2069. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 March 1812 

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

2069. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 31 March 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 31. 1812.

My dear Tom

As my own treatise upon Bell & the Dragon came to me yesterday, I suppose that by this time your parcel from Murray has reached Durham. [1]  It contains a copy for Mr Bowyer [2]  which I have desired Harry to deliver to him. The book is now a compleat statement of the case in its personal & political bearings. The Quarterly is to be in such binding as it is usually kept in for sale, – & yet I shall be almost afraid of having the future volumes sent, as volumes, lest they should not prove uniform. – Both J of Arc & Madoc are nearly thro the press. [3]  as soon as they are ready I will repeat the order to Longman.

I have been reviewing the Icelandic Travellers [4]  & Jorgensen the Dane, [5]  telling him I thought the old score of which he reminded us had been paid off at Copenhagen. [6]  Landors play may perhaps be reviewed also in time for this number. [7]  For the next I shall endeavour to be ready with Humboldts Mexico, [8]  & perhaps with the French Biography [9]  – a text for the Revolution. The Revolution is almost the only part of their history in which any virtues appear as a set off against the almost unmingled wickedness of their political transactions. I do not believe that the history of the rest of Europe can xx contains so many instances of wickedness as are to be found in that of France from Louis XI to Louis XV. [10]  It teams with every thing that is unprincipled, profligate, perfidious & inhuman.

There are some letters in the Times signed Vetus which I suspect to be Cannings; they manifestly speak his politics & seem to me to savour strongly of his mode of thinking & writing. [11]  Much as I should like to see exertions made in Spain upon the scale which M. Wellesley employed in India, still I am better pleased that the power should remain with Perceval, than that the perilous experiment of concession to the Catholics should be tried. It would not prevent a rebellion in Ireland, – but under any ministry indifferent enough to our own Church Establishment to give up the Test Act, [12]  it would lead to the measure of selling the Tythes. Tythes may be very injurious to agriculture, I admit, – for that there may be a remedy, or it may even be very desirable to devise some means of commuting them, [13]  – I believe it would, – but what Government will do, if they meddle with the subject, will be to sell them, fund the money as a convenient supply of ways & means take the payment of the clergy into their own hands, – & thus render the whole body dependant for ever more upon the existing ministry for that proportionate rise of income, which it is the peculiar advantage of the present system always to supply. The Catholic Counties [14]  would return none but Catholic Members, who upon all of whom a Minister might depend in a measure of this kind. – The next evil which would grow out of this would be a Methodist Establishment, – for it would very soon be found convenient to let the Church to the lowest bidder, & then for the old days of fire & faggot.

I am therefore will pleased to see things the present administration arrangement in administration. Lord Liverpool has long appeared to me the best informed & wisest of our political performers. Lord Sidmouth [15]  a thoroughly honest man & Perceval the fittest prime minister, because he has plenty of political courage, & is equally ready to resist Paddy Rampant, & to stand by the Spaniards. – Yorke retires I believe merely from ill health, [16]  as you may judge by his brother remaining in office. [17]  You are mistaken about Ld Melville, Wynn tells me that as much will be gained by the change at the Admiralty as will be lost at the Board of Controul. [18]  without admitting this as any proof that Y. was not a good first Lord, it may be taken as a fair admission of Ld Melvilles reputation for ability. I am glad to see him there, because it gives me hope that the great measure of Troop Ships may be effected. [19] 

We shall probably have a battle before Badajoz. [20]  This if Earl Wellington intends to fight one is probably intended to favour some decisive movements exertion against French at Cadiz, where Doyle has been active in disciplining the Spaniards. [21]  The new Regency [22]  seems to have given hopes at least, & to have bestirred itself. – I think you will find in my next volume of the Register a more clear & satisfactory view of the causes of the misconduct of the Junta, & the Regencies which preceded it, than has yet been xxx given. [23]  The volume is about half printed, & I have still a great part of it to write.

Love to Sarah, & a kiss to Margaret. – I have at last got Counsels opinion upon the Somerville affair Cannon Southeys will, [24]  it gives me no hopes of any thing from the Fitzhead fields & furniture, – but think, that if his butcher-Lordship [25]  dies without issue it may then be worth a struggle for the rest of the property for the remainder of a term of 99 years. This is a game which I should be very unwilling to play it, even if the opportunity were to offer. The Counsel said he never had any case which gave him so much perplexity.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Capt Southey/ St. Helens/ Auckland/ Durham
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812), an expansion of his advocacy of Andrew Bell in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. It contained numerous attacks on Lancaster and on his defenders in the Edinburgh Review. See also see Southey to John Murray, 10 March 1812, Letter 2058. BACK

[2] Reynold Gideon Bouyer (1741–1826; DNB), a Prebendary of Durham Cathedral 1791–1826. His A Comparative View of the two New Systems of Education of the Infant Poor, in a Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Officialty of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, at Berwick-upon-Tweed, on Tuesday, May 12, 1811 (1811) had been one of a series of writings on the Bell-Lancaster controversy noticed by Southey in his Quarterly Review article. BACK

[3] A fourth edition of Joan of Arc and a third of Madoc appeared in 1812. BACK

[4] Sir George Steuart Mackenzie (1780–1848; DNB), Travels in the Island of Iceland, in the Summer of the Year 1810 (1811) and Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865; DNB), Journal of a Tour in Iceland, in the Summer of 1809 (1811), reviewed by Southey alongside, Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 48–92. Southey’s copy of Mackenzie – which had some coloured plates and marbled leaves – was no. 1654 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[5] Jorgen Jorgensen (1780–1841), Danish adventurer, captured by the British in 1808. The following year he travelled to Iceland, declared its independence from Denmark, proclaimed himself Protector and Commander-in-Chief by Sea and Land and promised to establish a liberal regime. Danish rule was restored by the arrival of HMS Talbot some two months later. Jorgensen was taken back to England and tried for breaking his parole. He was released in 1811. The following years were spent in England and mainland Europe. He worked as a spy, published pamphlets and newspaper articles, accumulated large debts, spent spells in prison and in 1825 was transported to Australia. He settled in Tasmania, where he led several explorations and took part in the Black Line aboriginal clearances of 1830. Southey’s account of Jorgensen’s Icelandic activities is in Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 87–90. BACK

[6] Jorgensen claimed descent ‘in a direct line from those ancient and warlike tribes who trampled on Rome and Britain … [He] needed not have reminded us of this; for our arrears to his ancestors have been paid off at Copenhagen’, Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 89. But as the British fleet had defeated the Danes at Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, the ‘old score’ was ‘paid off’. BACK

[7] Count Julian (1812), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 86–92. BACK

[8] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, an English translation of which was published by Longman in 1811. Southey did not review it. BACK

[9] Biographie Moderne: Lives of Remarkable Characters who have Distinguished themselves from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Present Time (1811), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 412–438. BACK

[10] i.e. c. 1461–1774, the period from the reign of Louis XI (1423–1483; King of France 1461–1483) to Louis XV (1710–1774; King of France 1715–1774). BACK

[11] The letters appeared in The Times between 10 March and 10 May 1812. They were condemnatory of Perceval’s administration. They were published in book form as The Letters of Vetus (1812). Southey was mistaken about their author. Vetus (‘old’) was the Irish journalist Edward Sterling (1773–1847; DNB), who later in 1812 accepted a leader writing post on The Times. BACK

[12] The Test Act (1673) effectively excluded non-Anglicans from public office. BACK

[13] Tithes were paid in kind, as one tenth of the produce of land. The Tithe Commutation Act (1836) converted them into cash payments. BACK

[14] i.e. most of the county constituencies in Ireland. BACK

[15] The former Prime Minister (1801–1804), Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), who became Home Secretary 1812–1822. BACK

[16] Charles Philip Yorke (1764–1834; DNB). In 1812 he retired as First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he had held since 1810. BACK

[17] The naval officer Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke (1768–1831; DNB), who had joined the Board of Admiralty in 1810. He did not follow his elder brother into retirement and in October 1813 he became First Naval Lord. BACK

[18] Robert Saunders Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville (1771–1851; DNB), who had become First Lord of the Admiralty earlier in 1812. He had previously been President of the Board of Control. BACK

[19] Ships specially adapted to convey troops on long sea voyages. Melville proposed to construct such ships on 21 May 1810. BACK

[20] Badajoz was successfully besieged by an Anglo-Portuguese army 16 March-6 April 1812. BACK

[21] Sir Charles William Doyle (1770–1842; DNB), British liaison officer to Spanish forces in Catalonia 1809–1811. On his way back to Britain he stopped in Cadiz and was asked by the British ambassador to accept command of a new depot for the training of conscripts. He accepted and achieved some success. However, his poor relationship with Wellington, meant that he was unsuccessful in obtaining another command in the field or on the army staff. BACK

[22] Once the new Cortes met in Cadiz in 1812, it appointed a new Council of Regency to be the executive authority. Its members were: Pedro de Alcantara Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duke of the Infantado (1768–1841); Joaquin de Mosquera y Figueroa (1748–1830); Juan Maria de Villavicencio (1755–1830); Henry O’Donnell, 1st Count of Bisbal (1769–1834); and Ignacio Rodriguez de Rivas (dates unknown). BACK

[23] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), 352–380. BACK

[24] Southey’s distant cousin, Cannon Southey (d. 1768), who owned the Fitzhead estate in Somerset. His exceptionally complex will led to much litigation. BACK

[25] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819), was Southey’s third cousin. He died without heirs, but Southey did not inherit anything. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013