1574. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 February 1809

1574. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 3 February 1809 ⁠* 

Feby 3. 1809. Keswick

[illegible large scrawl] – There Tom, – tell me what that hieroglyphic is if you can. the Devil himself must be a good guesser if he finds it out.

We want a Nelson in the army. [1]  Poor Sir John Moore was too cautious a man. [2]  He waited in distrust of the Spaniards, to see what course the war would take, instead of being on the spot to make it take the course he wished. When Hope [3]  was at the passes of the Guadarrama mountain, he & the rest of the army should have been at Somosierra the other key to Madrid. There would have been reinforcements sent, if he had not positively written to have empty transports sent, – & the men been therefore disembarked. Good God had there been twenty thousand fresh troops at Corunna, to have met the French what a victory should we have obtained, when even with the wreck of an army foot-sore, broken-hearted, & half starved, we defeated them so compleatly at the last! [4]  – One thing results from this last action, – the fear of invasion must be at rest for ever. We can beat the French, under every possible disadvantage, & with two, almost indeed three to one, against us. Come then Bonaparte! the sooner the better.

Ministers are jarring with each other. It is Canning who stands up for Spain, – & I learn from Walter Scott that they will stand by the Spaniards to the last cost what it may – But they paralize one another, & the rest of the Cabinet by meeting him half-way, – doing half what he proposes, utterly undo everything. Still if we had a few such men as Cochrane [5]  in the army, – men who would place <have> the same faith in British bottom by land as we have at sea, – that faith would redeem us. To be upon the defensive in the field is ruin. Men never can win a battle unless they are determined to win it, – & that cannot be the case when they wait to be attacked. 100,000 men in Spain would overthrow & destroy Bonaparte, – but we sent them in batches to be cut up. We squander the strength of the country, we waste the blood of the country, we sacrifice the honour of the country – bring upon ourselves a disgrace, which Bonaparte were he ten times more powerful than he is could never bring inflict upon us, were there but true wisdom & right courage in our rulers.

I have written more letters than one since Dec. 12. [6]  you have probably by this time received them. In one I told you that Landor had returned to fight our Consul from Coruña [7]  – (but this must have been before December) – the Consul has made peace with him by disowning words which Landor heard him utter, & L. I believe will return to Spain to be in the forlorn hope. But tho Bonaparte may take the country, he cannot keep it. He would not have done what he has, if the Spaniards had proclaimed xxx a Republic. – for <which> you may remember I pointed out the peculiar fitness which their separate states afforded.

I am very busy. Some books of main importance to my history which I vainly attempted to buy, I have succeeded in obtaining from a public library, by secret favour, – against rule. [8]  & upon these I must work incessantly to get them sent back again as speedily as possible, but this is very hard work, for like a woodcock all their guts are trail. Thirteen sheets are printed, – & probably Pople will soon be at a stand for copy before I can get thro this indispensable labour. The volume will however most likely be sent in June. [9] 

The new review is to be called the Quarterly, & will I suppose soon start. I fancy W Scott has taken care of the Cid there. [10]  Of the new edition of Thalaba nine books are printed. [11]  – three weeks at farthest will compleat it, & a month more may be allowed before it be published, for [MS illegible] &c – & the journey from Edinburgh by waggon, – or by sea. – Of late I have done little to Kehama, [12]  xxx for these books now employ my morning time, – & before they came restless nights occasioned by little illnesses of the children made me lie till breakfast time. With my first possible leisure I shall hurry thro your transcription – It would be convenient if I could borrow from my Hindoo Gods a few of their supernumerary heads & hands, [13]  for I find more employments than my present compliment can get thro.

Holding that my face will ‘carry off a drab’ – I have a new coat of that complexion, just come home from Johnny Cockbaines, the King of the Tailors. [14] 

I will conclude by copying part of a letter from Stuart which you will think very curious, & will interest you more than any I could add of my own. ‘Of this motion against the Duke of York [15]  strange fancies float in my mind. Two months ago a story went all over London, – every body believes it, that the Duke of York threatened in Bond Street to horse whip an M. P. of the Prince of Wales’s household, for endeavouring to get some of his letters from Mrs Clarke. The Duke of Kent [16]  hates the D of Y. & one of the Secretaries of the former, Col. Dodd [17]  walks publicly arm in arm with Hague [18]  the D Ys libellerx. Cobbet is certainly in the interest of the D Kent & P of Wales. I know a person employed by the D Kent confidentially & officially, for the Duke keeps an office! – who has also been deeply in the confidence & money concerns of Lord Moira, [19]  the P Wales’s friend; this person was Mrs Clarkes favourite & confident while she lived with the D York. I know farther that Wardel sits in that seat for Oakhampton, [20]  to which P Wales nominated Barham & paid the expences in the last Parliament. [21]  These are droll facts. I have no doubt that every thing charged against the D York is true: but I fear the facts will not be brought home to him. The fact however of his keeping a number of mistresses, all of them the most notorious strumpets in town in the highest stile, before he had them, will however be proved & admitted at the Bar of the H of Commons, & that will blast his character (he a Prince of, high in official station, & a married man) with all the virtuous part of the community. He cannot come off with honour, whatsoever may become of the actual motion against him.’ – Is not this very curious? – I will post have just room to add that half the newspapers are at this time under prosecution from the D York, & that in Stuarts words he has nearly silenced the Newspaper press.

The hieroglyphic at the beginning of the letter is a facsimile of the x way in which you signed your christian name at the end of your last.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ [deletion and addition in another hand] Plymouth Dock/ Torbay
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 210–212 [in part]. BACK

[1] Horatio, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté (1758–1805; DNB), who died at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. BACK

[2] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna on 16 January 1809. BACK

[3] John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun (1765–1823; DNB). During Moore’s advance into Spain, Hope commanded one of the army’s two divisions. He took part in the retreat to Corunna and succeeded to overall command when Moore fell. BACK

[4] The Battle of Corruna, fought 16 January 1809, resulted in a defensive victory for the retreating British, if only in that they repelled the French and so gained time to embark for Britain. BACK

[5] Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), naval officer and formerly Thomas Southey’s captain. Cochrane gained renown through a campaign of daring and brilliantly executed raids harassing and attacking settlements on the Spanish and French coasts. BACK

[6] The only surviving letter to Thomas Southey written after that of 12 December 1808 (Letter 1553) is dated 10 January 1809 (Letter 1563). The letter mentioning Landor’s return from Spain appears not to have survived. BACK

[7] The ever cantankerous and prickly Landor, in Spain to fight against the French, had overheard a remark made by Charles Stuart, Baron Stuart de Rothesay (1779–1845; DNB), British envoy to the Spanish juntas in French-occupied Spain. Stuart said ‘He’s mad; he doesn’t have the money’ and Landor, who had funded a small group of soldiers during his own service with the Spanish military and was proposing to fund the Spanish, incorrectly thought the remark was directed at him. See John Forster, Walter Savage Landor, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 135–141. BACK

[8] Southey had asked Walter Scott to borrow the following books for him from the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, which he needed for writing his History of Brazil (1810–1819): Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariæ (1784); José Gumilla (1686–1750), Histoire Naturelle, Civile et Geographique de L’Orenoque (1758), a French version of the original Historia Natural, Civil, & Geografica de las Naciones situadas en las Riveras del Rio Orinoco (1731); Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557), Navigationi et Viaggi (1550–1559). BACK

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

[10] Southey’s The Chronicle of the Cid (1808) was reviewed by Scott in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 117–134. BACK

[11] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in 1809. BACK

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

[13] Southey’s poem, The Curse of Kehama, characterises the gods of the Hindu religion. BACK

[14] John Cockbain (dates unknown), a Keswick tailor. BACK

[15] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. BACK

[16] Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767–1820; DNB), the fourth son of King George III (1738–1820; DNB) was suspected of manipulating the scandal because he coveted his brother, the Duke of York’s, position. BACK

[17] Major Dodd (dates unknown), the Duke of Kent’s private secretary, later accused in court of being instrumental in bringing the scandal to light by remunerating Clarke for exposing the affair. BACK

[18] Thomas Hague (dates unknown) wrote a series of pamphlets attacking the Duke of York’s conduct including A Letter to . . . the Duke of York, or an Exposition of the Circumstances that led to the late Appointment of Sir Hew Dalrymple (1808), An Englishman’s Letter to his Majesty (1808) and Traits of all the Royal Dukes (1808), following them up with a handbill accusing the Duke of Sussex of trying to prevent their sale. For this he was convicted of libel on 23 February 1809. BACK

[19] Francis Rawdon Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings and 2nd Earl of Moira (1754–1826; DNB), army officer and politician. BACK

[20] Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle (c. 1761–1833; DNB), elected M.P. for Okehampton in 1807, had played a central role in exposing the Duke of York and Mary Anne Clarke’s involvement in office trafficking. However, his own reputation was quickly sullied when, in July, it emerged that Wardle had bought Clarke’s testimony against the Duke of York with a promise to pay for the furnishing of her house. It was alleged by Clarke that Wardle had been acting for the Duke of Kent. BACK

[21] Joseph Foster-Barham (1759–1832), MP for Stockbridge and also Okehampton, left parliament in 1807. BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 3 times)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 2 times)
George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Cobbett, William (1763–1835) (mentioned 1 time)
Canning, George (1770–1827) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)