752. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 14 January 1803

752. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 14 January 1803 ⁠* 

Women are subject to four diseases, the growls, the grumbles, the growels, & the gripes, all four great grievous & growing grievances. Edith is now troubled with the last, & so I thought I would tell you of it, & that Thought begot this Epistle, which is therefore the legitimate grandchild of the Gripes, & if it grumbles will take after its family.

Why have you not written? you told me a boy from Penkridge would call for your medicine. Well – I got the physic & wrote a letter, & the boy did not come. so I took the physic & burnt the letter, & this comes to tell you so.

Undutifullest of all Godmothers – for Godmother you are by the rites of the Church, to “Margaret Edith daughter of Robert & Edith Southey,” & Martha was your proxy. Your goddaughter is very well – like my old books ugly but good, a flat-nosed, round-foreheaded, grey-eyed girl, eyes full of good humour & limbs like Doctor Dodd [1]  in the most interesting & famous moment of his public life – all alive & kicking. Yes I have made poems about her, sundry poems & good. they would make an interesting volume & might be called A Fathers Effusions. mostly short as Effusions should be, & always true to the feeling that inspired them. Take a specimen –

No one can tell how it came about
That instead of a nose, you should have a snout.
Margary Margary theres the rub:
That your snout should be so snub.
Grosvenor Bedford has a dog & his dogs name is Snivel –
I have a Daughter & my Daughters name is Drivel!
You original sinner
You good-tempered grinner.
Margary Margary hush-ye-by-by
Father is nursing & you must not cry.

There are sundry others rhyming to dirty wench, & [suge?] daughter, & hey-diddle-diddle, which are upon subjects of too private a nature to be given to the public.

Senhora you puzzle me by your hand-writing, a very pretty hand writing but cursedly unintelligible. a cramp-crooked-crow-quill-twelve-o-clock-at-night sort of a hand-writing. the whole six & twenty letters like twins, such a family likeness among them that there is no knowing one from another, not even by their stature, for the tall ones are so bandy-legged that their heads do not overtop the hump backs of their dwarf brethren. I make a hop-step & jump-work at reading it, skipping from the dot of an i to the cross of a t (if they happen to have them) & guessing at all between. Senhora it is a handwriting of the feminine gender – it is penwomanship Senhora!

Now – have you been ill? – or have you been so long silent because you conceived we had taken up wing? – we are still here & still houseless, having been disappointed both of a home at Keswick & at Glamorganshire, when we thought every thing settled. I am hunting in this neighbourhood & so soon as we are settled you shall know, for if you do not come visit us then by the Contunder [2]  I will go to Penkridge & inflict the leg twirl before your fathers [3]  face.

I have been – alas I am crippled with sore eyes. my poor history [4]  suffers & I suffer. howbeit blind men can write poetry – but blind I must not be, because besides Shakespere the only two poets whom I will not out-do (this modest prophecy goes in a whisper mark you) are the two blind men. [5]  Madoc [6]  is on the anvil & will probably be published next winter. I shall have much to show you when ever you meet – which if we do not in the summer will be your fault.

Ediths love – Mrs Lovells – for myself you know I must be

Dear Madam

your obedient humble servant

Robert Southey.

Kingsdown. Bristol.

Jany 14. 1803.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire.
Postmark: BRIxxx JANxx
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. 39-42
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 209–211. BACK

[1] William Dodd (1729–1777; DNB), clergyman and writer, who was hanged for forgery, hence the reference to him ‘alive & kicking’. BACK

[2] Amos Cottle, Icelandic Poetry, or The Edda of Saemund (Bristol, 1797), p. 190 (‘The Mallet-hitter bring, my boys/ To consecrate our nuptial joys;/ Place that dread CONTUNDER there/ Safe in the soft lap of my fair’); and Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Books (London, 1800), p. 299. BACK

[3] The ironmaster Thomas Barker (d. 1806). BACK

[4] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Homer and John Milton (1608-1674; DNB). BACK

[6] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)