2042. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 18 February 1812

2042. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 18 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 18. 1812

My dear Scott

It is long since I have heard from you, not (I believe) since Croker delivered to me your note accompanying the Vision of Don Roderic: [1]  & I am sorry to learn by a letter from Gifford last night that during this long interval you have been suffering from sorrow & domestic sickness. This latter evil I trust is at an end, as he tells me there is hope of your lending a strong hand once more to the Quarterly. – Leydens death must have distressed you. It grieved me, who was a stranger to him, & made me curse Batavia & wish that the Dutch had the island again rather than that such a price should have been paid for it. [2]  Poor fellow, – & this then is the end of his labours!

But I will turn to other thoughts. – Have you seen Count Julian? [3]  I feel the departure from historical character in Orpas & Sisibert [4]  unpleasantly, but this is merely because my own representation of them will be so different, – to other readers it will be no objection. The drama cannot be popular, because its faults are of a nature to be seen by every body & its merits of that class which can only be appreciated by the few. There is an obscurity at times in the language of which the author never will rid himself, & which I know not how to account for, – but there are passages expressed as forcibly as they are conceived, & both in expression & conception equalling any thing in the best writers. – I shall review it for the next number. [5]  If we poets did but always enjoy the privilege of being tried by our peers, how much injustice & injury should we then escape!

My own poem [6]  proceeds slowly, – it being only in prose-concerns that occasion has any spurs for me. Part of it, of which the spirit was caught from Zaragoza, [7]  seems to me better than any of my former writings, & if I can persuade myself that the publication will have any effect in reviving & strengthening the feelings of the public toward me a good cause, it may induce me to quicken my progress. That cause will prosper in spite of the most provoking & continued misconduct. – think of that army in Sicily four whole years, while the French in Catalonia & Valencia have been winning ground by inches, & might at any time by the addition of that force have been defeated & destroyed! Think x too of the blind obstinacy of the Spanish Government, from the Junta to this last Regency [8]  one after another, sending raw recruits & Generals in whom the men had no confidence to oppose such officers & such soldiers as the French. now I trust there will be a radical change of measures. I trust also that our own successes will lead to a more enterprizing system on our part, for the Ld Wellington has done admirably well, yet with the whole population of Portugal at his command, something more than defensive warfare is possible & ought to be attempted. At this day we are as much superior to the French in bottom as we were in Marlboroughs [9]  time: – we know it & they know it. Now if the new Regency will but consent to train their armies under British officers, there will be no lack of numbers & I do not see (if this is done) what there <is> to prevent us from seeking out the French, & beating them wherever we can find them.

I have obtained documents from Cadiz which had they arrived in time would have been of great value for the Register, [10]  – there is however this good reason why they did not come sooner – that they were not in existence. [11]  This years volume [12]  will be of more commodious bulk than the last, which will please <with the which> the proprietors <will have> at least as much as the public reason to be pleased as the public, & I shall have the most reason of all. – I have obtained a very interesting journal kept at B. Ayres down to the execution, or rather the murder of Liniers, [13]  – this is an English document [14]  – But my friends at Cadiz could not be more solicitous in procuring materials for me if they had a direct interest in the work. An officer who has published two parts of his Memoirs of the war in Catalonia, has sent me over the manuscript of the third, [15]  & I have a MS. account of the siege of Zaragoza by D Francisco Palafox. [16] 

Remember me to Mrs S. & believe me my dear Scott

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Edinburgh
Postmark: FE/ 1812/ 20
Watermark: IPING/ 1806
Endorsement: Southey/ 18 Feby. 1812
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3882. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 30–32. BACK

[1] Scott’s Vision of Don Roderick (1811), which covered similar territory to that in Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] The poet and linguist John Leyden (1775–1811; DNB) had travelled to Batavia to act as an interpreter when the Dutch territories in Java were occupied by British forces in 1811. He contracted fever and died on 28 August 1811. BACK

[3] Walter Savage Landor’s Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). BACK

[4] Orpas, Archbishop of Seville; and Sisibert, illegitimate son of Witiza (c. 687–710; Visigothic King of Hispania 694–710). Both were portrayed as leading Gothic renegades and collaborators with the invading Moors in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[5] Southey’s review of Count Julian appeared in Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 86–92. BACK

[6] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[7] The spirited resistance of the inhabitants of the Spanish city of Zaragoza to the French attacks of 1808 and 1809. BACK

[8] The Supreme Junta was the government of those parts of Spain not occupied by France in September 1808-January 1810. It was replaced by a five-person Council of Regency. BACK

[9] John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB), British general who had achieved a series of vital military victories during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). His most famous victory, Blenheim (1704), provided a backdrop to Southey’s anti-war poem ‘The Battle of Blenheim’ (1798). BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[11] Possibly a reference to Diario de las Discusiones y Actas de las Cortes, 1810–1813 (1811–1813), no. 3288 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[12] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[13] Jacques (Santiago) de Liniers (1753–1810), French officer in the Spanish military service and Viceroy of the Rio de la Plata 1807–1809. He was executed on 26 August 1810 after the disintegration of the pro-Spanish forces he had commanded against the May Revolution in Buenos Aires. BACK

[14] The merchant Thomas Kinder (c. 1781–1846) had spent some time in South America. Southey had borrowed Kinder’s unpublished journal of events in Buenos Ayres in 1808–1810 that led to the independence of the states of the Rio de la Plata. (In 1813 Southey had a copy made of the journal, no. 3162 in the sale catalogue of his library. The copy was published as, Malyn Newitt (ed.), War, Revolution and Society in the Rio de la Plata 1808–1810. Thomas Kinder’s Narrative of a Journey to Madeira, Montevideo and Buenos Ayres (2010).) For Southey’s account of the revolution in Buenos Ayres, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 395–421. BACK

[15] Francisco Xavier de Cabanes (1781–1834), Historia de las Operaciones des Exercito de Catalune en la Guerra de la Usurpacion (1809), all three volumes (two printed and one MS) were no. 3816 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[16] Jose Rebolledo de Palafox, Duke of Zaragoza (1780–1847), Governor of Zaragoza during its two sieges by the French in 1808–1809. The manuscript Southey describes was not in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)