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

2466. Robert Southey to [Bernard Barton], 3 August 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, August 3. 1814.

My Dear Sir,

I should have answered your letter immediately, if I had not been engaged with visitors when it arrived. In the course of my life, I have more than once had reason to be thankful for having done things which would have been left undone if the first impulse had been suffered to pass by; for second thought in matters of feeling usually brings with it hesitation, and demurral, and doubt, from which the whole brood of sins of omission are derived. Your letter affected me. It seems to come from a good heart, and a wounded one; and therefore I will venture to say what is upon my mind, in spite of those obvious considerations which might prevent me. You tell me that your schemes of happiness are for ever frustrated; and this, you say, after years enough have elapsed since your bereavement [1]  to have taken away the keenness of grief. But though the object of your earliest attachment is lost, I think you act erroneously in resolving that no other shall supply its place. If I may judge of you by your letter, I can perfectly understand by how natural a process of sorrow you would be induced thus, as it were, to consecrate your affections to her who is in the world of spirits. But if you had a son who, in the same circumstances, were to form the same resolution, you would blame as well as pity him. Our happiness, and I may almost venture to add our virtue also, is in proportion to the duties which we perform. A second attachment will never be like the first in degree, but it may be like it in kind; it would not be difficult to find a woman who would place her whole affections upon you; and in making her happiness you would find your own. The evening of life affords no cheerful prospect to the happiest of us; to him whom it will find in loneliness, a most mournful one.

I shall be very glad to receive your little volume. [2]  If it be left either at Messrs. Longmans’, in Paternoster Row, or at Mr. Murray’s, in Albemarle Street, it will find its way to me in a parcel. [3] 

From what I have heard, I believe that the “Magazine” has given you a portrait of me, as little accurate as its information about my poem. [4]  I am a man of forty; younger in appearance and in habits, older in my feelings and frame of mind. I have been married nearly nineteen years, and I have had seven children, two of whom (one being my firstborn) are in a better world. [5]  The eldest now living is in her eleventh year. There is only one boy among them; he is nearly eight, and has me for his schoolmaster and play-father, – characters which we find it very easy to combine. You call me a fortunate being, and I am so; because I possess the will, as well as the power, of employing myself for the support of my family, and value riches exactly at what they are worth. I have store of books, and pass my life among them, finding no enjoyment equal to that of accumulating knowledge. In worldly affairs, the world would consider me as unfortunate, for I have been deprived of a good property which, by the common laws of inheritance, should have been mine; [6]  and this through no fault, error, or action of my own. But my wishes are bounded by my wants, and I have nothing to desire but a continuance of the blessings which I enjoy.

Enough of this. Believe me, with the best wishes for your welfare,

Sincerely yours,

Robert Southey


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849), pp. 107–108 [in part]; and John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 370–372. BACK

[1] Barton’s wife, Lucy Jessup (1781–1808), died in childbirth after a year of marriage. He never re-married. BACK

[2] Barton’s Metrical Effusions, or Verses on Various Occasions (1812). BACK

[3] The volume was eventually sent to Murray; see Southey to John Murray, [c. 26 November 1814], Letter 2505. BACK

[4] Two recent magazine biographies of Southey had appeared: A ‘Memoir of Robert Southey, Esq.’ and a portrait ‘Engraved by Blood, from an Original Drawing by Edridge [Henry Edridge (1768–1821; DNB)], in the Possession of G.C. Bedford, Esq.’, European Magazine, 66 (July 1814), [3]-5; and a memoir and portrait (taken from the bust sculpted by James Smith (1775–1815)), New Monthly Magazine, 1 (January-July 1814), Frontispiece; 566–571. BACK

[6] The property of Southey’s childless uncles, John Southey and Thomas Southey. BACK

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August 2013