612. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 October 1801
612. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 10 October 1801 *October 10. 1801.
Miss Barker – I would say Mary Barker if my neglect had not forfeited what little claim I might have once possessed so friendlily to address you. – yet I have not ceased to think of you, as one whose society gave me much pleasure in a land of strangers, & we have talked of you, Edith & I have often talked of you, & looked on to an after meeting in the ways of life. There is now a half written letter to you lying in my writing desk – begun at Lisbon – continued on my passage home, & still unfinished.  I have been so much the shuttlecock of fortune – so jolted from one spot to another, that it would be almost a valid excuse to alledge that for six months I have scarcely found a resting place wherefrom to write. At this moment I am beguiling some of the heaviest hours in existence, at a distance from my wife – in an inn room where a stranger is at his dinner – the packet in sight which is to convey me to Dublin – tomorrow if the Captain pleases to sail – & if it please God to send me there in safety. I am lured there by hope – under the guidance of one whom you may remember to have read of in the Pilgrim’s Progress – one with whom I have long been at variance, & you will perhaps wonder that any thing like acquaintance should have taken place between us. It is Mr. Worldly Wisdom.  My residence there will not now be long – it cannot be many weeks or I would not have stript myself of all comfort by coming alone – perhaps it will not exceed a fortnight, but I will write you again from thence – if only to give you a direction that you may send me my signed & sealed pardon. At Xmas we shall certainly be in London. – When you are married I trust you will feel what comfort there is in the use of that plural pronoun. Shall we have a chance of seeing you?
In my way thro Chester I saw your name to a book in a circulating Library catalogue. Unhappily I had no time to see more. Here at Parkgate  I have been asking for A Welsh Story  – & can get nothing but the news that your sisters  had been here this summer. – As this proves you love writing – shall I tell how I would wish you to write? in what manner you might honorably distinguish yourself? – It is by becoming the historian of manners: fixing the tale of your story in what distant period best pleases you, & making it characteristic of the manners, & what is more difficult, the habits of feeling & thought, prevalent at that time & in that scene. there exists no tale of romance that does not betray ignorance – gross & unpardonable ignorance. Horace Walpole’s indeed is an exception – but even he discovers no knowledge.  Such a work would do your own mind good by the necessary reading, & the train of thoughts that would inevitably follow. It would be useful, because it would impart knowledge, tho the book itself should want any other merit, which I will not suspect, because I remember my companion at Cintra. England is the best scene, not only because the information is contained in your own language, but because the scenery is before you, & Nature never can be painted from books. – I was well off with one companion – even when he had done his dinner, he could not talk without my assistance; – but now – enter three Irishmen, fresh from shipboard – & I am at their mercy.
Coleridge remembered you – not merely as one with whom he had been pleased, but also as a Snuff-taker. As I have written a reasoning defence of Snuff-taking  you will not look upon this as censure. – but for the annoyance of these men I would gossip thro the rest of the paper. – these lonely situations are what women never endure. to be utterly alone – no human being within a hundred miles who knows or cares for you – a savage receives you in his hut with kindness – but kindness is not a purchaseable commodity – I ring the bell & what I want is brought me – & put in the bill. But I am accustomed to the hourly company of those who look at me – to prevent a wish.
God bless you Miss Barker. my next will I trust be written among better externals, & in a more pleasurable state of mind. – Edith is not in good health – & what more vexes me is that my absence will at least prevent amendment by affecting her spirits. It is not often that a man practices self denial in pursuing his worldly achievement.
& believe me yours with respect & truth
To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ near Stafford.
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. 11-15
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 172–174. BACK
 John Bunyan (1628-1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678-84). Mr. Worldly Wiseman from the City of Carnal Policy, meets Christian as he emerges from the Slough of Despond and directs him to the house of Legality. BACK
 The port of Parkgate on the River Dee. Southey had not followed the intention he expressed to Wynn, 3 October 1801 (Letter 610), to embark for Ireland from Whitehaven. BACK
 Horace Walpole (1717-1797; DNB), The Castle of Otranto (1765), which is set in the 12th or 13th century. BACK