April 18 1816: Wherefore Do I Write To You?


On April 18 1816, Robert Southey still grieving over the loss of his son writes again to  Grosvenor C. Bedford.

My dear Grosvenor,

Wherefore do I write to you? Alas, because I know not what to do. To-morrow, perhaps, may bring with it something like the beginning of relief. To-day I hope I shall support myself, or rather that God will support me, for I am weak as a child, in body even more than in mind. My limbs tremble under me; long anxiety has wasted me to the bone, and I fear it will be long before grief will suffer me to recruit. I am seriously apprehensive for the shock which my health seems to have sustained; yet I am wanting in no effort to appear calm and to console others; and those who are about me give me credit for a fortitude which I do not possess. Many blessings are left me—abundant blessings, more than I have deserved, more than I had ever reason to expect or even to hope. I have strong ties to life, and many duties yet to perform. Believe me, I see these things as they ought to be seen. Reason will do something, Time more, Religion most of all. The loss is but for this world; but as long as I remain in this world I shall feel it. “Some way my feelings will vent themselves. I have thought of endeavouring to direct their course, and may, perhaps, set about a monument in verse for him and for myself, which may make our memories inseparable. “There would be no wisdom in going from home. The act of returning to it would undo all the benefit I might receive from change of circumstance for some time yet. Edith feels this; otherwise, perhaps, we might have gone to visit Tom in his new habitation. Summer is at hand. While there was a hope of Herbert’s recovery, this was a frequent subject of pleasurable consideration; it is now a painful thought, and I look forward with a sense of fear to the season which brings with it life and joy to those who are capable of receiving them. You, more than most men, are aware of the extent of my loss, and how, as long as I remain here, every object within and without, and every hour of every day, must bring it fresh to recollection. Yet the more I consider the difficulties of removing, the greater they appear; and perhaps by the time it would be possible, I may cease to desire it. “Whenever I have leisure (will that ever be?) I will begin my own memoirs, to serve as a post-obit for those of my family who may survive me. They will be so far provided for as to leave me no uneasiness on that score. My life insurance is 4000l.; my books (for there is none to inherit them now) may be worth 1500l.; my copyrights, perhaps, not less; and you will be able to put together letters and fragments, which, when I am gone, will be acceptable articles in the market. Probably there would, on the whole, be 10,000l. forthcoming. The whole should be Edith’s during her life, and afterwards divided equally among the surviving children. I shall name John May and Neville White for executors, – both men of business, and both my dear and zealous friends. But do you take care of my papers, and publish my remains. I have perhaps much underrated the value of what will be left. A selection of my reviewals may be reprinted, with credit to my name and with profit. You will not wonder that I have fallen into this strain. One grave is at this moment made ready; and who can tell how soon another may be required? I pray, however, for continued life. There may be, probably there are, many afflictions for me in store, but the worst is past. I have more than once thought of Mr. Roberts; when he hears of my loss, it will for a moment freshen the recollection of his own. “It is some relief to write to you, after the calls which have this day been made upon my fortitude. I have not been found wanting; and Edith, throughout the whole long trial, has displayed the most exemplary self-control. We never approached him but with composed countenances and words of hope; and for a mother to do this, hour after hour, and night after night, while her heart was breaking, is perhaps the utmost effort of which our nature is capable. Oh! how you would have admired and loved him, had you seen him in these last weeks But you know something of his character. Never, perhaps, was child of ten years old so much to his father. Without ever ceasing to treat him as a child, I had made him my companion, as well as playmate and pupil, and he had learnt to interest himself in my pursuits, and take part in all my enjoyments.

I have sent Edith May to Wordsworth’s. Poor child, she is dreadfully distressed; and it has ever been my desire to save them from all the sorrow that can be avoided, and to mitigate, as far as possible, what is inevitable. Something it is to secure for them a happy childhood. Never was a happier than Herbert’s. He knew not what unkindness or evil were, except by name. His whole life was passed in cheerful duty, and love and enjoyment. If I did not hope that I have been useful in my generation, and may still continue to be so, I could wish that I also had gone to rest as early in the day; but my childhood was not like his.

Let me have some money when you can, that these mournful expenses may be discharged. For five weeks my hand has been palsied, and this brings with it a loss of means—an evil inseparable from my way of life. To-morrow I shall endeavour to resume my employments. You may be sure, also, that I shall attend to my health; nothing which exercise and diet can afford will be neglected; and whenever I feel that change of air and of scene could benefit me, the change shall be tried. I am perfectly aware how important an object this is; the fear is, lest my sense of its moment should produce an injurious anxiety. God bless you!

R. S.

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