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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1543. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 26 November 1808 ⁠* 

I am glad you are returned. [1]  It was likely that you might die a martyr, but there would be such an unfitness, in your falling by {the} hand of a fool that I have no apprehensions upon that score. This wretch too will turn his insult into his excuse, – il est fou  [2]  will be his plea for not resenting your resentment, & to all who are base enough to have such a feeling for this friend it will pass current, – so he will keep his hands in his breeches; – & if you challenge him he will apply to the {a} Justice of Peace.

In the height of our indignation here at the infamy in Portugal, one of our first thoughts was what yours would be. We in England had the consolation to see that the country redeemed itself by the general outcry which burst out. Never was any feeling within my recollection so general. I did not meet a man who was not boiling-over with shame & rage. I am sure that for the first week after the news arrived had Sir Hew D. [3]  appeared in any part of England he would have been torn to pieces. My cry was break the terms & deliver up the wretch who signed them to the French, with a rope round his neck, & this is what Oliver Cromwell would have done. Oh Christ – this England, this noble country, – that hands so mighty & a heart so sound should have a face all leprosy, & a head fit for nothing but the vermin that burrow in it!

I wrote to you in Spain, immediately on hearing you were gone there, & having occasion to write to Frere inclosed to him the letter, [4]  not knowing how to send it at that time, otherwise than by some with the dispatches. The letter I rather think has not reached you.

The Spaniards will be victorious. I am prepared to hear of many reverses, but this has from the beginning been as much a faith as an opinion with me, – & you who xxx know the Spaniards will understand on what ground it has been formed. I am glad you know them, & their country & their language, which in spite of your Romanized ears, becomes a man’s mouth better than any other in present use, except perhaps our own. Come & see me when you have nothing to call you elsewhere & the wind of inclination may set in this way, – & we will talk about Spain, & retravel your route, a part of which I remember as vividly as I do my fathers house.

Find out a woman who you can esteem, & love will grow more surely out of esteem, than esteem will out of love. Your soul would then find anchorage. There are fountain springs of delight in the heart of man, which gush forth at the sight of his children, – tho it might seem before to be hard as the rock of Horeb, & dry as the desert sands. What I learnt from Rousseau, before I laid Epictetus to my heart, was that Julia was happy with a husband whom she had not loved & that Wolmar was more to be admired than St Preux. [5]  I bid no man beware of being poor as he grows old, but I say to all men beware of being solitariness in age. Rest is the object to be sought. – There is no other way of attaining it here where we have not convents, but by putting an end to all those hopes & fears to which hearts of real goodness to which the best hearts are the most subject. Experto crede Roberto. This is the holy oil which has stilled in me a nature little less tempestuous than your own.

I have 1800 lines of Kehama to send you as soon as they can be transcribed, which will be with all convenient speed. [6]  Seven sections, cantos, or canticles more will finish the poem; – & the sight of the goal naturally quickens ones speed, & I have good hopes of compleating it before the spring. Pelayo, [7]  whereof I wrote in my letter to Coruña, is not yet begun – the materials not having quite settled into satisfactory order, – it is a grand subject, & I feel myself equal to it in every thing except topographical knowledge. I ought to have seen Gijon & Covadonga. [8]  Asturian scenery however must resemble that of the contiguous parts of Leon & Galicia, & I have the whole road from Lugo to Astorga in my eye & in my heart.

We used our endeavours here to obtain a County Meeting & send in a petition which should have taken up the damned Convention upon its true grounds of honour & moral feeling, keeping all pettier considerations out of sight But Lord Lonsdale had received mum as the word of command from those who move his strings, & he moves the puppets of two Counties! Wordsworth who left me when we found the business hopeless, went home to ease his heart in a pamphlett, which I daily expect to hear he has compleated. [9]  Courts of Inquiry will do nothing, & can do nothing – nor would any other Court send the hand of Sir Hew to be nailed xxx upon the pillory at Lisbon, & that of Sir Arthur [10]  upon that of for a like exposition at Madrid. But we can yet acquit our own souls, & labour to foster & keep alive a spirit which is in the country, & which a cowardly race of hungry place-hunters are endeavouring to extinguish.

The ill news is just come & ministers are quaking for Sir John Moore, [11]  for whom I do not quake, as he & his army will beat twice their number of French. The fall of Madrid must be looked for, & perhaps Zaragoza may be the Saguntum [11]  of modern history – that may God forbid, but Spain is still unconquerable, & will still be victorious tho there should be a French garrison in every one of its towns. We as usual are in fault. Thirty thousand English at Bilbao would have secured that side, & England ought to have supplied thrice that number if she supplied any, – but nothing will or can go in well in this country till the besom of destruction has swept the land clean.

How has your health held out? – Even ordinary travelling in Spain requires a patient body, to bear up against broken rest & heating food. I am glad this beastly blockhead has been of so much use in the system of things as to force you home, – your life would else in all likelihood have been sacrificed inadequately. – When Joseph gets to Madrid [12]  it would not surprise me if that Spain were to produce a tyrannicide, – he who should do the deed should stand next to Brutus [13]  in my Kalendar. – I am saddened by this news, but not dispirited; – the language of the country must be extirpated, & the whole nation remoulded before Spain can be retained b in subjection by France –

God bless you

RS.

Keswick. Nov. 26. 1808.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Bristol.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Victoria and Albert Museum, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 3
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 195–198. BACK

[1] In 1808 Landor had gone to Spain to fight with the Spanish against their French occupiers. BACK

[2] Meaning ‘he is mad’. Landor believed that these words, uttered by Charles Stuart, Baron Stuart de Rothesay (1779–1845; DNB), British envoy to the Spanish juntas in French-occupied Spain, had referred to his offer of financial aid for Spanish soldiers. Believing that he had been insulted, he intended to challenge Stuart to a duel. Stuart and other witnesses declared that the words overheard by Landor had referred to another person entirely. BACK

[3] Southey’s exasperation was caused by 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

[4] Neither the letter to Landor nor that to Frere have been traced. BACK

[5] Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), sentimental novelist and author of Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761), to which Southey refers here; Epictetus (55–135), stoic philosopher. BACK

[6] For this, see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 December 1808, Letter 1556. BACK

[7] An early name for the poem which became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[8] Places in Asturias that feature in Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[9] Wordsworth’s Concerning the Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra (1809) was triggered by the agreement, made on 30 August 1808, of the British generals to allow a defeated Napoleonic army to withdraw from Portugal to France unmolested and with its weapons – a decision he and Southey thought pusillanimous. BACK

[10] Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) (1769–1852; DNB), blamed by Southey for his part in events allowing the French off the hook of defeat before the Convention of Cintra. BACK

[11] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna. BACK

[11] Madrid did fall to the French in November 1808; from December the town of Zaragoza was besieged (for the second time that year) by the French. The siege involved ferocious street fighting, in which the Spanish civilians took full part. When the French finally succeeded in February, 54000 people had died. In the siege of Saguntum, Iberia, in 219–218 BC, Hannibal’s Carthaginian army took the town but only after severe fighting. BACK

[12] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, from August 1808 to 1813, King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I. Having been crowned, Joseph had retreated from Madrid after a Spanish revolt; he returned in January 1809. BACK

[13] Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC–42 BC), assassin of Julius Caesar (100 BC–44 BC). BACK

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August 2013