1550. Robert Southey to Thomas Smith, 5 December 1808

1550. Robert Southey to Thomas Smith, 5 December 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. Dec. 5. 1808.

My dear Sir

I should send you this prospectus [1]  with great pleasure, were it not for certain doubts & fears as to the regularity & perseverance with which the work will be carried on. Ability there is an abundance, but for stability I dare not be a voucher. That Coleridges head is full every body knows. & I know that his common place books are full also; – if he has but the resolution to arrange them & put his scattered materials <fragments> in order. there will be no lack of materials, [MS torn]atever he will do, will be of the best very best order, – no man living is so capable of instructing [MS torn]blic, & if he puts his design in execution it will be doing great food at a seasonable time.

You will wish me to say something about that country of which we are all thinking, & for which so many are fearing & desponding. I have no fears for Spain. Great reverses we must hear of, Bonaparte at Madrid, [2]  probably at Lisbon, – but not master of Spain, – never – never – never. If there is any nation under heaven whose spirit is unconquerable it is the Spanish nation. No people are so proud of their ancestors & of their country, – no people have such reason to be proud. They have done greater things there ever way other people atchieved, & we have already witnessed what that remembrance has enabled them to xxxxx <do> in their present contest. Bad as their religion is it is a mighty ally in times like these: xx they are as sincere in it as ever, & probably more attached to it because the higher clergy have long been men of most exemplary lives. – Bad as their government is, it has never corrupted the people as ours has done. – they are patriots, – we alas, are whigs & tories, outs & ins. – tantararara  [3]  or rogues all – is the burthen of the song. Manufactures have not vitiated the lower class. Commerce has not given the middle one an interest distinct from that of the country. – there will be no clamourers for peace because their looms are stopt, & their cotton pieces on hand. Of all men under heaven the Spaniards can best bear the privations & hardships of actual service. – they will starve out the French. – absolutely hunger & watch them to death. Then they have no Duke of York, [4]  no royal family, & no rotten Boroughs. – When I look at the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry, & see King, Ministers & Lord-Mayor endeavoring to stifle the only generous cry that it has been my lot to hear from the depth of England, [5]  I get ashamed of my country, & am obliged to think of such men as Sidney & Hutchinson [6]  & Milton, – least I should wish to renounce my birth place, & talk Spanish for the rest of my life.

Yet there is hope at home as well as abroad. That cry which was heard against the cursed Cintra convention came from the heart of England. & there is a stirring among the bones which seems to indicate that the Day of xxxxxxxxxxx Resurrection <& of Judgement> is at hand. at public meetings men do as they are bid. because their votes are bought & sold like any other dirty commodity. – but in private you hear but one opinion, – one sense of national degradation. – one feeling ‘that it is not & it cannot come to good’ [7]  – which is a sure presage that good is coming.

I have reason to expect our excellent good friend Danvers here at midsummer. He is to conduct his wards to Liverpool, & will bring David on to the Lakes. This last summer is the only one that we have past without some abiding guest. My brother Tom was called off in June by the Admiralty, & is now I trust lying snug at anchor in Torbay. that shocking system of keeping up the blockade thro all weather, having happily been given up, to the salvation of ships & seamen. The Doctor is officiating at Durham, with fair prospect of soon halving the practice of the place. – but I look at the Magazine Obituaries, & do not find any such increase of mortality there as should induce me to think he has much to do. He would grin at me with anger if he heard that sentence. As I not have not seen him since his return from Lisbon, I purpose paying him a visit early in the new year. We are but fourscore miles asunder, & it is good fortune that our lots have not been more distant.

Of myself the news is that I am weary of waiting for any reduction in the price of paper, & so my History of Brazil will set off this week to the press. [7]  And that the Hindoo romance, [8]  the beginning of which xxxxx you heard at Bownham, [9]  has been only now resumed, & is now three parts done. Early in the spring I hope to have it compleated.

Edith begs to be remembered to Mrs Smith

believe me yours very truly

Robert Southey

I have mislaid your present address & must direct to Bownham.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Thomas Smith Esqr./ Bownham House/ Stroud/ Gloucestershire./ Single Sheet [MS illegible] to/ Gone To/ Eason/ Grey/ nr Tetbury
MS: Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Don. c. 79. ALS; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Prospectus for Coleridge’s self-published journal The Friend, which he produced in 1809 and 1810. For the text see The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton, 1969). BACK

[2] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, in August 1808, King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). Joseph was forced by a revolt to abandon Madrid and did not return until January 1809, after French reinforcements retook the city. BACK

[3] Southey’s parlance, derived from popular song, for the the noise and hot air produced by party spirit on the benches of the House of Commons. Tantara-rara, Rogues All was the title of a 1786 play by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB); see The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), III, pp. 349–90. ‘Tantara-rara, Fools All Fools All’ was also a popular song from Henry Fielding’s (1707–1754; DNB) play The Lottery (1732). BACK

[4] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. York had commanded troops in the disastrous Flanders expedition in 1793–1794. In 1809 rumours over corruption erupted into a full-blown scandal in which York’s mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (1776–1852; DNB), a former courtesan, was shown to have preferred officers for promotion in return for payment. BACK

[5] Southey’s exasperation was caused by the Court of Inquiry set up to investigate the conduct of the generals at the Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple. The inquiry failed to punish Burrard and Dalrymple, but they never afterwards took command. BACK

[6] Algernon Sidney (1623–1683; DNB). A republican executed for involvement in the Rye House plot to assassinate the monarch. Colonel John Hutchinson (1615–1664; DNB), a Puritan commander in the English civil war and a signatory of the death warrant of King Charles I, as revealed in a posthumously published memoir by his widow, Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681; DNB): Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806). In the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378, Southey extolled the conduct and morality of Hutchinson. BACK

[7] Hamlet, Act I, scene ii, line 158. BACK

[7] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[8] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[9] Thomas Smith’s home in Stroud, Gloucestershire. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)