686. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, [28 June 1802]

686. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, [28 June 1802] ⁠* 

Kingsdown. Bristol . Monday –

My dear friend

You see I have taken wing from London & am breathing rather a better air than that composition of dust – smoke – smuts & human breath which floats between Charing Cross & Temple Bar. My back windows look to the fields – & a two minutes walks takes me to the Exchange [1]  if I wish to go there – but as I have no West Indian cargoes to dispose & have no interest in the price of stocks my walks usually lead another way. How public news goes on I know not, & am so little interested that I do not even walk into town to see the papers. debates about nothing – casualties & now & then a chance murder – make but poor substitutes for sieges & battles & wholesale slaughter.

However we shall have a bustle of our own speedily – & you know the interest excited by a revolution is nothing to what an Election occasions. Hobhouse [2]  wants to come in in the low interest. Sir Frederick Morton Eden [3]  is likely to oppose him – upon the same side. the party is now very weak – tho I remember when it used to triumph after very obstinate struggling. – & I suppose it will depend upon the Tories to chuse. But there is an odd fellow here – a Welshman – who by selling [MS illegible]ps & besoms & eggs & salt-butter with a whole page full of &c has scraped together a good fortune by farthing-gains – & he is determined to stand – as he has before – without any possibility of success – but just to keep the poll open, & preserve the full forms of a contest. [4]  This he has done before, & brought some score or two of his countrymen to vote for him – who think he will mend the government effectually if he gets in. He has a sort of popularity from a for[MS illegible]ander in opposing local taxation – of which our corporation has given us enough. indeed it was he who first began the slur about the bridge tolls – which occasioned a riot – & a wanton exertion of military power that you probably remember. [5]  So Bristol is all agog with expectation. [6]  As for me who think the choice of members of about as much consequence as the colour of the Kings coat or the shape of his buttons – I care for nothing but the chairing [7]  – which is a better spectacle than a peace-proclamation in London – windows & housetings & leads all full – & a street that shows you only a floating surface of faces & cockades & hats – & bell-ringing (when it is not for a victory in a foolish war) & huzzaing that half drowns the sound of the bells – these are good things in their way – & in my simple mind reason enough for triennial parliaments. [8] 

So much for our politics – & you meanwhile? will there be a valiant contest there? or will any body stand upon Tierneys ground? [9]  or will all be done quietly under the Rose? [10] 

I do not go to Ireland. particular circumstances of a pleasant nature [11]  will keep me here far into the Autumn – & then as far as I can judge at present. I think of taking a small house some ten miles from London, as near Richmond as may be, & there sitting down & once for all settling myself. How go on my goods & chattels at Burton? or rather how do they go off? I now wish the beds had been reserved. the cost of removing them to London is nothing to what the expence of new ones will be. Will you have the goodness to send off the great chest of to us as soon as you conveniently can? we are in want of its contents. if it is not quite full Mr Coleman [12]  will have the goodness to fill it with some of the litter in the desk – my papers – or the hearth rug – any thing to make it travel safe. its direction should be to me – No. 10. St James’s Place – Kingsdown – Bristol [13] – for a letter address it need not be so particular – the two latters words are enough. I am ashamed & vexed at thinking of the trouble to which I put you & Mr Coleman – whom I hope I shall one day thank in person.

My way of life is the same as ever – as much activity of head & laziness of limbs as may be, & of the latter more than ought to be – sometimes I do go forth & walk for health sake – but with an ill will that makes me envy the Turks who can live without exercise. my employment is almost exclusively history – & so little poetry have I written for these last eighteen months that I am half unwilling to write any more lest I feel a decrease of power & should have grown awkward from disuse.

Edith desires to be remembered. remember me with her to your mother. your little girl [14]  I conclude is doing well <as> according to the doctrine of chances she ought to do. is she old enough yet to tell her beads?

God bless you –

yrs truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ Ringwood/ Single
Postmark: 122/ BRISTOL/ JUN 28 1802
Watermark: E & P/ 1801
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Exchange, Broad St, Bristol was a hub for mercantile and commercial activity, including business related to the slave trade. BACK

[2] Benjamin Hobhouse (1757-1831; DNB) declined the nomination for Bristol and the neighbouring town of Chippenham and instead became the candidate for the rotten borough of Grampound. BACK

[3] Sir Frederick Morton Eden, 2nd Baronet (1766-1809; DNB), did stand in 1802, but retired before the election. BACK

[4] David Lewis (fl. 1790-1802), an eccentric and illiterate Welshman who had stood in 1790 (when he gained 12 votes) and 1796 (4 votes). He did not stand in the 1802 general election, although it was rumoured until a couple of days before the poll that he would do so. BACK

[5] The Bristol riots of September 1793 in which 11 people were killed. BACK

[6] The two MPs elected on 6 July 1802 were the sitting Tory landowner Charles Bragge (1754-1831; DNB) and the Whig plantation owner Evan Baillie (1741-1835). BACK

[7] The successful election candidates were traditionally carried through the streets on a chair. BACK

[8] At this time parliament had to be elected for up to seven years. BACK

[9] The reference is slightly obscure but probably refers to the cooperation between the Whigs and the Prime Minister Henry Addington (1757-1844; DNB) advocated by the Southwark MP George Tierney (1761-1830; DNB). Tierney’s political tergiversation was rewarded in May 1803 when he was appointed (by Addington) to the post of Treasurer to the Navy. BACK

[10] The Tory George Rose (1744-1818; DNB) was re-elected as MP for Christchurch, Hampshire on 6 July 1802. BACK

[11] Edith Southey was pregnant with their first child, Margaret Edith, born 31 August 1802. BACK

[12] Unidentified; presumably an acquaintance of Southey from his residence at Burton, July-September 1797. BACK

[13] Southey was mistaken, he had been living at 12 St James’s Place, Kingsdown since late May 1802. BACK

[14] Biddlecombe’s daughter (first name unknown) had been born in March 1799. His wife, Catherine (née Lacy), had died on 24 March 1799 (see the Oracle, 2 April 1799) from complications resulting from the birth. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 2 times)