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

2389. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 9 March 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 9. 1814

My dear R

I was at one time in good hopes that you & I might have congratulated each other upon the burning of Paris by the Russians, an auta-da-fe which would with great propriety be performed by their hands. [1]  I should have groaned over the books & manuscripts, & been sorry for the pictures, – but would have sacrificed books pictures & all for the sake of having an example made of this worse than Sodom.

I thought the tragedy was in its last act, but it has proved only the second part, & there is perhaps a third to come bloodier than the two former. For to suppose that a peace with Buonaparte can be lasting, is what none but a Morning Chroniclite by party, [2]  or a fool by nature can think. The next war however will be widely different from the present. The hatred of the French in Germany is so strong & so universal that they will never recover their ascendancy there, – at least in our days, – & if Austria joins with France, as is likely enough, Bavaria Saxony & the whole North will give Prussia a preponderating weight in the scale.

What has kept Ld Wellington so long in inactivity? want of men? The season it cannot have been, for other armies in worse severer latitudes have kept the field. It has been ill judged if it could have been avoided. He should have kept up the alarm on that side, & he should not allowed Suchet [3]  to withdraw his army safely from Catalonia, nor have given Soult [4]  time to discipline his raw levies.

I am advancing both with my Poem [5]  & with the Brazilian history [6]  – Can you get me that part of the East Indian Reports which relates to the Missionaries? [7] 

I find in a magazine an account of ground ice in the Ch. Church Stour, – written apparently by Willis of Sopley. [8]  Did you ever examine into the truth of this, which, if it be true, is certainly a very remarkable phenomenon. I wonder that I should never have heard of it.

We are covered with snow here.

Is the Princess Charlotte [9]  to be married as the newspapers say? Alas I have an interest in asking the question! – It is however some comfort that I have struck out a plan for a poem upon the subject, – more in the stile of Chaucer or Dunbar [10]  than of modern writers, – that is to say more in the men character of thought, – but sufficiently original. The conception is good, – if I do not delay the execution too long – but this is a sin to which I am too prone –  [11] 

Remember me to Mrs R.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: Fr/ RS./ 9 March 1814
MS: Huntington Library, RS 221
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Allied forces had invaded France, but Napoleon was able to inflict a number of defeats on them with greatly inferior forces. Paris was not captured until 30 March 1814. BACK

[2] i.e a Whig. BACK

[3] Louis Gabriel Suchet, 1st Duc d’Albufera (1770–1826), Marshal of France, had been a key figure in the French campaign in the Iberian peninsula and latterly commanded French forces in Catalonia until their retreat into France in 1813. BACK

[4] Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, 1st Duke of Dalmatia (1769–1851), had been overall commander of the French forces in Spain and Portugal. He was fighting a defensive war against invading Anglo-Portuguese forces in the south of France. BACK

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

[6] The second volume of the History of Brazil, published in 1817. BACK

[7] Possibly a reference to the reports of Parliamentary select committees on the East India Company, from 1805–1813. BACK

[8] ‘Ground Ice’, Gentleman’s Magazine, 79 (March 1809), 199, by James Willis (1756–1835),Vicar of Sopley, Hampshire and owner of Sopley Park, close to Rickman’s old home of Christ Church. Willis was an enthusiastic breeder of merino sheep, keeping a flock of over 1000, and a regular magazine contributor on agricultural subjects. BACK

[9] The Prince Regent’s only child Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817; DNB), was engaged to the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849), the husband selected for her by her father and his advisers. The match had been agreed in December 1813, but the marriage contract was not signed until 10 June 1814. Later that month the engagement was broken off. BACK

[10] Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400; DNB) and William Dunbar (c. 1460-c.1520; DNB). BACK

[11] This became The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), in celebration of Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

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August 2013