692. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 9 July 1802

692. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 9 July 1802 ⁠* 


The Bashaw writes because some five weeks have elapsed since he hath written – but what hath He of the three tails [1]  to write about – of – or concerning? the tongue runneth faster than the pen – yea it hath more power. the pen commandeth only twenty six letters – it can only range between A and Z – these are its limits – like all before & after life. (I had forgotten and-pussey-and:) [2]  but my tongue – my omnipotent manufacturer of all noises – who shall limit its creative allmightiness? – We have a parrot living five doors distant. [3]  with him I do converse from the window. he hath taught me to articulate new tones. – Moreover there is no filling up the pauses of the goose quill with the little amiabilities that relieve conversation – with a whoop – or a whistle – or a twirl – or a face – as “that man” used to do. & besides I have no time for writing – & also I do’nt like, & likewise it is not my custom – & eke I approve it not – yea it is altogether idleness – very vanity & vexation of spirit – waste of ink – abuse of paper – wear & tear of pen.

The Grunter ought to write for me, & tell you all our goings on. how Mrs Lovell has had a swelled face – how Bellas [4]  knee is be-blistered to the general inconvenience – & how Tom is arrived from the West Indies. but the Grunter would not tell you certain circumstances which ought to be made known in form of complaint from the offended & injured Bashaw – how he (guess Senhora if you can what the domestic disarrangement is?) – how he can – (stretch now your imagination as if it were made of indian-rubber to find it out –) how he can not – (go to the cunning woman and ask what –) he cannot get a pair of clean pantaloons.

The great Bashaw is just. Mrs Danvers does not take Irish blackguard. [5]  he hath laid by the Snuff for the Senhora.


You have heard of George Dyers letter, [6]  have you seen his Poems? the new Edition in two volumes?  [7]  brimfull of Dyerisms – for what other name will express that combination that characterizes all about him! – I hear of a review of my own poems inserted in the Poetical Register [8]  – one of the works which has grown out of the ruins of the Anthology [9]  – by Miss Seward. [10]  they tell me it is like her poem to me [11]  – praise & censure equally extravagant – sugared bile – oil & vinegar.

I have been historifying successfully [12]  – Amadizing [13]  with less good will. – poetizing little or none. yet Kehama [14]  has got on a little way – very little – but good. & that in the uphill road of the connecting parts which having no interest in the matter must derive all their beauty from the manner. I shall soon arrive at the land of miracles & marvels & call up my storms & fears & darkness – & bring God’s & Ghosts into action. if it be not a good Poem Woe to my ears! & it must be written soon for a good reason. behold why.

My business with Corry is pretty well wound up – & I am paid off. now then at liberty to fix – you know there is a necessity for fixing. a library & a nursery ought to be stationary. I am resolved to live near Richmond if John May can find me a house. but what is a house without furniture? & how is furniture to be had without money? & how can I get money without writing? Therefore will the Curse of Kehama be forthcoming this next winter. Necessity sends some men to the gallows – some to prison. me it always sends to the press.

Do you go into Wales? [15]  When do you go? if you go you must make Bristol going or returning in your way – if you do not go, you must make a journey to Bristol expressly. There is much to be seen about Bristol – & I am here for my last long visit. when once I quit it I return here no more except for a week or ten days just to see Danvers. the place is unpleasant to me. there are recollections that poison every path which I used to take with very different feelings. So if I do not show it you this autumn I shall never do it. besides you know we do not permit proxy [16]  – it savoureth too much of king – & queenliness. [17] 

fare you well. the whole rigmarole of remembrances you will consider as set down in due forms –

So God bless you –

Yrs affectionately – & in earnest at the end of the Letter

Robert Southey.

July 9. 1802,  Kingsdown.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: 22 Bristol July 9. xx02
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick Jnr, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 30-33.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 200–202. BACK

[1] In the Ottoman empire, bashaws (or pashas) signified their status by the number of horse tails on their standards; three tails indicated high rank. See Peter Pindar [John Wolcot (c. 1738-1819; DNB)], Tales of the Hoy (London, 1798), p. 58. BACK

[2] i.e. ampersand. BACK

[3] The parrot, whose name is unfortunately not recorded, belonged to the poet and orientalist Charles Fox (c. 1740-1809; DNB) and his wife. BACK

[4] The Southeys’ servant, she died in 1804. BACK

[5] A type of snuff distributed by the firm of Lundy Foot, Dublin. BACK

[6] See Southey to John Rickman, 24 July 1802, Letter 696. BACK

[7] George Dyer, Poems and Critical Essays (1802). BACK

[8] Poetical Register and Repository of Fugitive Poetry (1801–1811). BACK

[9] Southey’s Annual Anthology, published in 1799 and 1800. A third projected volume did not materialise, partly because similar publications, like the Poetical Register, had appeared as competitors. BACK

[10] Anna Seward’s critique of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) appeared in The Poetical Register, and Repository for Fugitive Poetry, for 1801 (London, 1802), pp. 475-486. BACK

[11] Seward’s earlier, widely published attack on Joan of Arc, ‘Philippic on a Modern Epic’ (1797). BACK

[12] Southey’s had been working on his ‘History of Portugal’. It was never completed. BACK

[13] Southey’s translation Amadis of Gaul, published in 1803. BACK

[14] The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. Southey had begun to draft Book 2 on 4 June 1802. BACK

[15] Mary Barker’s uncle, Sir Jeremiah Homfray (1759–1833; DNB), a Welsh ironmaster, lived at Landaff House, Glamorganshire. BACK

[16] Southey had asked Mary Barker to act as godmother to the baby Edith Southey was expecting. BACK

[17] Monarchs who agreed to be godparents traditionally sent proxies in their place. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 1 time)
Dyer, George (1755–1841) (mentioned 1 time)
Seward, Anna (1742–1809) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Corry, Isaac (1753–1813) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned