2101. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 27 May 1812

2101. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 27 May 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Wednesday May 27. 1812.

My dear Tom

You will see me, if no unforeseen cause should frustrate the intention about the first week in July, with Danvers. We shall make a march of it, seeing all the things seeables on the way, to Newcastle, cross the Tyne at Shields that I may make a pilgrimage to Jarrow in honour of the Venerable Bede, [1]  & thence to Sunderland. But we will arrange all this so that you may meet us at Durham. I shall leave Danvers either at Kendal or Lancaster on his way to back to Liverpool, – then taking the caves in my homeward route. – Danvers asks if there be any objection to David Jardine’s joining us in this expedition. Three upon a walk are better than two, – & at Durham there are inns to sleep at, – but how can <he> be lodged at St Helens? If you can answer the question favourably, it will save time by doing replying to Charles himself without delay.

My hopes were highly raised by a letter from the Consul at Bahia [2]  telling me the Directors of the Public Library [3]  had commissioned him to send me some Manuscripts. I consigned the parcel to my Uncle & they proved to be no manuscripts at all. The obligation on my part is the same, the & the Consuls blunder the only cause of disappointment. The contents were Anchietas Tupi Grammar, [4]  a book which I had despaired of ever obtaining, from its exceeding rarity, & O Valeroso Lucideno, [5]  – the same work which our Envoy Mr Stewart [6]  contrived so ingeniously to forward me by the post, – a very interesting book it is. The parcel came over with the dispatches, & was announced to me from the Secretary of States Office in a letter ‘on his Majesty’s service.” which might <have> frightened Sarah if she had been here. – I have had another very interesting communication since my last; – a letter from the Countess of Bureta, the Zaragozan, [7]  inclosing the copy of the last intelligence which she had received from that city, – & offering to me as the warm friend & historian of the Spaniards in their struggles any services in her power. I shall endeavour to collect materials for a full & separate account of the two sieges, thro this channel.

I should perhaps have told you all this sooner, but my mind has been opprest by Percevals death, [8]  & the dreadful state of the mob which it has disclosed. You know I am no aguish politician, xxxxxx form the despondency xxxxxxxxxxxxx but it is a d but I fear the happiest days of England are over: the abuse of liberty has uniformly been punished by with the loss of liberty, now the crime has been committed, & if we escape the penalty it will be contrary to the whole experience of history. In the rejoicings at Nottingham & in Cornwall, & in the attempt to rescue Bellingham, [9]  we see the effect which Cobbett & Hunt, & Burdett & the Common Council &c [10]  have produced upon the feelings of the English mob. The speeches of the Burdettites & the leading paragraphs of the demagogue newspapers are printed like dying speeches & sold in the manufacturing districts. – Every pot-house also is supplied with these <the Sunday papers – > doses of weekly poison: one reader serves for a xxx tap – room full of open mouthed xxx listeners, & the consequence is that at this moment the army is the single plank between us & destruction. We are on the brink of the most dreadful of all imaginable xxxx evils, – a war of the poor against the rich, of brute ignorance against every thing above its own degraded level. How long the army may be depended upon is a question which the Royal Dukes [11]  & the floggers [12]  may tremble to ask themselves.

Herries has at this time a letter of mine in his hands urging the necessity of winning the hearts of the soldiers, & recommending honorary distinction as one means, & another that a certain number of the oldest soldiers <in every company> employed in the storming C Rodrigo & Badajoz [13]  should have their discharge upon full pay, – or an increase if they chose to continue in the service: – & xxxxxx xxxxx I learn that my letter made an impression upon xxxx poor Percevals secretatries to whom it was shown, & Herries has taken it in the hope that it may do its work in higher quarters. But this is a distant good, – alterations xxxx are poor things to trust to in diseases which require the knife & the cautery.

This I feel assured of, that unless the licentiousness of the press is stopt, – there will soon be an end of its liberty. Were I in the H of Commons I would clear the hou gallery whenever Burdett rose, – if his speeches were published, I would punish the publication as a breach of privilege, – & if he spoke elsewhere I would teach <him> that this privilege of exciting rebellion did not x was confined to the walls of St Stephens. [14]  It is absurd to talk of his virtues, or his motives now. By the fruit we must judge of the tree, [15]  – & the mob who attempted to rescue an assassin, of them xx all that was known at that moment was that he had committed a most atrocious assassination – shouted cried Burdett for ever. As for Bellingham I do not con class him with these wretches who applauded him: the man had that in him which would have been greatness, if his mind <he> had not been insane. It was an insanity <however> which ought not to have exempted him from punishment.

In the manufacturing districts there is clearly a system as well laid as that of the United Irishmen  [16]  & carried on more dangerously, – because it is carried on by Englishmen. Ryder [17]  we is a man of <in> infirm health, – a nervous man, – & very unfit for his office in such times. I am told that the shock of Percevals death will kill him be fatal to him. – Poor Perceval breathed his last upon the green table in Rickmans H of Commons’-room! But to return to the Luddites [18]  – the danger is of the most imminent kind. I would hang about a score in a county, & send off ship-loads to B. Bay. [19]  & if there were no other means of cutting off there checking the treasonable practices which are carried on in the Sunday newspapers, I would suspend the Habeus Corpus. [20]  Cut off there Shut up these bellows-blowers, & the fire will <may perhaps> go out.

Here another danger stares us in the face. Perceval might have been trusted with that dictatorial power which is necessary to save the Commonwealth: – he held his power as much by the virtues as his ability. Alas he has left no successor. Lord Liverpool wants his reputation, – Ld Sidmouth [21]  & Vansittart [22]  (all good men) want his talents. – M. Wellesley is a vicious man & a tyrant at heart. – My fears are these – that let what will happen the liberties of England are in greater peril than they have ever have been <before,> – & that the alternative is whether we shall have a despotism, before a civil war – or after it. The proudest days of England are to come, but her happiest days – in my utmost heart I fear it – are over. We shall hav Even if this thunder-storm should pass away, – & with as atmosphere charged like that of Padalon [23]  itself – I do not see how it is can pass without an explosion, – still I see great evil in store. We shall have a glorious & triumphant war. But M Wellesley will not hesitate at national bankruptcy, – & Catholic concessions will draw on the sale of tythes. that is in other words the plunder of the Church property to relieve the necessities of the state. A revolution in the religion of a country produces more evil than a century is sufficient to allay. – The sale of the tythes leads immediately to putting up the Establishment for the lowest bidder, – a measure of course, when it is to be paid by the Government. The Methodists then come in; & the reign of the Saints xxx led to the reign of the Sinners in days when there was more virtue & more wisdom than in England than can be found among us now [24]  – What is the end of all this? – the best I can hope for myself is, that Portugal may be a freer country, when I shall find it necessary to leave my own shake off the dust of my own.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ Captain Southey. R.N./ St Helens/ Auckland/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 271–275 [misdated 12 May 1812]. BACK

[1] The Venerable Bede (673/4–735; DNB), monk, historian and theologian, who spent most of his life in the monastic community at Jarrow, in North East England. BACK

[2] The diplomat Frederick Lindeman (dates unknown), who had taken up his post at Bahia in 1810. BACK

[3] Pedro Gomes Ferrao Castelo Branco (dates unknown), Director of the Public Library in Bahia founded in 1811. BACK

[4] Southey had been sent a copy of José de Anchieta (1534–1597), Arte de Grammatica da Lingoa mais Usada na Costa do Brasil (1595). This was no. 1530 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, inscribed by him: ‘This singularly rare and curious book was sent to me from the Public Library of Bahia de Todos, or Santos, by desire of the Conde des Arcos, then Governor of that Captaincy.’ The book was a grammar of the Tupi language, widely-spoken in coastal Brazil when the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century. BACK

[5] Manuel Calado (1584–1654), Valeroso Lucideno e o Triunfo da Liberdade (1648), a first-hand account of Brazil during the period of Dutch rule. BACK

[6] Charles Stuart, Baron Stuart de Rothesay (1779–1845; DNB), envoy at Lisbon 1810–1814. BACK

[7] María de la Consolación Azlor y Villavicencio (1775–1814), a Spanish aristocrat who took an active role in the two sieges of Zaragoza in 1808–1809. BACK

[8] Spencer Perceval was assassinated on 11 May 1812. BACK

[9] John Bellingham (c. 1769–1812; DNB), the assassin of Spencer Perceval. When he was hanged on 18 May 1812 the crowd was largely favourable to him. BACK

[10] All the radicals whom Southey disliked: William Cobbett; Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB); Sir Francis Burdett; and the Court of Common Council of the City of London, which was dominated by radicals. BACK

[11] The brothers: Frederick, Duke of York (1763–1827; DNB); William, Duke of Clarence (1765–1837; King of the United Kingdom as William IV 1830–1837; DNB); Edward, Duke of Kent (1767–1820; DNB); Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, 1771–1851; DNB); Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773–1843; DNB); Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774–1850; DNB). The cost of their upkeep and the disreputable nature of their private lives made them unpopular. BACK

[12] Flogging in the British Army was extremely controversial and much-denounced by radicals. BACK

[13] Ciudad Rodrigo was stormed on the night of 19–20 January 1812; Badajoz on 6 April 1812. BACK

[14] St Stephen’s Chapel, in the Palace of Westminster, was the meeting-place of the House of Commons. BACK

[15] Matthew, 7: 16. BACK

[16] The United Irishmen were the revolutionary organisation responsible for the Irish rising of 1798. BACK

[17] The Tory politician Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby (1762–1847; DNB). A Pittite loyalist and member of Perceval’s cabinet, he became Lord President of the Council on the formation of Lord Liverpool’s ministry in June 1812. He had suffered a serious head injury after a fall at the Foreign Office in 1804 and was known to suffer from nervous problems. In 1805 he had asked to be recalled from a mission to Berlin to forge a new continental alliance against France. BACK

[18] The Luddites smashed textile machinery that they saw as a threat to their livelihoods. The movement was based in the East Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire. BACK

[19] The convict settlement at Botany Bay in New South Wales, founded in 1788. BACK

[20] The legal principle that people cannot be detained without charge. BACK

[21] The former Prime Minister, Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), who became Home Secretary later in 1812. BACK

[22] Nicolas Vansittart, 1st Baron Bexley (1766–1851; DNB), who became Chancellor of the Exchequer on 20 May 1812. BACK

[23] The land of the dead in Southey’s Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[24] Southey is referring to the common idea that the Puritan Commonwealth of 1649–1660 was succeeded by (and led to) the licentiousness of the Restoration period. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)