2278. Robert Southey to John Murray, 9 July 1813

2278. Robert Southey to John Murray, 9 July 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. July 9. 1813.

My dear Sir

I should sooner have expressed my own thanks & those of Mrs Southey for Nelson in his full dress, [1]  if my house had not been in a melancholy state when the books arrived, & for some days afterwards. My wife’s brother, who came here at Christmas with the intention of staying a few weeks, was then very near the end of a long & fatal illness.

The general sort of dislocation which a long sickness produces in a family, with the perpetual sense of anxiety & discomfort attending it, had for weeks or indeed for months rendered me very little adequate to serious efforts of composition, – I should else have been in London ere this. You will see me I think in about three weeks.

Meantime I think the sooner it can be announced that I am employed upon the history of the war, [2]  the better; – for this is a fit season to announce it, & if my intention be made public it may probably prevent Stanier Clarke from laying irreverend hands upon a subject, which, as Historiographer he is very likely to think his consider his own. [3]  I am much inclined to think that this is one of those works which might appear at first with advantage in a splendid form, – with portraits & views as well as plans. In that case the plea of large paper copies & first impressions would remove any objections I might should otherwise feel to a xxx list of subscribers, – & the names with which you could begin the list would draw others after them, & probably secure a greater first crop than could else be calculated upon. This is a matter which you must understand far better than I possibly can do. But I am the more induced to mention it as worthy of consideration, because Sharp to whom I was xx speaking of my undertaking yesterday, suggested the same thing.

Was there ever such a book as Clarksons life of Wm Penn! [4]  I received a copy from him while yours was on the road, & really in respect to Clarkson, as a man whom to <whom> for public respect as well as individual regard I would not for the world give the slightest pain, – it is best to leave his volumes unnoticed, – tho I dare say he reckons in full confidence upon a favourable report at my hands. If I could make a life of Wm Penn [5]  that would be in xx any degree interesting, the better way would be so to do, & to avoid all criticism, – but it must needs be a dull task, & I fear it would prove an invidious one, – for I should have to xx show that Penn was only a good man of considerable talents for business, & little talent for any thing else; – & that his name has become conspicuous in history, almost by mere accident, – certainly not by any greatness or merit of his own. He was a Quaker who being rich by inheritance, vested his property in colonial speculations – those speculations happened to succeed, – & he being xx Quaker necessarily framed his settlement upon the principles of his sect. – I knew he was a mere Quaker in literature, but like the multitude I had given him credit for being a great man till Clarkson undeceived me. – Such is my feeling upon the subject. Nevertheless if it must be reviewed I will do what I can, & serve him <it> as we do a calf’s or a cods head, – conceal its inspiditty by the xxx xxxx <aid> of the sauce.

I have written to Cadiz, to Coruña & to Lisbon, & opened fresh channels of information. Here in England Herries has offered all the assistance his office can furnish, which is considerable. Mr [MS torn] made no doubt of Marquis Wellesley’s willingness to assist us, – but I should be glad of a direct assurance of this, for the use of which I could make of it abroad. – The battle of Vittoria [6]  is what I did not expect: there is yet much to do, but Lord Wellington will do it, – & this campaign will according to all probability clear the peninsula. Barcelona has always been victualled with great difficulty & cannot xxx hold out against a long blockade; – that once recovered & the work is done. – I hope Mur Sir J Murray has not been too rash at Tarragona; [7] but be that as it may xx we are now masters of the field, & the fortresses must fall unless it were possible for the enemy to recover their superiority. Even a contintental peace would not do that xxx effect that for them when we are so near the passes as in reality to be masters of them,

believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Albemarle Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 12 JY 12/ 1813
Seal: black wax ‘S’ and motto
Watermark: C WILMOTT/ 1807
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 60-62. BACK

[1] i.e. a copy of The Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[2] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] James Stanier Clarke (1765?-1834; DNB). Southey, who had canvassed for the post, disliked Clarke and resented his appointment as Historiographer Royal. BACK

[4] Thomas Clarkson, Memoirs of the Private and Public Life of William Penn (1813). Southey did not review it for the Quarterly. BACK

[5] William Penn (1644–1718; DNB), Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania. BACK

[6] The allied defeat of the French at Vittoria, 21 June 1813, paved the way for eventual victory in the Peninsular war. BACK

[7] In June 1813 Lieutenant General John Murray, 8th Baronet (1768?-1827; DNB), despite having superior numbers, failed to capture the Spanish port of Tarragona. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)