1864. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 February 1811

1864. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 February 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby 3 1811

My dear Tom

What was the name of the ship, & what the action, in which the monkey went jumping map mad in the long boat? – For in quoting this noble passage from the Edinburgh in which ships are described as fighting harmlessly on the ocean, [1]  I shall express a charitable wish that the writer had been stationed along the side the monkey, where he might have corrected his notions in fit company, & where he would have learnt with Major Plunkett that a sea fight is a mighty serious sort of a thing. [2]  – Lose no time in replying to this. [3] 

I have this day finished an important part of the Register, an enquiry into the nation & possibility of Reform, in reference to Sir F. Burdetts plan, [4]  – which is shallow beyond conception. The result is a conviction in my own mind that the influence of Government cannot be diminished without the virtual destruction of Government: that the real evil in our representation is the influence of the great Land Leviathans, who can go to a minister & demand a seat in the Cabinet for themselves & in reply to all his remonstrances upon the unfitness of the thing, make no other answer than “We are seven” like Wordsworth’s little girl. [5]  that this influence dies a natural death in the thriving counties, when the increase of wealth splits property into small freeholds, – & that it might be destroyed by farther limitations of entails, or an income tax justly graduated. But that the two main evils of our system of Government consist in governing by a Cabinet, instead of a Prime Minister, – & in the existence of a regular party in the legislature whose business is to impede as far they can all measures of the Government & to villify the Administration (be it what it may) so as to bring it into contempt & hatred with the people: to argue always against their own country, & against their <its> allies, & to act in xxx <plain English> as allies of the enemy. For this evil I see no remedy unless it is possible to expose the scandal & the absurdity & the mischief so strongly as to excite a sense of shame in party men themselves. There is no reason why we should not have a responsible Premier instead of a Cabinet, – both being equally unknown to the Constitution, which requires only that the Kings advisors be responsible. The vice & original sin of a Cabinet is that all measures are garbled there & every thing carried on by concessions & compromises. Canning for instance would send xx 50,000 men to Spain, – no says somebody else – I would not send any men at all there. – so they agree to send 25,000 – & in this way every thing is ruined. – The burthen of my song is this, that – ‘in these times the paramount duty of a true patriot is to exert himself in raising the spirit of his countrymen to the pitch of those days when they won crowns, & brought home captive Kings. The one business of England is to abate the power of France; that power she must beat down, or fall herself; that power she will beat down, if she do but wisely & strenuously put forth her own mighty means.’ [6] 

See what a rascally part the Whigs & the Burdettites have taken upon the Regency Question! [7]  The Courier has behaved right well upon this occasion. Burdett it seems has lost his popularity by running away from the Tower in the manner he did. [8]  I think very ill of his whole conduct since Curwens idiotic Bill [9]  was brought forward, when he began to talk of the ‘Room.’ [10]  The House acted unwisely about him, – nothing could be plainer than that he was trying to what length they would suffer themselves to be insulted. They should have sent him to the Tower for his language in the House, – that being this necessary Privilege. For his writings [11]  there was then remedy at law. Wynns argument is nevertheless of some weight that this would <be> making the Parliament inferior to the Law Courts.

I am now going to blow the trumpet for Pasley & preach guerra al cuchillo. [12] Abella is returning to Spain – he promises me his correspondence & a supply of all useful papers. – Love to Sarah. She may expect a present from a Gentleman from whom she does not expect one: but if you will allow her to love any person with any letter xx but an S, she must take him to the sign of the Ram or the Roebuck, & treat his with a ragout with roast rabbits, & radishes, raspberries for the desert, & Rhenish for the wine. If you guess at him aright now, you are a witch o’ my conscience. [13] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Edinburgh Review, 1 (January 1803), 348. BACK

[2] The first anecdote Southey refers to concerns a monkey on board the Royal Sovereign during the Battle of the Glorious First of June (1794). The monkey was chained in the launch on the main deck throughout the battle. Major Plunkett might be Major James Plunkett of Kinnaid (fl. 1800s), husband of the novelist Elizabeth Gunning (1769–1823; DNB). BACK

[3] Southey used this material in Omniana; or, Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), II, pp. 237–40. BACK

[4] For Southey’s account of, and opposition to Burdett’s plan, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 282–294. Burdett had proposed a ratepayer franchise, equal electoral districts, shorter parliaments and general elections held on one day in all seats. BACK

[5] Lyrical Ballads (1798), pp. 110–114. BACK

[6] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 293. BACK

[7] Whigs and Radicals had generally argued that George IV (1762–1830; Prince Regent, 1811–1820, King of the United Kingdom, 1820–1830; DNB) should become Regent without any constraints on his powers, as they hoped he would appoint opposition politicians to office. BACK

[8] On 5 April 1810 the House of Commons had voted to commit Burdett to the Tower of London for breach of privilege. On his release on 21 June, Burdett disappointed his followers by refusing a celebratory procession through London. BACK

[9] The Bill introduced in 1809 by the MP for Carlisle, John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), for ‘“better securing the independence and purity of Parliament, by preventing the procuring or obtaining seats by corrupt practices, and likewise more effectually to prevent bribery”’; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 249–281. Curwen’s Bill did become law in the same year, but was less successful than his contemporaries hoped or feared. BACK

[10] Burdett had taken to referring to the House of Commons Chamber as ‘this room’ in his Parliamentary speeches. BACK

[11] The breach of privilege for which Burdett was imprisoned was The address of Sir Francis Burdett to his constituents: in a letter, dated March 23, denying the power of the House of Commons to imprison the people of England (1810), which condemned the Commons for imprisoning the radical journalist John Gale Jones (1769–1838; DNB) after he criticized the Commons’s procedures. BACK

[12] Literally, ‘war to the knife’. Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810) had been sent to Southey for review. The ensuing article was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’ with the result that the version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[13] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), Bartholomew Fair (1614), Act IV, scene 6, line 178. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)