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

2409. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 27 April 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 27. 1814

My dear Scott

Thank God we have seen the end of this long Tragedy of five & twenty years! [1]  – the curtain is fallen, & tho there is the after piece of the Devil to pay to be performed, we xxx no expectations have nothing to do with that, – it concerns the performers alone. I wish we had been {within} reach of a meeting upon the occasion. I would not have sung Nunc dimittis  [2]  with you because I hope we shall neither of us be dismissed yet, – but for an Oh be joyful, [3]  I would have been your man. And yet the first feeling was not a joyous one. Too many recollections crowded upon the mind, – & the sudden termination which putting an end at once to those hopes & fears & speculations which for many years past have made up so large a part of every mans intellectual existence, – seemed like a change in life itself. Much as I had desired the event & fully as I had expected it, still when it came it brought with {it} an aweful sense of the instability of all earthly things, – & when I remembered that that same newspaper might as probably have brought with it intelligence that peace had been made with Buonaparte, I could not but acknowledge that something more uniform in its operations than human councils had brought about the event. Well – God be praised for it. There is a spice of revengefulness in my nature which would have been well pleased if the Emperor of Russia [4]  had hanged Buonaparte by way of reprisal for the twelve men at Moscow. [5]  I thought he would set his life upon the last throw, & die game, – or that he would kill himself; – or that some of his own men would kill him. And tho it had long been my conviction that he was a mean-minded villain, still it xxxx surprized me that he should live after such a degradation – after the loss not merely of empire but even of his military xxxxxxxx {character}. But let him live, – if he will write his own history he will give us all some information, & if he will read mine, – the Devil I think may give him one days holiday if he pleads that as a set off.

I desired Longman to send you the Carmen Triumphale, [6]  – In the course of this year I shall volunteer verses enough of this kind to entitle me to a fair dispensation for all task-work {&c} in future. I have made good way thro a poem upon the Princess’s marriage in the olden stile, consisting of three parts the Proem, the Dream, & L’Envoy, [7]  & I am getting on with the series of Military Inscriptions. [8]  You xx saw perhaps an Ode in the Courier, beginning Who counsels peace &c & if you saw it you would recognize the author. It grew out of the castrations of the Carmen. [9]  The conclusion of Peace will perhaps require another Ode, [10]  & I shall then trouble Jeffray with a few more notes. As yet I know nothing more of his reply than what some sturdy friend in the Times has communicated to me; but I shall not fail to pay all proper attention to it in due season. [11]  He may rest assured that I shall pay all my obligations to him with compound interest.

The uses of newspapers will for awhile seem flat & unprofitable. yet there will be no lack of important matter from abroad, & for acrimonious disputes at home we shall always be sure of these. I fear we shall be too liberal in making peace. There is no reason why we should make any cessions for pure generosity. It is very true that Louis 18 [12]  has not been our enemy, but the French nation has, & a most xx inveterate & formidable one. They should have Martini their sugar islands, [13]  – but not without paying for them, – & that a good grand sum, to be equally divided between Greenwich & Chelsea, [14]  or to form the foundation of a fund for increasing the pay of army & navy.

I am finishing Roderick, [15]  & deliberating what subject to take up next, for as it has pleased you & the Prince to make me Laureat I am bound to keep up my poetical character. If I do not fix upon a tale of Robin Hood, [16]  or a New England story connected with Philips War [17]  & Goffe the Regicide, [18]  I shall either go far North or far East for scenery & superstitions, & pursue my old scheme of mythological delineations. – Is it not almost time to hear {of} something from you? I remember to have been greatly delighted when a boy with Amyntor & Theodora, [19]  & with Dr Ogilvies Rona, [20]  – the main delight must have been from the scenes into which they carried me. There was a rumour that you were among the Hebrides, – I heartily wish it may be true.

Remember us to Mrs Scott & your daughter. [21]  These children of ours are now growing tall enough & intelligent enough to remind me greatly of the lapse of time. Another generation is coming on – you & I however are not yet of the stage, & whenever we quit it, it will not be to men who will make a better figure there.

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqre/ near/ Melrose
Stamped: KESWICK 298
Endorsement: Southey/ 27 April/ 1814
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3885
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 68–71 [in part]. BACK

[1] i.e. the end of the upheaval caused by the French Revolution in 1789. Southey’s optimism was prompted by the abdication of Napoleon on 6 April 1814 and his exile under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleu, 11 April 1814. BACK

[2] Luke 2: 29, ‘Nunc dimittis servum tuum’, ‘Now lettest thy servant depart’, expressing the speaker’s joy at the birth of Christ and that he may now die happy. BACK

[3] Psalm 100, line 1. BACK

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

[5] In September 1812, the French forces occupying Moscow shot 13 men they accused of setting fire to the city and hanged their bodies from lamp-posts. BACK

[6] Southey’s first Laureate ode Carmen Triumphale, published, after much revision, in a quarto of 30 pages on 1 January 1814. Southey’s letter to Longman requesting a copy appears not to have survived. BACK

[7] 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. She broke off the engagement in June 1814. Southey’s poem eventually appeared in 1816 as The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), in celebration of Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

[8] Southey only completed 18 of his planned 30 inscriptions on the heroes and battles of the Peninsular War. They were not collected until the last lifetime edition of his poetical works in 1837–1838. BACK

[9] ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Bonaparte’, published in the Courier, 3 February 1814. This made use of five stanzas Southey had reluctantly removed from Carmen Triumphale. BACK

[10] Southey did not write an ode celebrating the peace of 1814, but he did produce a series of odes on the Prince Regent; Alexander I; and Frederick William III (1770–1840; King of Prussia 1797–1840). The poems were published in book form as Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness The Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). BACK

[11] Southey’s feud with Jeffrey continued unabated. The notes to Carmen Triumphale had attacked the personalities and politics of the Edinburgh Review. The review of the Carmen in Edinburgh Review, 22 (January 1814), 447–454, retorted: ‘For our own parts, when we are seriously occupied with the destinies of Europe, or of mankind, we should think very contemptibly of ourselves, if we could permit the recollection of our differences with Mr Southey to intrude either into our writings or our thoughts’ (452), before going on to criticise his support of the Spanish and acceptance of the Laureateship. The Times, 7 April 1814 carried an article criticising the Edinburgh’s remarks; and The Times, 21 April 1814, reprinted the ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Bonaparte’, in a corrected version and retitled ‘Ode; Written in January, 1814’. A short headnote again defended Southey against the criticism levelled against him in the Edinburgh Review. Southey’s ‘sturdy friend’ was probably John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB), who played a prominent role in The Times until 1817. BACK

[12] Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824) ascended the French throne after the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte. BACK

[13] Martinique and Guadelupe had been captured by British forces in 1809–1810: both were returned to France in the Treaty of Paris, signed on 30 May 1814. BACK

[14] The Royal Hospital, Chelsea (founded 1682) and Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich (founded 1694) for retired and injured soldiers and sailors, respectively. BACK

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

[16] Southey eventually collaborated with Caroline Bowles on a romance on the legendary outlaw. It was left unfinished at his death, and a fragment published posthumously in 1847. BACK

[17] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the native American inhabitants of New England. This formed the backdrop to Southey’s ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. BACK

[18] William Goffe (d. 1679?; DNB), Puritan, regicide and major general, who fled to New England in 1660 after he was excluded from the Act of Indemnity after the Restoration. In Southey’s poem, he was the father of Oliver Newman. BACK

[19] David Mallet [formerly Malloch] (1701/2–1765; DNB), Amyntor and Theodora, or, The Hermit (1747), a blank verse narrative set on the remote Scottish island of St Kilda. BACK

[20] John Ogilvie (1732–1813; DNB), Rona (1777), a tragedy set on the Hebridean island of the same name. BACK

[21] Charlotte Sophia Scott (1799–1837). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013