole about Ilfracombe & that neighbourhood. where there are decent accommodations & clear water & no mob of company to make things dear. he can probably give you some information, or at least procure it. we will take a little box of books with us. you shall have your Florian, [12]  I will take the little Spenser [13]  to study, & read it to you, & the German book which Wm Taylor has lent me. [14]  there will be almost enough, with the reviewing books which will follow us & afford a seasonable entertainment. my Mother had better go with us, & we may perhaps find a house that will suit her in our journey. I am told that tho my name must be on the Inn books five years before I can xxx be called to the bar, it will be only necessary to keep terms for three. if this be the case I will keep no more till we come up to reside, for it is a miserable thing to be from home.

For this last five or six days I have felt no indisposition. this perhaps is owing to my drinking more wine than usual. the weather is still too bleak to benefit me – today indeed we have hopes of spring & sunshine. if you did but half conceive how anxious I am to know how you fare you would not suffer me to remain in uneasy expectation.

Coleridges Ode upon France is printed in the Spirit of the Public Journals under the title of the Recantation. [15]  how will he like this, & how will they like it who do not allow it to be a recantation? Mary Hays askd me if I too had changed my principles. had she known more of me I should have been hurt at the question.

Edith farewell. if I have expressed some anger – some vexation – remember I write with all possible affection.

God bless you.

yr Robert Southey.

John May is only in town on Tuesdays. the man [16]  about whom Lamb wrote to me & for whom John May interested himself so much, has turned out to be a thorough & compleat rascal. Lamb says he did not think any man could have behaved so villainously!

In the M Magazine is to be a Poem on Owen Parfit by Amos Cottle. [17]  he is in full employ.


* Address: To/ Mrs Southey/ with Mrs Coleridge/ Stowey /near Bridgewater,/ Somersetshire
Stamped: [partial] Penny Post/ Pd/ Clapham
Postmark: [partial] MY/ 99
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry, New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 189–192. BACK

[1] The cathedral city of Wells, Somerset. BACK

[2] 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

[3] Mr Peacock had been Southey’s landlord in London at 20 Prospect Place, Newington Butts in February to May 1797. BACK

[4] Southey was still – nominally – studying law. He needed to dine at Gray’s Inn in order to fulfil the terms of his legal studies. BACK

[5] Joseph Towers (c. 1770–1831; DNB), librarian of Dr Williams’s Library, London. BACK

[6] Ann Simmons (dates unknown), with whom Lamb had fallen in love in 1792. She had married John Thomas Bartram earlier in 1799. BACK

[7] See Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poems, Second Edition. To Which Are Now Added Poems by Charles Lamb, and Charles Lloyd (Bristol, 1797), pp. 217–219. BACK

[8] Jeremy Taylor (c. 1613–1667; DNB), Bishop of Down and Connor, religious writer and a favourite of Lamb’s. BACK

[9] Priscilla Lloyd (d. 1815), Lloyd’s sister. In 1804 she married Christopher Wordsworth, younger brother of William Wordsworth. BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

[11] The history painter James Barry (1741–1806; DNB), who had been deprived of his Professorship of Painting and expelled from the Royal Academy in April 1799, shortly after the publication of his controversial A Letter to the Dilettanti Society (1799). Southey possibly went with Hays to see Barry’s contributions to the Shakespeare Gallery, Pall Mall, London, widely advertised in the London press. BACK

[12] Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794). During his time in London, Southey had purchased an edition of Florian for Edith. Probably the Oeuvres, published in Paris in 1792 and listed as item 1042 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] An unidentified edition of Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599; DNB). BACK

[14] Johann Bodmer (1698–1783), Noachide (1752). Southey thought it was a ‘bad poem’; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 2. BACK

[15] The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1798 (London, 1799), pp. 357–359. BACK

[16] See Southey to May, [28 December 1798], Letter 363. For Lamb’s letter about the unnamed ‘young man’ see Edwin W. Marrs Jr (ed.), The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796–1817, 3 vols (Ithaca and London, 1975–1978), I, pp. 154–155. BACK

[17] Cottle’s ballad ‘Owen Parfet’ appeared unsigned in the Monthly Magazine, 7 (July 1799), 480–481. Owen Parfitt was an old man who mysteriously disappeared from the town of Shepton Mallet in the 1760s. Local legend suggested he had been carried off by the Devil as punishment for an earlier life of wickedness. BACK

People mentioned

Lamb, Charles (1775–1834) (mentioned 5 times)
Hays, Mary (1759–1843) (mentioned 4 times)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 2 times)
Burnett, George (c. 1776–1811) (mentioned 2 times)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 2 times)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 1 time)
Poole, Thomas (1766–1837) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 1 time)