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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1877. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 2 March 1811 ⁠* 

Friday. March 2. 1811

My dear Tom

In the Basque Roads business, [1]  – when a good deal [MS obscured]beers defence turns upon the state of the batteries on Isle d Aix would it not have been a good x way to have begun by taking the Isle & so securing the passage? –

Tell me also another thing – where did the L’Orient squadron under Tronde [2]  go when this unlucky Brest fleet liberated it, – for this was boasted of by the Moniteur. [3]  It was the squadron seen by the Surveillante. [4] 

Tell me too what you believe the rise of the tide to be in the B. Roads – for on this point Cochrane & Gambiers witnesses differ a good deal. – the former stating it at about 10 or 12 feet – The latter speaking only of spring tides which they state at 21. – I wish the Trial had arrived when you were here, for I do not like writing the account xx without you. If you are at Durham when it is in the press (which I suppose you will) I will have a proof sent to you. It will be printed within a fortnight probably.

What size ship was the Calcutta, which then made part of the French force? [5] 


This volume runs to a most merciless length. [6]  The proof before me reaches to p. 288 – & there will be not less than 50 more before the Home business of the year is cleared off. I have just begun upon B. Roads. Of Sp. affairs I have four chapters written, & part of two others [7]  – there remain seven more, besides all the Austrian war [8]  &c. – . It will be hard work to finish it by the beginning of May.

Henceforth I have undertaken the scissars part of the business – that is the newspaper selections forming what is called the Chronicle. [9]  You remember that I had two unreasonable letters from the Home D to show this was [MS obscured] for 1809. He however has put [MS obscured] much of which the whole essence has necessarily been extracted by me in the Annals, that it is just as ill managed this year as the last. So I have consented to do it for the future. The trouble in fact is none, – merely cutting out & dating at the time for the convenience of arrangement. – The pay three guineas per sheet – amounting to about 50 guineas on the fair average. Now Tom comes the beauty of this arrangement. Such a job of course is best done regularly as the papers come in – but where was I to put the scraps that they might be safely & at the same time commodiously kept. I have had a box made for the nonce, – such a box Tom – O Tom such a box!

Mawson [10]  made it. It is of yew, the size of my desk & opening like a desk – xxxx {but} when open the part {it} is flat – not xxxx xxx an inclined plane. Then too it is yew, & when you lift up the inner cover, as in a desk, one on each side, are twelve partitions, for the twelve months, the breadth of a newspaper column, & of reasonable length. Cellarage for two years, – the one for the printing volume, the other xx {for} the current year. This is an invention of my own, – & a very ingenious invention it is. I regret that you & Sarah are not here to admire it, & rejoice over it with me, – as I do her the justice to believe she would do.

Being thus led to cut up the newspapers I have fallen upon the plan of xx cutting out all those parts which are the materials for the Annals, & pasting them in thin books, under proper arrangement. This will be of much facilitate the composition & save much time as Edith makes the books. Here too I have xx introduced an invention worthy of a patent, or a gold medal. Some columns would occasionally occur that could not be pasted down, – because the matter continued to the other side of the page. What then was to be done? Mark my contrivance. I pasted into the blue book a slip of blank paper folded in three folds, the lower fold being fastened to the page. On the xxx upper I pasted (this too by {in} a most ingenious manner) about 2 or 2 ½ inches of tape. The other end of this xxx tape (with like ingenuity) is secured to the top of the column, which then folds up to the shape {height} of the page. And then when required the tape permits the column to be turned, & read on either side. An admirable contrivance, verily most excellent, & invented wholly by me Robert Southey, Author of Kehama & the History of Brazil. [11] 

These books will be valuable. I shall bind them up & letter them Newspaper Collections for the History of 1810.

In describing the above contrivance I forgot to explain wherefor the paper is in those folds, it is for the purpose, by means of the middle fold of allowing play, like the elastic worn in bracers – lest by an incautious handling the tape should be torn off. On the least pull the folds open, & prevent this effectually.

You may tell the Doctor that a Scotch Lady of his acquaintance has scraped acquaintance with me on the score his Domineships score. She is a Miss Farquharson [12]  with stockings of blue.

I grieve that you cannot see Pasley’s Book, – the most important political work that has ever appeared. [13] 

Longman tells me Kehama is going on very well. 322 copies were disposed of when he wrote. My Evangelical Article [14]  has been spoken of by Perceval as the fairest & most comprehensive treatise he ever saw on any subject. This comes from Herries, & is therefore certain. I hope to do some good thro that Review.

Love to Sarah – God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The opening paragraphs deal with the controversy surrounding the Battle of the Basque Roads in April 1809. Although they 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 his commanding officer, the evangelical Admiral James Gambier, Baron Gambier (1756–1833; DNB), 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 convicted of 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

[2] Captain Tronde of the French Navy. BACK

[3] Le Moniteur Universel (1789–1868), the French official newspaper. BACK

[4] A frigate surrendered to the British by the French in 1803. BACK

[5] The former HMS Calcutta, which had been captured by the French in 1805. It was destroyed by British ships in 1809. BACK

[6] Ballantyne was concerned enough about the length of the historical section to insist that Southey explained himself to the readers in a prefatory note; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), [v]–vi. BACK

[7] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 470–574 and 633–786. BACK

[8] See chapters 24–27 of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 575–659. BACK

[9] Southey had been corresponding with Robert Lundie, who had compiled the yearly chronicle of events for the second volume of the Edinburgh Annual Register; see Southey to Robert Lundie, 14 October 1810 (Letter 1817), and 19 May 1811 (Letter 1925). BACK

[10] Presumably a carpenter in Keswick. BACK

[11] The Curse of Kehama and History of Brazil, both published in 1810. BACK

[12] Possibly Katharine Farquharson of Rothesay (dates unknown). BACK

[13] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457. BACK

[14] Southey’s review of 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

Published @ RC

August 2013