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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

196. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 28 January 1797 ⁠* 

SIR,

AS many exaggerated accounts have appeared of the cavern lately discovered at Burrington-Coome, in Somersetshire, an authentic description may, perhaps, be acceptable to your readers.

It was related in the newspapers, that thirty skeletons were discovered, perfect, and lying north and south, the bones cemented to the rock: but neither was there any perfect skeleton, or any apparent regularity in the mode of laying them. The entrance to the cavern is by a steep descent: from the irregular manner in which the skulls lie, it appears, that the bodies were thrown down carelessly; and I am confirmed in this opinion, by observing, that though the cavern extends one hundred and thirty feet, there are no bones farther in than a body thrown from the aperture would have fallen; none of the smaller bones remain. The skulls are incrusted with Stalactydes, and crumble away when an attempt is made to remove them.

A sepulchral vault was discovered, some few years back, near Nimlet, in the neighbourhood, but it has been destroyed, and the bones used in a lime-kiln near! Of this I could get no other information. In the parish of Budcome there is another, which I visited; it is shaped thus;

[sketch of a cross]

and extends about ten feet either way. Many bones were lying there, but as it is long since it was opened, I could learn nothing of the position in which they were found. The vault is very rudely constructed: it is on a level with the field, covered over with stones and rubbish, but so irregularly, as to present no appearance of a tumulus.

I shall be obliged to any of your readers who can inform me, at what period these modes of sepulture were common.

B.

Bristol, Jan. 28.


Notes

* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 3 (February 1797),114–115 [from where the text is taken] under pseudonym ‘B.’. A new attribution to Southey, the letter duplicates material found in his letter to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 29 January [1797] (Letter 197). BACK

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March 2009