1807. Robert Southey to [John Ballantyne], 19 September 1810

1807. Robert Southey to [John Ballantyne], 19 September 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick 19th Sept 1810

My Dr Sir

With respect to most of the objections which have been made to the History, I can reply in a manner that will be quite satisfactory. [1]  The season of Proclamations is past and no temptation exists to a repetition of the fault if fault it be, & I am afraid it is so because it is the only objection which I wish had not been made. [2]  Of Sir Francis Burdett I am most assuredly disposed to speak and think with great severity. If I remember rightly I expressed this opinion to you when I first made use of the very mischievous phrase which you have noticed, but of the Duke of York I will speak with careful decorum – indeed it is not a subject, whatever its immediate importance, on which I am capable of feeling strongly. [3]  An opinion as you say must be expressed but it will be done as briefly as that upon the Copenhagen question without any asperity and in a manner which I am confident cannot give offence. [4]  – Concerning other individuals I will endeavour to write more temperately provided every now & then I may be allowed xxx xxxxxx to speak plainly concerning the admirers of Bonaparte particularly Mr Whitbread. [5]  To think about them opens the gall and pouring off two or three bitter sentences may prevent a bilious attack. To the remaining objections that there is a democratical colouring thrown over the whole I know of no better answer than that such a colouring must needs be the sunshine and life of whatever proceeds from me. Yet I have no fear that this can be injurious, sure as I am that it is true English Democracy unconnected with faction or even with party, true to the interest of & to the honour of England & going head & heart with the King [6]  & with <the> Government. Depend upon it the heaviest complaints against the Register will come from the Cobettites, the Emancipators, (who may truly be called the agitators) and the peace mongers.

If I had planned the Register I should have endeavoured to make it strictly correspond with its title & excluded whatever did not belong to the history of the times, taking the word history in its evident acceptation. In the Chronicle if it be thought necessary to insert the Gazette accounts (which I rather incline to think superfluous their substance being included in the History) I would arrange them by themselves consecutively. [7]  The fuller the Chronicle is in this respect the better, and I would glean all the newspapers for it. The very follies and extravagences of the age are parts of its History. The meeting of the four in hand club, [8]  the Grand Matches at Cricket even the fashions and the official account of the battles between Gully & Gregson [9]  all lead <tend> to characterise our times and in this view would amuse and interest posterity. Burke was so sensible of this that in the first Volumes of the annual Register which he planned for Dodsley [10]  there was a separate department for remarkable adventures.

The Dramatic article [11]  is too long and the criticism upon the performers might I think well have been spared. This you say will be contracted in the second volume. Poetry would have been excluded from my plan. [12]  It crept originally into this work (I am well convinced) because there was not historical matter enough to fill the volumes and therefore they were made Magazines as well as registers. – I will send you what few verses I have unpublished. I have numberless subjects for poetry noted down and if I can rouse up inclination enough, will endeavour to strike off some of them. If I had leisure I would do something also for your Biography. [13]  The life of John Wesley is one which it has long been desirous <long been interested> to write. [14]  Cannot you get one of Toussaint? [15]  This also I could write con amore, [16]  if like Kehama I could multiply myself upon occasion. [17]  But this yearly history is a long work. Murray looks to me for the Quarterly & if you could see the quantity of materials which I have written for my series of Portugueze History, [18]  I think you would admire the patience with which I postpone their final arrangement till a more convenient season, though it is chiefly upon this work <that> I rest my claims upon posterity. There is a life of that diabolical woman Mary Bateman printed at Leeds which would make a very curious article in your Biography and which ought to find a place there. [19] 

The Dramatic article, that upon the fine arts & that upon Literature [20]  look as if they came from the same hand & all of them seem to bear a family resemblance to the stile of the Prospectus. [21]  – I wrote the other day to W. Scott to tell him that a rascally attack had been made upon him which appeared in the Courier with the signature S.T.C. did not proceed from Coleridge who I am very glad to say has written to the Courier requiring the Editor to acquaint himself if Jeffrey was here lately. [22]  He has seen a good deal of Coleridge and took a great deals of pain to persuade him that he passionately admired my poetry and Wordsworths. It is well I was not present when he delivered this opinion of me or I should assuredly have been irresistably tempted to let him know my opinion of him.

I am glad you perceive an improvement in the debates. Be assured that no man can be more ready than myself to acknowledge his own errors when they are pointed out nor more desirous to correct <lessen> them. – [23] 


* MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 1817. TR; 4p.
Note on MS: MS exists only in a copy in an unknown hand in the Ballantyne papers, National Library of Scotland. A note makes it clear that the copy was made to be sent to Ballantyne’s friend, business associate and writer for the Edinburgh Annual Register, Robert Lundie. BACK

[1] The letter deals with Southey’s work for the Edinburgh Annual Register, for which he wrote the historical section. It is part of an exchange with Ballantyne over the content and tone of Southey’s contributions and also the structure and contents of the Register itself. In particular, the potential overlap between Southey’s account in part 1 of the Register of British and continental events in 1808 and the ‘Chronicle’ that appeared separately in part 2. See also Southey to Robert Lundie, 14 October 1810, Letter 1817. BACK

[2] The subject being discussed here is obscure. BACK

[3] In 1809, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB) had been forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the British army in the wake of allegations that he had profited from office trafficking. After a lengthy investigation, the charges were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that his former mistress Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB) had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[4] i.e. The parliamentary debates over the controversial British attack on Copenhagen, 16 August–5 September 1807. The government claimed this was an attempt to secure British access to the Baltic, the opposition argued that it had turned hitherto neutral Denmark into an enemy. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 31–53. BACK

[5] The radical MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). BACK

[6] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[7] This idea was not adopted in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811). BACK

[8] An aristocratic club of 30–40 members, which met 1808–1824. BACK

[9] i.e. A prize-fighting match between John Gully (1783–1863; DNB) and Bob Gregson (d. 1824). On 10 May 1808 the two fought, watched by over a hundred members of society. The vast crowd led to a scare that the French had invaded and the local volunteers were called out. After 27 rounds Gregson was unable to continue and the fight was given to Gully. This event was not reported in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811). BACK

[10] The Annual Register, initiated in 1758 by the bookseller and author Robert Dodsley (1704–1764; DNB). It provided a chronicle of the major events of the previous year, and included poetry, reviews and essays on literary, historical and topographical subjects. From 1758 until 1764–1765 its editor and chief contributor was Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB). Southey possessed 8 volumes from the period 1758–1790, no. 49 in the sale catalogue of his library. Annual Register, 1 (1758), 278–310, comprised a section of ‘Extraordinary Adventures’, including ‘The wonderful preservation of three persons buried above five weeks in the snow’. BACK

[11] The section devoted to drama in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 253–325. BACK

[12] Original poetry was included in the second part of each year’s Edinburgh Annual Register. Contributors to Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810) included, Scott, Baillie and Southey himself, with ‘The Alderman’s Funeral, an English Eclogue’, ‘King Ramiro’ and ‘Queen Orraca’ (i–xiii), and a section from The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 11, lines 27–112 (xlvi– xlviii). The first of these had not been published before, but ‘King Ramiro’ had appeared in Morning Post, 9 September 1803 and ‘Queen Orraca’ in Morning Post, 1 September 1803. BACK

[13] Ballantyne was proposing to add a section of biographies to the second part of each year’s Edinburgh Annual Register. This idea was not adopted in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811). BACK

[14] In 1820 Southey published a Life of John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), the founder of Methodism. BACK

[15] The hero of Haitian independence, François-Dominique Toussaint-Louverture (1743–1803). BACK

[16] ‘with love’. BACK

[17] See The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 24, where Kehama ‘self-multiplies’. BACK

[18] The History of Brazil (1810–1819) and Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[19] The Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch (1809), an account of the thief, fraudster and poisoner Mary Bateman (1768–1809; DNB). Playing on the popularity of the Southcottians, in 1806 Bateman claimed that one of her hens had laid three miraculous eggs inscribed with ‘Christ is coming’. Hundreds of people came to see the eggs and were charged a penny each for the privilege. The ‘Chronicle’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 210–261, had included an account of her activities and execution. BACK

[20] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 326–341 and 417–443. BACK

[21] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), [v]–xii. BACK

[22] The Courier (15 September 1810) had published an article entitled ‘Some Imitations of Scott’. This compared extracts from The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion with ones from Dryden, Baillie, Home, Ossian, Pope, Spenser, and Southey (Madoc) in an attempt to prove that Scott had been ‘more particularly … guilty of imitation’. A declaration, supplied by Coleridge, that the ‘S.T.C.’ who had signed the piece on Scott was not the same person as ‘Mr. S. T. Coleridge’ appeared in the Courier on 20 September 1810; see Southey to Walter Scott, 17 September 1810, Letter 1806. BACK

[23] Ballantyne adds his own postscript: ‘My Dr L: I send you this letter because I think it will give you pleasure – what he says concerning the chronicle is I think well worth your attention. I have long despised the squeamishness which would reject boxing matches &c. If you paint a fair paint warts and all or it is no likeness. Yours JB.’ BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)