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

2648. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 August 1815 ⁠* 

On Monday the 21st of August, a bonfire was kindled on the summit of Skiddaw in honour of the Battle of Waterloo, the capture of Paris, & the surrender of Buonaparte. It is the first time that any public rejoicings had ever been held on so elevated a spot; & the effect was sublime to a degree which none can imagine but those who witnessed it. A great concourse of people were assembled; inhabitants of the country who had never performed the ascent before, going up on this occasion. {Large} Balls of tow & turpentine were set on fire & rolled down the steep {side of the} mountain. Rule Britannia, & God Save the King were sung in full chorus round the bonfire, accompanied by various wind instruments. The healths of the Prince Regent, the Duke of Wellington, & Prince Blucher [1]  were drank over a bowl of punch, each with three times three, & the healths were announced to the vale below by the discharge of cannon from the summit. The company partook of beef roasted & plum pudding boiled on the spot. Among the persons present were Lord & Lady Sunderlin, Miss Barker, Mr Southey & Mr Wordsworth with their families, Mr James Boswell, [2]  Mr Ponsonby, [3]  Mr Fryer [4]  &c &c &c. They began to descend by torch light about ten o clock; & on reaching Keswick at midnight the festivities were concluded by a display of fireworks, & the ascent of a fire balloon on which were inscribed the names of Wellington & Waterloo.

It was intended to have made this commemoration on the birth day of the Prince Regent, [5]  but the state of the weather prevented; & early on the morning of the 13th some disorderly persons stole up & consumed the materials which with unprecedented labour had been collected there. No carts had ever before been carried to the summit. [6] 

My dear Grosvenor

I have no better way of getting this to the Courier just now (for Stuart is out of town, to whom I should else have consigned it) than by begging that you will send it there. Oh that you had been with us! The night was very fine, & the track of fire which we left behind us from our streaming flambeaux, had a strange appearance at the town. The scene on the summit itself was one of the wildest imaginable, the xxxxxxxx we formed a wide circle round the finest bonfire I ever saw, or probably ever shall see, & round us was a circle of utter darkness; – for our light fairly put out the rising moon.

There was a wicked accident occurred. Water you know is by no means a plentiful article on the top of Skiddaw, & just as the kettle boiled for the punch Wordsworth kicked it over. He walked off wisely in hopes of escaping undetected, but he was recognised upon enquiry by Ediths marone cloak which he had put on to keep himself warm; – & being found guilty, I punished him by parodying an old song, & singing at him with the help of the byestanders ‘Twas you that kickd the kettle down! – twas you! Sir! you!’ [7] 

Now that you may laugh at me if not with me, I will tell you two of my jokes on the occasion. One was in giving Blucher for a toast with Wellington, when I remarked “they were lovely at Waterloo & on Skiddaw they shall not be divided’, an allusion to Saul & Jonathan [8]  which the over-godly would be shocked at. The other was a pun which comprehended in itself all that is execrable in punning. The battle I saw had been fought at a Waterloo (lieu) – or a place of water, & in honour of it Skiddaw should be converted into a Punchloo – that is to say a place of Punch.

Shedaw & the Deus Lunus were with us. Lord Sunderlin the feeblest & least old man of 77 you ever saw actually rode up & down: & Lady S. who is the wrong side of threescore (a remarkably pleasing woman) went on foot. I am surprized to see how little Edith is fatigued. We were not in bed till two o clock.

God bless you

RS.

Tuesday 22 Aug. 1815.

We are all going to dine at Lord Sunderlins, who has Boswell with him.


Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 25 AU 25/ 1815
Endorsement: 22 Augt. 1815
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Gebhard von Blucher (1742–1819), commander of the Prussian forces at the battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815. BACK

[2] The barrister and literary scholar James Boswell (1778–1822; DNB). BACK

[3] John Ponsonby (dates unknown), a retired Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who lived at Ormathwaite. BACK

[4] Joseph Harrison Fryer (1777–1855), surveyor, geologist and mining engineer from Newcastle. From 1808 he spent part of each year at Keswick. BACK

[5] i.e. 12 August; which was also Southey’s birthday. BACK

[6] Southey’s account was published, unsigned, in the Derby Mercury (7 September 1815). BACK

[7] A parody of the popular catch ‘‘Twas You, Sir’, which begins: ‘‘Twas you, sir, ‘twas you, sir,/I tell you nothing new, sir,/’Twas you that kissed the pretty girl,/’Twas you, sir, you;’ BACK

[8] 2 Samuel 1: 23: ‘Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided’. BACK

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August 2013