3717. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton [fragment], 22 August 1821

3717. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton [fragment], 22 August 1821 ⁠* 

Keswick, 22nd August, 1821.

I like your specimen [1]  in everything, except in its praise of Bertrand. A man does not deserve to be praised for constant worth whose merit consists in fidelity to a wicked master. [2]  If this is to be admitted as virtue, the devil may have his saints and martyrs. No man of worth could have adhered to Buonaparte after the murder of the Duc D’Enghien, [3]  and after his conduct to Portugal and Spain. I say nothing of former atrocities, because, before they were confessed by Buonaparte himself, they were denied, and might have been deemed doubtful; but these crimes were public and notorious, and not to be extenuated, not to be forgotten, not to be forgiven.

I notice only one line in which the meaning is ambiguously expressed – “Thy power man’s strength alone;” – perhaps I might not have noticed it if the want of perspicuity did not arise in part from a licence which I detected myself in committing this morning – the use of alone instead of only. What you mean to say, is, that man’s only strength is thy power; but as the words now stand they may convey an opposite meaning. [4] 


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849)
Previously published: Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849), p. 122 [where it is prefaced with the following: ‘On receiving from Mr. Barton a MS. specimen, and afterwards the printed volume, of his “Napoleon”’]. BACK

[1] Barton had sent a manuscript of his ‘Napoleon’, published in Napoleon and Other Poems (London, 1822), pp. 1–62. BACK

[2] The French commander Henri Gatien, Comte Bertrand (1773–1844), whose loyalty to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815) included accompanying him to exile on Elba in 1814 and St Helena in 1815, is not praised in the published text, suggesting that Barton acted on Southey’s criticism. BACK

[3] Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d’Enghien (1772–1804). A relative of the Bourbons, he took a prominent part in campaigns by French émigrés against the revolutionary government. In March 1804 he was kidnapped from his home in Germany and convicted by a French military tribunal of involvement in a recent royalist plot, even though the French government knew he was innocent of the charges. He was shot on 21 March 1804. BACK

[4] Neither Barton’s original phrase nor Southey’s emendation is in the published volume. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)