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

2547. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 1 February 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 1st Feby. 1815.

My dear Sir

Though this letter can bear but a vague sort of direction I trust it will find its way to you, & convey my thanks for some excellent brawn.

You left us on the last day of a long autumn, & winter weather immediately set in. It has been however a very mild season, with little frost & less snow. The tremendous gales in December did less damage here than in the south, & yet we had our share of the storm. The windows suffered at the Parsonage, & at Mr Stangers; [1]  & the report which we heard one morning from the town was that the tiles {slates} were flying about the street like crows. We on the hill here fared better than our neighbours, – a slate or two from the roof, & a brick or two from the chimney were all our losses. You have doubtless heard of your windfalls. Lord William [2]  lost above a hundred trees, chiefly fine old birch, but some of his oaks went, & some of his pines were broken short off. It was surprizing to see what masses of earth were torn up with some of the roots.

I was grieved to read of Sir Charles Malets death. [3]  Mr Forbes’s book [4]  had given me a sort of personal acquaintance with him, which made me more fully understand his worth.

I have been vexed at to see that what I had said of your friend Bowles in the last Quarterly has been cut down, & converted by this mutilation into an equivocal kind of compliment, – or at best but a cold, half-praise. – which I should be the last man to offer. My words were – Bowles – who yet lives to enjoy his fame, & to whom we gladly take this opportunity of returning our thanks for the pleasure & benefit which we derived from his poems in our youth.” [5]  I said this because I felt it, for I derived great benefit from them at the time when the style & character of my own poetry was to be formed.

Poor Mungo Parks [6]  last Journal came down to me yesterday, – a dismal story of death after death. But notwithstanding the apparently good evidence upon which it rests, I do not believe the account which is given of his own death. That he is dead there can be little doubt, – the manner in which he is said to have died has every mark of a fable. It is in the highest degree improbable that such a river should flow thro’ a rock, & be navigable during its passage. Little as we know of the Niger, we certainly should have heard of this wonder of the world if it had existed. But setting this aside, which alone would induce me to reject the whole tale as a fiction, is it likely that Park with only eight men in his boat, & an army upon the rock, over the door-way as it is called to oppose his passage with arrows stones &c – & a very strong current in his favour, should keep make his slaves keep the canoe against the current while he fought with the army? Seeing [MS obscured] gauntlett boldly, – or at first sight of the force which was brought against him have turned back, – or have landed & given up the property for the sake of which he was attacked –

A Dissenting Minister by name Campbell, [7]  one of the Directors of the Missionary Society has just added something to our knowledge of Africa, by a volume in which his own remarks form a whimsical contrast to the really valuable information which he communicates. It is among the odd things of this age that places in Africa (rivers, mountains &c) should be named after Methodist Preachers in England! On the passage home he & the Captain tried the well-known experiment of sinking an empty bottle closely-corked to a certain depth in the sea, – they found it as they expected the first time, the corked forced in, & the bottle full of water. Upon the second experiment a sail needle was passed thro the xxx top of the cork & left resting on op {over} the mouth of the bottle, & left there, the cork being waxed afterwards. He & the Captain both affirm that when they drew the bottle up, the cork had not been forced in, & yet the bottle was full of sea-water, which must have come thro’ the glass. The thing appears impossible, – but tho’ I have not the slightest respect for this writers judgement I have full confidence in {cannot doubt} his veracity, & it is equally in unaccountable how this could have happened, if it did happen, – or how two persons should have supposed been deceived, if it did not. [8] 

Our Ladies [9]  all beg to be most kindly remembered to Mrs Peachy. Miss Barker also desires me to express her x thanks for the Brawn. Present my respects to Colonel Hill, [10]  if you should see him. He may possibly like to know that there is a young Edward Hill at Streatham, whom his father calls Edward the ninth, – as being the ninth in succession of that name.


Notes

* Address: To / Major-General Peachy/ Bath.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603
Unpublished. BACK

[1] James Stanger (1743–1829). A member of a long-established Cumberland family, he had made a fortune as a merchant in London and had bought an estate at Crosthwaite in 1810, where he built a new house, called Dove Cote. BACK

[2] Lord William Gordon (1744–1823), son of Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon (1720–1752). He owned the Waterend estate on the west side of Derwentwater. BACK

[3] The former East India company official Sir Charles Warre Malet, 1st Baronet (1753–1815; DNB). He died in Bath. BACK

[4] James Forbes (1749–1819; DNB), Oriental Memoirs (1813); reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 180–227. BACK

[5] Southey here complains about cuts to his review of Alexander Chalmers (1759–1834; DNB), The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper (1810), Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 480–504; and Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 60–90. BACK

[6] The explorer Mungo Park (1771–1806; DNB). He died, probably from drowning, during an expedition to trace the route of the Niger. His Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa in the Year 1805. Together with Other Documents, Official and Private, Relating to the Same Mission. To Which is Prefixed an Account of the Life of Mr. Park was published by John Murray in 1815 and reviewed by John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB) in Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 120–151. BACK

[7] John Campbell (1766–1840; DNB), Travels in South Africa, Undertaken at the Request of the Missionary Society (1815). It was reviewed by John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB) in Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 309–340. BACK

[8] John Campbell, Travels in South Africa (London, 1815), pp. 507–509. BACK

[10] Herbert Hill’s half-brother Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hill (fl. 1730s-1810s). He was on poor terms with his half-brother but had been on better ones with his half-sister, Southey’s mother; see Southey to John May, 24 November 1805, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1125. BACK

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August 2013