2713. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 11 February 1816

2713. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 11 February 1816⁠* 

Keswick 11. Feby. 1816

My dear Sir

During the month of November I expected to have seen you at Ludlow & from day to day hoped I should be able to inform you on what day Mrs S. myself & Edith should set off from London in that direction. We were engaged to halt at Wynnstay, & at Liverpool on the after part of our journey. But the state of Edith’s health which seemed to grow worse instead of better in London made us very anxious to reach home, especially when winter was so close at hand; she herself seemed to pine for her native air, & we were compelled to take the straightest road on that account, leaving all our friends unvisited. This was a great mortification.

We had been a long journey. A proposition of my brother Henrys who was going with his bride to Brussels, induced me to determine upon a visit to Waterloo: [1]  & the scheme ended in my taking the two Ediths with me, missing the family party which we intended to join, & falling in with another company, [2]  strangers till that time, with whom we kept from our first meeting in the Ostend packet, till we separated at their house at Greenwich on our return. I think you have been in Flanders, – you will not wonder therefore if I was delighted with the towns, the country, & the people. Of all towns cities which I have ever seen Bruges is the most striking, of all countries the Pays de Wals that in which industry has been most wisely directed & most bountifully rewarded. [3]  Our route after having seen the three fields of battle, (Waterloo, Les Quatre Bras, & Ligny [4] ) was to Namur, Huy, Liege, Spa & Aix la Chapelle [5] : at which last place we arrived under very distressing circumstances. Edith had been seized with a bad sore throat the preceding night at Herve – a place where it xx was impossible to remain; when we reached Aix she was in a high fever. It was in fact an attack of scarlet fever. We were fortunate enough to find a physician who had been educated at Edinburgh [6]  – & the disease is seldom formidable in that country; – but except in this instance we experienced every imaginable kind of inconvenience & discomfort from the incivility & brutality of the people at the Hotel. Happily the disorder was of no long continuance, & we were only detained there from Wednesday till the Tuesday following. [7]  The interval when our uneasiness abated was well employed – for I fell in at the Table d’hote with some Prussian officers of distinction, & there on account of their wounds – one of whom was that Aid-de-Camp of Bluchers who was ridden over with him in the battle of the 16th. [8] 

From Aix we turned our faces homewards by way of Maestricht, Tongres, Tirlemont & Louvain to Brussels. I then gave a second day to Waterloo: – we had an artist in our company, & went now chiefly for the sake of obtaining views of the more interesting part of the ground. [9]  We then went to Antwerp, Ghent, Courtray, Ypres, Bergue, Dunkirk & Calais – & were caught on our passage to Dover in the beginning of a storm, which did not end before some vessels were lost on the Goodwin sands. We were absent from England five weeks, & were as much longer before we could leave London.

You will probably guess at what has been my chief occupation since my return. In the course of a few weeks I hope to send you my ‘Pilgrimage to Waterloo’. The poem is nearly compleated, – I say nothing of the battle, that is I make no attempt at delineating it in verse, – it is enough to have done that in prose, – but I describe the ground minutely such as it was when we saw it, & thus accompanied as it will be with views of all the most memorable points of the action will give a certain kind of interest & value to the book, whatever it may prove in other respects.

Never did the English character stand so high as at that time in that country. the soldiers were as much admired for their good conduct as for their courage, whereas the Prussians were universally execrated. This is the effect of the military spirit which old Frederick [10]  infused into the nation. There seemed to be a very general sense of instability among the people, – a persuasion that things could not continue as they were, – a dissatisfaction at the arrangements which had been made, & – especially in Liege, a sense of the injustice of xxxxxxxx throwing them over to a foreign prince. [11]  The prevailing wish appeard to be that things should be restored to their former state such as they were before the French Revolution. They dated all their evils from thence. I found it very generally believed that Buonapartes return from Elba [12]  was the work of English, & argued upon the absurdity of this notion without effect. The answer was – if it were not so – why did you not put him to death.

Is Wade [13]  at Cambridge? Have an eye to the fever there I entreat you. It reappeared in the autumn, – & the medical men know not how to treat it.

Edith was very unwell in London. The effects of her illness hung upon her & she was tormented with tooth ache during half the time of her stay, even after the guilty tooth was extracted. She recovered immediately on her return – the effect of her native air seemed to act like magic. Remember me most kindly to Mrs Browne & your daughters [14]  & believe me my dear Sir

yrs most truly

[remainder of MS missing]


* Address: To Wade Browne Esqre/ Ludlow
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. AL; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Site of the decisive battle which ended the Napoleonic Wars on 18 June 1815. BACK

[3] This area comprises part of the modern provinces of East Flanders in Belgium and Zeeland. BACK

[4] Les Quatre Bras, Belgium, was a strategic crossroads at which French and Allied armies fought on 16 June 1815; on the same day at nearby Ligny, Napoleon’s forces defeated the Prussian army. BACK

[5] Present-day Aachen, Germany. BACK

[6] Gerhard Reumont (1765–1828), eminent Belgian doctor, who had studied at Edinburgh University in 1792–1793. Reumont visited Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB), the pioneer of vaccination against smallpox, in 1800 and introduced Jenner’s discoveries to the Continent. He also enjoyed literary pursuits, and when Southey revisited Aix-la-Chapelle in 1817, he took with him, at Reumont’s request, a copy of Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). BACK

[7] Southey’s party were in Aix-la-Chapelle 10–17 October 1815. BACK

[8] At Ligny, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742–1819), Field Marshal in command of the Prussian army, was trapped under his horse and ridden over by cavalry. The officer whom Southey met was Ferdinand Augustus Leopold Francis von Dresky (dates unknown), who commanded the 2nd Regiment of Silesian infantry at Ligny. BACK

[9] Engravings of seven of Nash’s sketches were included in Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[10] Frederick II (1712–1786; King of Prussia 1740–1786). BACK

[11] At the Congress of Vienna (1815), the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created by joining together the Dutch Republic with the Austrian Netherlands and the Bishopric of Liege. The sovereign was William I (1772–1843; King of the Netherlands 1815–1840), who was perceived as a foreign prince by many of his new subjects from the Austrian Netherlands and Liege. BACK

[12] On 26 February 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815) escaped from imprisonment on the Isle of Elba, returning to France to begin the ‘Hundred Days’ of rule that ended at Waterloo. BACK

[13] Wade Browne (1796–1851), only son of Wade Browne and later a country gentleman at Monkton Farleigh in Somerset. He was at this time a student of Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1819 and M.A 1822). BACK

[14] Wade Browne’s daughters from his first marriage: Lydia (c. 1789–1864); Elizabeth; and Sarah: and Mary Browne (dates unknown), his only child from his second marriage. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)