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

2211. Robert Southey to Neville White, 25 January 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick, Jan. 25. 1813.

My dear Neville,

Before I say anything of my own doings, let me rejoice with you over these great events in the North. [1]  Never in civilised Europe had there been so great an army brought together as Bonaparte had there collected, and never was there so total and tremendous a destruction. I verily think that this is the fourth act of the Corsican, and that the catastrophe of the bloody drama is near. May his fall be as awful as his crimes! The siege of Dantzic, and the accession of Prussia to our alliance, will, probably, be our next news. Saxony will be the next government to emancipate itself, for there the government is as well disposed as the people. I wish I could flatter myself that Alexander [2]  were great enough to perform an act of true wisdom as well as magnanimity, and re-establish Poland, not after the villanous manner of Bonaparte, but with all its former territory, giving up his own portion of that infamously acquired plunder, and taking Prussia’s part by agreement, and Austria’s by force; for Austria will most likely incline towards the side of France, in fear of Russia, and in hatred of the House of Brandenburgh. May this vile power share in his overthrow and destruction, for it has cursed Germany too long!

Was there ever an infatuation like that of the party in this country who are crying out for peace? as if this country had not ample cause to repent of having once before given up the vantage ground of war, at a peace forced upon the state by a faction! Let us remember Utrecht, and not suffer the Whigs of this day to outdo the villany of the Tories of that. [3]  There can be no peace with Bonaparte, none with France, that is not dictated at the edge of the sword. Peace, I trust, is now not far distant, and one which France must kneel to receive, not England to ask.

The opening of the Baltic will come seasonably for our manufactures, and, if it set the looms to work again, we may hope that it will suspend the danger which has manifested itself, and give time for measures which may prevent its recurrence. You will see in the next Quarterly a paper upon the State of the Poor, – or, rather, the populace, – wherein I have pointed out the causes of this danger, and its tremendous extent, which, I believe, few persons are aware of. I shall be sorry if it be mutilated from any false notions of prudence. [4]  It may often be necessary to keep a patient ignorant of his real state, but public danger ought always to be met boldly, and looked in the face. I impute the danger to the ignorance of the poor, which is the fault of the State, for not having seen to their moral and religious instruction; to the manufacturing system, acting upon persons in this state of ignorance, and vitiating them; and to the Anarchist journalists (Cobbett, Hunt, [5]  &c.) perseveringly addressing themselves to such willing and fit recipients of their doctrines.

In the last number I reviewed D’Israeli’s Calamities of Literature, [6]  the amusing book of a very good-natured man.

The poem [7]  goes on slow and sure. Twenty years ago nothing could equal the ardour with which I pursued such employments. I was then impatient to see myself in print: it was not possible to long more eagerly than I did for the honour of authorship. This feeling is quite extinct; and, allowing as much as may be allowed for experience, wiser thoughts, and, if you please, satiety in effecting such a change, I cannot but believe that much must be attributed to a sort of autumnal or evening tone of mind, coming upon me a little earlier than it does upon most men. I am as cheerful as a boy, and retain many youthful or even boyish habits; but I am older in mind than in years, and in years than in appearance; and, though none of the joyousness of youth is lost, there is none of its ardour left. Composition, where any passion is called forth, excites me more than it is desirable to be excited; and, if it were not for the sake of gratifying two or three persons in the world whom I love, and who love me, it is more than probable that I might never write a verse again. God bless you!

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 14–17. BACK

[1] In this paragraph Southey sets out his plan for waging war against France in northern Europe, after the defeat of the French army in Russia in 1812. He hoped to draw Prussia and Saxony (though not Austria) into a new coalition with Russia against the French; and to replace the Duchy of Warsaw, which France had created out of Prussian Poland in 1807, with a new, enlarged Kingdom of Poland, thus reversing the division of the country between Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1792–1795. BACK

[2] Alexander I (1777–1825; Tsar of Russia 1801–1825). BACK

[3] The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. It was concluded by Tory Ministers and was much criticised by their Whig opponents as too lenient to France. BACK

[4] 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. It was altered by Gifford and Croker prior to publication. BACK

[5] Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB), radical politician. BACK

[6] Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848; DNB), Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 93–114. BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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August 2013