2392. Robert Southey to Neville White, 18 March 1814

2392. Robert Southey to Neville White, 18 March 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, March 18. 1814.

My dear Neville,

I am afraid I have been silent for a longer time than has ever before passed without a letter since our communication began. How truly has it been said that the first twenty years of life are the longest part of it, let it be ever so long extended. Days, weeks, and months now pass away so rapidly and yet so imperceptibly, that I am scarcely sensible of the sum of time which has gone by, till some business stares me in the face which has been left undone.

It is not, however, from uniformity of happiness that time of late has passed so speedily with me. We have had ailments enough among the children to keep me perpetually anxious for the last eight or ten weeks. These are things which a man hardly understands till they have happened to himself, and even then some are affected more by them and some less; but it is one of the weak parts of my nature to feel them more perhaps than the occasion always justifies. I myself have had my share, though not a very heavy one, of the complaints which the unusual length and obstinacy of the winter scattered so plentifully in these parts. And though I have not been idle, and what I have done might be deemed a sufficient quantity for one who had less to do, the last four months have perhaps produced less than any former ones. I readily acknowledge that it may be fortunate for me to be under the necessity of continually bestirring my faculties in composition, otherwise the pleasure of acquiring knowledge, and continually supplying those deficiencies in my own acquirements, of which they who know most are most sensible in themselves, is so much more delightful than the act of communicating what I already know, that very probably I might fall into this kind of self-indulgence. My great poem will not be out before June. [1]  I am working hard at it. For the Quarterly I have done little, only Montgomery’s poem, [2]  and a little Moravian book about the Nicobar Islands. [3]  I shall be vexed if the former be either delayed or mutilated.

This evening’s newspaper brings great news. The old desire of my heart, – that of seeing peace dictated before the walls of Paris – seems about to be fulfilled. [4]  But what a dreadful business has this been at Bergen-op-Zoom! [5]  This is the consequence of Government deferring to popular opinion when founded upon false grounds. Graham was extolled and rewarded for the battle of Barrosa, [6]  – a battle which he ought not to have fought, and which was worse than useless. Government knew this, and felt concerning it as I am now expressing myself. Yet they of course were glad to raise a cry of success, and the Opposition joined it in extolling Graham for the sake of abusing the Spaniards; whereas, in truth, he was infinitely more in fault than La Peña. [7]  After the battle he never ought to have been trusted with command.

Believe me, my dear Neville,

Ever yours with the truest regard,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 61–63. BACK

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

[2] James Montgomery, The World Before the Flood (1813), in Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 79–87. BACK

[3] Johann Gottfried Haensel (1749–1814), Letters on the Nicobar Islands (1812), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 57–72. BACK

[4] The French defeat at Laon on 9–10 March 1814 had opened the way for the forces of the Sixth Coalition to occupy Paris, though this did not occur until 30 March 1814. BACK

[5] An English force under Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch (1748–1843; DNB) failed to capture Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands on March 8 1814, with a loss of 900 killed and wounded and 1800 prisoners. BACK

[6] Graham had defeated the French forces besieging Cadiz on 5 March 1811 at the Battle of Barrosa. This victory proved a significant boost to British morale, but had no wider strategic consequences. Southey disliked Graham both for his criticism of the Spanish army’s operations at Barrosa and his Whig opinions (he was MP for Perthshire 1794–1807). BACK

[7] General Manuel La Pena (fl. 1808–1811) commanded the Spanish forces at Barrosa and was widely blamed for his inactivity and failure to co-ordinate his actions with Graham. The incident caused considerable ill-feeling between the British and Spanish armies. BACK

People mentioned

Montgomery, James (1771–1854) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)