1680. Robert Southey to Daniel Stuart, 10 September 1809

1680. Robert Southey to Daniel Stuart, 10 September 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

I have been induced by very liberal terms to undertake the historical department of an Edinburgh Annual Register, which the Ballantynes [1]  are about to start, beginning with last year. Their application to me has been unseasonably late, – owing to their having previously engaged some other person whose sample disappointed them, [2]  – & would I believe have ruined their work: but in consequence of receiving this late notice I come to the task without any previous collection of materials. Under these circumstances it has occurred to me to apply to you. Have you any French or Spanish papers of the last or present year? & can you assist me by any arrangement for transferring them to me for the future, after they have served your purpose? – For tho I have promised only to perform this office for the first year, it is most likely that I shall continue it. [3] 

My view of things will differ from yours in only two points, – in disapproving the Copenhagen business, [4]  & in giving Sir Francis Burdett credit for good intentions. [5]  Upon all other points there is hardly a shade of difference between us. Without speaking acrimoniously of Sir John Moore [6]  I shall describe his retreat as what it was, – a disorderly & disgraceful flight, – the most disgraceful upon record. It was my earnest wish to have taken up this subject in the Quarterly Review, but it was thought better by Freres friends to entrust it to Ellis, who has had of course whatever documents Canning could supply. I am now glad that my offer was declined, inasmuch as I have now an opportunity of doing the same thing more efficaciously & less invidiously, by a full & faithful narration, written with a perfect knowledge of the ground over which he retreated (for I have travelled it on foot) & with the spirit & feeling of an Englishman. [7] 

My brother who is lying with Admiral Sotheby [8]  in Basque Roads writes me these words ‘As for the Rockfort Fleet [9]  being destroyed, there are eight sail of the line now afloat up the river, the three-decker fresh coppered. They have only their lower masts standing, & have neither men nor stores aboard. The Captain of a vessel which we have just detained & sent in, says that they are marching every man they can find in the country into Spain: they march them with their hands tied behind.’ – It was impossible not to acquit Ld Gambier as he was acquitted, – but without Cochrane nothing would have been attempted, & had he had the sole management more would have been done. [10] 

That precious speech of Whitbreads [11]  wherein he represented Austria as the aggressor in this war, & praised Bonapartes moderation, has been given at full length in the Bordeaux papers. [12]  – Vessels sail from France with English licenses under any colours except French & Dutch. these are easily forged, – the merchants may copy them. All men of war have not got the list from Government of what are granted. & suppose the French merchant sends half a dozen with the same, except the same man <man of war> meets with two of them they pass safely. They bring nothing but French produce – brandies &c.

I am sorry to see that experience seems to be of no use either to the Spaniards or their allies. There is no want of spirit in the people – Zaragoza & Gerona are immortal proofs of their patriotism, [13]  – but they are paralyzed in field because they suspect their officers. In the commencement of all such wars this has ever been the case, – the misfortune is that in this they have to deal xx <with an> enemy who never loses time. It is folly to send a mere auxiliary army, – the Spaniards should be left to fight in their own way, which Romana [14]  has practised so successfully, – & we with a force adequate to the occasion should fight in ours. Had Wellesley had 50,000 men instead of five & twenty he would have annihilated the French army & borne down every thing before him, – xxx one signal defeat would prove their destruction, for all who are not Frenchmen would desert & join the winning side. Over & over it has been proved that [MS torn] can always beat the French, if their numbers be not greatly superior, why then not send a force which they cannot outnumber? – 150,000 men would sweep the peninsula clean, & give Bonapartes reputation a direct blow to Bonapartes reputation, upon which & which only his power is founded. I have no apprehensions for Ld Wellington as yet: he has his brother at Seville, [15]  so that something may be expected from thence, & he can wait for reinforcements; – but unless we send a great army the history of last winter will be repeated, – except that when he is compelled to make for the coast, he will retreat, & not run away. – Canning I believe would act vigorously if he were not another yoked with such colleagues. – but bad as they are they are better than the opposition who would abandon the Spaniards xxxx <altogether,> & finally lay this country at the feet of France. We want M. Wellesley in power: he is at least a decisive character, & the country would have some confidence in him, – which it cannot have in any body else.

I know no more of the Friend than you do, [16]  except that when a number comes out I see it some days sooner because the proof is sent to me to correct. It will I suppose intermit in this way till subscribers enough drop off to give a good reason for discontinung it. Never was any thing so ill adapted to its mode of publication, – this I did not expect, for all other disappointment I was prepared. – A proof of the fifth number has just arrived, – so that then <it> will appear in time.

I have long been intending to arrange some thoughts for the improvement of the navy, the result of many conversations with my brother, & made up in great part from some of his papers. Of xx Whenever I can find leisure for this I will transmit them to the Courier, as the best place in which they can appear. They will certainly excite attention, may possibly lead to some good, & cannot possibly give offence to any body.

believe me yours very truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. Sept. 10. 1809.


* Address: To/ Daniel Stuart Esqr/ Courier Office/ Strand/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ SEP13/ 1809
Endorsement: 1809 Southey/ Sep. 10/ Spain/ Friend
MS: British Library, Add MS 34046. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Mary Stuart (ed.), Letters from the Lake Poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, to Daniel Stuart (London, 1889), pp. 404–409. BACK

[2] Either the poet and translator William Steward Rose (1775–1843; DNB) or his brother the diplomatist George Henry Rose (1770–1855; DNB). Their father was the Pittite loyalist MP George Rose (1744–1818; DNB). BACK

[3] From 1810 to 1812 Southey contributed to the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810 in James Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[4] In the summer of 1807 the British, believing that France would gain possession of Denmark and its fleet, amassed ships and troops and on 2 September launched a pre-emptive attack on Copenhagen, causing the deaths of over two thousand townspeople. BACK

[5] In 1809 Burdett presented a comprehensive motion for parliamentary reform to the House of Commons calling for a franchise for all ratepayers, shorter parliaments, equal electoral districts, and single-day elections, but this was defeated. In April 1810 he was found guilty of breach of privilege by the House of Commons and shortly after arrested and imprisoned, leading to a surge in popularity for him among the people of London (DNB). BACK

[6] 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

[7] For Southey’s account, see the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 442–459. Although he praised many of Moore’s personal qualities, Southey suggested that he was not ‘equal to the difficulties of his situation’ (458). BACK

[8] Thomas Southey’s ship HMS Dreadnought was the flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[9] The squadron of French ships commanded by Contre-Admiral Zacharie Allemand (1762–1828) and based at Rochefort, which slipped past the British blockade and harassed British ships in the Atlantic and West Indies. BACK

[10] Admiral James Gambier, Baron Gambier (1756–1833; DNB), was given a peerage as a reward for commanding the September 1807 expedition that bombarded neutral Copenhagen until the Danish surrendered its fleet into British hands. He attracted controversy again over the Battle of the Basque Roads in April 1809. Although it achieved some success, the British fleet failed to destroy the French navy completely. Captain Thomas Cochrane, later 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), who had led a highly effective fireship attack at the start of the battle, accused Gambier, his commanding officer, of being reluctant to pursue the attack and thus achieve a complete victory. Cochrane was also an MP with a reputation for exposing abuses of office, and, in the weeks after the battle, he pursued his campaign against Gambier via parliamentary speeches. Gambier demanded a court-martial at which he was exonerated and, by implication, Cochrane was blamed for libelling a superior officer. Whilst Gambier received public thanks from parliament for his actions in the battle, Cochrane was not permitted to rejoin his ship for a few months. When he received new orders to serve in the Mediterranean, Cochrane refused and went on half-pay, devoting his time to exposing abuses in the Admiralty. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 364–379. BACK

[11] The radical MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). BACK

[12] Austria entered an alliance with Britain against France in 1809; Napoleon then 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, after which they sued for peace. BACK

[13] The Spanish city of Zaragoza had been besieged in 1808 and 1809 when, after an heroic defence, it fell to the French after an outbreak of disease. For Southey’s accounts of the sieges, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 306–321; and Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. The Spanish city of Gerona had been under siege by the French since 6 May 1809. After nearly seven months it finally fell on 11 December 1809. BACK

[14] The Spanish general Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of la Romana (1761–1811) pioneered guerilla war tactics. BACK

[15] In 1809 Wellesley was appointed Ambassador to Spain and arrived in Seville in August to negotiate with the embattled Supreme Central Junta. Here, he found himself once again in the same theatre of military and diplomatic activity as his brother Sir Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington), his main aim being to support his brother’s army in the Peninsula. The Junta’s unwillingness to organise supplies for the British Army while urging a policy of attack led Wellesley (and Southey) to suspect some of the Junta of co-operating with the French. BACK

[16] Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was published in 26 instalments from 1 June 1809–15 March 1810. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)