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

2585. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 10 April 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 10 April. 1815

My Lord Imperaunce

As people may bekla’agen  [1]  themselves so methinks they may congratulate themselves also, & therefore I never write mere letters of congratulation or of condolence. There could be no occasion to tell you that I was glad to hear Sarah was safe, & that the new comeling had proved to be of the more worthy gender, [2]  – because you knew it already. Moreover I am not fond of consuming ink unnecessarily, my inevitable consumption occasion compelling me to replenish the ink stand more often than is agreable. – You do well in castling your boys – & if you christen the next Bernard, it may serve as a reason (for want of a better) why he should represent a neighbouring town in parliament hereafter. [3] 

I shall come to you as soon as I am a free man; that is to say as soon as this Quarters work is performed, on the performance of which my next half-yearly payments depend. There will be two long articles, both well timed. The first upon Buonapartes expedition to Egypt. [4]  The second edition of a French history first published ten years ago gives occasion for this, – because it contains the details of the Jaffa massacre by the author who was an eye witness. [5]  Half this article is done. There are some very xx impressive circumstances in it: – none more so than the fact mentioned by a French writer that when Buonaparte travelled across the desert xxx xx to Suez the nights being as piercingly cold as the days were intolerably hot & nothing else which was combustable to be found, xx xx a fire was made to warm him & his staff of the bones & dry bodies with which the way across the desert is strewn! [6] 

The other article is upon a catchpenny, or rather catchshilling Life of Lord Wellington which I have only begun, & for which I am to be paid the ridiculous price of 100£. [7]  As soon as these jobs are off my hands, for which six weeks may be allowed, I shall visit you.

It is mournful to perceive the imbecillity & cowardice of Ministers at this time. There is a peace party in the Cabinet! including I suspect Lord Liverpool: whom it is said Ld Castlereagh [8]  would willingly turn out upon this quarrel. Todays paper sufficiently shows the difference of their temper. But with whom can Castlereagh ally himself? As for the Grenvilles – I have a letter from Wynn, which as it was written from Dropmore [9]  may certainly be understood as speaking the exact sentiments of Giant Despair. [10]  They know that war is inevitable, & that at this time it ought not to be avoided if it could: but they believe that it cannot be carried on more than two years without incurring a national bankruptcy, & they congratulate themselves that they are not in power at a time when they think no vigour & no talents could save an Administration from ruin & disgrace! – I lose all patience when I hear such nonsense as this; & am vexed when I see Wynn worrying the ministry by idle recurrances to what has been, instead of coming forward with the manly profession of what his own heart & intellect tell him, that War is the only path of safety: & that vigorous war must be succesful.

I shall print my Inscriptions [11]  as soon as they are finished & I am taking them seriously in hand. There are now ten written, – being about a third of the proposed series: & I shall probably add an Ode to the British people: & perhaps one to Buonaparte himself. [12]  Think of the wretch turning round to prate of liberty, courting the Jacobines, & abolishing the Slave Trade [13]  – he who tortured and murdered Toussaint! [14] 

If we had a more decided spirit in the Cabinet I should entirely agree with you, that war is better now than some years later. The last work was left most wickedly incomplete & what has now occurred is a memorable lesson that no policy can be sound in which the principles of justice are for a moment set aside: Buonaparte & the Marshals to the Gallows – the rest of the army to Siberia & Cayenne: there should be nothing short of this. And if Paris be burnt in the conflict, I for one shall acknowledge the hand of righteous Retribution.

The voice of the country is for war: the better part feel that we have in honour & in self-preservation & in duty no other course: the farmers have an eye to their corn, & the landholders to their rents; & the merchants also to their direct interests, which require that France should not rival them in xxx manufactures. But Buonaparte has many friends & they are like himself, active in mischief.

I have found out another opus for you when you have compleated the West Indies. [15]  – By the by Beatsons Military Memoirs (or some such title) is likely to be of use to you. [16]  I think it must be in the Newcastle Library, being a modern book. The new opus would require that you should learn Latin (tho it is not absolutely indispensable) – but this is so much the better. I will write concerning it in my next. – Here is hardly room to add Ediths congratulation to Sarah – which yet I must not forget – God bless you. RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N. / St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 401–404. BACK

[1] ‘pity’. BACK

[2] Tom Southey’s first son, Herbert Castle Southey (1815–1865) had just been born. BACK

[3] Barnard Castle in Co. Durham. BACK

[4] Jacques François Miot (1779–1858), Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 1–55. BACK

[5] The rape and murder by French troops of the population of Jaffa after the city fell on 3 March 1799. For Miot’s first-hand account, Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire des Expéditions en Egypte et en Syrie (Paris, 1814), pp. 140–148. BACK

[6] Southey mentioned this anecdote in Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 23. His source was Dominique Jean Larrey (1766–1842), Memoirs of Military Surgery, and Campaigns of the French Armies 2 vols (1814), I, pp. 154–155. BACK

[7] Southey reviewed George Elliott (dates unknown), The Life of the Most Noble Arthur Duke of Wellington, from the Period of his first Achievements in India, down to his Invasion of France, and the Peace of Paris in 1814 (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275. He went on to review a further series of books relating to Wellington in the Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526. BACK

[8] Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1812–1822. BACK

[9] Dropmore House in Buckinghamshire, the home of Lord Grenville. BACK

[10] A figure in John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). Southey used the name to describe the pessimistic Lord Grenville. BACK

[11] Southey’s series of Inscriptions on the Peninsular War. Only 18 of the projected 30 poems were completed and they were not collected together until they were published in Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 122–156. BACK

[12] These two poems were not written. BACK

[13] During the ‘Hundred Days’ Napoleon gave France a Constitution, with a Chamber of Peers, elected Chamber of Representatives and a guarantee of freedom of the Press. This ‘Acte Additionel’ to the original Bonapartist regime was approved by a plebiscite. He also definitely and finally abolished the French slave trade. BACK

[14] Francois-Dominique Toussaint-Louverture (1743–1803), leader of the slave rebellion in Haiti; effective ruler of the country 1795–1802 and of the whole island of Hispaniola 1801–1802. Arrested by the French army in 1802 and died in prison in France. BACK

[15] Tom Southey’s Chronological History of the West Indies (1827). BACK

[16] Robert Beatson (1741–1818; DNB), Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from the year 1727 to the present time (1790). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013