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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Henry Southey, 23 August 1815

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“Keswick, Aug. 23. 1815.
“My dear Harry,

“According to all form, I ought to write you a letter of congratulation*: but some unlucky ingredient in my moral, physical, and intellectual composition has all my life long operated upon me with respect to forms, like that antipathy which some persons feel towards cats, or other objects equally inoffensive. I get through them so badly at all times, that, whenever I am obliged to the performance, my chief concern is, how to slink out of it as expeditiously as possible. I have, moreover, a propensity which may seem at first, not very well to accord with that constitutional hilarity which is my best inherit-

* On his marriage. On some similar occasion, my father remarks, “I never wish people joy of their marriage; that they will find for themselves: what I wish them is—patience.”

Ætat. 40. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 121
ance. Occasions of joy and festivity seem rather to depress the barometer of my spirits than to raise it; birth-days and wedding-days, therefore, pass uncelebrated by me; and with the strongest conviction of the good effects of national holidays, and with a feeling towards them which men, who are incapable of understanding what is meant by the imaginative faculty, might call superstition, I yet wish, if it were possible, that Christmas and New Year’s Day could be blotted from my calendar. It might not be difficult to explain why this is, but it would be somewhat metaphysical, which is bad, and somewhat sentimental, which is worse.

“Monday, the 21st of August, was not a more remarkable day in your life than it was in that of my neighbour Skiddaw, who is a much older personage. The weather served for our bonfire*, and never, I believe, was such an assemblage upon such a spot. To my utter astonishment. Lord Sunderlin rode up, and Lady S., who had endeavoured to dissuade me from going as a thing too dangerous, joined the walking party. Wordsworth, with his wife, sister, and eldest boy, came over on purpose. James Boswell arrived that morning at the Sunderlins. Edith, the Senhora†, Edith May, and Herbert were my convoy, with our three maid-servants, some of our neighbours, some adventurous Lakers, and Messrs. Rag, Tag, and Bobtail, made up the rest of the assembly. We roasted beef and boiled plum-pud-

* In honour of the Battle of Waterloo.

Miss Barker, a lady with whom my father first became acquainted at Cintra,

dings there; sung ‘God save the king’ round the most furious body of flaming tar-barrels that I ever saw; drank a huge wooden bowl of punch; fired cannon at every health with three times three, and rolled large blazing balls of tow and turpentine down the steep side of the mountain. The effect was grand beyond imagination. We formed a huge circle round the most intense light, and behind us was an immeasurable arch of the most intense darkness, for our bonfire fairly put out the moon.

“The only mishap which occurred will make a famous anecdote in the life of a great poet, if James Boswell, after the example of his father, keepeth a diary of the sayings of remarkable men. When we were craving for the punch, a cry went forth that the kettle had been knocked over, with all the boiling water! Colonel Barker, as Boswell named the Senhora, from her having had the command on this occasion, immediately instituted a strict inquiry to discover the culprit, from a suspicion that it might have been done in mischief, water, as you know, being a commodity not easily replaced on the summit of Skiddaw. The persons about the fire declared it was one of the gentlemen—they did not know his name; but he had a red cloak on; they pointed him out in the circle. The red cloak (a maroon one of Edith’s) identified him; Wordsworth had got hold of it, and was equipped like a Spanish Don—by no means the worst figure in the company. He had committed this fatal faux pas, and thought to slink off undiscovered. But as soon as, in my inquiries concerning the punch, I learnt his guilt from the
Ætat. 40. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 123
Senhora, I went round to all our party, and communicated the discovery, and getting them about him, I punished him by singing a parody, which they all joined in: ‘’Twas you that kicked the kettle down! twas you, Sir, you!’

“The consequences were, that we took all the cold water upon the summit to supply our loss. Our myrmidons and Messrs. Rag and Co. had, therefore, none for their grog; they necessarily drank the rum pure; and you, who are physician to the Middlesex Hospital, are doubtless acquainted with the manner in which alcohol acts upon the nervous system. All our torches were lit at once by this mad company, and our way down the hill was marked by a track of fire, from flambeaux dropping the pitch, tarred ropes, &c. One fellow was so drunk that his companions placed him upon a horse, with his face to the tail, to bring him down, themselves being just sober enough to guide and hold him on. Down, however, we all got safely by midnight; and nobody, from the old Lord of seventy-seven to my son Herbert, is the worse for the toil of the day, though we were eight hours from the time we set out till we reached home. . . . .

“God bless you!

R. S.

“I heard of your election from your good and trusty ally, Neville White. If that man’s means were equal to his spirit, he would be as rich as Crœsus.”