Part Four, covering the period 1810-1815, was a crucial one for Southey’s career and reputation. It has, however, never before been fully documented or fully understood. By 1810 he was established in Keswick...
106. Robert Bloomfield to George Bloomfield, 17 April 1803*
London, April 17th 1803
I promised you some account of my short excursion to Dorking during the late vacant days of my employment; and I must abridge my plan I perceive before I begin, as I have other letters to write. Having been harrassd by too much thinking and too many trivial engagements, and an employment that I shall never like, I determined that I would respire one mouthfull of real country air if possible and I know at the same time that pollution of smoke reaches ten miles round the Metropolis. I had heard much of Leithe Hills and of Box Hill in the neighbourhood of Dorking. This was the time to see them. I started from the Spread Eagle, GraceChurch Stt. at 3 in the afternoon of Monday and soon rode away from the gay Bonnets and red faces that made a perfect current towards Greenwich. The road is like all others within ten miles of town, much too spruce and too full of inhabitants for my fancy. Epsom is a pretty little town and the country round it open and flat; but 3 or four miles beyond it assumes a quite different aspect, becoming more hilly than I had ever before seen. Remember that I am no Welshman, therefore to me these Hills are Cader Idris's and Snowdens.—
Evening drew on as we approached the old town of Dorking, and the prospect to me was delightful; but to prove that enjoyment is often dashd with a strange and unexpected kind of naucia, we had behind us on the Coach two Lasses, the one going to join the Thunderer on her arrival at Portsmouth from Chatham, and the other to meet a party of Marines passing through Dorking; they drank Brandy all the way, and then work'd off the fumes by songs of a description which were new to me, so that you see that the school of poetry has many stages. I supt and insured a lodging for two nights at the 3 Tons [i.e. Tuns] where the Coach put up, and on Tuesday morning set off with a determination to reach Leith Hill; but though I had a good map of the County in my pocket I took the wrong rout, and as the place of my destination was about 6 miles and my attention and inclination drawn to other and nearer objects I made for the top of a Hill which is planted with about 8 or ten Fir Trees which are very conspicuous at a great distance; this Hill the inhabitants denominate with no small share of pride 'Dorking's Glory.' It affords certainly a most delightfull view on every side; here I could discover that had I kept on nearly in the direction in which I started that I might have passd over Boar Hills to Leith Hills which here appear eminently conspicuous, having a square tower on one summit and being much higher and of greater extant than any other in sight. Being alone and in the pure unadulterated spirit of Idleness and Gratitude mix'd, I cut on an oak bench
Box Hill which I had passd the foregoing evening in the way from town lay southward from 'Dorkings Glory' and made a noble appearance but it did not appear to me to be higher than that on which I stood;—
Return'd into the town to dinner, which by the by was a poets dinner, Bread and Cheese.
Set off again for Leith Hill, many doubts on my mind as to having time for the completion of my design, proceeded in the heat of the day out of the town and kepd winding along the valley with that branch of the River Mole on which Dorking stands, till I found that I was all wrong and all behind—Returnd a little disappointed—but I reflected that as I must at all events return to London next day that I might as well ensure a good ramble over Box Hill before the night came on. I therefore came back through Dorking and crossing the Mole at the bridge on the road leading to Rygate I clim'd up the Hill on its south side; it is composed entirely of chalk and its southern front steep enough to tire any one with a tolerable stock of perseverance: they have contrived to cultivate part of its declivity which I should not suppose would answer ploughing. Box Wood in the greatest abundance grows on its top and Western declivity being planted originally by the Earl of Arundel in the reign of Charles ye 2d—but whither it was planted where it now grows on the west side over the Mole, is to me a curious question, for that whole side is allmost fearfully steep; so much so that it somtimes requires a deviation from the road on the top to be able to gain a sight of the river Mole that runs (I think) most strongly and romantically under the chalky side of the Hill at I know not what distance beneath.—the Hill I have allready said is a premontory of chalk, its west side bending inwards leaving a most charming piece of ground surrounded allmost by the Mole and looking in its highly finishd state the very picture of care and opulence; being the residence of a London merchant named Barclay. to make a woman's simily, his gravel walks look like a red tape winding on a green ground. We look down on his slate roof and into his Rooks's nests, and with my pocket glass could see them bear their materials for building: from this charming eminence the southEast of Surry for forty miles is laid open, and southwest, Leith Hills rise with much more effect than from 'Dorkings Glory' for this last hill is here seen to be much lower than Leith or Box Hill, and looks like a toy between two men, Box Hill is certainly the glory of Dorking.—
Immediately west of it, and on the other side of the valley formd by the Mole, the Hills are as high and are composed of chalk; but they decline nobly towards the meadows, bearing on their tops two fine seats that overlook half the county. One I find belongs to a stock-broker. The whole spot is Hills and dales, the roads in places steep and overhung with wood, in short I can say with certainty the scene is such a one as your Suffolk neighbours are unacquainted with, and such a one as I never saw before. I have no means of judging of its true elevation; I wish I had. but on descending the Hill and passing on the London road which may be somthing less than a quarter of a mile from the Base, I found that the tall trees around the House of Mr Barclay on which the Rooks build, and which may be forty yards from the River and consequently from the foot of the Hill, left over their heads to the top of the Hill nearly 3 times their own height. What height such an angle would give I know not.—At the sign of the Cock a little country pot house at the foot of the Hill on the London road I was tempted by a bench that invited me kindly to sit down, I did so, and drank a pint of Ale. Somthing was rudely painted by way of inscription across the window shutter – I was much pleased to find it contained the following lines which certainly possess some humour, and suited me, and my random expidition to a nicety.
Reachd my lodging at night well pleas'd.—I could not find a Bookshop in the town worthy of the name of a shop. Visited the Churchyard in the morning before the Coach started, found it very full of inscriptions and barren of sence and poetry. Return'd to London very unwillingly; and as I have no Latin to finish with, take English,
P.S. Remember that the chief and most striking circumstance belonging to the Hill is its sudden declivity. Its entire command of the small river Mole and the beautiful valley beneath. You know richmond, but I prefer the former very much, because it partakes greatly of that quality which I should find, no doubt, in larger Hills is denominated sublime. It is highly worthy of remark that Mr Barclay's House must for ever be destitute of the Morning Sun. The Fog at seven in the morning hung thick over the Mole; yet the greater part of the low ground was clearing fast, and brightening into sunshine; but in this nook immediately under the Hill, one unbroken mass of Fog cover'd Mr B's grounds House and Trees completely; not an object could be seen; but far above the morning Sun shot over the ridge of the Hill and illuminated the clouds of fog as they rose; and a brisk gale carried them off in quick succession, forming a striking and truly beautiful appearance. I imagine that the Sun would make his way into this spot by passing the southwest point of the Hill, at about nine in the morning. A boiling Cauldron is no bad comparison in this cave: the Merchant and his paradise were immersed; and could be found only by the means used by Cooks; blowing away the steem. We are told that the Mole runs under ground; but though it is just by Box hill on the London side I had not time to examine it. I promise myself another excursion to Dorking if I have life and Health, and by that time may be able to take draughts.