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

2035. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 11 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby 11. 1812

The conclusion of the second paragraph of the Dedication might expose the writer to a state prosecution; & is upon the face of it, punishable. [1] 

Crokers salary is trebled in the estimate of it, – & the duties diminished in equ more than an equal proportion. The office which he holds is one of the most efficient offices of state, & he himself one of the cleverest men either in or out of office. It is true he is an Irishman & like all Irishmen has some strong chasms of knowledge, – but do not I beseech you speak contemptuously of the man who wrote the poem upon Talavera, [2]  & the pamphlett upon the State of Ireland. [3] 

P viii. [4]  cancel the first line & half & the sentence beginning What can we think of – & ending with “coward?” You will leave the full impression of your own feelings upon the reader, & he will not be able to take plead the intemperance of the writer as a reason for holding in contempt whatever he may say. I do not suppose Ld Chatham [5]  would prosecute the libel, but certainly to call a man a liar & a calumniator is libellous.

P xxv. We sentence under such circumstances, – we do not execute. Our laws are not the best possible, – but God keep us from Romillys [6]  reformation of them, which would take all discretion from the judge – for the purpose of giving it to the jury.

Fellowes [7]  is not worth notice. And what if x you should not have been accurately informed of the real circumstances of his history? – in one instance I know that you have not. The woman alluded to is not a French woman, – what he may {have} done to her character I know not, but this I know that it was unblemished till he knew her. She is a Scotchwoman, her brother is a drunken parson in Norfolk, she married a French ex-noble, who left her, & whether he is dead or alive nobody knows. I saw her in 1806 happening to pass eight & forty xxx hours at Thetford. I saw Fellowes too, who was invited to meet me. & I saw that he & Madam x Brouisac [8]  (that I think was her name) were in a very fair way of making each other miserable, – but till that time his only connection with her was very honourable to him, for he was befriending to the utmost of his means an ill-used, interesting & deserted woman. – Fellowes must be an unhappy man, belonging to a church in whose articles he does not believe, separated from his own wife, [9]  & in love with, – if not living with a woman who may be another mans – for ought that either he or she know to the contrary. This cannot be without being in some a great degree his fault, – but you will allow that it may be quite as much his misfortune. He is beneath your anger, – & if you strike him it is but bruising a broken reed.

174. That story is almost too good to be true. [10] 

203. The farthing candle is not gone out as you seem to have supposed; – & it is better not to relate such a story of him. It is mortifying to think how little human testimony is worth, were there be can {be} any possible reason for misrepresenting, misunderstanding, or even inventing anecdotes. When you & I were living as it were next door to each other at Oxford, I heard that you had fired a pistol at one of the fellows of Trinity; [11]  – & tales are at this day told of me at Balliol just as remote from any possibility of truth. – But if the facts were certain beyond all possibility of doubt or denial, a personal attack upon any thing so contemptible as Kett [12]  would only lesson the effect of the better part of the book.

P. 84. – Either leave out the titles, – or omit the pedigree of Riversdale. [13] 

It would be neither treating you nor myself with proper respect to offer any excuse for these remarks. I am considered as the most incautious of all men in my writings, – & yet these passages appear objectionable to me – What then will they do to others? – How is it that you can speak with respect, or think with patience of Maddison & the American Government! Their conduct towards Spain has been of the basest kind, [14]  – they are as much in the pay of France as ever Charles 2d  [15]  was – (Pickerings letter proved this) [16]  & because Buonaparte fees them, they suffer their country to be insulted & bullied & plundered by him: An Englishman is not more superior to a thorough bred Yankee than even our Parliament is to Congress. This it is to have become independent too soon, – & Spanish America is even less ripe for independence than our colonies were.

It would require a longer sheet than this which is already filled were I to tell you what I admire in this book & how much I admire it. There is in your tragedy a power might & majesty beyond that of any living poet. I would compare your prose to champagne, if I liked champagne well enough to think that such a comparison were not degrading the thing compared, – it has a life & poignancy of its own, & flashes of sagacity which almost dazzle by their brilliancy. Were but your verse {always} as perspicuous as your prose, it would rank with Milton & Shakespere.

I must not conclude without saying how entirely I agree with you in every thing which you have said toward {of} our political Gog & Magog. [17]  I am as true an Iconoclast as yourself, – but you have set up two Idols in your temple who would fall under my reforming hatchet – Locke [18]  & Franklin: [19]  for Locke I have a thorough contempt, – & Franklin has in great measure produced the sordidness of the American character.



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr./ Bath.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: Red wax ‘S’ with motto
Watermark: shield/ 1806
Endorsement: 1812/ Robert Southey Esqr
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42550
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 23–26. BACK

[1] The ‘Dedication’ to Landor’s Commentary on Memoirs of Mr Fox. Although the Commentary was printed, Murray eventually suppressed its publication, refusing to issue a book that attacked the Tory government and was dedicated to James Madison (1751–1836), President of the United States 1809–1817, with whom Britain was about to go to war. In Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p.7, Landor suggested that the British people could force their government to change its policies by refusing to pay taxes. BACK

[2] Croker’s The Battles of Talavera, first published in 1809 it had gone into nine editions by 1812. It was written in the style of Scott’s Marmion (1808). Croker was Secretary to the Admiralty 1809–1830. He is not mentioned in Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), so presumably, Landor removed this comment. BACK

[3] Croker’s A Sketch of the State of Ireland, Past and Present (1807). Southey cited it as by ‘far the ablest publication upon this subject’ in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 9 n. *. BACK

[4] A series of suggested corrections for Landor’s Commentary follow. BACK

[5] John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1756–1835; DNB), army officer and elder brother of the former prime minister William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB). The Commentary criticised his role in the ill-fated Walcheren expedition of 1809, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 21–22. BACK

[6] The Whig lawyer and politician Samuel Romilly (1757–1818; DNB). BACK

[7] In a tirade against ‘Reviewers and magazine-men, the linkboys and scavengers of literature’ Landor singled out Robert Fellowes (1770–1847; DNB): ‘Of late years, if any one had paid any attention to such people [reviewers] … one would imagine … that Aristotle only kept a box for Mr. Fellowes.// This reverent gentleman having settled religion to his mind, but unhappily … driven out from the poets, is retaliating on them as their judge. He writes, or did write, for I know not whether the work survives his hand, in The Critical Review; strange successor to the gentle, but high-minded Southey’, Landor, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 146. Landor’s dislike of Fellowes had undoubtedly been fuelled by learning (from Southey) of the latter’s views on his poetry. Fellowes had observed in a letter to Seward of 1803 that: ‘The author of Gebir … has lately made another attempt to convey the waters of Helicon by leaden pipes, and many dark subterranean ways … having trod the dark profound of Gebir, I feel no inclination to begin another journey, which promises so little pleasure, and probably where only a few occasional flashes will enlighten the road’, Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), V, p. 77 n. *. Fellowes’s Poems, Chiefly Descriptive of the Softer and More Delicate Sensations and Emotions of the Heart appeared in 1806. BACK

[8] M. Brousiac. Unidentified. BACK

[9] Elizabeth Annabella Mackenzie (dates unknown). BACK

[10] Unidentified. BACK

[11] An elaboration of the story behind Landor’s abrupt departure from Trinity College, Oxford in June 1794; actually, he fired a shotgun at the shuttered windows of a fellow student. BACK

[12] Henry Kett (1761–1825; DNB), Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and writer on education. Landor had encountered him during his time at Oxford. Kett features regularly in Landor’s satirical writings and the Commentary related an anecdote about his unprofessional, self-serving conduct; Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), pp. 220–222. BACK

[13] William Tonson, 2nd Lord Riversdale (1775–1848). His father, William Tonson, 1st Lord Riversdale (1724–1787), was born William Hull and was probably the illegitimate son of the substantial Irish landowner, Robert Tonson (1695–1773). Landor had referred to the 1st Lord Riversdale as ‘the bastard of a scullion’; Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 90. In addition, Nicholas Lawless, 1st Lord Cloncurry (1735–1799) was described as a ‘blanket-maker’ (he was a wool merchant and banker). BACK

[14] The United States had annexed the disputed territory of West Florida in 1810, whilst Spain was engaged in the struggle against France. BACK

[15] Charles II (1630–1685; King of Great Britain 1660–1685; DNB) accepted substantial subsidies from France under the Treaty of Dover (1670). BACK

[16] Timothy Pickering (1745–1829), prominent American politician and leader of the pro-British Federalist party. Southey is probably referring to his Letters addressed to the people of the United States of America, on the conduct of the past and present administrations of the American Government, towards Great Britain and France (1811). BACK

[17] Two legendary giants whose names appear in the Bible, e.g. Genesis 10: 2 and Ezekiel 38–39. Southey used ‘Gog’ as a derisory term for Francis Jeffrey (who was very short), but here he may be referring to the political conflict between Whigs and Tories. BACK

[18] The philosopher John Locke (1632–1704; DNB). BACK

[19] Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), American polymath and founding father of the United States. BACK

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August 2013