2209. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 22 January 1813

2209. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 22 January 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 22. 1813.

My dear Sir

I have been very desirous of thanking you & Mrs Peachy for some excellent brawn, & for want of any certain direction was about to address my letter x to Bury, with a sort of roving-commission upon the cover, by virtue of which it might have hunted you out; – when luckily the desired information has reached me thro a very unexpected channel. On Monday I met Calvert at Lord Sunderlin’s, & he had heard of you from Mr Spence. [1]  I should have written the next day, but delayed it till this evening that I might give you some account of our Keswick gaieties in the preter perfect tense, rather than in the future, – for yesterday we had a grand entertainment at Derwent Bank.

Lord Sunderlin to lighten a few of the weary hours which his poor sister [2]  passes, caught hold of the players on his return from Ireland, just as they were packing off from a most unsuccessful campaign in this little town. The drawing room which had luckily in the Pocklington fashion [3]  a door at either end, – & more luckily still a back-stairs communication, made a better theatre, than any of the alehouses or barns in the country could have supplied. They had respectable scenery, & Miss Barker ornamented the room with festoons of evergreens & artificial flowers, which had a very beautiful effect pleasing effect. Ours you know xx is but a scanty neighbourhood at all times, – the good-natured old Lord however invited every person with whom he had any xxxx intercourse, – & we mustered about fifty persons besides some dozen or score of children to see Romeo & Juliet & No Song No Supper. [4]  Romeo was the best bad actor I ever saw, – that is he was the very worst, & in these cases you know the worse the better. To add to his other accomplishments, the compa he had indulged a little too freely in my Lords kitchen, & was in liquor as well as in love. The company were in good humour & the players, never perhaps before having been either so well paid or so well fed were in high spirits. – The upstairs entertainment concluded with God save the King in full chorus. We then went down to a cold supper – which did honour to the good things of Ireland, & to Ld S’s good housekeeper, – who it seems when he was setting out from for England stuffed his carriage so full of good things, that she hardly left room for himself. There were two long tables in the dining room, – the children had their feast in the room within (Lord S’s bed-chamber) – & the players & servants made merry the while in the kitchen. We broke up about one o clock.

This has been a great event in our little circle. The few other events which have taken place in Keswick since your departure are of a different character. First – as what concerns me most nearly, – our chickens were all stolen one night “at one fell swoop”. [5]  – The Whitehaven mail has been robbed, – the Maryport post-boy shot at; – a xxxxx xxxx <house> has been broken open in the town, & two others at Ambleside, – but happily a gang has been apprehended, to whom these burglaries are imputed. We have had riots about the passage of corn from Cockermouth southwards, [6]  – women & boys were the ostensible ringleaders; – but there has been something very like a Luddite spirit [7]  at the bottom of this, originating half in mistake & half in mischief – & leading to every kind of evil. Calvert behaved very well upon the occasion his property was threatened, & some hints of a bloodier xxxxxxxxx <nature> were scattered abroad, – but he showed a proper spirit, such indeed that if he had half a dozen as in case of necessity would do wonders. At present all is quiet, & has been so for some weeks. The examples at York, [8]  the proclamation, [9]  & above all, the prospect of deliverance which has opened upon Europe, & the effects of which must be instantly felt in our manufactories, – will it is to be hop[MS torn] keep peace at home. And soon I trust we shall set thoroughly to [MS torn] about a radical reform – of the lower classes.

You will see a paper of mine in the next Quarterly upon this subject. It enters into the moral & political state of the populace, & draws a faithful picture, which I shall be very sorry if any misjudging timidity should weaken or suppress. [10]  In the last number I reviewed the Calamities of Authors. [11] 

Have you seen Rokeby yet? [12]  I enjoyed it the more from having so recently trod over the ground.

I have letters from Cadiz to day, which tell me that Ballasteros acted not so much from his own erroneous judgement, as at the instigation of evil counsellors; [13]  & which make a melancholy distinction between the character of the soldiers & the officers, – the former like the peasantry of Portugal, patient hardy & patriotic, – the latter like the verminous race whom Costigan [14]  describes, & of whom you have seen something, – idle, dissolute & worthless. The Cortes have made an unhappy experiment at Constitution-making, [15]  whereas the simple adoption of two of our blessings would have conferred more benefit upon the people than any thing that all the Constitution-makers from Locke [16]  to these Diputados could have devised among them; – Trial by Jury, & the Habeus Corpus, [17]  – one to secure the freedom of the press, the other the freedom of the subject. Salvation however seems to be coming from the North, & Spain may ere long be left to ferment & purify itself at leisure. Of her establishing her independence I should have no doubt, even if Buonaparte were now what he was in July last; but of her internal settlement I think with heavier feelings: Popery has destroyed the morals of the people, & it is in vain to form fine governments for those who are corrupted.

What a change have the last few months produced! [18]  Surely we have seen the fourth act of the Tragedy of Buonaparte. I look to see the whole North of Germany throw off the yoke; – & expect a catastrophe as sudden as the elevation of this monster, & as aweful as his guilt.

Our Ladies [19]  join me in kind remembrances to yourself & Mrs Peachy.

believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly,

Robert Southey.


* Address: To / Colonel Peachy/ Bath.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 44–46. BACK

[1] Henry Spence (dates unknown), the builder of ‘Pigmy Hall’ near Keswick. BACK

[2] Henrietta Malone (c. 1745–1824). BACK

[3] i.e. in the fashion of the eccentric Joseph Pocklington (1736–1817). Son of a wealthy Nottinghamshire banker, Pocklington moved to the Lake District, where he built a number of unique houses, including one on Derwent (Vicar’s) Island, on Derwentwater, near Keswick. BACK

[4] A light opera first performed in 1790: music by Stephen Storace (1762–1796; DNB), libretto by Prince Hoare (1755–1834; DNB). BACK

[5] Macbeth, Act 4, scene 3, lines 218–219, ‘What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam,/At one fell swoop?’ BACK

[6] Possibly a reference to the disturbances in Carlisle on 6 April 1812. One woman was killed when soldiers opened fire. BACK

[7] The Luddites were a movement that smashed textile machinery, believing that it threatened employment. It was based in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire. BACK

[8] Fourteen Luddites were hanged at York on 16 January 1813. BACK

[9] A Proclamation on 19 January 1813 offered a pardon to all Luddites who surrendered to local magistrates before 1 March 1813, confessed their activities and took the Oath of Allegiance. BACK

[10] In the first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. It was republished in an expanded, retitled form as ‘On the State of the Poor, the Principle of Mr. Malthus’ Essay on Population, and the Manufacturing System’ in Southey’s Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols (London, 1832), I, pp. 75–155. BACK

[11] Isaac D’Israeli, Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 93–114. BACK

[12] Scott’s Rokeby: A Poem (1813), set during the civil war of the seventeenth century. Southey had visited Yorkshire, where a good deal of the poem is set in the summer of 1812. BACK

[13] Francisco Ballasteros (1770–1832) had led a mutiny in the Spanish army on 12 October 1812, in protest at the decision to accept Wellington as supreme commander. He was defeated and imprisoned. BACK

[14] Arthur William Costigan (fl. 1778–1814), Sketches of Society and Manners in Portugal: in a Series of Letters (1787). BACK

[15] The Cadiz Cortes had adopted the liberal Constitution of 1812. BACK

[16] John Locke (1632–1704; DNB), Two Treatises of Government (1689). BACK

[17] The legal principle that nobody should be imprisoned without being charged and brought to trial. BACK

[18] i.e. the defeat of the French army in Russia in 1812. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)
Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)