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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1523. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 19 October [1808] ⁠* 

Keswick. Wednesday night. Oct 19.

My dear Sir

I have had a visit this morning from Wordsworth & Spedding [1]  upon the subject of this accursed convention in Portugal. [2]  They & some of their friends are very desirous of bringing before the country in some regular form, the main iniquity of the business, which has been lost sight of in all the addresses, – & of rectifying public opinion by showing it in its true light. A military enquiry may, or may not, convict Sir Hew Dalrymple of military misconduct. This is the least part of his offence; & no legal proceedings can attach to the heinous crime which he has committed, the high treason against all moral feeling, in recognizing Junot by his usurped title, [3]  & in deadening that noble spirit from which & which only the redemption of Europe can possibly proceed, by presuming to grant stipulations for the Portugueze which no government ever yet pretended to have power to make for an independant ally. covenanting for the impunity of their traitors, & guaranteeing the safety of an army of ruffians, all of whom, without his interposition, must soon have received their righteous reward from the hands of those whom they had oppressed. He has stept in to save these wretches from the holy vengeance of an injured people, he has been dealing with them as fair & honourable enemies, exchanging compliments & visits, dining with them in the Palaces from which they had driven the rightful Law, & upon the plate which they had stolen; – he therefore has disclaimed abandoned our vantage ground, betrayed the cause of Spain & Portugal, & disclaimed, as far as his authority extends, the feelings which the Spaniards are inculcating, & in which is their strength & their salvation, by degrading into a common & petty war between soldier & soldier, that which is the struggle of a nation against a foreign usurper. a business of national life or death, a war of virtue against vice, Light against Darkness, the Good Principle against the Evil One.

It is of importance to make the country feel this. & these sentiments would appear with most effect if they were embodied in a County Address, of which the ostensible purport might be to thank his Majesty for having instituted an Enquiry, & perhaps to request that he would be pleased to appoint a day of national humiliation for this grievous national disgrace. This will not be liable to the reproof with which he thought proper to receive the City address, because it prejudges nothing, – military proceedings are out of the question; – what is complained of is the {a} breach of the law of nations, & an abandonment of the moral principle, which the words of the Convention prove, & which cannot be explained away by any Enquiry whatsoever.

Now the reason why I have been called upon is this. Such an address might easily be carried by delivering it over to Mr Curwen, [4]  but it is no party matter, & it is desirable that it should not be {so} regarded as such. They wish me therefore to apply to you to sign the requisition, your sign name being of the main importance, – & they wish me also to ask you whether you would object to write to Lord Lonsdale upon the subject. To make him consider it in a moral point of view is probably not to be expected, & we know well enough how little Government are desirous of having any thing so considered. But if he could be convinced that this business is aloof from all party questions, he might be contented to let it take its course, without using any direct or indirect means of impeding it, if he did not chuse to give it his open sanction.

Spedding & Calvert [5]  know many persons who will come forward at such a meeting. Coleridge or Wordsworth will be ready to speak, & will draw up resolutions to be previously approved, & brought forward by some proper person. We will prepare the way by writing in the county papers. Here ends my part of the business, & not a little surprized am I to find myself even this much concerned in any county affairs, – when the sole freehold I [MS torn] ever likely to possess is a tenement six feet by three in [MS torn] churchyard.

The carriers have disappointed me, or I had hoped to have sent your Father, [6]  before this, the Chronicle of the Cid, [7]  – in which he will find I believe something more about Compostella & Santiago than was contained in that little note. Every carriers day I look for the parcel, – & if he will do me the favour to place this volume in his library, I know few places in where it will be in such good company.

Remember us to Mrs Senhouse & at Netherhall & believe me

yours very truly

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: Professor R.D. Havens (according to Curry)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 175–177 [in part]; R. D. Havens, RES 5 (1929), 320–322; Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 483–485.
Dating note: The year (1808) added to Southey’s date in pencil, and internal evidence (i.e. refs to Cintra Convention would confirm that date. BACK

[1] John Spedding (1770–1851) of Mirehouse, the house and estate near Bassenthwaite lake, north of Keswick. Spedding was a school friend of Wordsworth’s at Hawkshead. BACK

[2] The Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) (1769–1852; DNB) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple (1750–1830; DNB). Public outcry led to an inquiry, after which Burrard and Dalrymple never again took command. BACK

[3] Napoleon had made Junot 1st Duke of Abrantès. BACK

[4] John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB), Whig MP for Carlisle, Workington landowner. BACK

[5] William Calvert (1771–1829; DNB), who was at school with Wordsworth at Hawkshead, where he later became the schoolmaster. On the death of his father, Calvert became a man of independent means, inheriting, with other property, the estate of Bowness on the east shore of Bassenthwaite, near Keswick, where he lived with his family. BACK

[6] Humphrey Senhouse (1731–1814). BACK

[7] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

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August 2013