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

2163. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 25 October 1812 ⁠* 

Oct 25. 1812. Keswick.

My dear Rickman

First I must thank you for your synopsis Parl: Proc: – I am in the middle of the mess, – busy to day with Commercial Credit (about which I have something to say to the purpose) – Bullion follows – where my business must be cut the business {matter} as short as I can, & to take care especial care of not talking nonsense upon a subject which has puzzled heads fitter for such discussions than mine. [1]  I am in the press & four sheets out of it, – meaning to publish in April, – for the good of the work, & in the hope of seeing you in May.

I have got possession of good MSS documents about Sicily [2]  – & about Buenos Ayres. [3] 

Since the burning of Moscow I begin to have hopes of Russia. [4]  The people there are in a very untractable state for a conqueror, & if Buonaparte does not speedily give his army the slip & return to F get into better quarters himself, he may find himself worse off than he did in Egypt. What is Sweden about? at any rate pursuing a dilatory policy which in such times is a bad one. [5] 

Lord Wellington is plagued with incapable Generals. Clinton [6]  whom he left at Cueller let the French march back to Astorga – twelve hours earlier they would have brought off that garrison, – & they did bring off their garrisons from Torr & Zamora; Maitland [7]  has manifestly either put himself in the wrong place, or acted clumsily when he got there; if it was not his object to prevent Soult [8]  from joining Suchet, [9]  he ought to have landed in Catalonia. If Donkin, who I think is second in command, be as I believe he is my old play fellow Rufan Donkin, he has some brains in his head, & is of a very odd breed on the one side, but a very one very likely to produce something good. [10]  – If Hill [11]  should have a battle to fight there will be Ballasteros [12]  to help him, & to join in the pursuit.

Supposing Soult either afraid to attack Hill, or to be defeated by him, I apprehend Lord Wellington when he has compleated his dear purchase at Burgos, will push for Vittoria, break up the depot there, & then strike down upon Zaragoza, leaving Mina [13]  & Santocildes [14]  to blockade Pamplona. – I should think some of these strong places might be bought, if the thing were set about properly, & it would be oeconomical to pay a high price for them. A Frenchman has now no honour to stand in the way of the bargain, & it would from other causes be still easier to deal with an Italian.

I have begun an article for Murray about the Poor, the object of which is to set off what has been done, & is going doing towards the improvement of the lower orders & bettering their condition against the wretched generalities of the Agitators. [15]  But at the very outset I want find myself in want of Pooles sum total of persons receiving parish pay & of members of benefit societies. Will you send me these numbers, & also tell me what proportion of the community are capable of bearing arms.

You will have the Omniana [16]  next week I trust. The Life of Nelson is printing, – I have corrected five proofs – Croker supplies plans of the three great battles for it. [17]  I am trying through Herries to get my brother either a ship, – or the next step, – Herries does not want inclination to do me this service. Oh that he had been in the place of that blockhead of a boy in the Guerriere! [18]  a vile business, the effect of which nothing but the extinction of the Yankee navy can counteract.

I believe I must drop the Quarterly as soon as my engagements to it are discharged – else I shall never be able to compleat my own historical works. This Register is as much as I ought to d[MS torn] task work.

Can you tell me any thing of the Committee of Taste who decide upon the designs sent in for public monuments? [19]  They are precious judges, & indeed Parliament on these things proceeds very absurdly. By putting up {When} these things {are put up} to competition, the best artists hold back, not chusing to start for a prize, when the race is not to be to the swift, but the prize adjudged by men who are not competent judges. An inferior artist on the contrary sends in several designs, upon the doctrine of chances. I heard a good anecdote of one of the naval monuments – Ross [20]  (I think the sculptors name is) sent in several designs; the Committee pitched upon what he thought the worst of them; sent for him, – admired one figure in this design which was on the side of the monument, – & desired him to place xxx exactly such another on the other side, – & there the pair of figures stand accordingly!

I am looking for an increase of family in the course of a fortnight. [21]  Remember me to Mrs R. How did you fare the other day when old Thames was attempting a radical reform in your neighbourhood, & cleansing Westminster Hall, a-la-Hercules. [22] 

Sharp & Curwen [23]  both xxx {whisper} this damnable report about the D. of C. & Sellis. [24]  Curwen lost his election solely because he could not stand election-stories. Urbi pater est urbique maritus [25]  being told of him in half the towns of the county. Moreover there is some scandal about him & the Bp. of Landaffs daughter, which he could not face. [26] 

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqr
Endorsement: RS. 25 Octr./ 1812
MS: Huntington Library, RS 192
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The sections mentioned here appeared in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 89–114. The question of whether to restore the convertibility of paper money into gold was hotly-contested. BACK

[2] For his account of events in Sicily, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 422–437. Southey was provided with ‘two letters’ on this subject by Neville White; see Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812, Letter 2151. BACK

[3] Southey had borrowed the unpublished journal of the merchant Thomas Kinder (c. 1781–1846), who had witnessed at first-hand the events in Buenos Ayres in 1808–1810 that led to the independence of the states of the Rio de la Plata. (In 1813 Southey had a copy made of the journal, no. 3162 in the sale catalogue of his library. The copy was published as, Malyn Newitt (ed.), War, Revolution and Society in the Rio de la Plata 1808–1810. Thomas Kinder’s Narrative of a Journey to Madeira, Montevideo and Buenos Ayres (2010).) Kinder had also lent Southey ‘a volume of Noticias del Paraguay, and the prose Argentina, both in manuscript’, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), II, p. [v]. For Southey’s account of the revolution in Buenos Ayres, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 395–421. BACK

[4] Soon after French troops entered Moscow on 14 September 1812 the city was in flames. It was widely assumed that the Russians had deliberately burnt the city. BACK

[5] France had forced Sweden to declare war on Britain on 17 November 1810, but the Swedes had refused to take any military action. The de facto ruler of Sweden was Jean Bernadotte (1763–1844; King of Sweden as Charles XIV 1818–1844), a former Marshal of Napoleon, who had been appointed Crown Prince in 1810. Despite his former allegiance, Bernadotte was moving Sweden towards alliance with the anti-French forces and on 18 July 1812 Sweden and Britain made peace in the Treaty of Orebro. BACK

[6] The British officer Henry Clinton (1771–1829; DNB). BACK

[7] The British general Frederick Maitland (1763–1848; DNB). He had landed at Alicante in August 1812 with an army from Sicily, but achieved little and resigned his command in November 1812. BACK

[8] Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, 1st Duke of Dalmatia (1769–1851), overall commander of the French forces in Spain and Portugal. BACK

[9] Louis Gabriel Suchet, 1st Duc d’Albufera (1770–1826), Marshal of France and key figure in the French campaign in the Iberian peninsula. He had captured Valencia in January 1812. BACK

[10] Southey’s erstwhile schoolfellow Rufane Shaw Donkin (1773–1841; DNB). He was the son of General Robert Donkin (1726/7–1821) and of Mary, the daughter of the Revd Emanuel Collins. Collins was the Vicar of Bedminster in Somerset in the mid-18th century and had scandalised local society by running a public house, ‘The Duke of Marlborough’, conducting clandestine marriages for money and lampooning his neighbours in verse. Donkin was a career army officer. He served as quarter-master general on the east cost of Spain from 1810–1813 and in 1811 was promoted to the rank of Major-General. BACK

[11] The British general Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill (1772–1842; DNB), commander of the forces south of Madrid. BACK

[12] Francisco Ballesteros (1770–1832), one of the Spanish commanders in the south of Spain. BACK

[13] Francisco Espoz y Mina (1781–1836), since 1810 he had been commander of the guerrilleros of Navarre against French troops. BACK

[14] Jose Maria Santocildes (1771–1847), Spanish general, who had re-captured Astorga in August 1812. BACK

[15] Southey’s review of Patrick Colquhoun (1745–1820; DNB), Propositions for ameliorating the Condition of the Poor: and For Improving the Moral Habits, and Increasing the Comforts of the Labouring People (1812), appeared in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. Rickman had had some input, probably supplying notes and ideas. BACK

[16] Omniana: or Horae Otiosiores (1812). BACK

[17] No battle plans appeared in the Life of Nelson (1813). The biography, commissioned by Murray, was a development of an article in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. BACK

[18] The British frigate HMS Guerriere had been captured and destroyed in battle against the USS Constitution on 19 August 1812. The ‘boy’ was her captain, James Richard Dacres (1788–1854), who was from a famous naval family and had enjoyed rapid promotion. He rose to be a Vice-Admiral by the time of his retirement. BACK

[19] The Committee for the Inspection of the Models for National Monuments (popularly known as the ‘Committee of Taste’) had been established by parliament in 1802. Its purpose was to commission the design for public monuments to national heroes, or on great national events, especially in St Pauls Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. It was mainly made up of politicians rather than artists. BACK

[20] John Charles Felix Rossi (1762–1839; DNB). Southey is probably referring to his design for the monument to Admiral George Bridges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney (1718–1792) in St Pauls Cathedral, sculpted in 1811–1815, which is flanked by figures representing Clio, the Muse of History, and Victory. BACK

[21] Isabel Southey was born in November 1812. BACK

[22] The comparison is between the flooding of Westminster Hall (part of the complex at the Palace of Westminster) by the river Thames and Hercules’s cleansing of the Augean stables by rerouting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus. BACK

[23] At the 1812 general election, the wealthy colliery owner John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB) had refused to stand for the Carlisle seat he had held for 21 years. He did not return to parliament until 1816. BACK

[24] Prince Ernest Augustus (1771–1851; DNB), fifth son of George III and later King of Hanover 1837–1851. On 31 May 1810 the Duke’s valet, Joseph Sellis, was found with his throat cut in Cumberland’s apartment at St James’s Palace. It was widely believed that the Duke had murdered Sellis to prevent him revealing scandalous details about Cumberland’s private life – both incest and homosexuality were rumoured. BACK

[25] ‘Father and husband to all the city’; Lucan (AD 39–65), Pharsalia, Book 2, line 388. BACK

[26] Curwen was rumoured to have refused to stand for election because of gossip concerning his seduction of Dorothy Watson (1777–1837), eldest daughter of Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB), Bishop of Llandaff, who owned a substantial estate at Calgarth on the shore of Lake Windermere. BACK

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August 2013