1649. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 6 July 1809

1649. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 6 July 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick July 6. 1809.

My dear Tom

Danvers arrived on Monday night, not till ten o clock when we had given him up. He has brought with him David Jardine & his cousin Lewis, [1]  who tho nearly a year older, is shorter by the head & shoulders. Job is, as you may suppose, in great glory, having two such companions. They return on Monday, leaving Danvers here. Miss Betham I expect will arrive immediately after they are gone, & about the same time Clarkson will be here ‘to spend one day & a half.’ He brings me the Susoo grammar from one of the Missionariesy Societies, [2]  – the language is spoken far & wide among the negroes, & will be a curious addition to my Library, & useful in my Quarterly pursuits.

Curwens bill [3]  except in its preamble which establishes the principle that seats in parliament ought not to be purchased, will do nothing but mischief, for it leaves the power in the Treasury, – & destroys it every where. A man can not now buy an opposition borough as he was wont to do, – but government can still manage theirs, & pay for them in half a thousand ways, so as effectually to elude the spirit of the act themselves, while they enforce the very letter of it upon their opponents. In like manner that Bill to prevent the sale of places was a mere juggle, & an excellently clever one, – for by making it criminal either to buy, sell or assist in the sale of any place under government, all persons who offended are provided with means of escaping discovery. It is no longer of any avail to appoint Committees of the House & examine them, – to every question (which before this rascally bill they were obliged to answer) they have now only to reply ‘I must not criminate myself’ – It is a legal answer, – the question cannot be prest. – from this time forward therefore the trade is secured from all possibility of discovery, & this was what Perceval brought the bill in for. As for Curwen he neither meant harm nor good. He is a hunter after popularity, & merely thought to curry a little by doing something which should be talked about. The more I have seen of him the less have I liked him.

Sharp is here, & I have a design upon him for the benefit of your letter. [4]  I dined on Monday at Jansons [5]  with Dickenson – the Member for Somersetshire, whom I had see not seen since I stopt at his rooms at Oxford in 1792, seventeen years & a half ago. [6] 

The second Quarterly contains only one article of mine, [7]  as well as the first. [8]  In the third will be Holmes’s American Annals, [9]  – & perhaps the Mission in the South Sea Islands. [10]  Danvers’s arrival will prevent me from getting Lord Valentias Travels ready in time for it. [11]  These Travels are very interesting. he sent his draftsman & secretary, Mr Salt [12]  into Abyssinia, & Bruce has been convicted of many falsehoods, – gross exaggeration & wilful lies to extol himself, – & the worse crime of inventing a survey of the African coast of the Red Sea, which is altogether fictitious. [13]  – I have offered to justify Frere against the friends of Sir John Moore, [14]  if it be thought advisable so to do, – & I have offered also to have another rush at the Methodists, [15]  – in which I should set to work seriously to investigate the cause of their rapid progress.

The Austrians have disappointed my fears, & things seem fairly on the balance, with this advantage on their side that they have a good cause, & must therefore necessarily get the better in the long run, if they hold out. [16]  Their policy is to avoid fighting as long as they can, & harrass him by cutting off his supplies. If this can be done till our army arrives in the Elbe, a powerful division will then be made in North Germany, joined as I have no doubt we instantly shall be by the Prussian army. One great defeat destroys Bonaparte root & branch. If he falls, it will be once & for ever. His power out of France has no other support than brute force, – in France it rests wholly upon the opinion of his good fortune & the splendour of his success. Beat him, & the French will desert him take him prisoner, – & he falls so low that he cannot the common laws of war would hardly be granted to him, – but he might be hung as he would hang Chastillas. I open the Courier [17]  daily with great doubts & much anxiety, – but it does appear to me that at present the advantage is on the side of the Austrians, & the longer they can delay their power in the nature of things strengthens & his must be weakened.

That article upon the Austrians in the second Quarterly is written by George Ellis, & has been revised by Canning. [18]  The Review succeeds excellently well, & will probably soon put to death many of the inferior ones. It will be powerfully supported, – every number for some time to come better than the last. I suppose Frere will bear a part when he returns. If Canning is beaten in this struggle in the cabinet, then it becomes an opposition review. [19]  – this I hope will not be the case. At any rate the tune will be ‘fight on my merry men all’ [20]  as long as the power of France remains unbroken. – & I shall waive all xx difference of opinions upon less important subjects for the sake of joining in in that chorus.

Poor Jackson is going very fast indeed. Your nephew is as happy as the day is long, & is as good as he is happy. Your niece goes on well – & Bertha is I think the sweetest infant of all our children, – at least I never loved so young a one so much before.

God bless you



* Address: [in another hand] Keswick July Six 1809/ Lieut Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock/ [MS illegible] R Sharp
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 147–150. BACK

[1] Untraced. BACK

[2] Henry Brunton (c. 1770–1813) a member of the Edinburgh Missionary Society in Guinea, West Africa, wrote A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Susoo Language: to which are added, the names of some of the Susoo towns, near the banks of the Rio Pongas; a small catalogue of Arabic books, and a list of the names of some of the learned men of the Mandinga and Foulah countries, with whom an useful correspondence could be opened up in the Arabic language (1802). BACK

[3] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), agriculturist and politician responsible for Curwen’s Act, passed in 1809. The act was a significant attempt at parliamentary reform that intended to reduce the sale of seats and the number of government placemen in the House of Commons. The government’s opposition took the form of suggesting modifications that watered down the bill so much that those who had supported it voted against it because it was feared it would stand in the way of proper reform. BACK

[4] Judging by the address sheet of this letter, and several others at this time, Sharp agreed to frank Southey’s letters. The privilege Southey had previously enjoyed through his friend John Rickman, as secrretary to the Speaker of the House of Commons, had been suspended while it was not in session. BACK

[5] John I’Anson (dates unknown), innkeeper of the Royal Oak at Keswick. BACK

[6] William Dickinson (1771–1837), a pupil at Westminster School, who later went on to Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1793, MA 1795). He was Civil Lord of the Admiralty 1804–1806. BACK

[7] Southey’s review of Extractos em Portuguez e em Inglez; com as Palavras Portuguezas Propriamente Accentuadas, para Facilitar o Estudo d’Aquella Lingoa (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May 1809), 268–292. BACK

[8] Southey’s review of the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807), in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 in the Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[10] Southey’s review of Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands, appeared in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61. BACK

[11] Southey’s review of George Annesley, Viscount Valentia (1770–1844), Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, and the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 (1809) appeared in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 88–126. BACK

[12] Henry Salt (1780–1827; DNB), secretary and draughtsman to Viscount Valentia, whose Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, and the Red Sea, Abyssinia and Egypt he had illustrated and partly written, was sent by the government in March 1809 on a diplomatic mission to the Abyssinian court. BACK

[13] James Bruce’s (1730–1794; DNB), Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–73, which Southey knew well as he reviewed the second edition of 1804–1805, in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 2–16. BACK

[14] The diplomatist John Hookham Frere was sent to Spain as minister-plenipotentiary to the Central Junta on 4 October 1808 and when the French marched on Madrid he urged Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), the Commander of the British forces in northern Spain also to advance upon Madrid, despite his inclination to retreat through Portugal. After the disastrous retreat to Corunna, Frere was blamed for this advice and recalled by the British government. Southey did not write an article on this topic. BACK

[15] Southey’s review of [James Sedgwick (1775–1851; DNB)], Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[16] Britain and Austria were in alliance against France in 1809, and Napoleon advanced into Austria where he suffered a significant defeat at the battle of Aspern-Essling (22 May 1809). The Austrians failed to follow up this victory, which allowed Napoleon to seize the capital, Vienna, in early July. The Austrians were then defeated by the French at the battle of Wagram on 5–6 July 1809. BACK

[17] The London newspaper, the Courier, edited by Daniel Stuart. BACK

[18] Sharon Turner, George Canning, and William Gifford (possibly with the German statesman Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832)) reviewed Proclamation of the Archduke Charles to his Army; Declaration of War by the Emperor of Austria; Address of the Archduke to the German Nation (1809) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May 1809), 437–455. BACK

[19] George Canning had held the office of Foreign Secretary in the government since 1807, but he offered to resign several times in 1809 over the progress of the war with France, his plans to expel Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh and 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (1769–1822; DNB) from the War Office (with a duel being fought between them on 21 September 1809), and his own ambitions to become Prime Minister. Canning lost his position when Spencer Perceval became Prime Minister in October 1809. BACK

[20] A line which occurs in both the broadside ballad ‘John Armstrong’s Last farewel’ (c. 1701) and ‘The Ballad of Chevy Chase’ (first recorded in the 15th century). BACK

People mentioned

Danvers, Charles (c. 1764–1814) (mentioned 2 times)
Perceval, Spencer (1762–1812) (mentioned 2 times)
Frere, John Hookham (1769–1846) (mentioned 2 times)
Stuart, Daniel (1766–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Jackson, William (1748–1809) (mentioned 1 time)
Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846) (mentioned 1 time)
Ellis, George (1753–1815) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Jardine, David (1794–1860) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)