800. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 22 June [1803]

800. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 22 June [1803] ⁠* 

Miss Barker –

I am glad I am not at Amsterdam, [1]  because all the English who went to Amsterdam, when there was peace with Amsterdam, must now stay at Amsterdam, & cannot leave Amsterdam, whether they like Amsterdam, or do not like Amsterdam, for now there is war with Amsterdam, all the English who are at Amsterdam are made prisoners at Amsterdam. And therefore respecting Amsterdam, much as I have wished myself at Amsterdam, that I might see Amsterdam, & buy books at Amsterdam, for which I must one day go to Amsterdam, as you have heard me say when we talked of Amsterdam, for in truth I had a longing to go to Amsterdam, yet now that Amsterdam is such an inhospitable Amsterdam, I must say truly of Amsterdam, that I am glad I am not at Amsterdam, damn Amsterdam.

And also Rotterdam – if I had gone to Rotterdam, as I wished to go to Rotterdam, I often said of Rotterdam & sung of Rotterdam, & sighed for Rotterdam, I should now [be] at Rotterdam, have been tired of Rotterdam, a prisoner at Rotterdam, tho on my parole at Rotterdam, yet confined to Rotterdam, obliged to eat in Rotterdam, drink in Rotterdam, sleep in Rotterdam, walk in Rotterdam & never go out of Rotterdam, verily if I were at Rotterdam I should say of Rotterdam rot Rotterdam.

There is a cheap Coach set up to & from Birmingham – for a guinea. Come while it lasts –

That volume of Giberish Poetry [2]  I bought as soon as published. it is much worse than Gebir [3]  – that is far more understa[n]dable. Lander & I as Poets are each others Antipodes. he strives to muffle up his meaning in the most obscure metaphysical language – I wish to give mine stark naked. I will swear and & I can prove out of my Homer, & my Bible & my old ballads & Romances, that the finest passage in poetry are always & uniformly so plain & perspicuous, that you catch their full force & meaning immediately. the worst nuts have the hardest shells. a horse chesnut has a hedgehog case that puzzles the pigs but nectarines & strawberries dissolve on the lip. Lander is a man of great genius. he is strong but it is an unwieldy strength – verse-painting is his talent. he makes me see – but he never makes me feel, & he is always trying to make me think, & often makes very shallow water look deep by muddying it.

I am glad – heartily glad to hear your report of your own pictures. for landscape you will find fine studies here if you are equal to a walk of five or six miles. wood & rock scenery – & the Welsh mountains in distance, & the channel looking like a great muddy lake. I will get together all the sketches I have of Spanish & Portuguese scenery, & you shall fill them up for me. there are some which you might make fine pictures from. & I will show you my neighbour Charles Fox’s [4]  views in Norway – he draws vilely – but the scenery is beautiful beyond anything I had ever imagined.

This war in which we are so unavoidably involved by the credulity of honest English Ministers & the rascally insolence of your countryman Mr Parker [5]  will grievously molest me. Portugal will in all probability be attacked – & it is said that this country will leave it to its fate. I know not whether wisely or not, for I think 30,000 English could defend that country against any force which the French could bring against it. the Portuguese peasantry want neither patriotism nor courage – but you know what the officers are! We shall see a great uproar in the world. I learn that in case of the conquest of Portugal by France, Spanish America & Brazil will be revolutionized by England. so strangely have things turned about!

England is actually fighting for liberty against French usurpation! But in the midst of all this I suffer, as I shall neither be able to go over – nor will my Uncle be able to stay & collect books for me. Oh curse the politics of this foolish world! if they would but settle these things by a rubber at whist – or a game at chess – or the toss of a halfpenny – the decision would be quite as fair, & a great deal cheaper & pleasanter to both parties.

Sunday next I go to London for a fortnight. write now & say when you will come – & do not let the cheap coach slip. it will bring you to the foot of our Hill & you shall be met here at the entrance of the Town. so now take two new Poems & farewell.

Margarets Complaint.

Alas how they use their daughter!
They wash me in cold water
Every morning alack!
My head – & my hands & my feet
And also the side of my back.

Margaret’s reflection

Now whenever I come near
This my Love – & my Dear.
But by & by od rot ’em –
I know they’ll be whipping my –.

She is a most worthy child, & a truly excellent character. I think that is no common-place nursery phrase of endearment.

Bating the growels – all well.


June 22. Wednesday


* Address: To/ Miss Barker./ Congreve/ near Penkridge/ Staffordshire.
Postmark: [partial] BRISTOL, JU 803
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. 52-56
Previously published: H. Spencer Scott, ‘Some Southey Letters’, Atlantic Monthly, 89 (1902), 39-40 [in part]. BACK

[1] The constant references to Amsterdam were a private joke between Southey and Mary Barker. BACK

[2] Walter Savage Landor, Poems by the Author of Gebir (1802). BACK

[3] Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798). BACK

[4] Charles Fox (1749–1809; DNB), artist, poet and neighbour of Southey in Bristol. Southey had referred to Fox’s paintings of Norway in ‘To A. S. Cottle’, A. S. Cottle, Icelandic Poetry, or the Edda of Saemund translated into English verse (Bristol, 1797), p. xxxvi. BACK

[5] Unidentified; possibly a member of the Parker family, kin of the Earls of Macclesfield, and Staffordshire landowners. BACK

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