3089. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 10 March 1818

3089. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 10 March 1818⁠* 

Keswick. 10 March. 1818

My dear Scott

Your last letter reached me in London, when I was just setting out for the Continent. [1]  Three months of continual movement, exertion & excitement were of great use both to my health & spirits. During that time I saw the outside of Paris, the best parts of Switzerland, crost the Alps twice, got as far as Milan, returned by way of the Black Forest & Frankfort, & so from Mentz to Cologne by the left bank of the Rhine, bringing back a store of recollections for the rest of my life. Few persons have ever had a stronger appetite for travelling than I have, tho I sit at home till I almost grow to my chair.

Our home scenery was somewhat diminished by the comparison, yet less so than might have been expected, & this impression soon wore off after my return. The poverty of our vales was more striking after the chesnuts on the Italian side of the Alps & the magnificent walnuts of Switzerland. Switzerland is certainly the country in which an Englishman who should chuse to live abroad would find manners & feelings the least unlike his own, – that is, in the Protestant cantons: but I did not go far enough South for the xxx blessings of a climate which would vie with that of Portugal.

I am glad that the first tidings which informed me of your illness, told of your recovery also. There is an enjoyment of our absent friends, – even of those from whom we are far distant, – in talking & thinking of them, which make a large part of the happiness of life. It is a great thing to be in the same place with a friend – it is something to be in the same planet. And whenever you are removed to a better, there are few men whose loss will be more widely felt in this, – for I know no one who had administered so much delight to so extensive a part of the public. – I if <hope> your illness has left no weakness behind it. We stand in need sometimes of visitations which may lead us to look toward eternity, – & in such cases the stroke is merciful when it falls upon the body. There is a joyousness too in the sense of returning health, a freshness of xxxx sensation such as xx one might expect from a draught from the fountain of youth.

In the course of the summer I shall make my appearance before you in the shape of quarto a third quarto, which concludes my long Brazilian labours. [2]  There will be much curious matter respecting the mines, the equestrian tribes, & the Jesuits, – great part from manuscript materials, & the whole altogether new to the British public. – I have full accounts of all that occurred at <in> Pernambuco, a deplorable story it is! The prime mover was a man with whose private history I was well acquainted, & with whom indeed I was in habits of communication, tho not directly. [3]  I had sent him my first volume, – & the second was on the way to him, when he brought this destruction upon himself. The Revolution was planned by a few men, far gone in American politics & French philosophy: – & the great landholders when it was begun joined in, more from fear than inclination. But there had been an attempt to establish a commonwealth in Pernambuco about a century ago, [4]  in which their ancestors had been engaged, – so that their wishes lay that way. I have the history of that attempt, the mss was xxx copied from the original in 1810 by P. Joam Ribeiro, – who at that very time no doubt was meditating his more disastrous explosion, – & from his transcript mine was made. [5]  On that occasion the Government behaved with remarkable lenity, & did not put a single person to death. A bloody vengeance has been exacted now, & in the worst manner, – the worst actors have escaped & assisted in the punishment of others far less guilty than themselves, – & the mob have been allowed to commit great outrages & xx cruelties. At present they have a Governor [6]  who acts humanely as well as firmly, & are, of course, under military law. The Quarterly is not quite accurate in what it says of an Englishmans interference. [7]  That Englishman was my friend Henry Koster, what he did was this, – he prevented the leaders of the Revolution, when they found their cause desperate, from butchering all the Loyalists in prison, & setting fire to the city, as they had resolved to do. [MS obscured] I have x a list of all who have suffered, or are still [MS torn] & it is a melancholy thing to see it filled with family names which I have [MS torn] written for honour.

About four months ago John Ballantyne wrote to ask me if he should dispose of my property in the Ed. An. Register to Constable [8]  upon the same terms as those of <the> other persons who had the same stake in it. – As I had given it up for a lost concern I was very glad to hear that I was to have about the same sum which the share had cost, in a bill from Constable at twelvemonths date: four months however have elapsed, & I have heard nothing farther. Perhaps, if you have an opportunity, you will do me the kindness to ask how the matter stands.

The neighbouring county is in an uproar already with the expected election [9] Brougham has succeeded in producing as much turbulence there as he could desire – & if we may judge of what the play will be by what the rehearsal has been, xxxx it may prove a very serious tragedy before it is over. I am out of the sphere of this mischief. – We shall have mobs I think upon the Poor Law question xxxx which is as perilous in its nature as a Corn Bill [10]  & yet must be taken in hand. I know not whether the next Q. R. will look the danger in the face & say honestly that we must be prepared to meet it. [11]  Preventive measures are very easy & would be found effectual. – How grievously do we want some man of commanding spirit in the H. of Commons to do constantly what Canning only rouses himself to do now & then. There is however good promise in the S. General [12] – to him I think we may look with hope & to Peel.

I saw Humboldt [13]  at Paris xxxx never did any man pourtray himself more perfectly in his writings than he has done! His excessive volubility, his fullness of information & the rapidity with which he fled from every fact into some wide generalization xxx made you xxxxxxxxx <more> acquainted with his intellectual character in half an hour than you would be with any other persons in half a year. Withal he appeared exceedingly good natured & obliging. It was at Mackenzies [14]  that I met him.

Remember me to Mrs Scott & your daughter [15]  – who is now, I expect, the flower of the Tweed.

Believe me my dear Scott

ever affectionately yours

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqre/ Abbotsford/ near/ Melrose
Stamped: [partial] KESWICK
Endorsement: Southey
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3889. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 295–297. BACK

[1] In early May 1817. BACK

[2] The third volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[3] Joam Ribeiro Pessoa de Melo Montenegro (1766–1817), a priest who was a member of the provisional government set up by a group of revolutionaries 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 Mascate War (or ‘War of the Peddlers’) in Pernambuco, Brazil in 1710–1711, between landowners based around Olinda and merchants in Recife (backed by the colonial government). The landowners’ leaders were the first to call for Brazil to become an independent Republic. BACK

[5] ‘Guerra Civil ou Sedissoens de Pernambuco Exemplo Memoravel aos vindouros’, no. 3840 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] Major-General Luis do Rego Barreto (1777–1840), Governor of Pernambuco 1817–1821. He was a distinguished military commander in the Peninsular War 1808–1813. BACK

[7] The review by Reginald Heber of the second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 99–128: ‘in Pernambuco (we speak from accurate information) it was only the interposition of an Englishman resident in the country, which prevented the city, during the short government of the liberals, from rivalling jacobin France in its scenes of extravagance and blood’ (125). BACK

[8] Southey had written the historical sections of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808–1811 (1810–1813) and had agreed to take up a 1/12th share in the concern. However, he had not been paid for his final year’s work on the Register and feared the financial difficulties of the Ballantynes had rendered his share in the venture worthless. The Ballantynes were winding up their publishing business and Archibald Constable (1774–1827; DNB), publisher of Scott and the Edinburgh Review, had agreed to take over some of their concerns. What Scott did not reveal to Southey was that he was himself deeply involved in the financial affairs of both the Ballantynes and Constable. BACK

[9] A general election was imminent, though the House of Commons was not dissolved until 10 June 1818. It was already clear, though, that there would be a contest in Westmorland, which was dominated by the Lowther family, who were supporters of the government – the two sitting MPs were the brothers Henry Lowther (1790–1867), MP for Westmorland 1812–1867 and William, Viscount Lowther (1787–1872), later 2nd Earl of Lonsdale and MP for Cockermouth 1808–1813, MP for Westmorland 1813–1831 and 1832–1841. So complete was the Lowthers’ dominance that the last contested election in Westmorland was in 1774. However, in January 1818, a committee of Whigs and smaller landowners had brought forward Henry Brougham to challenge the Lowthers – Brougham’s family home was Brougham Hall near Penrith and he could plausibly be presented as a local candidate. BACK

[10] The Corn Law (1815), which excluded the import of corn until domestic prices reached 80 shillings per quarter and, so raised bread prices, had produced considerable popular protest. BACK

[11] Southey and Rickman’s article on the poor, ‘On the Poor Laws’, appeared in the Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818), 259–308, published on 9 June 1818. BACK

[12] Sir Robert Gifford (1779–1826; DNB), Solicitor-General 1817–1819, Attorney-General 1819–1824, Chief Justice 1824, Master of the Rolls 1824–1826. BACK

[13] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the traveller, scientist and, in his voluminous writings, the leading authority on South America. BACK

[14] Colin Alexander Mackenzie (?1778–1851), a wealthy Scot who was employed on a number of delicate diplomatic missions and may well have been a government spy. In 1815 he was appointed one of the Commissioners of Liquidation, Arbitration and Deposit, who adjudicated on claims by British citizens for loss of property against the French government. Southey dined with him on 17 May and 19 May 1817, meeting Humboldt on the latter occasion. BACK

[15] Charlotte Sophia Scott (1799–1837). She married John Gibson Lockhart in 1820. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)