2043. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 21 February 1812 

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

2043. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 21 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 21. 1812.

I have reread & re-reread the Commentary. [1]  The Dedication & the Postscript are so full of perilous matter that it will be difficult to weed them clean: & there is objection to both, that they, far more than the Commentary itself tend to produce that state of feeling which such wretches as Cobbett are continually labouring to excite & inflame for the worst purposes. – We are suffering for the Anti Jacobine war, [2]  – the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children; – now it seems (p. 111) as if you designed to represent that the sins were our own. That we are not in peace & abundance & security, is the effect of that war, – this is unavoidable, – & so are the expenses which it necessitates. [3] 

We rivet the chain in Sicily, – & we do not break it in Portugal, – but certain it is that in Spain, we have pressed upon the Government the necessity of liberal measures & popular reform. [4]  Towards the Spanish colonies this country has not acted ill, – all it could do was to endeavour to mediate. It is a dismal subject Those colonies offer a wretched prospect, – they are even more unfit for independence than the Americans were, who have become independent (by our fault most assuredly) a full century before they xxx were of age. See what it is to have a nation to take its place among civilized states before it has either gentlemen or scholars! They have in the course of twenty years acquired a distinct national character for low & lying knavery; – & so well do they deserve it that no man ever had any dealings with them without having proofs of its truth.

There is now a probability that the damned Junta of Cadiz will be crushed, & the colonial trade thrown open. I have no doubt that what you recommend America is looking to; – but I have as little doubt that it is under the direction of Buonaparte – who keeps the American Government in pay. They dream of conquering Canada on the one hand, & Mexico on the other: & happy would Buonaparte be if he could see them doing his work. But the more palpable consequences of that war with this country into which he is bribing them would be, – the separation of the Northern States, – & the loss of New Orleans, which it would be our first business to secure, & thus seal up the produce of the whole western territory.

You have plucked G Rose most unmercifully. [5]  If I were asked what man in the H of Commons had done most good there I should fix name this very hero, who according to a song sung by his company of Ch. Church volunteers to his praise, while he gets {used to get} drunk with them drinking alternately his own health & his wifes is ‘as brave as Alexander.” [6]  The encouragement of the Benefit Societies, the population & Poor returns, & the naval schools we owe to G Rose, [7]  he has actually done more good than the whole gang of reformers have even proposed to do. – The worst I know or think of Canning is that he seems to be laying out for popularity by showing symptoms of falling in with that party whose oeconomy is injustice, & who never hold out any nobler object to the people than that of saving pounds, shillings & pence.

But I meant more to confine myself merely to those passages which are either action directly actionable, or which after a while you would yourself be sorry to have published. They are that about Croker, [8] . the recommendation to withhold supplies [9]  – the mention of Ld Chatham [10]  & Ld Riverdale [11]  – Fellowes [12]  & Kett [13]  & what is said of the Irish Attorney General. [14]  About Irish affairs the English can never be made to take any strong interest. I sho[MS torn] xx as your parallel of Wellington with Peterborough substituted as the Appendix. [15]  It would do good: for the great good which is now to be done is to keep up the spirit of the country. Thank God England is not upon her stumps like Witherington, [16]  but we must fight on till we bring France into that condition.

Your prose is as much your own as your poetry. There is a life & vigour in it to which I know no parallel. – It has the poignancy of champagne, & the body of English October. Neither you nor Murray gave me any hint that the Commentary was yours, but I had could not look into those papers without knowing that it could {not} be the work of xxx any other man.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 361–363. BACK

[1] At the request of Murray, Southey had read and reread a MS of Landor’s Commentary on Memoirs of Mr Fox, which was ostensibly a response to John Bernard Trotter’s (1775–1818; DNB) laudatory account of his erstwhile employer Charles James Fox. See Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 10 February 1812 (Letter 2034) and 11 February 1812 (Letter 2035), and Robert Southey to John Murray 15 February 1812 (Letter 2039) and 18 February 1812 (Letter 2041). 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. BACK

[2] Britain’s war against France 1793–1802. BACK

[3] Landor had argued ‘Are the people in abundance? in security? If they are, they are well governed’, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on his Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 6. BACK

[4] British sea power was protecting absolutist monarchs in Sicily (since 1806) and Portugal (where Britain had helped the court flee to Brazil in 1808). But the British government had supported the Cortes in Cadiz which gave Spain the liberal Constitution of 1812. BACK

[5] In the Postscript, Landor had attacked George Rose (1744–1818; DNB), MP for Christchurch 1790–1818, Treasurer of the Navy 1807–1818 and Vice-President of the Board of Trade 1807–1812. He was the author of a volume criticising Fox (Observations on the Historical Work of C. J. Fox (1809)): ‘I leave him [Rose] … where I found him, and where Mr. Fox too, I am certain, would have left him. The King has been graciously pleased to distinguish him by the title of right honourable; I should probably have distinguished him by one very different, and certainly much more lasting. But it would have been an unworthy and most idle business; for it is only on soft and miry ground that such creatures can leave any impression. Their impetuous attack is not courage, but stupidity, and their dissonant clamour is not for our security, but for their own voracious and insatiable appetite. Perhaps it might be cruel to break the neck they stretch out so angrily and so awkwardly, yet it would be a piece of good husbandry to pluck them well, and to turn them up again on their common’, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), pp. 235–236. Southey’s defence of Rose was possibly connected to his important role in Rickman’s career – Rose had noticed Rickman’s proposal for a census and brought the idea to the attention of Charles Abbot, who became Rickman’s main patron. BACK

[6] Alexander ‘the Great’ (356–325 BC). BACK

[7] George Rose had: promoted the first Act to regulate Friendly Societies in 1793; played a role in instigating the first census of 1800; pressed for an annual account to Parliament of the Poor Law from 1803 onwards; and promoted the Royal Naval Asylum, founded in 1798, for the children of orphaned seamen, and the training ships for boys donated by the Admiralty to the Marine Society since 1799. BACK

[8] Croker is not mentioned in Charles James Fox. A Commentary on his Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), so presumably Southey removed this passage BACK

[9] Landor had recommended that the British people could force their government to change its policies by refusing to pay taxes, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on his Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 7. BACK

[10] 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

[11] 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. BACK

[12] 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. *. BACK

[13] 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

[14] William Saurin (1757–1839; DNB), Attorney General for Ireland, 1807–1822, a leading figure in the Irish administration and staunch opponent of Catholic emancipation. Although Landor did not mention him by name, he drew attention to the Irish ‘attorney general, who brought gentlemen of the first respectability to trial, when, according to his own confession, he believed them to be perfectly innocent of all the charges, and wanted only to prove the validity of an unconstitutional and most tyrannical law’; Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), pp. 240–241. This was probably a reference to his prosecution of two members of the Catholic Board in 1811–1812 under the Convention Act of 1793. BACK

[15] Landor discarded the comparison between Wellington and Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough (1658–1735; DNB), a controversial British commander in Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1713. BACK

[16] In the fifteenth-century ‘Ballad of Chevy Chase’, Part 2, verse 10, Richard Witherington lost both his legs in battle and ‘fought upon his stumps.’ BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013

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