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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1458. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 15 May 1808 ⁠* 

Sunday May 15. 1808. Keswick

My dear Sir

By this x days post I have received a letter from Mr Sotheby. [1]  The offer of so delightful a summer residence tempted him, he says, hugely, – & he seems to have taken a long while before he could resolve to say that circumstances forced him not to avail himself of an offer so peculiarly grateful to him. Of course had I heard sooner from him, you should have heard sooner from me. – I like his society well, – he is an able, very well informed, & very judicious man; – but I am desired to tell Mrs Peachy that the inhabitants of Greta Hall are not disposed to like any faces upon the Island so well as those which they have been accustomed to see there; & if the Sothebys had come there, I should very often have wished for that band of dumb musicians, who, in the absence of that incomparable leader the Doctor, were pleased to be under the directions of so poor a per {& xxx humble} a performer as myself.

I am less inclined to pity your disappointment than that of the Officer with whom you were to have exchanged. You know I am no admirer of Ireland, or rather of the Irish. And it is the last country in the world in which (according to my feelings) an Englishman would like to live in p time of peace, or to serve during actual war. During actual war, which is very likely to happen there, – if he took prisoners he would have to hang them after the battle; – & if were taken himself, it is likely enough that he might be served like poor Cookes of Trinity, – who was tied between two planks & thrown into a fire. You know my sentiments about Catholick emancipation & indeed about granting any further indulgence to the Catholicks. Those sentiments are not likely to make me look unfavourably upon the conduct of the present ministry towards Ireland. But I must say that if they wished to insult the Irish Catholicks in the most wanton manner, & to drive them into rebellion, they could not have taken more effectual means for xxxxx than by appointing Dr Duigenan [2]  Privy-counsellor.

See what circumstantial evidence is good for in such cases as Don Manuel [3]  – I never made any enquiries concerning Joanna Southcote  [4]  at Exeter, for this sufficient reason; that when I was at Exeter I had never heard of her. My information was collected in Staffordshire, first, but afterwards from about fifty shillings worth of her works, – a part of which you may have noticed on my shelves thus lettered on the back Quant: suff: of Joanna Southcote. The three volumes however did not prove to be Quant: suff: & I sent for a farther cargo. The whole rubbish will soon disappear – a friend of mine near London is curious to possess the collection, & as I have raked the dunghill, it is now at his service, & will be sent off to him in a few days. [5]  – Certainly if I had known any thing of the woman when at Exeter I should not have been contented with mere enquiries, but would have gone to her, seen the Pythoness herself, & heard her oracles delivered – In London I could not visit her, after having spoken so decidedly upon the subject – because one of her four & twenty elders happened to be my poor old acquaintance William Owen, author of the Welsh Dictionary; & the great repository of all Bardic lore. All this excellent mans time is given up to this crazy beldame, – I should most probably have met him at her house, & had no inclination to expose myself to the vituperative eloquence of one, who according to her own minutes of the conference fairly ‘down-argued’ the Devil [MS torn]lf, – or rather foully, if the language in which she addressed him by [MS torn] to mind. [6] 

I have a great deal to say to Mrs Peachy in excuse, or rather in eulogy, of my most meritorious self-denial in hurrying home. But at present I have so much to do, that if polypus-like my legs & arms would grow into whole Robert Southeys, verily I should cut off one of each xxxx xxx xxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxxx xxx xx xxx just xxx at this time. – All my household join me in remembrance.

yours very truly

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Colonel Peachy/ Bath
Endorsement: May 15/ 1808
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603
Unpublished. BACK

[1] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), the poet and translator, had been considering renting the Peacheys’ summer residence on Derwent Isle, Derwentwater. BACK

[2] Patrick Duigenan (1735–1816; DNB), Irish lawyer and politician who strongly opposed Catholic emancipation. BACK

[3] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[4] Joanna Southcott, the self-proclaimed prophet, grew up and began her mission near Exeter, Devon, where Southey stayed, working in the cathedral library in autumn 1799. BACK

[5] The friend was Richard Duppa; see Southey to Richard Duppa, 11 July 1808, Letter 1477. BACK

[6] Southey refers to the debate between Southcott and Satan that is narrated in Southcott’s A Dispute between the Woman and the Powers of Darkness (1802). In letter 70 of Letters from England, he summarised this book. BACK

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August 2013