742. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 11 December 1802

742. Robert Southey to Charles Biddlecombe, 11 December 1802 ⁠* 

My dear friend

It is so long since I have heard from you, & I am so tortoise-paced a correspondent, that as a thing of course I should believe myself to be the defaulter, if it were not for remembering that the last letter between us was my acknowledgement of the fifty pounds. Howbeit I am not xx clearly acquitted – for you perhaps have lost sight of me, & supposed that I had removed to Cumberland as was my design. that scheme was unexpectedly frustrated. I still remain at Bristol, unsettled still – & still expecting a settlement. At present treating for a house in Glamorganshire – a very delightful place near Neath. so beautifully situated that if as there is every probability, it should be my home next spring, I think the country fine enough to ask you to come & let me show it you. for it is worth a journey longer than from Hampshire.

My little girl, now fourteen weeks old, grows well & healthy. she has just had the cowpox. this is our chief news. a child makes a huge alteration in a family. I talk nonsense very fluently to her, & am a better nurse than you would perhaps imagine. hitherto she has lived wholly upon mothers milk – the natural food, & is a fine specimen she is that the natural food is the best. I hope Edith may continue able to support her till her teeth come. For myself I have been unwell from head to foot, but have got rid of all complaints except weak eyes. which annoy me terribly – & injure me too for they are my trade tools. this Laplandish weather as your old friend Lady Strathmore [1]  called it, neither pleases nor hurts me. I keep a brave fire, & when I go out wear a great coat. but begin to think it is time to turn dormouse, & shut myself up for the winter. My brother Tom is with me, & likes half pay better than actual service, which I do not wonder at. So much for home politics. you will guess all the lesser details – how I stick to my folios, & continue as good a customer to the paper merchant as ever.

For the politics of the great world, things more important than interesting, I find them sufficiently promising. Addington [2]  I am sure is an honest & well-intentioned man. his remark upon the Liberty of the Press set him very high in my good graces. & Lord Hawkesbury [3]  has of late talked so wisely that I have forgiven all the sins of young Jenkinson. [4]  I like their proceedings in the foolish or mad business of Despard. [5]  the old rascals would have suspended the Habeas Corpus & filled the Bastile. there will be a trial now – & therefore I fear there is some truth in the story. If it be so Despard must be a very foolish man, but they have made him a traitor, private revenge must have been his actuating & overruling feelings, & God knows he has been heavily sinned against! the man in this kingdom who has suffered most, who has been the marked victim of ministerial oppression – fetterd, imprisoned in a solitary cell till the frost ulcered his feet, his character blasted – & his crime proved – no trial allowed, no possible justice – for forsooth there is a Bill of Indemnity! [6] 

I have no fear of war. Bonaparte [7]  great rascal as he is (& if oaths flowed as glibly from the pen as the tongue he would have had a curse now) & fool as he is to my utter disappointment will not go to war with us, for what he can he gain by it? he will be as little desirous to cope with our fleets, as we can be to encounter his armies. the same causes for peace will operate whatever be the fate of France, whether he be supplanted by some Adventurer like himself, or sacrificed as he xx deserves to public Justice & Freedom upon the scaffold, which God grant. In the strange turn which things have taken here what most pleases me is the returning temper of the country, that liberty of thought & of speech are again allowed us, & that <any> Englishman may differ with his neighbour & still be his friend.

And now – let me hear of yourself – of your little girl [8]  – of your Mother. [9]  & of Mr Coleman, [10]  whom I hope yet one day to shake by the hand & thank for all the trouble that I have given him. Edith joins me in remembrance – & Tom desires not to be forgotten.

God bless you –

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

12. St James’s Place. Kingsdown. Bristol.

December 11. 1802.


* Address: To/ Charles Biddlecombe Esqr/ Burton/ Ringwood/ Single
Postmark: [partial] TOL/ DEC 22
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 298-299. BACK

[1] Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800; DNB), heiress. She had lived at Christchurch in later life and Southey had met her there in 1797. BACK

[2] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757-1844; DNB), The Speaker 1789-1801, Prime Minister 1801-1804, Home Secretary 1812-1822. BACK

[3] Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool (1727-1808; DNB), President of the Board of Trade 1786-1804. BACK

[4] Robert Jenkinson, later 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1770-1828; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1801-1804, Home Secretary 1804-1806, 1807-1809, Prime Minister 1812-1827. BACK

[5] Edward Marcus Despard (1751-1803; DNB), Irish radical and revolutionary. He was imprisoned between 1798 and 1801 under particularly harsh conditions and re-arrested on 16 November 1802. He was tried, convicted of treason and executed in 1803. BACK

[6] The Indemnity Act of 1802 pardoned all state officials who might have exceeded their powers. BACK

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[8] The name of Biddlecombe’s child is unknown. She was born in 1799. BACK

[9] Mrs Biddlecombe’s first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[10] An acquaintance of Southey’s from his time at Burton; his first name and dates are unknown. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 1 time)