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

2396. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 23 March 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 23. 1814

My dear Rickman

Your letter operated well. Like a good boy I began my task immediately after its arrival, & have now compleated one part, & begun the second of a poem which is to consist of three. Can you give me a better title than Carmen Maritale? [1]  I distrust my own Latinity, which has long been disused & never was very good. The poem is in six lined stanzas, – first a Proem, so called rather than Introduction, that the antiquated word may put the reader in tune for what follows. the It is a poets egotism, making the best of the laurel, & passing to the present subject by professing {at first} an unfitness for it. the second part will be a vision wherein allegorical personages give good advice, – & the concluding part a justification of the serious strain which has been chosen, – something about the King, [2]  & a fair winding up with x a wish that it may be long before the Princess be called upon to exercise the duties of which she has been here reminded. The whole from 3 to 400 lines, – on which when they are compleated I will request you to bestow half an hours reading with a pencil in your hand.

The ground ice you have explained so clearly that I am half ashamed of not having thought upon the thing before I asked a question about it. [3] 

In George Gascoignes poem there are many things about the Dutch, showing that the English despised them & despaired of their cause, – just as in our days happened to the Spaniards –

– And thus, my Lord, your honour may discerne
Our perils past, & how in our annoy
God saved me, (your Lordship’s bound-for-ever)
Who else should not be able now to tell
The state wherein this country doth persever,
Ne how they seem in careless minds to dwell,
(So did they erst, & so they will do ever.)
And to my Lord for to bewray my mind,
Methinks they be a race of Bull-beef borne,
Whose hearts their Butter mollyfieth by kind,
And so the force of Beef is clear outworne.
And eke their brains with double beer are lined;
Like sops of browesse puffed up with froth,
Where inwardly they be but hollow gear,
As weak as wind, which with one puff up goeth.
And yet they brag & think they have no peer,
Because Harlem hath hitherto held out;
Altho in deed (as they have suffered Spain)
The end thereof even now doth rest in doubt. [4] 

I dearly love a piece of historical poetry like this, which shows how men felt & thought, when history only tells us how they acted.

I open the newspaper every day in fear of seeing that the preliminaries are signed. Austria seems to be me to be playing false. [5] 

Remember me to Mrs R – & your sister. [6]  – I hope we are seeing the end of some long ailments among the children.

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ John Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS/ 23 March 1814
MS: Huntington Library, RS 222
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 64–65 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey’s proposed poem on the marriage of Princess Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817; DNB). The poem became The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), though it celebrated the Princess’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB) and not the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849), whose engagement to Princess Charlotte was broken off in June 1814. BACK

[2] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[3] See Southey to John Rickman, 9 March 1814, Letter 2389. BACK

[4] George Gascoigne (c. 1535–1577; DNB), ‘The Devises of Sundrie Gentlemen’ (1573), lines 284–303. BACK

[5] The Army of Silesia, a joint Prussian and Russian force, was defeated by Napoleon at Champaubert (10 February 1814), Montmirail (11 February 1814) and Vauchamps (14 February 1814), but still managed to win a decisive victory at Laon (9–10 March 1814). Meanwhile, the Austrian Army of Bohemia was notably inactive. Negotiations with France continued at Chaumont throughout February-March 1814. Nevertheless, the allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814. BACK

[6] One of Rickman’s, younger, sisters, probably Mary Rickman (dates unknown). BACK

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August 2013