1654. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 13 July 1809

1654. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 13 July 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick. July 13. 1809

My dear Scott

There are two channels thro which I could perhaps make application for Lord Lonsdales countenance, – thro Sir G. Beaumont who knows him well, & would try to serve me with more zeal for the sake of the woods, – & thro the Senhouses, a family in the Lonsdale interest, with whom I am more intimate than with any other in the county. [1]  If your enquiries should show that there is any likelihood of success in this quest, I will make application thro both these quarters; – till this be ascertained it will be better to abstain. I could also obtain the good word of Lord Bute, [2]  if he be upon good terms at Lowther. Let this matter end as it may, it is I trust needless for me to say how greatly I feel beholden to you for your friendly solicitude.

Wordsworths pamphlet will fail of producing any general effect, because the sentences are long & involved, & his friend De Quincey who corrects the press has rendered them more obscure by an unusual system of punctuation. [3]  This fault will outweigh all its merits. The public never can like any thing which they feel it difficult to understand, – they will affect to like it, as in the case of Burke, [4]  if the reputation of the writer be such that not to admire him is a confession of ignorance, – but even in Burkes case the public admiration was merely affected, his finer beauties were not remarked, & it was only his party politics that were generally understood, while the philosophy which he brought to their aid was heathen Greek to the multitude of his readers. I impute Wordsworths want of perspicuity to two causes, – his admiration of Miltons prose, – & his habit of dictating instead of writing: if he were his own scribe his eye would tell him where to stop, – but in dictating, his own thoughts are to himself xx familiarly intelligible, & he goes on unconscious either of the length of the sentence, or the difficulty a common reader must necessarily find of following its meaning to the end, & unravelling all its involutions.

A villainous cold which makes me sleep as late as I possibly can in the morning because the moment I wake it wakes with me, has prevented me from finishing Kehama. [5]  It would else ere this have been compleated. I think of publishing it on my own account in a pocket volume of about 350 pages, – but this is not yet determined. [6]  One of the pleasures which I had promised myself in seeing you was that of showing you this wildest of all wild poems, – believing that you will be one of the few persons who will relish it. The rhymes are as irregular as your own, but in a different key, & I expect to be abused for having given the language the freedom & strength of blank verse, tho I pride myself upon the manner in which this is combined with rhyme.

The Eclogue which I have sent Ballantyne has suffered a little by having all its local allusions cut out. [7]  This was done lest what was intended as a generic character should have been interpreted into individual satire. The thing was suggested by my accidentally crossing such a funeral some years ago at Bristol, – & had I been disposed to personal satire the hero of the procession would have afforded any scope for it. As soon as he knew his case was desperate he called together all the persons to whom he was indebted in the his mercantile concerns. Gentlemen, said he, I am going to die, – & my death will be an inconvenience to you, because it will be some time before you can get your accounts settled with my Executors – Now if you will allow me a handsome discount, I’ll settle them myself at once. By this xxxxxx xxxxxxxxery xxxxxbly xxxxxx. They came into the proposal & the old Alderman turned his death into nine hundred pounds profit. – If Queen Orraca is not too long for the English Minstrelsy I will with great pleasure send off a corrected copy for it. [8] 

I feel so perfectly confident that of making a triumphant answer to Sir J Moores friends, that it will greatly disappoint me if Gifford does not entrust James Moores history, & the other books upon the subject to my hands. [9]  The whole line of the retreat I have in strong recollection having walked from Coruña to Benevente, – no country can be stronger by nature than that part of it which is called the Bierzo. But as you say the battle should have been fought at Somosierra, – if our troops could not have joined Blake, [10]  there they should have been, & under the walls of Madrid, which would then have been saved from Morlas [11]  treason, & would have vied with Zaragoza. [12]  The next news will be that Madrid is evacuated, & the French falling back to the Ebro. There I trust Wellesley will follow them, & all must go on well.

yours very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: JY/ 1809/ 15
Watermark: shield/ 1807/ T BOTFIELD
Endorsement: Southey/ 13 July 1809
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3878. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 246–248 [in part]; H. J. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, 12 vols (London, 1932–1937), II, p. 206 [in part] BACK

[1] In July 1809, Southey was informed by Richard Sharp that the stewardship of the Derwentwater Estates (which were owned by Greenwich Hospital) would soon become vacant on the death of the incumbent; see Southey to Walter Scott, 6 July 1809, Letter 1648. In his reply, Scott had enquired if Southey had ‘any interest with the present Lord Lonsdale’, who ‘is likely to be listened to in the appointment upon the Derwentwater estate’, and promised to assist him; see Walter Scott to Robert Southey, 8 July 1809, The Letters of Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson, 12 vols (London, 1932–1937), VIII, p. 204. Southey asked several friends to intercede on his behalf, including Senhouse and George Beaumont, but in the end the position was considered unsuitable for him; see Southey to Walter Scott, 8 August 1809 (Letter 1666) and Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 August 1809 (Letter 1669). BACK

[2] John Stuart, 4th Earl of Bute (1744–1814; DNB). BACK

[3] A defeated French army was allowed by the British to evacuate Portugal under the terms of the Convention of Cintra (30 August 1808). On 27 December 1808 and 13 January 1809 Wordsworth published, in The Courier, an article condemning the Convention. In May 1809 Longmans published the article as a pamphlet: Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra. BACK

[4] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), politician and author who was renowned for his eloquent but involved style. BACK

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

[6] This scheme was not adopted. BACK

[7] Southey’s poem ‘The Alderman’s Funeral, an English Eclogue’. It was not included in English Minstrelsy. Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors; with some Original Pieces Hitherto Unpublished (1810), but Southey included it in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808, 1.2 (1810) along with ‘King Ramiro’ and ‘Queen Orraca’ (i-xiii). Both these works were published by the firm of Ballantyne. BACK

[8] Southey’s poem was first published as ‘Queen Urraia and the Five Martyrs of Morocco’ in the Morning Post in early September 1803, and in the Iris, 3 November 1804. It was published as ‘Queen Orraca’ in English Minstrelsy. Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors; with some Original Pieces Hitherto Unpublished (Edinburgh, 1810), I, pp. 269–280. It was also published in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). BACK

[9] The British commander, Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), who was killed in battle at Corunna on 16 January 1809 after a disastrous retreat. Southey was highly critical of Moore’s conduct, accusing him, for example, of forming ‘unjust and self-paralysing prejudices against the Spanish people’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 479. James Moore (1762–1860; DNB), surgeon and biographer, defended his elder brother in A Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army in Spain (1809). The ‘other books’ were perhaps Adam Neale (1778?-1832), Letters from Portugal and Spain: Comprising an Account of the Operations of the Armies under their Excellencies Sir Arthur Wellesley and Sir John Moore (1809). Possibly Robert Ker Porter (1777–1842), Letters from Portugal and Spain: Written During the March of the British Troops under Sir John Moore. By an Officer (1809). BACK

[10] Lieutenant General Joaquín Blake y Joyes (1759–1827), a Spanish army officer who served with distinction in the war against France. BACK

[11] General Tomás de Morla y Pacheco (1748–1812), agent of the Junta that governed unoccupied Spain, misled Moore as to the whereabouts of the French and the support to be given the British by Spanish troops. Arriving at Madrid, Morla negotiated its surrender to Napoleon, and was subsequently branded a traitor. BACK

[12] Two sieges of Zaragoza took place in 1808–1809. For Southey’s accounts: Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 306–321; and Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)