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

2203. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 13 January 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 13. 1813.

My dear Scott

I received Rokeby [1]  on Monday evening, & you need not be told that I did not go to bed till I had read the poem thro. It is yours all over, & like all its brethren perfectly original. I have only to congratulate you upon its appearance, upon its life & xxxx spirit, & (with sure & certain anticipation) upon its success. – Let me correct an error in your last note. – in time for the second edition. Robin the Devil [2]  lived, – not upon one of our islands, but on Curwens in Winandermere, which then belonged to the Philipsons. You may find the story in Nicolson & Burns Hist. of Westmorland – p. 185–6. [3] 

I enjoyed your poem the more, being – for the first time, able to follow you in its scenery. [4]  My introduction at Rokeby [5]  was a very awkward one, & if the xxxxx old woman who would not let me thro the gate till I had promised her to call at the House, had been the porter or the porters wife when in the days of your story, Edmund might have sung long enough before he would have got in. However, when this awkwardness was over I was very much obliged to her for forcing me into such society, – for nothing could be more hospitable or more gratifying than the manner in which I & my companions were received. The xxxxx xxxx {glen} is, for its extent, more beautiful than any thing I have seen in England. It has somewhat of the character of Downton, [6]  – somewhat of Lowther, [7]  but it impressed me more than either. – If I had known your subject I could have helped you to some Teesiana for your description, the result of the hardest days march I ever yet made. For we traced the stream from its for spring-head on the summit of Cross fell, – about a mile from the source of the Tyne, – all the way to High force. [8] 

Thank you for your information about Munchausen, [9]  – a xxx history almost as odd as any thing in the book which bears his name. If the Omniana be reprinted (which I pray Fortune that xxx it may, in order that it may be better printed) I shall gladly avail myself of it. [10]  – The odour of complection I believe in, being quick-scented, as well as long nosed, – tho certainly with no pretensions like those of your old-Lady, [11]  – nor having any thing of the civit myself. If xx it exist as I suppose, the civet-cat, & the pole-cat constitutions would perhaps be found liable each to its own class of diseases.

You tell me there is a volume of the Somers Tracts [12]  lying for me in London – I have only received the 2d – &4th volumes, & Ballantyne who tells me the third was lost, & promises that the set shall be compleated, seems in no hurry to send me any more, tho I have more than once told him I should be glad to have them at hand, – books being with me a capital which are always put out to immediate interest.

In the course of next month I hope you will receive my life of Nelson, [13]  – a subject not self-chosen, & out of my way, – but executed con amore. [14]  I was greatly in hopes that Buonaparte would have closed his career by the hands of the Russians, [15]  – in that case I think I should have wound up my labour in the Register [16]  xx with the year 1812; for it would have given me a proper & most blessed conclusion. – Some of my periodical employments I must ere long relinquish, or I shall never complete the great historical works [17]  upon which so many years have been bestowed, in which so much progress has been made, & for which it is very little likely that any other person in the country will ever so qualify himself again. Yonder they are lying unfinished while I suffer myself to be tempted to other occupations, of more immediate emolument indeed, – but in all other respects of infinitely less importance. Meanwhile time passes on, & I who knew that I was am of a short-lived race, & xxxxx[MS torn]xxxx have a sense of the uncertainty of life more continually present in one in my feelings thoughts & feelings than most men, – sometimes reproach myself for not devoting my time to those works upon which reputation, & perhaps the fortunes of my family, must eventually rest, while the will is so strong, the ability yet unimpaired, – & the leisure permitted me. – If I do not greatly deceive myself my Hist. of Portugal will be one of the most curious books of its kind that has every yet appeared, the matter is in itself so interesting, I have hunted out so much that is recondite, & have so much strong light to throw upon things which have never been elucidated before.

We have mismanaged in Spain: – we have mismanaged in America – oh those frigates! those frigates! [18]  – Were I minister this is the way I would deal with Jonathan, [19]  I would send out a good fleet, & a good supply of Congreve rockets. [20]  The Admiral should be plenipotentiary & he should negociate by a manifesto, – first stating the points of dispute (would that I had to draw it up!) then offering America peace on condition that it paid the expenses of this armament sent to enforce it: after a reasonable time allowed for accepting the proposition I would run down the coast, & treat the great towns with an exhibition of rockets; – then renew the proposals with this difference only that the charge of the rockets & the costs {running expenses of the} armament should be added to the Bill, – & so I would go on should they not chuse to put a stop to the illuminations by submission, – or till Philadelphia, Baltimore – New York &c – were laid in ashes. – They should feel the power which they have so wantonly provoked. – I am now reading American-history of which I have a considerable collection. It promises xxxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxxxx xx xxxx is full of an instructive matter lessons tending to show that it is as much better for our hearts to have been born & bred in a country of old & venerable establishments as it is for our manners & imagination.

Remember me to Mrs Scott & believe me my dear brother bard

yrs most truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: JAN/ B 16 M/ 1813
Endorsement: Southey/ 13 Jany. 1813
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3884
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 8–10 [in part]. BACK

[1] Scott’s Rokeby: A Poem (1813), set during the civil war of the seventeenth century. BACK

[2] Robert Philipson (d. 1663), Royalist soldier during the Civil Wars, most famous for his assault on a Parliamentary congregation at Kendal Church, which provided the origin of the ballad, ‘Dick and the Devil’. BACK

[3] Scott’s note to Canto 6, stanza 33 of Rokeby had recorded his indebtedness when describing a horseman riding ‘armed, at headlong speed’ to the ‘real achievement of Major Robert Philipson, called from his desperate and adventurous courage, Robin the Devil. He was a loyalist during the civil wars, and held out the castle of the Earl of Derwentwater, situated upon Lord’s Island in the lake of Keswick’, Rokeby (Edinburgh, 1813), p. cxv. Southey’s letter points out his ‘error’, and draws Scott’s attention to a new source, Joseph Nicolson (fl. 1770s) and Richard Burn (1709–1785; DNB), The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, 2 vols (London, 1777), I, pp. 185–186 (no. 2106 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library), which said that ‘Robin the Devil’ had been beseiged at his home on the island of Brendwood, in Lake Windermere. By 1813 the island had long passed out of the hands of the Philipson family and was owned by the Curwens. Scott responded to Southey’s point by correcting his mistake, see Rokeby: A Poem, 2nd edition (Edinburgh, 1813), p. 411. BACK

[4] Southey had visited the area (in Yorkshire) described in Rokeby in summer 1812; see Southey to John Rickman, 28 July 1812, Letter 2127. BACK

[5] The estate in Yorkshire owned by John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1771–1843; DNB), traveller, classical scholar and member of the Society of Dilettanti. He had gained the nickname ‘Troy’ for his endeavours to prove that the city had been a real place, not an invention of Homer; see Robert Southey to Edith Southey, 23 July 1812, Letter 2125. BACK

[6] The estate at Downton, Herefordshire, inherited and improved by the art collector, writer and advocate for the picturesque, Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824; DNB). BACK

[7] Lowther castle, ancestral home of the powerful Lake District family headed by the Earls of Lonsdale. BACK

[8] See Southey to Edith Southey, 18 July 1812, Letter 2124. BACK

[9] In a letter of 26 November [1812] Scott had sent Southey information about Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720–1797), including the story that ‘A starving German literatus … who knew the Baron, and thought he had been neglected by him, compiled the book [Muchausen’s Travels] in revenge, partly from the stories of the Baron, partly from other sources, and partly from his mother wit’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, p. 198. BACK

[10] Scott was responding to an anecdote about Münchhausen in Southey and Coleridge’s Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), I, pp. 156–157. Omniana did not go into a second edition, so Southey was unable to incorporate what Scott had told him. BACK

[11] See Walter Scott to Robert Southey, 26 November [1812]: ‘I knew an old lady who really could smell partridges in the stubble’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, p. 198. BACK

[12] Scott was the editor of John Somers, Baron Somers (1651–1716; DNB), A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts, published in 13 volumes from 1809–1815. Southey’s copy was no. 2613 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[14] ‘With love’. BACK

[15] France had invaded Russia on 24 June 1812, only to be forced to retreat in October. The last French troops straggled out of Russia on 14 December 1812. BACK

[16] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813) was the last edition that Southey wrote. BACK

[17] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) and unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[18] The superior fire-power of the United States’s frigates had allowed them to capture or destroy three British frigates, HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812, HMS Macedonian on 25 October 1812 and HMS Java on 29 December 1812. BACK

[19] A popular term for an American and America. BACK

[20] A rocket with a range of up to 2 miles, designed by Sir William Congreve (1772–1828; DNB) in 1804, and used extensively in naval and land engagements from 1805 onwards. They were used with some success in the Anglo-American war of 1812–1814. BACK

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August 2013