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320. Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 29–31 May 1798 ⁠* 

Tuesday. May 29th (an unfortunate day for this country.) [1]  1798.

I am writing from Ormsby, the dwelling place of Mr Manning, [2]  distant six miles from Yarmouth; we came here yesterday to dinner, we leave it tomorrow evening. I have begun some blank verse to you, & laid it aside because if I do not tell you something about this place now I shall not do it at all.

Mr Manning is a little man, about sixty, he seems to possess great good nature, & much benevolence. as a dissenter he was born to principles of civil & religious liberty, & it is no small merit in a rich dissenter to have adhered to those principles. his two daughters are married; they are accomplished women, at least I conclude so, for the house is decorated with their drawings which are very good. One of them I have seen; she is somewhat deaf, & has that estimable reserve which makes acquaintance difficult. her appearance is interesting, she is not handsome but there is that in her bright grey eyes which is better than beauty, intelligence & feeling. I cannot much like her husband – he seems good natured but I should not judge him capable of that affection necessary to make such a woman happy. Were I a woman, with my present feelings, I do not think I should ever marry, for men are sad beasts.

The ci-devant governess of the daughters still lives with Mr & Mrs Manning. I am very much pleased with her. She is not young & never was handsome; but she has good sense, information & great good nature. if you can conceive Mrs Fox [3]  with these three xx alterations & some liveliness, you will have a tolerable idea of Miss Marshall, the tones of their voices are alike. [4]  Mrs Manning has a lethargic complaint, it prevents her from saying much, but she is attentive & friendly. so much for the inhabitants of Ormsby.

This part of England looks as if Nature had wearied herself with adorning the rest with hill & dale, & squatted down here to rest herself. you must even suppose a very Dutch looking Nature to have made it of such pancake flatness. an unpromising country; & yet Edith I could be very happy with such a home as this. I am looking from the window over green fields as far as I can see, no great distance, x the hedges are all grubbed up in sight of the house which produces a very good effect, a few firs, acacias, white thorns & other trees are scattered about. a walk goes all round, with a beautiful hedge of laylocks – laburnums, the gueldres rose, barbary shrubs &c &c. Edith you would not wish a sweeter scene, & being here I wish for nothing but you. half an hours walk would reach the sea shore. I had almost forgot one with whom I am more intimate than any other part of the family – Rover – a noble dog – something of the spaniel, but huge as a mastiff, & his black & brindled hair curling close – almost like a Ladies wig. a very sympathizing dog I assure you, for he will not only shake his hands. but if I press his paw, return the pressure. moreover there is excellent Nottingham ale, [5]  sent annually by Mr Mannings son in law [6]  from Nottingham – what my Uncle would call fine stuff; such as Robin Hood [7]  & his outlaws used to drink under the greenwood tree. Robins Hoods beverage! how could I chuse but like it? it is sweet & strong – very strong, a little made me feel this.

In Yarmouth I saw but one woman who pleased me. Mrs Edmund Hurry. [8]  she is a very interesting woman, about thirty – an excellent mother, with a highly cultivated mind & manners. she is the only female there whose good opinion is worth having or from whose society I could derive pleasure – & I was sorry to find that she disliked society. her fxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx I could have wished to have seen more of her; she confines herself chiefly to her own family; the society at Yarmouth is not such as suits her; like the East winds of the coast it is too rude for her. she endures much ill health, & this with the people kind of people among whom it is her lot to dwell has induced that kind of misanthropy which exists only in the better class of minds, & which would have made us assimilate had time allowed. I speak of her from Burnetts account. I saw but little of her, enough to be prepossessed in her favour.

The society at Yarmouth is certainly bad enough. the men are mere sailours – the women mere sailours wives & daughters. yet in the neighbourhood of Martin [9]  & William Taylor, the Bishop enjoys advantages which he would not find elsewhere. Mr Manning seems much attached to him, perhaps even over-rates his merits. he wishes him to be a frequent guest here, to make it his place of study, & come often for a months residence. he is a good old man. I am very comfortable here Edith – but my heart is always wandering – think you that I should otherwise have sent you so many sheets full of nothing?

The cows in this country have no horns. this I think a great improvement in the breed of horned cattle; & this kind is found most productive. another peculiarity about Yarmouth is the number of arches formed by the jaw bones of a whale. they trade much with Greenland there. the old walls & old gates of the town are yet standing. the town is certainly a pleasing one. I left it however with pleasure to enjoy the quietness of Ormsby, & I shall leave Ormsby with equal pleasure for the society of Norwich. in short every movement is agreable because it brings me homewards.


Thursday.

We went yesterday in the morning to the ruins of Caister Castle, once the seat of Fastollfe, where defeated at Patay & disgraced in consequence of his flight, he retired to quarrel with his neighbours. [10]  the ruin is by no means fine compared with several that I have seen, but all these things produce a pleasant effect upon the mind – & besides it is well when I am writing about the man to have some knowledge of every thing now knowable respecting him. in the evening we returned with William Taylor to Norwich. on the way we left the chaise & crossd a moor on foot in hope of hearing the bitterns cry. it was not till we were just quitting the moor that one of these birds thought proper to gratify us – then he began – & presently we saw one. so that I reenterd the chaise highly satisfied.

At Ormsby I could have remained with pleasure. Miss Marshal would make any place pleasant – she has a compleat ascendancy over all the family, such as superiour ability & good nature, will everywhere attain to. moreover she has quick feelings & no nasty affectation. I told her the story of Kosciusko & the gingerbread baker. [11]  & the tears came instantly into her eyes. now this story is an excellent test of feelings. it will only make your pumpkin-headed, pippin hearted people laugh. God bless you. direct to Mr William Taylors. Surrey Street. Norwich. & Edith write & tell me how you are. I do not go to Cambridge as Amos Cottle will have left it.

my love &c. God bless you.

yr affectionate

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ Mrs R. Southey/ 8. Westgate Buildings/ Bath/ Single
Postmark: JU/1/98
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 334–336 [in part; where it is dated 29 May 1798]. BACK

[1] 29 May was the anniversary of the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. BACK

[2] Probably William Manning (dates unknown), who lived in Ormesby, a village to the north of Yarmouth. See The Poll for a Member to Serve in Parliament, for the Borough of Great Yarmouth, in the County of Norfolk; Taken on Friday the 29th of May, 1795 (Yarmouth, 1795), p. 19. The names of his wife and daughters are unrecorded. BACK

[3] The wife of the poet and orientalist Charles Fox (1740?–1809; DNB). BACK

[4] Miss Marshall’s first name and dates are unknown. BACK

[5] Nottingham ale was celebrated in popular song, providing the refrain of ‘When Venus the goddess of beauty and love’, see The Wood-Lark: Containing a Numerous and Elegant Collection of the Newest and Most Favourite Scotch and English Songs, Airs, Ballads, Cantatas (London, 1784), pp. 150–151. It is also popular with some twenty-first century editors of Southey. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Legendary outlaw, particularly associated with Sherwood Forest, near to the English city of Nottingham. BACK

[8] Probably the wife of the Yarmouth merchant Edmund Cobb Hurry (1762–1808); see The Poll for a Member to Serve in Parliament, for the Borough of Great Yarmouth, in the County of Norfolk; Taken on Friday the 29th of May, 1795 (Yarmouth, 1795), p. 16. Edmund Hurry could have been the man described as one of the ‘first merchants’ of Yarmouth, who in 1796 lent John Thelwall (1764–1834; DNB) a warehouse as a lecture venue. When the event disintegrated into violence, a younger member of the Hurry family helped to rescue Thelwall from the mob; see Thelwall’s An Appeal to Popular Opinion, Against Kidnapping and Murder; Including a Narrative of the Late Atrocious Proceedings, at Yarmouth (London, 1796), pp. 21, 24. BACK

[9] Thomas Martin (dates unknown) had resigned from his post as Minister to the Old Meeting, Yarmouth, in 1797 and been replaced by George Burnett. BACK

[10] Caister Castle, a few miles to the north of Yarmouth, was built by Sir John Fastolf (1380–1459; DNB), the landowner and solider whose retreat from the battle of Patay in 1429 had led to the charge of cowardice. Although he was later vindicated, his reputation was permanently scarred. In later life he had the reputation for being litigious. BACK

[11] When Thaddeus Kosciusko (1746–1817) visited Bristol in June 1797, a local gingerbread baker made a cake inscribed with ‘To the gallant Kosciusko’. Informed that Kosciusko was too ill to receive the gift in person, the baker charged into his sickroom and burst into tears at the sight of the Polish patriot; see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 July [1797], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 233. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2011