1713. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 25 November 1809

1713. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 25 November 1809 ⁠* 

Nov. 25. 1809.

My dear Tom

I write to you for two reasons, thus shortly after my last. [1]  The one is that I may direct to the Lyra, [2]  because all my former ones being to the Dreadnought [3]  may miss you for some time, for I xxx perceive by the papers that that ship is come in. The other, – a more interesting one, – is to tell you that I have this day finished Kehama, [4]  having written above 200 lines since yesterday morning. Huzza – Aballiboozobanganorribo [5]  It is not often in this life that a man finishes a long poem, & as I have nobody to give me joy I must give myself joy. 24 sections, 4844 lines – 2 or 300 will probably be added in course of correction & transcription, – all has been done before breakfast (since its resumption) except about 170 lines of the conclusion. Huzza! better than lying-a-bed Tom, & tho I am not quite ready to begin another, I will rise as usual tomorrow & work at the plans of Pelayo [6]  & Robin Hood. [7] 

Now am I a little impatient that you should see the whole; & shall feel another job off my hands when your copy is compleated. By beginning earlier with the next poem I shall be able to keep pace with it, & send it to you as fast as it proceeds. I do not think you can have it in a better shape than Kehama, – it folds up so conveniently as a frank, & is not liable to be crumpled by the postman as it would if larger.

Very few persons will relish Kehama, – every body will wonder at it, it will increase my reputation without increasing my popularity. – a general remark will be what a pity that I have wasted so much power. I care little about this, – having in the main pleased myself, & all along amused myself. Every generation will afford me some half dozen admirers of it, – & the everlasting column of Dantes fame does not stand upon a wider base. – There will be a good many minor ornaments to insert, the metre will in many places be enriched, & the story perhaps sometimes be rendered more perspicuous. Now that the whole is before me I can see where to add & alter. If it receives half the improvement which Thalaba [8]  did I shall be content.

Pelayo is to be in blank verse, – where the whole interest is to be derived from human character, & the inherent dignity of the story, I will not run the hazard of enfeebling the finer parts for the sake of embellishing the weaker ones. I shall pitch Robin Hood in a different key, – such as the name would lead one to expect, a wild pastoral movement, – in the same sort of plastic metre & language as Garci Ferrandez. [9]  I shall aim it at about 2000 lines, & endeavour not to exceed three.

Do not have the Yankee Madoc [10]  bound, – as it will be to be looked at & not to be read, it will be more curious in numbers, just as published, & I will have one of those <the> book-shaped boxes made to hold it, so that it may take its place in order upon the shelf. What size is it & what price were the numbers?

My Uncle has been exerting himself in your behalf, & got a memorial presented to Ryder [11]  one of our new ministers. What he is taught to expect is that your present appointment will be set aside, & that an early opportunity will be taken afterward to promote you. Sir G Beaumont writes me that he has been prevented from applying as yet to Ld Mulgrave [12]  because Lady M. has ever since my letter to him [13]  been in such a state that her death has been apprehended from day to day. This however cannot last much longer, & he will take the first proper opportunity to make the application. All things considered it seems to me that you are in a fair way, & you will be superseded in the Brig, & in all likelihood pass your Xmas at Staunton.

This Register [14]  has occasioned me to examine some part of Marquis Wellesleys conduct in India, which I never did before, – & the result is a decided disapprobation, or rather detestation of him, as a man thoroughly unprincipled. I strongly suspect also that he has acquired the reputation for talents very cheaply – Whenever a Governor possesses ample power for effecting his purposes, makes no calculation of human lives, & scruples at no means however oppressive, base or cruel, – very little credit can be due to him for succeeding. Lord Wellington is something of the same stamp, a brave man (which is saying little, – for not to be so would be infamous) but of no resources of mind, utterly unequal to difficult & circumstances, & as was proved by the Cintra business [15]  absolutely incapable of feeling the strength of the cause which he was sent out to support. In short a man blind deaf & dead to all generous sentiments, & those feelings & principles by which, & by which only, Europe can be redeemed. The state of home politics is perfectly hopeless, there is not a man on either side who is fit to carry guts to a Bear! – or rather, according to Bedfords story, they are <all> fit for it. Buonaparte seems thoroughly to despise all we can do, – all that we have done, he is certainly entitled to despise, but if we had Marlborough [16]  or Peterborough [17]  alive again, six months would close his career for ever, even now. It remains to be seen whether he despises the Spaniards enough to let things go on in their present course, or if he will enter Spain again & xxx the overrun the open country. In that case there is a line of large towns between Barcelona & Cadiz, along the coast, that may be some of which may be expected to hold out like Zaragoza & Gerona, [18]  which we could assist by sea, & which would afford opportunities for such men as Cochrane [19]  or Sir S. Smith [20]  grievously to annoy the besiegers, – indeed to cut them off, if they had a good force. There ought to be four flying squadrons of 5000 men each, ready to land wherever they were wanted, – under Cochrane they would keep five times their number of French in continual alarm. The only possible hope from M Wellesley is that he may insist upon a vigorous effort – what we are doing now is just worse than nothing. Our men drink themselves to death, our officers learn to despise the Spaniards & Portugueze because they do not dress, eat & drink like themselves, & their opinions pass current here in England & the consequence is that never were a people so cruelly & basely calumniated, as this nation, which has done more against the force of France, under every possible disadvantage than all the rest of Europe conjointly. What a different story Sir Robert Wilson would tell who has kept the field with his legion of Portugueze thro all the perilous season! [21] 

Stuart has left the Courier to itself for a long time past, & you see what a wretched hireling xxx journal it is become. I think when he returns to town he will revive the accursed Walcheren business [22]  & call loudly for an inquiry. This wretched administration will scarcely be able to stand their ground. Unless this affair of old Collingwood [23]  prove something brilliant (as probably it will) I know not how they can meet Parliament, after having so deeply injured & disgraced the country.

My Brazil will not be out these two months, [24]  – so much has Pople xxx delayed it. I send off a large portion of notes tomorrow. the volume will exceed 700 pages, tho I shall print notes in double columns & in a type which will xxx make each column nearly equal to a page of the Cid-notes. [25]  They will contain a great deal of curious matter. The Bibliography must be deferred till the end of the second volume. [26] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Lyra/ Plymouth Dock Torbay [deletion and readdress in another hand]/ Single
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. 267–269 [in part and with omissions]. BACK

[1] Dated 22 November; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 November 1809, Letter 1712. BACK

[2] HMS Lyra was a Royal Navy Cherokee class 10-gun brig-sloop, launched in August 1808. BACK

[3] HMS Dreadnought was a Royal Navy 98-gun second rate ship of the line, launched in 1801, which Tom had been serving on since July 1808. BACK

[4] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[5] A word used in Southey’s The Doctor (1834–1847), I, p. 165, in humorous imitation of ‘certain letters of unknown signification’ in the ‘Koran’ (Qur’an), whose ‘commentators say that the meaning of these initials ought not to be inquired’. BACK

[6] This would become Southey’s poem Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[7] Southey had begun to plan a romance on this subject in 1804; it was not until 1823 that he began drafting the verse, in collaboration with Caroline Bowles. The poem remained unfinished, and was published posthumously as a fragment in an edition by Bowles: Robin Hood: a Fragment by the Late Robert Southey and Caroline Southey, with other Fragments and Poems (1847). BACK

[8] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1st edn, 1801; 2nd edn, 1809). BACK

[9] Southey’s poem ‘Garci Ferrandez’, published in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). BACK

[10] An American edition of Southey’s poem was published as Madoc: A Poem, in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1806. BACK

[11] The Tory politician Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby (1762–1847; DNB). BACK

[12] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): diplomatist and politician who was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1807. BACK

[13] For this, see Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 20 October 1809, Letter 1697. BACK

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

[15] A British inquiry into the circumstances surrounding, and the conduct of those involved in agreeing, the Convention of Cintra (1808), under the terms of which the defeated French were allowed to evacuate their forces from Portugal. See Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 379–381. BACK

[16] John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB), victor of the battle of Blenheim. BACK

[17] Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658?–1735; DNB), renowned for his daring tactics in an earlier war in Spain. BACK

[18] The Spanish city of Zaragoza had been besieged in 1808 and 1809, when it fell to the French after a heroic defence was broken by 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

[19] Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), naval officer and formerly Tom 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

[20] The naval officer Sir William Sidney Smith (1764–1840; DNB), who was promoted to the rank of Admiral and received several awards for his actions in the war with France, achieving a high popular reputation by 1809. BACK

[21] Sir Robert Thomas Wilson (1777–1849; DNB), army officer and colonial governor, who in 1808 was given command of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, raised from Portuguese refugees in England under British officers. In August of that year he went to Portugal as a Brigadier-General in the Portuguese army, where he was responsible for training Portuguese recruits and organizing them into effective fighting units. He returned to England at the end of 1809. BACK

[22] The Walcheren expedition was an unsuccessful British attempt to open another front in the Netherlands in support of the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France. Approximately 40,000 soldiers with supporting horses and artillery landed at Walcheren on 30 July 1809. There was little fighting but the army sustained heavy losses from sickness, and in December 1809 the rest withdrew. BACK

[23] Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood (1748–1810; DNB), who assumed command of the fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) upon Nelson’s death. In October 1809 three French warships escaped the British blockade of French ports. A squadron of Collingwood’s fleet chased and drove them shorewards; on 26 October two were destroyed, one escaped to harbour. BACK

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

[25] Southey’s The Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[26] The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1817. BACK

Places mentioned

Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)
Cintra [Sintra] (mentioned 1 time)