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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1172. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 5 April 1806 ⁠* 

Thetford.

Saturday April 5 1806

My last was from Newark [1]  – it was too late for the post-office tho in time for the mail, if the ostler has properly delivered it. Now then for my subsequent adventures. We went in the Coach – which took us up at half after four. two stages on I got some tea, & very good it was – I drank three large cups – for which I had afterwards reason to be sorry, & found myself disposed to be sick from riding backwards. So I asked my opposite traveller to change – the sickness went off but left me ventose, & when I dozed I had xxx nervous startings xxxx which at length made me think it better to keep quite awake. There was a young Lady in the coach xx bound for Norfolk {as well as myself}. We both alighted at Alconbury Hill [2]  at two in the morning, roused up the ostler & got chaise to Fen-stanton. It was bright moonlight. We were not very cold till we changed chaises between four & five, xx the coldest time of the whole day or night – & then the cold room in which we waited about twenty minutes & the cold chaise afterward chilled us – my companion had nothing either agreable or disagreable about her – she was about thirty, neither ugly nor otherwise – & I liked her well enough till when we were at Cambridge she would have washed in my dirty water if I would have let her. I merely breakfasted at Cambridge, left my companion to wait for the Fakenham stage, & posted to Bourne Bridge thinking to be there in time for the day coaches & accordingly – there I got by nine in the morning. Guess my satisfaction at learning there would be no coach till between one & two the following night. I was by this hour fairly tired & in a highly nervous state – partly occasioned perhaps by the unusual quantity of strong green tea which I had drank without eating anything. So I had the bed warmed, & for the first time in my life went to bed in the morning. My feet were cold so that I was obliged to put on stockings – I dozed about half an hour & had dreadful startings, – I lay awake till two, & then feeling my self rather worse than better, rose to see what a good dinner would do for me. The larder furnished nothing better than beef stakes, – & because I had not ordered potatoes the rascally Landlady thought proper to give me none. The stakes were very bad & nauseated my sickly palate – I began to be apprehensive of being taken ill – to wait till past midnight in this house was a gloomy thought – a single inn in a desolate country – my spirits were never worse – hardly ever so bad – & then another night without sleep would effectually lay me up. It came suddenly into my head that I might get on to Thetford before dark – I asked the distance – thirty two miles – in my state of feeling expense seemed nothing – in fact it was nothing – I ordered chaise & felt revived as soon as I got into it by the thought of seeing somebody who knew me. Nothing can be so excellent as the Norfolk roads – the man drove admirably – twelve miles to Newmarket within the hour & half. Off in about ten minutes – the rain (for it rained when I set off) cleared off but the country was covered with a thin sheet of snow. You can conceive nothing so desolate as this country – flat & open. But I had a fine view of all the racers (I dare say at least thirty) exercising against next week upon the Newmarket heath, flying like the wind – till they seemed no bigger than rabbits. One hour brought me the nine miles to Barton Mills – luckily for the inn-keeper for in the room into which I was shown a red poker lay upon the floor in the act of setting fire to it. – Eleven to Thetford in about ten minutes above the hour. I got out of the chaise quite a different being from that I was in the morning. That woman at Bourne Bridge was so brutal & impudently selfish that to have been sick in her house would have been fearful. My spirits were getting up – Where does Mr Wilkinson [3]  live? – just by Sir – but the family are in London, the little boy Charles has met with an accident which they are afraid will cost him the sight of one of his eyes. he was playing with a knife which he had stuck into the crevice of a table, the blade snapt and fled up into his eye – Mr W. was in London at the time, & Mrs W. is gone up with the child – I was very much shocked – very much indeed. However as I really was better it was still a matter of great satisfaction to feel myself sure of a nights rest – for the coaches pass between half past six & eight in the morning – within thirty miles of Norwich & with civil people about me. I ordered a roast fowl, called for pen & ink, & was beginning to write when the Landlord came in & said Mr Wilkinson was at home – he had just seen his servant. He had returned last night to serve his church that day being Good Friday. He called the servant in & off I set.

Whether Wilkinson was more glad to see me or I to see him – I cannot tell – he had a brother clergyman & an Eton boy dining with him, & had been drinking wine enough to warm his heart & to make him shake my hand ten times as often as he would else have done. I had cold meat set before me – & then joined the party – three glasses of madeira were truly medicinal to me – tea after this, & before tea I got to bed in a comfortable room, with a good fire in it. I fell asleep immediately, had such a nights rest that I would have given fifty guineas to have been sure of it only half a day before, & awoke this morning quite well. To day I stay here, & tomorrow take the coach to Norwich where I hope to be before dinner time. I have no other sense of fatigue now than the motion of a carriage in my head – like what a voyage leaves – & an upper lip so hideously swolen as to be like the neck of a turkey cock – this the cold has done. – but I am quite well thank God, & verily believe that by posting on here from that doleful house & damnable Landlady I have escaped a serious illness – which assuredly half a day & night then – & half a night & day in the coach (had there even been room) must have occasioned me in the state I then was.

I never had a warmer welcome. Wilkinsons heart overflows after dinner with the very cream of human kindness – never did wine make a man happier – nor better pleased with every body around him – his friend the clergyman was in a high state of enjoyment – his whole face perfectly relaxed with animal happiness – the cheeks hanging down, & an under lip more like a horses than ever Townsends [4]  was stretched up like a purse, covered the upper one & then turned down with a flap. He is a worthy old boy who has no other fault says Wilkinson than that whenever he finds a bottle he must get to the bottom of it. To day he is to dine here – & Fellowes (the famous writer against the Evangelicals) [5]  has been sent to to come & meet me – It seems Miss Seward corresponds with him & has written him an enormously long letter full of enormous praise of Madoc. [6]  So I shall have a pleasant day & get thoroughly refreshed. Thank God that I have escaped illness – I never before was in such dread of it – & never in my life – not even at that cursed Comporta [7]  xx felt so thoroughly & miserably un-comfortable as for six hours yesterday.

I have neglected my journal for the sake of writing to you – & shall therefore run over my memory for the remainder of the road. Lincoln Cathedral is in good order within – they have been obliged in some places to lay a beam from one column to another to support them – but have so ornamented the beam with Gothic work – that tho it looked unlike any thing I had ever before seen – my notion was that it was a continuation of one of the passages xxxx xxx above. In the cloisters a fine Roman pavement was discovered, not many years ago – they have built a brick building over it with commendable care, but with abominable taste – the place being more like a pavilione than any thing else – Something in keeping might have been put there – a Library forms one side of the cloister quadrangle in detestable taste. The Cathedral wants painted glass sadly – we felt the light quite unpleasant – & where three old windows remained the effect of the colourd light upon the little crockets & pinnacles within crowning them & playing upon the columns with red & purple & saffron shade of light – made me the more regret that all were not in the same state of beauty. Peters who painted that vile Angel & Child which has been so popular is a Prebend here & has stuck up a picture of the annunciation. He is a worthless fellow – who has studied his Virgins & Angels in the vilest brothels – and his picture is a disgrace to the choir. [8]  Had you been with me when we ascended the Tower, that it is & if you could have borne the fatigue of the ascent which is very great, you would have seen passages & turnings to have given you an adequate idea of my adventure at Ely. Great Tom is a noble fellow. [9]  as Wordsworth said, it pleased me to feel how the first disappointment at its size wore off – & we became satisfied that it was quite as great a thing as it is said to be – one might stand under it & the mouth measure one & twenty feet. It must be a large tree which would be the size of its middle – the hours are struck upon it with a hammer. No other bell of nearly this size is ever moved: this is & it is tolled on Whitsunday, & when the Judges come to town it has been (I think it should be used at executions – to which it would give great solemnity). It has been disused on other occasions because it shook the tower & endangered it. They have secured the tower now with iron cramps. The west part of Lincoln is wonderfully rich – look for a print in one of the Beauties of England [10]  – if it be not unluckily in the few numbers which are at Rickmans. – There are some parts more resembling the stile of Belem [11]  than I have seen elsewhere but this is not the finest view of the whole – tho it is the most characteristic – No other building which I have ever seen stands so admirably. Indeed Lincoln is one of the most striking places you can conceive, & it well repaid the journey with all its expences & inconveniences.

The road to Newark is straight – an old Roman way [12]  – look at the print of Newark Castle in the Beauties  [13]  – you perhaps may remember the place as we past it by day light. There is nothing to see more than you catch in passing. I noticed the name Ordoyno [14]  on a shop – which is the very old Spanish name Ordoño – or Ordonho – a name so old as to be obsolete in Spain. Newark is famous in history as the place where the Scotch sold Charles 1st but one sees all such places quite sufficiently in passing thro. [15] 

The whole country from Penrith to this place with the exception of a few spots about Penrith itself & Appleby is so utterly without beauty that I verily believe if you were compelled to live in any part of it – you could wish yourself at Lisbon. Keswick has quite spoilt us for living any where else – a flat land is quite insupportable to me now. Wilkinson says he has had but one regret at the thought of Ormathwaite [16]  – which has lasted ever since & Mrs W. never looks at the drawing of it but the tears come in her eyes. Thetford was once an important place with nearly 20 churches – now only three are left. It has nothing to recommend it but its vicinity to Norwich – & easy distance from London. Yet when I saw it before, it left a pleasant impression on my memory. It was at sunset in June & & several fields of lucerne were in full blossom so that the earth was as purple as the sky – And all the houses in Norfolk & Suffolk have an appearance of cleanliness which is very delightful – the soil is admirably dry. In the dirtiest weather you might ride without splashing a silk stocking. – We past near the place of Sir Isaac Newtons birth [17]  – there is a bust of him on the house – public monuments in such occasions would have a good affect & give to a journey a new interest. So also thro Huntingdon where Cromwell was born. [18]  – I must tell you a good thing which Wordsworth did – at Penrith he left the key of his own trunk & carried off one of Miss Monkhouses. [19]  You must know he flattered himself that his breeches were very genteel – but unluckily I happened to say the buttons required covering – & still more unluckily discovered that he had torn a hole in them. I shall hardly know him London when he has got a new set of black. – Dear Edith I am in hopes of finding a letter at Norwich tomorrow – or the next day surely one will come. You do not know what good it would do me to hear all was well. God bless you my dear dear love! Upon my soul I do not think I can bear to go abroad without you – at least I shall be thoroughly unhappy if I do. Give Edith a kiss – I would give I know not what if I could do it myself – God bless you xx.


Notes

* Address: To Mrs Southey/ Keswick/ Cumberland/ Single
Stamped: [partial] THETFORD 81
MS: British Library, Add MS 47888
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 419–424. BACK

[1] This has not survived. BACK

[2] Near Huntingdon, thirty miles north of Cambridge. BACK

[3] Joseph Wilkinson (1764–1831), clergyman, and amateur landscape painter and illustrator. After serving as canon in Carlisle he became Rector of Wretham, Norfolk in 1803. He published Select Views in Cumberland (1810) and The Architectural Remains of Thetford (1822). BACK

[4] Possibly Joseph Townsend (1739–1816; DNB), geologist, author of A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787; with Particular Attention to the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Population, Taxes, and Revenue of that Country (1791), whom Southey met in London in 1797. See Southey’s letter to Joseph Cottle, 9 April 1797, Letter 210. BACK

[5] Robert Fellowes (1770–1847; DNB), who took orders but never held a position with the Anglican Church, though he published several books on religious topics, such as A Picture of Christian Philosophy (1799) and Religion without Cant (1801). He was the editor of the Critical Review from 1804 to 1811. BACK

[6] Southey’s poem Madoc, published the previous year. BACK

[7] On the southwest coast of Portugal. BACK

[8] William (Matthew) Peters (1742–1814; DNB), portrait and genre painter and Church of England clergyman. Painting in the Italian style in the 1770s, Peters favoured classical and biblical scenes, many of which featured female nudity. These pictures were reproduced in engravings and became popular. He took up a career in the church in 1781, becoming prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral in 1795. In this post he painted numerous religious works, including An Angel Carrying the Spirit of a Child to Paradise (1783), and a large-scale representation of the Annunciation for Lincoln Cathedral (1799). BACK

[9] Lincoln Cathedral’s large bell, Great Tom, cast in 1610. BACK

[10] The Beauties of England and Wales (1801–1818) was a series of lavishly-illustrated accounts of the historical features of Britain, produced by John Britton (1771–1857; DNB), an antiquary, with his friend Edward Wedlake Brayley (1773–1854; DNB). Southey’s 25 volumes of this edition were included in the sale catalogue of his library. The ninth volume of The Beauties of England and Wales (London, 1807) contains a print of the west front of Lincoln cathedral, opposite page 627. BACK

[11] Belém Tower, in Lisbon, built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the harbour entrance. BACK

[12] The Fosse Way, which runs from Lincoln to Exeter. BACK

[13] A print of Newark bridge and castle appears in the twelfth volume of The Beauties of England and Wales (London, 1813), part 1, opposite page 233. BACK

[14] The name Ordoyno was once common in Newark. Thomas Ordoyno (dates unknown), a nurseryman and author of Flora Nottinghamiensis (1807), owned several properties in the town. BACK

[15] Charles I (1600–1649, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland 1625–1649; DNB) surrendered to the Scots besieging Newark in 1646 and in 1647 they handed him over to the English Parliament. BACK

[16] The small village near Keswick in the Lake District in which Wilkinson had lived before moving to Norfolk. BACK

[17] Isaac Newton (1642–1727; DNB) was born at Woolsthorpe Manor, in Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth, Lincolnshire. BACK

[18] Oliver Cromwell, (1599–1658, 1653–1658 Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland; DNB), was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. BACK

[19] Elizabeth Monkhouse (1750–1828), maternal aunt and foster mother of Wordsworth’s wife Mary Hutchinson (1770–1859). BACK

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August 2013