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July 23 1812: Southey writes to Edith


On July 23 1812, Robert Southey writes to his wife Edith, born  Edith Fricker, was the sister of Coleridge's wife, Sara Fricker.  Southey`s letter is reproduced below. 


My dear Edith,

We left St. Helen’s after an early breakfast on Tuesday, with Tom in company; looked at Raby and Bernard Castle, and made our way to the porter’s lodge at Rokeby near that fine bridge over which we past in the rain. A sturdy old woman, faithful to her orders, refused us admittance, saying that if we were going to the Hall we might go in, but if not we must not enter the grounds; nor would she let us in till we had promised to call at the Hall. Accordingly, against the grain, in observance of this promise, to the house I went, and having first inquired if Walter Scott was there, requested permission to see the grounds. Mr. Morritt was not within, but the permission was granted; and in ten minutes after, the footman came running to say we might see the house also, and we might fish if we pleased. 
I excused myself from seeing the house, saying we were going on, and returning a due number of thanks, &c. But presently we met Mr. and Mrs. M. in the walk by the river side, and were, as you may suppose, obliged to dine and sleep there; their hospitality being so pressed upon us that I could not continue to refuse it without rudeness. Behold the lion, then, in a den perfectly worthy of him, eating grapes and pears and drinking claret. The grounds are the finest things of the kind I have ever seen. A little in the manner of Downton, more resembling Lowther, but the Greta at Rokeby affords finer scenery than either. There is a summerhouse overlooking it, the inside of which was ornamented by Mason the poet: one day he set the whole family to work in cutting out ornaments in coloured paper from antique designs, directing the whole himself. It is still in good preservation, and will, doubtless, be preserved as long as a rag remains. This river, in 1771, rose in the most extraordinary manner during what is still called the great flood. There is a bridge close by the summer-house at least sixty feet above the water; against this bridge and its side the river piled up an immense dam of trees and rubbish, which it had swept before it; at length down comes a stone of such a size that it knocked down Greta Bridge by the way, knocked away the whole mass of trees, carried off the second bridge, and lodged some little way beyond it upon the bank, breaking into three or four pieces. Playfair the other day estimated the weight of this stone at about seventy-eight tons; the most wonderful instance, he said, he had ever heard of of the power of water. Before this stone came down, one of the trees had blocked up an old man and his wife who inhabited a room under the summer-house; the branches broke their windows, and a great bough barred the door, meantime the water, usually some twenty feet below, was on a level with it. The people of the house came to their relief, and sawed the bough off to let them out, and the windows remain as they were left, a memorial of this most extraordinary flood.

Mr. Morritt’s father bought the house of Sir Thomas Robinson, well known in his day by the names of Long Robinson and Long Sir Thomas. You may recollect a good epigram upon this man:—
Unlike to Robinson shall be my song,
It shall be witty,—and it sha’nt be long.

Long Sir Thomas found a portrait of Richardson in the house: thinking Mr. Richardson a very unfit personage to be suspended in effigy among lords, ladies, and baronets, he ordered the painter to put him on the star and blue riband, and then christened the picture Sir Robert Walpole. You will easily imagine Mr. Morritt will not suffer the portrait to be restored. This, however, is not the most extraordinary picture in the room. That is one of Sir T.’s intended improvements, representing the river, which now flows over the finest rocky bed I ever beheld, metamorphosed by four dams into a piece of water as smooth and as still as a canal, and elevated by the same operation so as to appear at the end of a smooth shaven green. Mr. M. shows this with great glee. He has brought there from our country the stone fern and the Osmunda regalis.* Among his pictures is a Madonna by Guido; he mentioned this to a master of a college, whose name I am sorry to say that I have forgotten, for the gentleman in reply pointed to a picture above representing an aunt of Mr. Morritt’s (I believe), dressed in the very pink of the mode, and asked if that lady was the Madonna!

I am sorry, too, that I forgot to ask if this was the lady[1] whose needle-work is in the house. Mr. M. had an aunt who taught Miss Linwood. Wordsworth thought her pictures quite as good. In one respect they may be better, for she made her stitches athwart and across, exactly as the strokes of the original pictures. Miss L. (Mr. M. says) makes her stitches all in one way. This lady had great difficulty about her worsted, and could only suit herself by buying damaged quantities, thus obtaining shades which would else have been unobtainable. The colours fly, and, in order to preserve them as long as possible, prints are fitted in the frames to serve as skreens. The art cost her her life though at an advanced age; it brought on a dead palsy, occasioned by holding her hands so continually in an elevated position working at the canvas. Her last picture is hardly finished; the needle, Mr. M. says, literally dropt from her hands,—death had been creeping on her for twelve years. 


Next morning we took chaise for two stages – to Richmond & Leyburn. The former is in situation like Durham, with a little to remind me of Ludlow, & a little, in its air of antiquity, of Glastonbury: – certainly one of the fine things of England. Easeby Abbey is near, on the banks of the river, – a very fine ruin. To Leyburn over a large tract of newly inclosed country, then we entered upon Wensley dale, one of the loveliest tracts I ever saw. We walked up the dale 18 miles to Hawes, leaving Bolton Castle on our right & seeing the falls of the Ure at Aysgarth (which Mr Erskine recommended us to see) & leaving the little town of Askrigg on our right. At the higher end of the valley, almost every field has an out house in it, for housing the hay & the cattle, – this gives a most singular appearance to the country. Walked from Hawes a mile & half to Ardra Scar, – a waterfall which I have no room to describe here. Took chaise that night 17 miles to Ingleton Walks, the morning a road of 13 miles to the caves & Thornton force. & then 10 more to Settle. Tomorrow we walk to Malham & Gordale Scar a round of 14, – back to Ingleton (weather permitting) & chaise it to Lancaster. Our future movements depend upon the time for crossing the sands, so that I cannot say where our sleeping place will be – only that we shall go to Ulverston, see Furness Abbey, make for Irton, & come home by Wasdale over the Stye, – probably at home on Monday night. Our feet are sound & we are as well as could be wishd, & have thus far been as fortunate. I have finishd this since supper, having supt nobly. It was time, yesterday the only animal food which I took was three quarters of a fish at supper, out of a pie & I had none today till supper: but eggs & milk, & tea & toast are little things to walk upon. God bless you. RS.


Tom will only stay three days I believe 




Notes


1. Anna Eliza Morritt created large needlework paintings.

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