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

1894. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 March 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 31. 1811.

My dear Tom

I begin to wonder at not hearing from you. The first three or four pages of the Basque Roads business came here last week & I kept it some days expecting your comments, till I concluded that you had found nothing to correct. [1] 

Still we have a sick house. All the last week Bertha was suffering from a somewhat severe attack of bile. Yesterday she began to amend, – & yesterday Herbert sickened with a sore throat & fever, for which he is now being gargled, & dosed with bark & port wine. It is the worst throat we have ever had among us in any of these attacks, – tho he seems to suffer nothing in his feelings except loss of appetite. The young one had just recovered from a long & wearying ailment when Bertha was taken ill, & so we have been going on with little intermission, ever since you left us. Thank God without any serious evil thus far, & so I hope it will prove at last, – but with a great deal if disquietude, which is to me the most expensive of all things, because it keeps me idle. Let me know when I shall draw upon Ballantyne, – merely because I do not wish to do it sooner than it is wanted.

I wanted something to exhilerate me last week, & the newspapers brought it. What a fine thing was that of Graham’s! [2]  Lapena’s misconduct [3]  will put the Spaniards upon their mettle & from the spirit which Zayas [4]  has shown, & Blake’s [5]  well known talents I have great hopes of great news from that quarter. It will do good too in Wellingtons army, & if he can but bring Massena [6]  to action we are as sure of a thumping thumping victory as the devil is of Sir James Mackintosh. [7]  That is to say cock sure. There has never before been such strong reason for hope. A victory now xx will have the effect of clearing the south of Spain, & once more xxxxxx x driving the French to the Ebro. Oh Tom when Grahams boys began to administer the bayonet what parbleuing & morbleuing & sacrebleuing & ventrebleuing {there must have been!}, to say nothing of diabling & those xxxxxx other exclamations which ought to make the ninth unclean part of speech in a Frenchmans grammar. When Major Gough [8]  swept the Colonels head off at one stroke it must have been a fine sight to have seen the grimaces of all the Frenchman near, – it might then have been ascertained to a nicety how xxx far the eyebrows can fly up, & to what dimensions a mouth is capable of being opened.

Sarah has my xxxx permission to chide me as much as she pleases for this bloody-mindedness, provided she holds herself ready to make me the amende honorable after she shall have read the Register for 1809. [9]  if upon reading it she becomes {as} bloody minded herself – which I fully expect her to do.

I am behind hand with this & begin to fear that my visit to London must be postponed till autumn. Here is March at an end & I have not less than 150 pages yet to xx write! Such is the unmerciful business of the year. Had it been no longer than the last – my work would have been ended a month ago.

Our love to Mary – tell us how the young one comes on. – I have some little reason to hope that something may be done for you thro Croker, – at least you have friends at work in that direction.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

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

[1] The Battle of the Basque Roads, April 1809, 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. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 364–379. Southey had requested that the proofs of his discussion of the Battle of the Basque Roads be sent to Tom Southey; see Southey to John Rickman, 4 March 1811, Letter 1879. BACK

[2] Major-General Thomas Graham (1748–1843; DNB), had played a crucial part in the victory of an Anglo-Spanish force at Barrosa on 5 March 1811. BACK

[3] General Manuel La Pena (fl. 1808–1811), commander of the Spanish forces, notably failed to support Graham at the battle of Barrosa. BACK

[4] The Spanish commander José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón (1772 – 1827), famed for his skill and daring. BACK

[5] The Spanish general Joaquin Blake y Joyes (1759–1827). BACK

[6] André Massena (1758–1817), French general. His retreat from Portugal into Spain began on 13 March 1811. BACK

[7] The writer and politician Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB). BACK

[8] At the Battle of Barrosa on 5 March 1811, Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough (1779–1869; DNB), Lieutenant-Colonel of the Prince of Wales’s 87th Irish Regiment, led a famous charge of the French 8th Light Infantry. It produced the first capture of a French Imperial Eagle during the Peninsular War. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

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August 2013