3024. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 17 September 1817

3024. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 17 September 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 17 Sept. 1817

I have sent you the collected edition of Wordsworths poems, his Excursion, his White Doe, Kosters Travels in Brazil, & the first & second volumes of my History of that country. [1]  They are directed to the care of Messrs Mirabaud, [2]  – & shipt on board a vessel for Genoa, – Longmans <people> have sent me word of the shipment, & stupidly enough have neglected to specify the name of the vessel. – I judged rightly of the attempt at revolution in Brazil; – the Isaac Ribeiro Person of the Lugano gazette proved to be as I feared, Padre Joam Ribeiro Pessoa, [3]  – from whom I was expecting communications upon several important points. He has paid the penalty of rashness, – & I believe by his own hand. Koster has sent over a full account of the troubles; the revolutionists when they became desperate proposed to set fire to the city, & massacre the royalists who were in their power, – & it was in great measure by Kosters exertions, & influence with them, that they abstained from thus closing their miserable career. Nothing could be more ill-judged than the attempt, & nothing more injurious to Brazil.

Our journey home was as prosperous as we could desire. The Lake of Lugano seemed to exceed Como the Laris in variety & in beauty, & the Maggiore where we crost it to exceed both: – but probably in such scenery that which is present must always obtain the preference. The Isola Bella [4]  is at once the most costly & the most absurd effort of bad taste that ever has been produced by wealth & extravagance. What you had been told of the hissing of serpents in the vaults proved to be the noise of the Bats, who have taken possession of the ground-tier in this ridiculous place. We saw them in great numbers flying in & out.

Taking all things into consideration I should prefer the neighbourhood of Lausanne to any place on the continent which I have seen, for a residence. The loveliest places which we saw were the little tract between the Lakes of Thun & Brientz, – & the Lake & valley of Lungern, than which the heart of man could desire nothing lovelier. On my return Skiddaw did not appear to have lost any thing in magntitude, – the mountains around the Lake had, & there seem I perceived a poverty & coldness in the valley: this however wore off in a few days, & Keswick is now as beautiful as ever.

I sent your letter to Munday [5]  in a frank, but have heard nothing of the poems in consequence.

The prospect of affairs in England is better than when I left it. The acquittal of those scoundrels [6]  did not produce the reaction which might have been apprehended from it; & tho the seditious press is as active as ever, the poison which it administers does not operate with the same effect upon a full stomach as upon an empty one. The harvest, generally speaking, is safe, & most abundant: even here another week or ten days of such weather as we have had for the last fortnight will bring it all in. Trade has revived, – so we shall have an interval of tranquillity, – if we know how to profit by it. Some thing will be done about the Poor Laws next session, & from the report of the Committee (which has been drawn up by Sturges Bourne [7] ) there is reason to believe that it will be done wisely. Indeed I look to the gradual extinction of these laws, & the restoration of that English character in the lower classes which, of late years, they have been so rapidly destroying.

I have done little since my return, – this being the season of idleness. But there is a busy winter before me, during which, if no ill fortune intervene, I hope & expect to make great progress in many things. Here is one of my Inscriptions. – Busaco [8]  is the place

Reader, thou standest upon holy ground
Which Penitence hath chosen for itself,
And War disturbing the deep solitude
Hath left it doubly sacred. [9]  On these heights
The host of Portugal & England stood
Against the French arrayed, when Massena,
Proud of Rodrigo & Almeida won, [10] 
[MS torn]st forward, thinking the devoted realm
Full sure should fall a prey. He in his pride
Scorn’d the poor numbers of the English foe,
And deemd the children of the land would fly
From his advance like sheep before the wolf
Scattering, & lost with terror. Ill he knew
The Lusitanian spirit! ill he knew
The heart, the arm <arm the heart> of England! ill he knew
The Wellington! – He learnt to know them here.
That spirit & that arm, that heart, that mind
Here on Busaco gloriously approved,
When hence repelld the beaten boaster wound
Below his course circuitous, & left
His thousands for the beasts & ravenous fowl
The Carmelite who in his cell recluse
Was wont to sit & from the skull receive
Death’s silent lesson, wheresoeer he walk
Henceforth may find his teachers. He shall find
The Frenchmans bones in glen & grove, on rock
And height, whereer the wolves & carrion birds
Have strewn them, washd in torrents, bare & bleachd
By sun & rain, & by the winds of heaven.


Our journalists are puzzled to understand for what reason Russia is likely to interfere in behalf of Spain against the revolutionary governments in S America. [11]  They do not perceive that Russia has possessions in the N. W. America <coast>, & that the Yankee-Americans (we must not call them Anglo-Americans) are regarded equally by both powers as interlopers on that coast. [12] Nor do I The price of this assistance from Russia will be a partition treaty, limiting <defining> the bounds of New Mexico, & leaving all beyond those bounds to Russia. – There is no getting at the real state of affairs in Spanish-America, but as far as I can judge, Spain is likely to prove victorious in Mexico & in Venezuela. [13]  Peru & Chile must follow the fate of B Ayres, – which will yield more easily to a Spanish army than it did to an English one. [14] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Como/ Italy.
Postmark: P/ 25/ 17
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 29. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 173–174. BACK

[1] Reading for Landor during his residence in Italy: Wordsworth, Poems by William Wordsworth: Including Lyrical Ballads, and the Miscellaneous Pieces of the Author (1815), The Excursion (1814), The White Doe of Rylstone (1815); Henry Koster, Travels in Brazil (1816); Robert Southey, History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[2] Probably the firm of Jacques Mirabaud (1784–1864), a Swiss banker who had set up a branch of the family business in Milan in 1814. BACK

[3] The Gazzetta di Lugano (1814–1821) was a liberal weekly newspaper, widely read in Switzerland and northern Italy. It had carried a slightly garbled report of the death of Joam Ribeiro Pessoa de Melo Montenegro (1766–1817), a priest who was a member of the provisional government set up during a revolt against Portuguese rule in Pernambuco, 8 March–18 May 1817. He committed suicide in the town of Paulista after the defeat of the revolutionary forces and the fall of Recife, the provincial capital. BACK

[4] The entire island of Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore is taken up by the seventeenth-century palace of the Borromeo family and its gardens. BACK

[5] Joseph Munday (c. 1773–1844), the Oxford-based bookseller, printer and publisher of Landor’s Idyllia Nova Quinque Heroum atque Heroidum (1815). Landor was to complain vociferously that Munday had not sent copies of the poem to himself or his friends. BACK

[6] James Watson (1766–1838; DNB) was acquitted of a charge of high treason following a trial on 9–16 June 1817. He was accused of instigating the attempted revolution arising from the Spa Fields meeting on 2 December 1816. Following his acquittal his three co-accused, Arthur Thistlewood (1774–1820; DNB), Thomas Preston (1774–1850; DNB) and John Hooper (dates unknown) were released without trial. BACK

[7] William Sturges Bourne (1769–1845; DNB), MP for various seats 1802–1831, Secretary to the Treasury 1804–1806, Lord of the Treasury 1807–1809, Commissioner of the Board of Control 1814–1816, 1818–1822, Home Secretary 1827, First Commissioner of Woods and Forests 1827–1828. He was one of Canning’s closest allies. Sturges Bourne chaired a Select Committee on the Poor Laws appointed in 1817 (and reappointed 1818–1819), which recommended abolishing poor relief for the able-bodied unless it was delivered through the workhouse, pauper schools for those on relief aged 3–14 and the introduction of a loans system for those who had ‘squandered’ their earnings. The latter proposal was eventually included in an Act of 1819. BACK

[8] At the battle of Bussaco, on 27 September 1810, an Anglo-Portuguese force successfully defended a ten mile ridge against a French army that was attempting to invade Portugal. For Southey’s account, see Edinburgh Annual Register for 1810, 3.1 (1812), 462–463; History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–32), II, pp. 751–757. The poem was published as ‘For the Deserto de Busaco’, Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 136–137. BACK

[9] A Carmelite monastery was founded at Bussaco in 1628, and renowned for its walled enclosure (‘Deserto’) enclosing an arboretum. BACK

[10] The Napoleonic Marshal André Massena (1758–1817) led the French campaign against Portugal in 1810 and 1811. His army captured Ciudad Rodrigo on 9 July 1810 and Almeida on 27 August 1810. BACK

[11] Britain and Russia were the two greatest world powers following the defeat of France in 1815. Essentially, Britain wished for a weak Spanish government that could not challenge British influence in Portugal or the Mediterranean or prevent Britain dominating trade with the Latin American countries in revolt against Spain. Russia took the opposite view, hoping a stronger Spanish government would obstruct Britain in southern Europe and ensure that trade with Latin America was open to all powers equally. At this time there were widespread newspaper reports that Russia would aid Spain in regaining its Latin American colonies. These may have been stimulated by rumours concerning a secret agreement between Russia and Spain of 11 August 1817, under which Russia agreed to sell eight warships to Spain. BACK

[12] The Russian-American Company, founded in 1799, had fur-trading colonies on the coast of Alaska and as far south as Fort Ross, California. The Spanish Crown claimed ownership of California as part of Mexico and both countries were in competition with United States fur traders, who had arrived overland from the east, and with the British Hudson’s Bay Company. BACK

[13] Revolts against Spain had been ongoing in Mexico since 1810 and Venezuela since 1811, but in both areas Spanish forces had the upper hand in 1817. BACK

[14] In 1806 a British expedition took Buenos Aires but was soon repulsed, and a further expedition in 1807 was easily defeated by local citizens. The area had been effectively self-governing since 1810 and had declared independence in 1816. Peru and Chile were still largely under Spanish control at this time. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)