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

1880. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 6 March 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 6. 1811

My dear Tom

You have mistaken my question about the L’Orient squadron, [1]  – I meant the frigates which got out & ran, – not the ships which joined the Brest squadron & shared its fate. But it is no matter for I have found them at the Saints from whence they ran to Guadeloupe, – & no doubt there xxx {was} a good account of them at last which I shall xxx come to in good time.

Of Burdett & his party I think as ill as you can do. It is now just a year since I began to waver in my good opinion of him. His language respecting the H. of Commons, calling it ‘this Room’, first staggered me, – & I thought xxx {that} whenever he spoke upon army-matters then was an evident tendency, whether designed or not to inflame the soldiery, – a game at which Cobbett has long been driving. Then came the mischievous business of blockading his house. [2]  These things with the manner in which he has of late flattered the Crown while he vilified the parliament, leave no doubt whatever on my mind of that dangerous that his conduct is exceedingly dangerous whatever his motives may be. You will see in the Register that I have declared war upon this party, – & you will see upon what ground I am convinced of the impracticability of Parl: Reform; – or in other words {that what is so called producing would produce} of it being the immediate & inevitable dissolution of government. [3] 

The paper in three folds is pasted along the top of the page horizontally & is about three inches long. I have also to inform you that Cyclopædia Passage [4]  must change its name, for I have had a cupboard made in the wing parlour, into which the Cyc. [5]  & the Pinkertons [6]  are transferred. An excellent cupboard in two parts, both with lock & key. And here I have begun to arrange my huge mass of letters, putting them in such order that they may always be referred to. In a short time {all} my papers of every kind will be as well arranged as the books of the Bank.

Harry must give me Gooch’s direction. Streatham is half way to Croydon from town, & I will walk over & breakfast with him, & show him the way to my Uncles, who will be much pleased with him. I have seen very few men of whom I thought so highly after a short intercourse.

I have quoted you concerning the tide [7]  & put in the fact of the ensign [8]  which comes in well. This business fills a chapter which I finished yesterday, it pleases me well, & I have taken some pains to prevent the public from confounding Lord Cochrane [9]  too much with Burdetts party; – making the broad line of distinction between them about the Spaniards. I believe I understand the affair as well as a landsman can do. I have rather implied than expressed an opinion against Ld Gambier, – & certainly have so expressed myself as to avoid all possibility of hurting him if he should read the account. You need not send me the proof, – I shall have one – correct in yours any blunder of language (tho I think there cannot be any so carefully have I followed the book) & when you think I have erred in opinion or mistaken any matter of fact, set me right by letter, – the day you receive the proof. I will detain mine mine in expectation of your comments.

Tomorrow I write the capture of Martinique – The W India affair follows – the Saints & St Domingo, then Cayenne. From thence I pass to the progress of our dispute with Nathan, [10]  treating it as summarily as it deserves. This is one chapter. [11]  Sweden Russia & Turkey another. [12]  Then the Austrian war, [13]  the introduction to this is written – I am in high condition to use a fancy phrase; & shall go galloping on, tho perhaps I may stop short tomorrow. – for tomorrow is a day of grand possibility for a parcel, a thumping thumping parcel; – yea x a breeding parcel, a parcel “promising parcels hereafter”, – for it contains two catalogues from which more books are to be sent for. It could have saved this country 100,000 £ if any one of the Lords of the Admiralty six years ago [14]  had read Monstrellet, – for in 1436 the Duke of Burgundy [15]  sunk six store-ships in Calais Harbour, – & at low-water the men & women of the town came out, pulled them to pieces & hauled away the wood for fuel, “to the great astonishment, says the historian of the Duke & his Admirals” [16]  – who saw the pleasant conclusion of the scheme, & who like our wise-acres had forgot to take the rise & fall of the tide into their calculations. – Is this not this a fine instance of the happy utility of leaving out all the circumstances of history, & simply telling us that “Calais was besieged without effect,” – a system xx which renders it impossible to learn any thing from the numberless examples of which real history is full.

Thank you for the Nookta Roc. I remember the passage, & that it must have been in do not remember recognising the claw. It will make a good article in the Omniana, [17]  & perhaps Major Pike’s Travels [18]  (which are coming in the parcel, a present from Longman) may say something more about the tradition. I shall examine also the Historia de California. [19]  A whale is rather too big for the Bird to fly away with. I should be satisfied to see him carry away a porpoise. Nootka is certainly not too far from the place where the claw was found. – You need not starve for books while Purchas [20]  great collection of voyages is in my friend Mr Viners [21]  keeping – one volume contains plenty for three months & variety also so that you may two or three travels in reading at once.

I am very much grieved for Albuquerques death, [22]  – almost the last words I used to Abella in dispeeding myself of him before his departure were a hope that the excellent man would soon be at the head of an army once more; Romana [23]  too is a severe loss. – We shall have good news from Lisbon, & then I think the tide will set in against the French. I hope & think Buonaparte {himself} will xx come against Lord Wellington. In Gods name! love to Sarah. I shall soon look for good news of her.



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 214–216 [in part]. BACK

[1] About the movements of the L’Orient squadron after the Battle of Basque Roads in April 1809; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 2 March 1811, Letter 1877. BACK

[2] After the House of Commons had voted on 6 April 1810 to commit Burdett to the Tower of London for breach of privilege, he had blockaded himself in his house, an action which caused clashes between troops and the crowd. He was eventually taken to the Tower on 9 April and remained there until the end of the parliamentary session on 21 June. BACK

[3] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 282–316. BACK

[4] In Greta Hall. BACK

[5] Abraham Rees (1743–1825; DNB), Cyclopaedia (1802–1820). BACK

[6] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World (1808–1814); no. 2335 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] Southey had previously asked his brother for information about tides; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 2 March 1811, Letter 1877. It is unclear which of several references to tides in Southey’s account of the Battle of the Basque Roads in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 364–379 this refers to. BACK

[8] A few days before the Battle of the Basque Roads, the French ship Calcutta, which had been captured from the English in 1805, displayed ‘an English ensign … a poor insult on the flag’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 369. BACK

[9] The battle of the Basque Roads had generated considerable public controversy. 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 Meditteranean, Cochrane refused and went on half-pay, devoting his time to exposing abuses in the Admiralty. BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 403–424. ‘Nathan’ was a common way of referring to the United States. BACK

[11] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 380–402. BACK

[12] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 425–469. BACK

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

[14] There had been a plan in 1804 to block the French port of Boulogne with stone ships. The First Lord of the Admiralty at the time was John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent (1735–1823; DNB). BACK

[15] Philip III, ‘the Good’ (1396–1467), Duke of Burgundy, and leader of the attack on English-controlled Calais in 1436. BACK

[16] Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) [trans.], The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, 4 vols (Hafod, 1809), III, p. 185. BACK

[17] See the evidence adduced for the existence of a ‘Gigantic Bird’ in Southey and Coleridge, Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), II, 109–112. BACK

[18] Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779–1813), Exploratory Travels Through the Western Territories of North America (1811). Southey’s copy was no. 2330 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[19] Miguel Venegas (1680–1764), Noticia de la California (1757), no. 3767 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[20] Volumes by Samuel Purchas (c. 1577–1626; DNB), Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). Southey owned an undated copy of the former, no. 2179 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[21] Samuel Viner (1740–1815), one of the minor canons of Durham Cathedral, possibly with some responsibility for the Cathedral Library. BACK

[22] The Spanish military commander, Jose Miguel de la Cueva, 13th Duke of Alburquerque (1774–1811). For Southey’s account of his final months as ambassador in England, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 296–297. BACK

[23] The Spanish general Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of la Romana (1761–1811). BACK

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August 2013