3230. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 3 January 1819

3230. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 3 January 1819 ⁠* 

I procrastinated my intended letter too long, till upon the belief that you would have left Como, I knew not where to direct, – & Senhouse whom I desired to obtain your address from your brother Robert, has not written to me. – Therefore I was doubly glad to receive yours from Pisa. It came in eighteen days. – My house was purchased by a silversmith in Cockspur Street, a native of Borrodale here; [1]  – an injunction against the sale was obtained in favour of the widow of a former owner; [2]  the matter is in Chancery; the actual Landlord is in Carlisle jail, & I am paying rent to a mortgagee. [3]  Disturbed in possession of the house I cannot be for twelve years to come; & as long as there is any litigation I am in no danger of being annoyed by cutting up the grounds. Unless some such annoyance should drive me away, in all likelihood I shall be settled here for life. This is the sixteenth year of my residence, – & tho there are some local objections, & some inconvenience in the distance from London, I know not where I could pitch my tent to more to my satisfaction. A better climate is not to be had without going out of England, – & that cannot be done because of my pursuits, my books & my family.

I was quite certain that you would appreciate Wordsworth justly. Nations you say are never proud of living genius. They are proud of it only as far as they understand it, & the majority being incapable of understanding it, can never admire it, till they take it upon trust, – so that two or three generations must pass before the public affect to admire such poets as Milton [4]  & Wordsworth. – Of such men the world scarcely produces one in a millennium – has it indeed ever produced more than two? for Shakespere [5]  is of a different class. But of all inferior degrees of poets no age & no country was ever so prolific as our own, every season produces some half dozen poems, not one of which obtains the slightest attention, & any one of which would have the author celebrated above all his contemporaries five & twenty years ago.

Let me know your movements, & how I may direct a parcel to you in May, by which time the concluding volume of Brazil will be finished, & the life of Wesley, [6]  – & I will put in some thing else to make them the better worth their freight. The history <former> contains much curious matter, concerning stages of society which have hitherto obtained little notice, but are important links in our knowledge of the history of man & of society. The life of Wesley [7]  is full of extraordinary facts, & will carry you into a world as little like the one with which you are conversant as if it were another planet.

Since I returned from the continent [8]  I have never been farther from home than Rydale. I have been working on at these works, with my usual summer & autumnal interruptions, – & the usual expenditure of time for the Q Review. The verses which I have written are so few that they do not deserve to be mentioned. [9]  As soon as these works are thro the press I go to London, & put to press the history of the Peninsular War, of which good part is ready. [10]  I suppose we shall hear of a cabinet resolution from that poor country. [11]  Any thing I do not expect, nor do I know what to wish for, where any change will too probably be but a change of evils. Some arrangement like that at Lisbon when Affonso 6. was set aside for incapacity, is the most likely catastrophe, & the one which would produce least mischief. [12]  – Look where we will thro the civilized world, the materials for explosion seem ready; – & this is no chearful exhilarating xx consideration for one who has lived long enough to know that order is the first thing needful in society. Here in England a fair harvest & a flourishing trade give us a surface of tranquillity. But all our institutions civil & religious, – nay & whatever is sacred in public or in private life, – are continually attacked by the press in every shape, – by sapping & mining, & by battering in breach. On the other hand there are powerful counteracting causes at work, & in the struggle between good & evil, the destructive & conservative principles, which this literally is, my faith & my constitution are alike on the hopeful side.

[MS missing] you have seen enough of Italy I think you will be [MS missing] disposed to tarry awhile in Switzerland than in any [MS missing] part of the continent; – if you can forgive them for speaking French. An Englishman feels more at home among the Swiss than with [MS missing] other people, – the religion & their domestic character are more like what he has been accustomed to. And he feels that he is breathing free air, – which is a blessed thing. I should hesitate between Bern & Lausanne. – Perhaps I may see you before you leave Italy. I dream of seeing Rome before I die, – & should I live to carry the Peninsular War thro the Press (the work of two years from this time) I should endeavour to lay my plans so as to enter Italy by way of the South of France late in the autumn, & leave it in the spring by way of the Tyrol. It is but a dream, – but one of those dreams which bring about their own accomplishment.

God bless you with many & happy years


Keswick. 3d. Jany. 1819.


* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Pisa/ Italy
Postmarks: [partial] PAID/ 6/ 1819; F/ 6 9/ 19; 22 GENNAIO
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 31. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 108–111. BACK

[1] Greta Hall, of which Southey was the tenant, was sold in June 1817 to Isaac Fisher (c. 1773–1819), a member of a Borrowdale farming family and a gold and silversmith in Cockspur Street, London. However, legal complications arising from the previous landlord’s debts had halted the purchase. BACK

[2] Possibly the widow of Joseph Jackson (d. 1815), Rector of Lowick (1797–1815), who had inherited the ownership of Greta Hall from his brother, William Jackson. BACK

[3] Samuel Tolson, Jnr (dates unknown) had been committed to Carlisle jail for debt in April 1817, but he eventually retained his ownership of Greta Hall. BACK

[4] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB). BACK

[5] William Shakespeare (1564–1616; DNB). BACK

[6] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819), and his two-volume The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[7] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), founder of Methodism. BACK

[8] i.e. since Southey’s return from his European tour in August 1817. BACK

[9] They included Southey’s task work as Poet Laureate, the New Year’s odes for 1818 and 1819; respectively, ‘Funeral Song for the Princess Charlotte’ and ‘Ode on the Death of Queen Charlotte’. Neither had been published by this time; the former eventually appeared in Friendship’s Offering: A Literary Album and Christmas and New Year’s Present, for 1828 (London, 1828), pp. 1–6, and the latter in Friendship’s Offering and Winter’s Wreath: a Literary Album, and Christmas and New Year’s Present for MDCCCXXIX (London, 1829), pp. 106–108. BACK

[10] The History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832); for this Southey made extensive use of the essays on the Peninsular campaign that he had contributed to the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 to 1811 (1810–1813). BACK

[11] Frequent changes of government were commonplace under the absolutist rule of Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833); at this time Carlos Martínez de Irujo y Tacón, 1st Marquis of Casa Irujo (1763–1834) was briefly Acting First Secretary of State (1818–1819). BACK

[12] In 1667 the Portuguese monarch Afonso VI (1643–1683; King of Portugal 1656–1683) had been made to sign over his powers to his brother, Pedro II (1648–1706; King of Portugal 1683–1706), who became Regent. Southey thought that something similar might take place in Spain, and that the king, Ferdinand VII, whom he detested, would be declared unfit to rule and replaced by a regency led by one of his younger brothers, Charles, Count of Molina (1788–1855) or Francisco, Duke of Cadiz (1794–1865). This did not happen. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 2 times)
Rydal Mount (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)