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

2481. Robert Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 14 September 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 14 Sept. 1814.

My dear Sir

I thank you for your message thro Henry Bedford, & for ushering my Odes into the Princely, Royal & Imperial presences. [1]  If I was a little too late on that occasion, it was in great xx measure owing to my being too early upon another. – In full expectation of the marriage with the Prince of Orange, I planned a poem somewhat in the manner of the old poets, consisting of three parts, the Proem, the Dream & L’Envoy; & had got half thro the task in a manner much to my own satisfaction. [2]  You will soon receive something of more weight from the same mint: Roderick is at length fairly thro’ the press, & probably at this time on the way from Leith to London. [3]  As soon as it is ready Longman will send you a copy.

I am going to the press with the concluding volume of the history of Brazil, which includes the whole story of the Jesuits in Paraguay. [4]  May I request permission to send up the manuscript under cover to you; without such a privilege the post is far too expensive a mode of conveyance, & xxxx any other is precarious.

The restoration of the Jesuits is one of the most extraordinary events of this fertile age. [5]  Believing them not to have been greater imposters than all the other religious orders, much more useful than any of them, & most wickedly & cruelly used at their downfall, I certainly think the Church of Rome has done wisely in restoring them, & should rejoice in the measure were I a Catholic. But on the other hand I think this Government will act very unwisely if they suffer them to establish themselves in Ireland. [6]  Are we to see a second reign of superstition bigotry & intolerance on the continent? The Virgin Mary is reinstalled in as the Protectress of France, & will have all the credit of giving an heir to the House of Bourbon if the Dutchess of Angoulesme should happen to have a child. [7]  In Spain nothing is wanting to compleat the crimes of the Government & the disgrace of the people but an Auto-da-fe, & Ferdinand [8]  is likely enough xx to amuse his subjects with one. And here at home if Joanna Southcott  [9]  should take a hint from the old party fiction of the Warming-Pan, the marvellous appearances which astonished us all here on Sunday night will be interpreted as a miraculous annunciation of this new nativity! Never di before had I beheld so aweful & so surprizing a sight. The sky overhead was suffused with light, drifting like thin vapour before the wind; – a bridge of dark an arch of darkness extended across the vale from mountain to mountain, like a bridge, resting on {upon} Whinlatter on one side, & upon Skiddaw on the other; & over this bridge the light travelled rapidly in such forms that the servants all exclaimed it was like a regiment of soldiers. These appearances continued from about 8 oclock till three in three {the} morning. I had often seen the Streamers (as they call the Northern Lights in this country) before; but never saw any thing like this. It was precisely what the old Chroniclers used to describe of the march of armies in the air.

But I am trespassing upon one who has little time to listen to such things –

Believe me my dear Sir

very truly & respectfully yours

Robert Southey.


* MS: Morgan Library, MA 1005
Previously published: Myron F. Brightfield, John Wilson Croker (London, 1940), p. 215 [one sentence only]

[1] i.e. presenting copies of 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) to the Prince Regent; Alexander I (1777–1825; Emperor of Russia 1801–1825); and Frederick William III (1770–1840; King of Prussia 1797–1840). BACK

[2] The engagement between Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796–1817; DNB), only child of the Prince Regent, and Prince William of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849) that had been agreed in December 1813 had been broken off in June 1814. Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865) in 1816 and Southey turned his planned poem into a public celebration of the marriage, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816). BACK

[3] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), printed by the Edinburgh firm of Ballantyne and Co. BACK

[4] The History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819). The second volume did not appear until 1817 and the third not until 1819. BACK

[5] Pius VII (1742–1823), pontiff since 1800, restored the Society of Jesus (which had been suppressed in 1773), in a Bull of 7 August 1814. BACK

[6] A reference to the establishment of Clongowes Wood College, near Clare in Ireland. The Jesuits had never been suppressed in Russia and the Papacy had recognised their organisation there in 1801, clearly indicating the Order would be restored elsewhere. Inspired by this decision, the two Irish Jesuits who had survived since the suppression of the Order in 1773, recruited five new members, who studied at Stonyhurst School (founded 1794) and then in Palermo (1808–1811), before returning to Ireland. The land at Clongowes was bought for £16,000 in March 1814 and the school admitted its first pupils on 18 May 1814. BACK

[7] France had been consecrated to the Virgin Mary as its special patroness by royal decrees in 1638, 1656 and 1738. On 5 August 1814 Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824) ordered the initial declaration of 1638 should be read again in all churches on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August), followed by a special procession of local dignitaries. Marie Thérèse, Duchess of Angouleme (1778–1851) was the eldest child of Louis XVI (1754–1793; King of France 1774–1792). She was married to her cousin, Louis Antoine, Duke of Angouleme (1775–1844), who was second in line to the French throne. Their marriage was childless. BACK

[8] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain, 1808, 1813–1833) had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812, arrested the leading liberals and restored the Inquisition. BACK

[9] Joanna Southcott had announced that she was pregnant with Shiloh (Genesis 49: 10); see The Third Book of Wonders, Announcing the Coming of Shiloh (1814) and Prophecies Announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace (1814). Her supposed condition excited tremendous public excitement and ridicule. She was examined by a number of doctors, whose findings were widely reported. Shiloh failed to appear and Southcott died on 27 December 1814. The comparison Southey makes is with the much earlier ‘warming pan scandal’: the conspiracy theory that James Frances Edward (1688–1766; DNB), heir to the Catholic monarch James II (1633–1701; DNB), was an imposter, smuggled into the birth chamber in a warming pan. BACK

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August 2013