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

2179. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 18 November 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 18. 1812.

My dear Tom

I give you joy of your daughter, – but have no joy to give her of her names, which tho both good in themselves made an abominable compound. If my advice were to be taken it would be to toss up for one, & reserve the other for next time.

We are going on well upon the whole. The Imperial departed yesterday; today I look to my leathern jerkin, & am now fairly set-to for keeping-house & hard work during the winter. My hair has escaped cutting for the last month, or six weeks, & if I have power enough to save it, shall be reserved for a glib till the spring, Xxx xxx xxx xxx xxxx xxx xxx We never shear sheep in cold weather & why should we shear ourselves?

I am writing upon the state of the poor, or rather the populace, for the Quarterly & the first thing to be done is to make an exposure of Malthus. [1]  Thro this part I shall probably get to night, if the post (which is unusually late) does not bring anything to prevent me. The main object of this article is to probe the wounds of the body politic. We shall soon hear of scarcity again; xx the Luddite system [2]  will then be renewed, – & these things will become more & more dangerous till some means are adopting for curing the evil, not merely for palliating it. I have a good deal to say upon this subject, & could not have a better place to say it in. Associations for soup-shops &c are mere palliatives, & tho they have their good have their evil also. The immediate desideratum is to supply employment to those who want it, – national education is the alternative medicine slow in its operation but sure if time can be found for it. Schemes of extensive & liberal colonization are of the same character, but will not be adopted so soon: an extended military establishment might be connected with these, & so connected as to render the country equally secure from within & from without. But there will be no time for any thing, unless that license of the newspaper press is checked, which in its tendency {consequences} is inevitably destructive to the liberty of the press & to every thing also that is valuable in society. Spring will be a trying season. It is now plain that the harvest is rather below the average & ordinary years. There will be no supplies from America, none from the Baltic. Barbary & the Black sea remain, from the latter I think we might ought to expect little or nothing, for Russia will want all its produce for herself.

There seems indeed ground of hope in the state of the war. If Russia continue to hold out, & preserves her armies unbroken, she must necessarily triumph at last: & of this event I should have no doubt if Russia were not like the statue in Nebuchadnezzars dream, [3]  made up of such heterogeneous & easily divisible materials. I know not what principle the Cossacks have which should make them fight on one side rather than on the other. They love fighting, – but if travellers may be trusted, they hate the Russians. However, tho I am not so easily elated with Lord Cathcarts [4]  wretched dispatches as the Courier is, [5]  & as Government appears to be, – I certainly do think, there is blue sky enough in the North to make a pair of trousers, & there is blue sky in the West, & there is a tempest brooding in France which is also a cause of hope, because till there has been a defeat in that quarter than can be no fair weather.

In the Register I am writing the chapter about Ireland, of which the Catholic committee forms the main business. [6] 

The post is just arrived. Two thumping double letters very properly post-paid & containing the Evangelical Application of Thalaba [7]  – they may rest quietly with the seal unbroken till I have finished my letter. I like the last Bulletin, [8]  & infer from it that Buonaparte means to retreat to Poland, a movement which must be attended with certain life of reputation, – & probable loss of half his army. Fine sport for the Cossacks. The Atamans Platows daughter seems xxx to have a fair chance of a husband. [9] 

The Times (in Wellesley [10]  pay) underrates most grossly the Portugueze force; & lays as much blame as possible to Government – (blameable enough no doubt as to the state of the engineer department) – taking especial care to impute no blame to M. Wellington; [11]  whom I & Wordsworth & Rickman all severally blamed (before the event was known) for losing precious time at Burgos. [12] 

His business should have been to drive the enemy out of the field wherever they were to be found. – xxx A battle, if he can bring one on, will set all to rights.

Love to Sarah & my niece & God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Capt Southey/ St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: [partial] KESWICK
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 303–306. BACK

[1] The political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB). His Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, had gone into four editions by 1807. Southey used a 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), Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356, as ‘an attack upon Malthus’, amongst others; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 January 1813, Letter 2199. BACK

[2] The Luddites smashed textile machinery that they saw as a threat to their livelihoods. The movement was based in the East Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Southey expressed his fears in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), esp. 348–349. BACK

[3] Daniel 2: 31–35. The statue was made up of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay. BACK

[4] William Schaw Cathcart (1755–1843; DNB), army officer and politician. He had taken up the post of Ambassador to the Russian court in July 1812. He was actively involved in Russian attempts to resist Bonaparte and sent regular dispatches to the British government. BACK

[5] Cathcart’s dispatches were regularly reported and praised in the Courier; see, for example, Courier, 26 October 1812. BACK

[6] See Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 115–139. The Catholic Board was set up in 1811 to campaign for Catholic Emancipation. BACK

[7] The interpretation of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) proposed by Southey’s correspondent Longmire. BACK

[8] London Gazette, 11 November 1812 carried a despatch from Cathcart dated 27 October 1812, detailing the French army’s retreat through Russia. BACK

[9] Matvei Ivanovitch Platov (1757–1818), Ataman (Commander) of the Don Cossacks. He became a Count of the Russian Empire as a reward for harrying the French forces on their retreat from Moscow in late 1812. He had reputedly promised his daughter that he would bring Napoleon Bonaparte back alive. BACK

[10] Marquis Wellesley and his younger brother Wellington. BACK

[11] See the report in The Times , 6 November 1812, which criticised the lack of ‘experienced sappers and miners’ at the siege of Burgos, but noted that no blame for this or the conduct of the siege could be laid at the feet of the ‘illustrious Hero’ Wellington. BACK

[12] Wellington and his allies had besieged the Spanish city of Burgos from 19 September–21 October 1812, but failed to capture it. There was no decisive battle in Spain in 1812 after the siege was lifted. BACK

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August 2013