Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2677. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 7 December 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 7 Dec. 1815.

My dear Tom

Here I am at length once more by my own fireside, thank God. I had left Streatham when your letter arrived there, & as I was ever on the move between Richmond, [1]  Q Anne Street & Champion Hill [2]  it was some days before it caught me. Let me know how Sarah is, & what will be done with this poor family. This event makes me feel how important it is that every man who has the means of doing it should insure his life, – how easily might Mr Castle in this way have secured a provision for them! [3] 

Our stay in & about London was much discomforted by the frequent ailments & illness of Edith May; & on her account we were compelled to give up all our promised visits on the way homeward, & take the straightest road, halting only for half a day at Nottingham. Here however we are: she bore the journey better than xx I had expected, & the return to home habits & mountain air seems xx immediately to have restored her. I find my table covered with letters, & have a world of business to get thro. My first task must be to produce a poem, which is planned much to my liking upon the battle of Belle-Alliance. You may be sure there will be no battle in the poem. Why I call it Belle-Alliance & not Waterloo you shall know when I have more leisure, – thereby hangs a tale which will not a little surprize you. [4] 

The young ones are all in high health. We brought back store of play things for them & you never saw a happier household. I have purchased books pretty largely, – to the amount of about 300 volumes, – among which are the Acta Sanctorum 52 folios, [5]  but of these I have not yet received any account. – Roderick [6]  is doing well, & going now to press for a fourth edition. The Morte Arthur so many years ago announced for publication in my name is fallen into my hands at last. [7]  John Louis Goldsmith who undertook it for Longman has run away with another man’s wife, leaving his own; [8]  – the subscription was full, [9]  – & I shall be well paid for writing an introduction, – much to the advantage of the book. [10] 

I saw few strangers in town, – never so few on any former visit; – for I confined myself as much as possible to my friends. The last day of my residence there I dined in company with Mina, – this was an important introduction which I sought. [11]  I liked him much, – he will give me a sketch of his Life. But the principles & language of the Spanish refugees are the best justification of Ferdinand. [12]  They are, as I supposed them to be, thorough Jacobines & thorough Atheists. They complain of being treated with cruelty, & declare that if they get the upper hand they will put all their enemies to death. This is easily accounted for: – it is the natural effect of such a government & such a religion; – but were I a Spaniard I should rather hold with Ferdinand than with such reformers. My history [13]  of course will offend all parties by fairly exposing the faults of all, & extenuating them by showing how the errors on one side produce those on the other. – I have seen Frere; he is a man perfectly capable of appreciating the service which I shall do him; & I doubt not that he considers it as the mor happiest circumstance which could have befallen him, that I should write the history of transactions in which he has been so deeply involved. He gave me much information, which in almost every point confirmed the judgement that I had previously formed. [14]  I shall have all the documents with which he can furnish me. Indeed I believe no history was ever undertaken with such advantages of this kind. It will go to press as soon as the Brazil is finished, – & of this 320 pages are printed. [15] 

This is a hasty letter – My poem [16]  will be in six-lined stanzas I think of taking the first 11 stanzas of the Proem for the intended Marriage, & continuing them for the introduction. [17]  The strain will be in a high moral tone. I shall give notes from my journal [18]  & some prints, for which Mr Nash an artist in our company made the sketches. [19] 

Give our love to Sarah & let me hear how you are going on. Love also to the young ones. [20] 

God bless you


In the way of business, let me know the weight of the cheese for the mice eat half by the way, & I am at war with the carrier to recover damages.


* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N./ St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Home of John May. BACK

[2] Home of the Gonne family. BACK

[3] Samuel Castle (d. 1815), Durham solicitor and Tom Southey’s father-in-law. Southey had taken out an insurance policy on his own life shortly after being appointed Poet Laureate in 1813; see Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 21 October 1813, Letter 2315. BACK

[4] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). Southey’s desire to name it the ‘Belle Alliance’ was due to his belief that it was more suited to verse (Southey to John Rickman, [c. 5 July 1815], Letter 2633), and that ‘the name of Waterloo was given to the battle by the Duke of Wellington in a spirit of the lowest & vilest jealousy’ (Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1815, Letter 2684). BACK

[5] Southey had purchased a copy of the Acta Sanctorum during his time in Belgium; see Southey to John May, 6 October 1815, Letter 2660. However, this turned out to be a 6 volume edition of 1783–1794, no. 152 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, rather than a complete edition. BACK

[6] Roderick, the Last of the Goths. First published in 1814. BACK

[7] Southey had long hoped to produce an edition of Sir Thomas Malory (1415/18–1471; DNB), Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) and even entered into an agreement with Longman. His proposed edition was advertised in 1808; see, for example, The Literary Panorama, 3 (1808), col. 757, and Southey to John Rickman, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, [3 January 1808], Letter 1410. At one point, he had ceded the project to Walter Scott; see Southey to Richard Heber, 9 April 1811, Letter 1900. BACK

[8] John Louis Goldsmid (1789–1835). Goldsmid had left his wife, Louisa Boscawan (1782–1862), whom he had married in 1809. Goldsmid’s library was sold at auction on 11–15 December 1815, perhaps indicating financial woes; see A Catalogue of the Curious and Valuable Library of John Louis Goldsmid Esq. Containing a Most Rare Assemblage of Romances of Chivalry, Both Printed and Manuscript, Scarce Old Novels, and Facetiae, and Curious Books in Various Departments of Literature (1815). This included numerous examples of Arthuriana. BACK

[9] Longman had advertised and published a subscriptions list to Goldsmid’s edition of the Morte d’Arthur, complete with ‘an INTRODUCTION and NOTES, tending to elucidate the HISTORY and BIBLIOGRAPHY of the Work; as well as the FICTIONS OF THE ROUND TABLE CHIVALRY in general’, in a flyer at the back of Biblitheca Anglo-Poetica; or, A Descriptive Catalogue of a Rare and Rich Collection of Early English Poetry: In the Possession of Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown (1815). Southey was listed amongst the subscribers. BACK

[10] Southey’s The Birth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur was published in 1817. BACK

[11] Either Francisco Javier de Mina (1789–1817), guerrilla leader in Navarre 1808–1810; or his uncle, General Espoz de Mina (1781–1836). Both had fled Spain after a failed rising in Pamplona on 25–26 September 1814. BACK

[12] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). In 1814 he had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812, arrested the leading liberals and restored the Inquisition. BACK

[13] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[14] Frere had been Minister Plenipotentiary to the Central Junta in 1808–1809 and advised Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB) to advance on Madrid, or, if necessary, to retreat through Galicia rather than Portugal– advice that led to the disastrous retreat to Corunna. Southey had defended Frere in Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 86–108. BACK

[15] The final two volumes of The History of Brazil appeared in 1817 and 1819 respectively. BACK

[16] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[17] In 1814 Southey, as Poet Laureate, had started a poem celebrating the forthcoming marriage of the Prince Regent’s only child Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817; DNB) to the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). The poem had not been published because the royal engagement was broken off in June 1814. Southey did not use the first 11 stanzas in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo, instead he reworked the 1814 poem into The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816) to celebrate Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

[18] The journal Southey had kept during his recent travels; published as Journal of a Tour in the Netherlands in the Autumn of 1815 (1902). BACK

[19] Engravings of eight of Edward Nash’s sketches were included in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[20] Tom and Sarah Southey’s children. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2013