3767. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 19 December 1821

3767. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 19 December 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 19 Dec. 1821.

At last I have received the books, [1]  a rich cargo, in which I shall find much to amuse & not a little to profit by. As yet I have only had time to catalogue them, & look into them as this was done. In so doing I saw that you had given a Jesuit the lie for what he said of the cause of the Irish rebellion. [2]  A lying Jesuit he is, – but in this instance the falsehood is merely chronological. The Long Parliament past a decree forbidding all persons to bow at the name of Jesus; [3]  – Sir Edward Deering made a very eloquent speech upon the occasion, which I shall send you ere long in the little sketch of our Church history with which I am preparing. [4]  This decree was subsequent to the Irish Massacre. The fact which the Jesuit might have dwelt upon with advantage is, that the intolerance of the Parliament, seeking to enforce the penalty of death against recusant Priests, when Charles, like his father, was inclined to toleration, gave a pretext for the rebellion, & furnished those who instigated it with means for alarming & enraging the populace. [5] 

I shall send your letter to Wordsworth, who will I am sure be much gratified at seeing what you say of him. [6]  His merits are every day more widely acknowledged, in spite of the Duncery, in spite of the personal malignity with which he is assailed, & in spite of his injudicious imitators, who are the worst of all enemies. He is composing at this time a series of sonnets upon the religious history of this country, – marvellously fine they are. [7]  At the same time, I not knowing his intention, & he not being aware of mine, I have been treating the same subject in prose, – so that my volume [8]  will serve as a commentary upon his. Mine will go to the press almost immediately, & I hope to send you both with the first volume of the Peninsular War, [9]  early in the spring. Let me have a direction for this purpose. I have also a good intention of having the Tale of Paraguay [10]  ready for the same conveyance.

Nothing can be more mournful than the course of events abroad. All that the Spanish Americans wanted they would have obtained now in the course of events without a struggle, if they had waited quietly, & observed the progress a free trade could not, from the first, have been refused them, nor any internal regulations which they thought good, – & now the separation would have taken place as a matter unavoidably. As it is it has cost twelve years of crimes & misery. [11]  – It is a most interesting part of the world for its natural features, for what we know of its history, & for what we do not, – how some parts should have attained to so high & curious a state of civilization, & how the greater part of its inhabitants should have sunk so compleatly into savages. I will send you in the next package Humboldts Travels, [12]  as far as they are published. He is among travellers what Wordsworth is among poets; The extent of his knowledge & the perfect command which he has of it, are truly surprizing, – & with this he unites a painters eye & a poets feeling.

I have read with all the attention in my power, what you say against a House of Lords. [13]  Perhaps the most difficult of all things is to establish a free Government among a people altogether unused to freedom; & if they are (as in France & Italy) a corrupt people, the difficulty becomes still greater. Where you have a representative government, two Houses have at least the appearance advantage of interposing delay in time of popular excitement, they afford something more than an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. [14]  The House of Lords since its cowardly conduct in the Queens business [15]  (which indicated the same want of fibre that proved fatal to in Ch the days of the Long Parliament) [16]  has performed the service of stopping the question of Catholic Emancipation after it had past the Commons. [17]  This is the most important act that it has ever performed. For the sure consequences of that Emancipation would be a religious war in Ireland upon the demand for a dominant xx Catholic establishment (which is the next step,) – & in England the repeal of the test act, [18]  the intrusion of the Dissenters into all corporations, their predominacy in all town elections, where the election is not purely popular, – the sale of the Tithes, & so in sure progress thro the overthrow of the Church establishment, to general anarchy & spoliation.

Of Italian nobility I would take your opinion without hesitation, knowing nothing of them myself. But in Spain & Portugal I would have had a House of Peers, were it only in respect to great names & those heroic remembrances which are the strength & glory of a nation. [19]  The nobles were for the most part deplorably degenerate; – but as a bad spirit had degraded; a better one would improve the next generation; & I would demolish nothing but what is injurious. – My fear is that they will demolish every thing, & this fear I have felt from the beginning. Deeply therefore as I detested the old misrule, I did not rejoice in the Spanish & Portugueze revolutions. In Portugal I wished for a great minister, – such as Pombal [20]  would have been in these times; – in Spain, for a court revolution which should have sent Ferdinand to a monastery, & established a vigorous ministry under his brothers name, by whom the reforms which the country needed might have been steadily but gradually effected. [21]  I entirely agree with you that old monarchical states cannot be made republican, – nor new colonial ones be made monarchical.

Sir C. Wolseley has not published your letter, – in which he has done wisely, being I suppose sensible how unwarrantably he had introduced your name. [22]  Since the disappearance of the Queens-fever, this country has been unusually calm; little is heard of distress & less of disaffection. Of the latter we shall hear plentifully, when the bills of restriction are expired, [23]  & of the former also when it shall be found (as it will be) that the renewed activity of our manufacturers will have again glutted the South American markets.

My family are well thank God, & my little boy thriving, & promising as heart could wish. I should like to see yours, – & I dream of so doing at some undefined time when leisures & means may be in my power.

God bless you –



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Florence/ Italy
Postmarks: PAID/ 25 DE 25/ 182; [illegible]
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 37. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 105–107 [in part]; John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 494–495 [in part]; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 230–232. BACK

[1] Landor had sent Southey a present of sixty books from Italy; see Southey to Herbert Hill, 8 December 1821, Letter 3755. BACK

[2] An unidentified reference to the Irish rebellion of 1641. The rising began on 23 October 1641; it was an attempt by a group of Catholic landowners to seize control of the administration of Ireland. BACK

[3] It is Southey whose chronology is muddled here. The House of Commons of the Long Parliament, elected in 1640, had issued a Declaration on 8 September 1641 against what it regarded as ‘Innovations’ in the form of worship in the Church of England, including ‘all corporal bowing at the name of Jesus, or towards the east-end of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel, or towards the Communion-table’. The House of Lords refused to agree to this Declaration, but the Commons ordered its publication anyway. BACK

[4] Sir Edward Dering (1598–1644; DNB), antiquary and politician. He was a Parliamentarian, who switched to the Royalist side after his A Collection of Speeches Made by Sir E. Dering on Matters of Religion (1642) was ordered by parliament to be burnt, and he was briefly imprisoned on 4 February 1642. Southey quoted at length from Dering’s speech against the banning of bowing at the name of Jesus in The Book of the Church, 2 vols (London, 1824), II, pp. 372–374. BACK

[5] The Act Against Jesuits and Seminarists (1585) made it illegal for Catholic priests to operate in England, and they could be sentenced to death for high treason if discovered. However, only seven Catholic priests were executed in the reign of James I (1566–1625; King of Great Britain 1603–1625; DNB). Only two were executed in the reign of his son, Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB), before the election of the Long Parliament in 1640, but about twenty Catholic priests were executed under Parliamentary rule in 1641–1647. BACK

[6] In a letter of 12 March 1821 Landor had informed Southey that he had written a Latin essay on poetry, which included a tribute to Wordsworth’s influence on him; see John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 474. BACK

[7] Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822). BACK

[8] Southey’s The Book of the Church (1824). BACK

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

[10] A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[11] The French invasion of Spain in 1808 had severed many of the mother country’s links with its Latin American colonies and, from 1810 onwards, a series of conflicts had been waged to secure the colonies’ independence from Spain. BACK

[12] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent During the Years 1799–1804 (1814–1826). The fifth of six volumes had just been published. BACK

[13] In his letter of 12 March 1821 Landor had informed Southey that he had written ‘three orations’ against foreign intervention in Italy to suppress liberal constitutionalism, including ‘the inexpediency, not to say impossibility, of forming a house of lords’; see John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 473. The constitution enacted in Naples in 1820 was based on the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and did not provide for a House of Lords, unlike the constitution adopted, under British influence, in the Sicilian part of the kingdom in 1812 and abolished by the monarchy in 1814. BACK

[14] An appeal to somebody in authority to reverse an unfavourable decision; based on a proverbial saying, drawn from an incident in the life of Philip II (382–336 BC; King of Macedon 359–336 BC), when a poor woman asked to appeal a judgement of the king’s from ‘Philip drunk to Philip sober’. The story is told in Valerius Maximus (1st century AD), Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, Book 6, Chapter 2, line 1. BACK

[15] On 10 November 1820, the House of Lords had passed the Third Reading of the Bill of Pains and Penalties, which would have deprived Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB) of the title of Queen and dissolved her marriage to the King, by only nine votes. As a result it had become clear that the Bill could not pass the House of Commons and it was withdrawn by the government. BACK

[16] The House of Lords failed to effectively oppose those in the Commons who wished to wrest control of government from Charles I; the upper house was finally abolished by the House of Commons in 1649. BACK

[17] A Catholic Relief Bill had passed the House of Commons, but was heavily defeated in the House of Lords on 17 April 1821. BACK

[18] The Test Act (1673) ensured only members of the Church of England could hold public office. BACK

[19] An army revolt in Spain in January 1820 led to the re-establishment of the liberal Constitution of 1812 in March 1820. It did not contain a House of Lords. An army revolt in Portugal in August 1820 led to the election of a Cortes in December 1820 and demands that the monarchy return from Brazil, where it had fled in 1807–1808 following the French invasion. John VI (1767–1826; King of Portugal 1816–1826) arrived back in Lisbon on 3 July 1821 and eventually agreed to a new liberal Constitution in October 1822. This Constitution resembled the Spanish Constitution of 1812, including the absence of a House of Lords. BACK

[20] Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquess of Pombal (1699–1782), Prime Minister of Portugal 1750–1777. BACK

[21] Southey had hoped that Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808 and 1813–1833), whom he detested, would be declared unfit to rule and replaced by a regime led by his younger brother and heir, Charles, Count of Molina (1788–1855). As Charles was even more reactionary than Ferdinand, it was a forlorn hope that such an arrangement would provide a peaceful path to reform. BACK

[22] Sir Charles Wolseley, 7th Baronet (1769–1846; DNB), radical politician. Wolseley had published a letter in The Times, 11 October 1820, noting his acquaintance with Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB) when she lived at Como in 1817 and stating he could obtain information ‘that no Englishman but myself and a Mr. Walter Landon, who is now in Italy, can have the opportunity of knowing’. Southey saw the letter and transcribed it for Landor; see Southey to Landor, 29 October 1820, Letter 3547. Landor responded by sending a letter to The Times. He also asked Southey to get the same letter into the Courier; John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 466–467. The Times published Landor’s letter on 4 December 1820; in it he insisted ‘whatever I may have heard relating to the Queen, I know nothing positive, and never made a single inquiry that either could inculpate or acquit her in the cause now pending’. Southey did not send the letter to the Courier. The passage in this letter suggests Landor may have also written directly to Wolseley. BACK

[23] The government had introduced the ‘Six Acts’ in 1819 to repress radical protest. Some were only to last for a fixed term; for example, the Seizure of Arms Act expired in 1822 and the Seditious Meetings Act in 1824. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)