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A reluctant traveller : Robert Southey by stages

Andrews, Kerri (2011) A reluctant traveller : Robert Southey by stages. The Wordsworth Circle, 42 (1). pp. 73-77. ISSN 0043-8006

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In 1803, Robert Southey settled in Keswick after a visit to the Coleridge family at Greta Hall became a more permanent arrangement. For the previous ten years he had moved between London, Oxford, Dublin, and Bristol, and had spent a significant period in Spain and Portugal. He would visit the Continent several times more, including his “Pilgrimage” to the battlefields near Waterloo in 1815, and in 1819 he undertook a tour of engineering works in the Scottish Highlands with Thomas Telford. Ironically, though, the end of the most peripatetic phase of Southey’s life actually made travel more necessary, both for himself and his friends. With many of his personal and professional connections in Bristol or London, Southey had taken himself almost as far away as was possible whilst still being in England. As a result, a large number of letters written from Keswick detail Southey’s plans for trips to London and elsewhere in the south, and urge his friends to visit him. The letters also describe the difficulties of having books sent from London, and occasionally other parts of Europe too, books which Southey in Keswick could not acquire for himself. For Southey, then, travel was an essential part of maintaining both personal and professional relationships, and indeed of continuing his literary career. Without constant communication between London and Keswick in the form of letters, parcels, and visits, Southey would have been isolated from his friends, and could not have maintained himself as a writer. In this paper I explore the ways in which Southey engages with the idea and the reality of travel, and his own distaste for it, in his personal correspondence. I also suggest some ways in which we might use Southey’s writing to gain an understanding of the importance of travel both imaginatively and practically to writers of Romantic period.