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

2180. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 November 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov 20. 1812

My dear Grosvenor

I shall not get this bad news out of my intestines, where it has made a lodgement, if I do not give some vent to my vexation. It is very clear to me that M Wellington committed a gross blunder in besieging 2000 men at Burgos [1]  instead of pursuing a routed army till he had effected its destruction. And it is equally clear that ministers in that cursed spirit of parsimony which is the worst of all wastefulness, have crippled his exertions, & sent out reinforcements, scanty in themselves, & such as they were too late. The tide has turned compleatly, & however unwilling I may be to confess look the evil in its face, I cannot but see that we have lost the opportunity which the Russian war afforded us for delivering Spain; – lost it, I verily believe, irrecoverably. Buonapartes system may xx receive its death blow in the North, – this is possible enough; – but any success in that quarter will come as a God-send to us, – advantageous it would be in the highest degree, but the country would have no part in the honour.

The loss of reputation sustained in Spain at this time is an evil so great in itself, & so fearful in its consequences that I can hardly bear to think of it. The old game I fear will now be played over again; the next step in retreat will be to the Portugueze frontier, & then for a defensive campaign, which will equally exhaust the blood & the endurance of the Spaniards, & our resources – & worst of all, our hope.

I do not like M Wellesley, – but if my voice could make him Premier Premier he should be tomorrow. The mere fact of keeping such sending such a fellow as Lord Cathcart [2]  to Petersburgh at this time, is enough to xxxx damn any administration.

It will not surprize me if xxx before Xmas the only remaining advantage of the Victory of Salamanca [3]  should be – the cut at Trocadero – which will prevent the vile people of Cadiz from being disturbed by shells.

Zounds!

________

Grosvenor I will talk of something else, doggedly. I received the remaining half notes.

If you could see Mr Evangelicals application of Thalaba you would never be able more to ask think of any scriptural shadowings in the conduct of the poem. [4]  It is a curiosity of the first water. As yet I have only read the first page & the last. It begins with a text from Ephesians & ends with the Lamb that sitteth on the throne. [5]  – What in the name of all Saints shall I say to this homo that will satisfy him, & yet steer clear of any thing construable into hypocrisy?

With regard to the sacrifice of Isaac, [6]  it is necessary to premise that I do not believe the plenary inspiration of the xxxxxx scriptures: xxxxxx that an opinion which appears to me utterly untenable, & of the most mischievous consequences. I believe therefore in the general truth of the scriptural history, – as I do in that of any other authentic historical work, – & of course disbelieve altogether such parts as come to me with a character of incredulity. This is heresy.

The sacrifice of Isaac is said to be typical. There is something very delightful to a fanciful & ingenious mind in the discovering types & symbols every where: but any person who knows how the Romanists have done this will always suspect such xx hidden significations.

I do not know that I believe the story, nor have I thought it of sufficient importance seriously to ask myself whether I do or not. – If I did believe it entirely, I should be equally ready to praise Abraham for an act of faith in his obedience, – or to have praised him for a more enlightened rational piety, if he had suspected the voice which ordered the sacrifice, to be a delusion or a temptation.

There is however a parallel in the two cases. Thalaba is not commanded to kill Laila. [7]  The Angel says he is to receive her spirit from his hands; & when the Prophet voice from above speaks it tells him that she must die for him, or he for her. He could not be the being which I have conceived him to be, if he had made any hesitation.

___

I am busy about the Poor for Gifford, & hope to be in time for this number. [8]  It bids fair to be a stirring article.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 23 NO 23/ 1812
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Wellington and his allies had besieged the Spanish city of Burgos from 19 September–21 October 1812, but failed to capture it. BACK

[2] 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

[3] Wellington’s defeat of the French at Salamanca, 22 July 1812. This victory forced the French to lift the two-year siege of Cadiz on 24 August 1812. The Trocadero peninsula and its three forts was one of the keys to Cadiz. BACK

[4] Longmire had read Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) as an allegory of the powers and virtues of Faith, and drawn parallels between events and characters in Southey’s poem and the bible; see Southey to John Martyn Longmire, 4 November 1812, Letter 2172. BACK

[5] Revelation 5: 13. BACK

[6] Genesis 22: 1–19. God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but then countermanded his instruction at the last moment. BACK

[7] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 10, lines 381–445. BACK

[8] The first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor appeared in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. It was possibly co-authored with John Rickman and was intended as ‘an attack upon Malthus’, amongst others; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 January 1813. BACK

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August 2013