752. Robert Southey to Mary Barker,
14 January 1803
Women are subject to four diseases, the growls, the grumbles, the
growels, & the gripes, all four great grievous & growing grievances.
Edith is now troubled with the
last, & so I thought I would tell you of it, & that Thought begot this
Epistle, which is therefore the legitimate grandchild of the Gripes, & if it
grumbles will take after its family.
Why have you not written? you told me a boy from Penkridge would
call for your medicine. Well – I got the physic & wrote a letter, & the
boy did not come. so I took the physic & burnt the
letter, & this comes to tell you so.
Undutifullest of all Godmothers – for Godmother you are by the
rites of the Church, to “Margaret Edith daughter of Robert & Edith Southey,” & Martha was your proxy. Your
goddaughter is very well – like my old books ugly but good, a flat-nosed,
round-foreheaded, grey-eyed girl, eyes full of good humour & limbs like
Doctor Dodd  in the most
interesting & famous moment of his public life – all alive & kicking.
Yes I have made poems about her, sundry poems & good.
they would make an interesting volume & might be called A Fathers Effusions.
mostly short as Effusions should be, & always true to the feeling that
inspired them. Take a specimen –
No one can tell how it came about
That instead of a nose, you should have a snout.
That your snout should be so snub.
I have a Daughter & my Daughters name is Drivel!
You original sinner
You good-tempered grinner.
Father is nursing & you must not cry.
There are sundry others rhyming to dirty wench, &
[suge?] daughter, & hey-diddle-diddle, which are upon subjects of too private a nature to
be given to the public.
Senhora you puzzle me by your hand-writing, a very pretty hand
writing but cursedly unintelligible. a
cramp-crooked-crow-quill-twelve-o-clock-at-night sort of a hand-writing. the
whole six & twenty letters like twins, such a family likeness among them
that there is no knowing one from another, not even by their stature, for the
tall ones are so bandy-legged that their heads do not overtop the hump backs of
their dwarf brethren. I make a hop-step & jump-work at reading it, skipping
from the dot of an i to the cross of a t (if they happen to have them) &
guessing at all between. Senhora it is a handwriting of the feminine gender – it
is penwomanship Senhora!
Now – have you been ill? – or have you been so long silent
because you conceived we had taken up wing? – we are still here & still
houseless, having been disappointed both of a home at Keswick & at Glamorganshire, when we
thought every thing settled. I am hunting in this neighbourhood & so soon as
we are settled you shall know, for if you do not come visit us then by the
Contunder  I will go to
Penkridge & inflict the leg twirl before your fathers  face.
I have been – alas I am crippled with sore
eyes. my poor history  suffers & I suffer. howbeit
blind men can write poetry – but blind I must not be, because besides Shakespere
the only two poets whom I will not out-do (this modest prophecy goes in a
whisper mark you) are the two blind men.  Madoc  is on the anvil & will probably be
published next winter. I shall have much to show you when ever you meet – which
if we do not in the summer will be your fault.
Ediths love – Mrs Lovells – for myself you know I
your obedient humble servant
Jany 14. 1803.
* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/
Postmark: BRIxxx JANxx
MS: MS untraced;
text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick Jnr, ‘The Letters of Robert
Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967),
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.),
Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols
(London, 1856), I, pp. 209–211. BACK
 William Dodd (1729–1777;
DNB), clergyman and writer, who was hanged for forgery,
hence the reference to him ‘alive & kicking’. BACK
 Amos Cottle,
Icelandic Poetry, or The Edda of Saemund (Bristol, 1797),
p. 190 (‘The Mallet-hitter bring, my boys/ To
consecrate our nuptial joys;/ Place that dread CONTUNDER there/ Safe in the
soft lap of my fair’); and Joseph Cottle, Alfred, an Epic Poem, in
Twenty-Four Books (London, 1800), p. 299. BACK
 The ironmaster Thomas Barker (d. 1806). BACK
unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK
 Homer and John Milton (1608-1674; DNB). BACK
 Southey had completed a version of
Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication.
It did not appear until 1805. BACK