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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1641. Robert Southey to Mary Matilda Betham, 3 June 1809 ⁠* 

More than once have I been on the point of writing to you, and as often prevented by some disquieting or distressing circumstance. Within this week I have deposited in yonder churchyard, the little girl who was newly born when you saw me. I had not ceased to thank God for the preservation of my only boy, who had been saved from the croup, when this visitation befell us, and I do not cease to thank Him now. Edith has happily an infant at the breast, a better comforter than I could be; still it will be long before she recovers from the stroke, which was as unexpected as it was severe.

I go on Thursday next to Durham, to visit my brother, who is just married. [1]  My absence from home will not exceed a fortnight. The sooner you arrive after my return the better, for the delight of the country is in the long evenings at Midsummer, and I shall be sorry if you miss them. The straight road from London is to Penrith, one stage short of Carlisle, and eighteen miles from Keswick. From thence there is a stage which runs through this place Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But if you reach Penrith early enough to come by chaise it is less wearisome to proceed to a house where you will feel yourself at home than to pass a night at an inn, for this stage leaves Penrith in the morning. If you come by way of Leeds or Manchester there is no stage nearer than Kendal, which is thirty miles from hence. It is a long journey, but if you start from London the least fatiguing plan is to take the mail; remember, not that which goes by Manchester to Carlisle, for that takes in the unwary passengers for some thirty additional miles, and for a spell of two hours in the dead of the night at a Manchester inn, waiting to be turned over to another coach; but the Carlisle mail, which goes by Newark and Doncaster. I enter into these particulars because some of my friends have been deceived by book-keepers and sent the more circuitous route. Allen [2]  was at school with me: I remember him well, but never had any intimacy with him. John Dolignon [3]  was one of my earliest playmates, and while I was at Westminster his mother’s house was my home every Saturday and Sunday. The chances and changes of the world have thrown us far asunder, the more so perhaps because ever since we ceased to associate, we must have grown more unlike each other. I used to shoot with him, fish with him, and lay snares for rabbits. These things I could not do now. Were I, however, to meet Dolignon (and I would turn fifty miles from my way for the sake of meeting him) my first feeling would be like that of a brother – we should both shed tears at thinking of his dear mother and of his sister, and when that sympathy was over I should begin to feel a weight at my heart from perceiving how little other sympathy was left us. I know what the feeling is by experience, and there are few feelings more painful.

The Mr. Townshend [4]  of whom you speak was to me a new name, for Cumberland’s Review has not travelled here, [5]  and I suppose will not long travel anywhere, some of his assistants having applied for employment to the Quarterly. I entreat you, read Wordsworth’s pamphlet upon the affairs of Spain, just published by Longman. [6]  Only Burke equals it in eloquence, and he only by fits and flashes; but there shines through this the light of truth and of nature and of God, a light of which nothing more than the dim and discoloured reflection ever shone upon Burke. [7] 

God bless you. We shall be glad to hear you are coming, still more so when you arrive. Edith desires to be remembered to you.

Yours very truly,

R. Southey.

Date of this letter, June 3, 1809.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from M. Betham-Edwards, ‘Letters of Coleridge, Southey and Lamb to Matilda Betham’, Fraser’s Magazine, ns 18 (July 1878)
Previously published: M. Betham-Edwards, ‘Letters of Coleridge, Southey and Lamb to Matilda Betham’, Fraser’s Magazine, ns 18 (July 1878), 73–84. BACK

[1] Henry Southey had married Mary-Harriet Sealy the daughter of a Lisbon acquaintance of Southey’s. BACK

[2] Untraced. BACK

[3] John Dolignon (dates unknown) was the son of Louisa Dolignon, who acted as a guardian for Southey while he was a pupil at Westminster School. BACK

[4] Perhaps Rev. George Townsend (1788–1857), poet, Bible scholar and religious controversialist. BACK

[5] Richard Cumberland (1732–1811; DNB), playwright and novelist who edited a short-lived critical journal called The London Review (1809) that was intended to be a rival to the Quarterly Review. BACK

[6] At the Convention of Cintra (signed 30 August 1808), British generals allowed a defeated French army to evacuate Portugal. On 27 December 1808 and 13 January 1809 Wordsworth published, in The Courier, an article condemning the Convention. In May 1809 Longmans published the article as a pamphlet: Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra. BACK

[7] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), politician, orator and author who was renowned for his eloquence. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013