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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2125. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 23 July 1812 ⁠* 

Settle. July 23. 1812. Thursday evening

My Dear Edith

We left St Helens after an early breakfast on Tuesday, with Tom in company, looked at Raby & Barnard Castle, & made our way to the porters lodge at Rokeby, near that fine bridge over which we past in the rain. A sturdy old woman, faithful to her orders, refused us admittance, saying that if we were going to the Hall we might go in, but if not we must not enter the grounds, nor would she let us in till we had promised to call at the Hall. Accordingly, against the grain in observance of this promise to the house I went, having first enquired if W. Scott was there, requested permission to see the grounds. Mr M. [1]  was not within – but the permission was granted; having received it I left my name, & in ten minutes after the footman came running to say we might see the House also – & we might fish if we pleased. I excused myself from seeing the House saying we were going on, & returning a due number of thanks &c. But presently we met Mr & Mrs M. [2]  in the walks by the river side; & were as you may suppose obliged to dine & sleep there, – this hospitality being so prest upon us that I could not continue to refuse it without rudeness. Behold the Lion there in a den perfectly worthy of him eating grapes & peaches & drinking claret. The grounds are the finest things of the kind I have ever seen. A little in the manner of Downton [3]  a little more resembling Lowther, [4]  but the Greta at Rokeby affords xxxx finer scenery than either. There is a summer house overlooking it, the inside of which was ornamented by Mason [5]  the poet: one day he set the whole family to work in cutting out ornaments in coloured paper from antique designs, directing the whole himself. It is still in good preservation & xxx xxx will doubtless be preserved as long as a rag remains. This river in 1771 rose in the most extraordinary manner during what is still called the great flood. There is a bridge close by the summer house, at least sixty feet above the water, against this bridge & its side the river piled up an immense dam of trees and rubbish which it had swept before it. xxx the water At length down comes a stone of such a size that it knocked down Greta Bridge by the way, knocked away the whole mass of trees, carried off the second bridge, & lodged some little way beyond it upon the bank, breaking into three or four pieces. Playfair [6]  the other day estimated the weight of the stone at about 78 tons, – the most wonderful instance he says he had ever heard of, of the power of water. Before this stone came down, one of the trees had blocked out an old man & his wife who inhabited a room under the summer house, – the branches broke their windows, & a great bough barred the door. meantime the water, usually some 40 feet below, was on a level with them it. The people of the house came to their relief & sawed the boughs off to let them out, & the windows remain as they were left – a memorial of this most extraordinary flood.

Mr Morritts father [7]  bought the house of Sir Thomas Robinson, well known in his day by the names of Long Robinson, & Long Sir Thomas. [8]  You may recollect a good epitaph upon this man.

Unlike the Robinson shall be my song,
It shall be witty, – & it sha’nt be long.

Long Sir Thomas found a portrait of Richardson [9]  in the house, – thinking Mr Richardson a very unfit personage to be suspended in effigy among Lords Ladies & Baronets, he ordered xx {a} painter to put him on the xxxx star & blue ribband, & then christened the picture Sir Robert Walpole. [10]  You will easily imagine that xxx xxxxxx Mr Morritt will not suffer then the portrait to be restored. This however is not the most extraordinary picture in the room. – That is one of Long Sir T’s intended improvements, – representing the river, which now flows the finest rocky bed I ever beheld, – metamorphosd by four dams into a piece of water as smooth & as still as a canal, & elevated by the same operation so as to xx appear at the end of a smooth shaven green. Mr M. xxxx {shows} this with great glee – he has brought there from our country the stone fern, & the osmunda regalis. [11]  Among his pictures is a Madonna by Guido, [12]  he mentioned this to a Master of a College at Cambridge, whose name I am sorry {that} I have forgotten, for the gentleman in reply pointed a picture above representing an Aunt of Mr Morritts (I believe) dressd in the very pink of the mode, & askd if that Lady was the Madonna.

I am sorry too that I forgot to ask if this was the Lady whose needle work is in the house. [13]  Mr M. had an Aunt who taught Miss Linwood. [14]  Wordsworth thought her pictures quite as good. In one respect they may possibly be xxxx better, – for she made her stitches athwart & across, exactly as the strokes of the original pictures. Miss L. (Mr M says) makes her stitches all in one way. This Lady had great difficulty about her worsteds, & could only suit herself by buying damaged xxxxx quantities, thus obtaining shades which would else have been unobtainable. The colours fly, & in order to preserve them as long as possible, prints are fitted in to the frames to serve as screens. The art cost her her life, tho at an advanced age. It brought on a dead palsy xx occasioned by holding her hands so continually in an elevated position working at the canvas. xx xxx. Her last picture is hardly finished, the needle Mr M. says literally dropt from her hands, – death had been creeping on her for twelve years.

Next morning we took chaise for two xxx stages – to Richmond & Leyburn. The former is in situation like Durham, with a little to remind me of Ludlow, & a little, in its air of antiquity, of Glastonbury: – certainly one of the fine things of England. Easeby Abbey is near, on the banks of the river, – a very fine ruin. To Leyburn over a large tract of newly inclosed country, then we entered upon Wensley dale, one of the loveliest tracts I ever saw. We walked up the dale 18 miles to Hawes, leaving Bolton Castle on our right & seeing the falls of the Ure at Aysgarth (which Mr Erskine recommended us to see) & leaving the little town of Askrigg on our right. At the higher end of the valley, almost every field has an out house in it, for housing the hay & the cattle, – this gives a most singular appearance to the country. Walked from Hawes a mile & half to Ardra Scar, – a waterfall which I have no room to describe here. Took chaise that night 17 miles to Ingleton Walks, the morning a road of 13 miles to the caves & Thornton force. & then 10 more to Settle. Tomorrow we walk to Malham & Gordale Scar a round of 14, – back to Ingleton (weather permitting) & chaise it to Lancaster. Our future movements depend upon the time for crossing the sands, so that I cannot say where our sleeping place will be – only that we shall go to Ulverston, see Furness Abbey, make for Irton, & come home by Wasdale over the Stye, – probably at home on Monday night. Our feet are sound & we are as well as could be wishd, & have thus far been as fortunate. I have finishd this since supper, having supt nobly. It was time, yesterday the only animal food which I took was three quarters of a fish at supper, out of a pie & I had none today till supper: but eggs & milk, & tea & toast are little things to walk upon. God bless you. RS.

Tom will only stay three days I believe. [15] 


Notes

* Address: To Mrs Southey/ Keswick.
Endorsement: July 23 1812/ Mr Southey to Mrs Southey
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 344–348 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1771–1843; DNB), traveller, classical scholar and member of the Society of Dilettanti. He had gained the nickname ‘Troy’ for his endeavours to prove that the city had been a real place, not an invention of Homer. He owned the Rokeby estate, where he entertained a large circle, including Humphry Davy and Walter Scott. BACK

[2] Katherine Stanley (d. 1815), she had married Morritt on 19 November 1803. BACK

[3] Downton Castle, near Ludlow, the gothic revival house built in c. 1774–1778 by Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824; DNB). BACK

[4] Lowther castle, ancestral home of the Earls of Lonsdale. BACK

[5] William Mason (1725–1797; DNB), poet and garden designer. BACK

[6] The mathematician and geologist John Playfair (1748–1819; DNB). BACK

[7] John Sawrey Morritt (1738–1791). BACK

[8] Sir Thomas Robinson 1st Baronet (1702/3–1777; DNB), collector and amateur architect. A proponent of neo-Palladianism, in the late 1720s he rebuilt the house at Rokeby (to his own design). However, financial problems led him to sell the Rokeby estate in 1769. Robinson was extremely tall, hence the nicknames. BACK

[9] The novelist and printer Samuel Richardson (bap. 1689, d. 1761; DNB). BACK

[10] Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1676–1745; Prime Minister 1721–1742; DNB). BACK

[11] The ‘royal fern’, a deciduous plant and one of the largest ferns found in Europe. BACK

[12] Guido Reni (1575–1642), Italian Baroque painter. BACK

[13] Anna Eliza Morritt (1726–1797). She created large needlework ‘paintings’, still on display at Rokeby. BACK

[14] Mary Linwood (1755–1845; DNB), artist in needlework. BACK

[15] over ... I believe: written at top of fol. 1r. BACK

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August 2013