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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1564. Robert Southey to Daniel Stuart, 13 January 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick. Jany. 13. 1809.

My dear Sir

If Wordsworth had not undertaken to write upon the Cintra Convention, [1]  I believe I should, for no public event ever distressed me so greatly. He has more leisure than I have, & will do the thing better. – Like you I had strong hopes of Spain before the public dared any entertain any, & shall have strong hopes long after the public will despair. There is not under heaven so patriotic a people as the Spaniards. they are proud of their past greatness, & sensible of their present degradation, – yet with the feeling that the degeneracy is not in them but in their government. It is the same with the Portugueze, – I was never ten minutes in conversation with one, that he did not allude to the state of the country, as if he sought by expressing his sense of national shame, to xxxx show that none of it attached to him as an individual. – From these people every thing is to be expected, except what our ministry was weak enough to expect, – that they should at once be able to stand against equal or superior numbers of the French in the field. The war of the Low Countries against Philip 2 is the only parallel in modern history, [2]  – & then the first brunt of the business was borne by German mercenaries, till the Dutch themselves xxxxxx became good soldiers by experience. – What should have been done is so plain, & has been so grossly neglected that I can neither speak nor think upon the subject with patience. But I have thought it worth while to trouble you with a letter because a few more blunders will ruin all.

Bonaparte will beyond a doubt push for Seville & Cadiz, & for Lisbon. Cadiz is a regular fortification & may hold out. Seville depends wholly upon the passes of the Sierra Morena, & the city itself is larger than Madrid & equally defenceless. It is hardly of less importance than Madrid, perhaps indeed of more, as the Junta has no other Capital of imposing name to retire to. Now in the present state of things ten thousand British could better defend those passes, than any force the Spaniards have, – & yet upon every breath of bad news we disembark our troops, & countermand sailing orders, instead of running them over in ships of war as fast as they could be got on board. If it be possible to ruin that country & this too, such fancies & such pusillanimity will do it.

I am inclined to think Sir J. Moore [3]  has misled himself for the sake of drawing Bonapartes main force towards the North, – by which means he will be able to land troops at Porto, Lisbon or Cadiz, before the enemy can march there. Lisbon is effectually defended on one side by the Tagus, which is fordable no nearer than Santarem (nearly fifty miles up) & then only in the dry season. This too is a passage which never would be ventured attempted against any respectable force on the heights of the town. At Abrantes there is a bridge of boats. If an invading enemy enter Portugal higher up & keep on the North of the Tagus, as hitherto they have always done, – then the river Zezere which falls into the Tagus about ten miles below Abrantes, is supposed to be the strong post on which the safety of Lisbon depends. I have crost this river, it is about as wide as the Bath river, & its banks are steep. If the enemy enter from Galicia & keep along the coast, it is but to break down bridges, & the Minho, the Douro, & the Mondego are each impassable. If Higher up these rivers is one uninterrupted track of mountains. Very few countries are so defensible as Portugal. Hitherto we have been keeping 10,000 men there at Lisbon to preserve Portugueze traitors from justice, in virtue of the blessed convention of Cintra. The main part of them are now it seems marched into Spain, in what direction we know not. If it be towards Seville all is well. But that would be well. But Portugal requires at this time 30,000 English, & with that force it would be safe, unless Sir Hew, or Sir Harry, were at or any {other} old woman in regimentals be at their head. [4]  Not an hour should be lost in sending out all the troops we can spare, as fast as they can go, in frigates & ships of the line that may run singly, without fear of enemy or weather. Some for Porto some for Lisbon, some for Cadiz. And if we had a floating army off Catalonia, to land just when & where they would be most serviceable, Bonaparte will feel our navy to be a far more formidable power than he has ever yet done.

That letter in the Courier of the 10th alludes I suppose to some kind of defensive armour. [5]  One hears of all new projects with a suspicion just in proportion to the great effects which they promise. Defensive armour was left off, as I happened to discover in some chance passage of an old author, because the ‘rags’ as he calls them of the armour made a worse wound than the ball. If any thing be devised proof against a common musket ball, steel balls would immediately be adopted. Yet I am curious to see more about this discovery, for I have long believed that something might be done towards saving soldiers, – a matter of no light consequence to us – who have so much difficulty in raising them, & yet stand in need of so many.

It is hopeless to think about home-politicks, & almost impertinent to say any thing about them to you. There will be a schism however between the Grenvilles & the Foxites [6]  whenever the question of peace is touchd upon, & Canning, who is ashamed of some of his colleagues, hankers to have the Grenvilles in with him. Neither the King [7]  nor the people would like this. And every change that can now be made must tend to weaken the government by convincing the people that no good is to be expected from any, unless indeed Lord Grenville were bold enough & wise enough to make himself popular by insisting upon the necessity of removing the Duke of York. [8]  Whatever public man of adequate talents & respectability should venture to do this, would stand upon such gro strong ground that the Crown itself could not shake him. I was right glad to see the hint upon this subject in the Courier. [9] 

I have many fears about ‘the Friend’ [10]  which however I do not express to Coleridge for did he once perceive that we doubted his going on, that would be sufficient effectually to put a stop to all efforts on his part. The main, & as it appears to me the insuperable difficulty in the way of his present plan, is the unlikelihood – or rather the impossibility of his carrying on any periodical work with regularity. If his habits were regular enough his health is not, unless he began with a large stock in hand, which certainly he will not do. My advice to him is that he publish a number of half a crown or five shillings worth whenever he is ready with it, a ‘this day is published’ in the newspapers will then be sufficient prospectus, & it will find its way with the other periodicals. Matys Review [11]  did this some years ago, – & the Edinburgh [12]  does so now. I will not say that this is as good a plan as that of a weekly paper. – perhaps it is not, – but I have a strong fear, – almost a conviction that in any other shape the thing would soon drop. If indeed he begun with ten or twelve weeks in advance, then if any he were at any time incapacitated from keeping that stock up I would to the best of my power, supply his place as long as was necessary, – but the first number will be sent off wet from the pen to the press, – & unless a sudden popularity should come upon him like sunshine, a very few weeks struggle against inaction will fret & fever him into inability. I therefore am pressing him not to promise any thing periodical, – not to trouble himself with prospectuses & subscribers, but to make his way by the weight of his own name, & all-commanding powers of mind.

I know not that this letter contains any thing worth sending, – but some public occasions have gone by on which I have repented not having written to tell you what I knew upon the point –

yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Daniel Stuart Esqr/ Courier Office/ Strand/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ JAN16/ 1809
Endorsement: Southey/ Jany/ 1809/ Cintra & Spain/ Home politics/ Coleridge’s ‘Friend’
MS: British Library, Add MS 34046
Previously published: Mary Stuart (ed.), Letters from the Lake Poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, to Daniel Stuart (London, 1889), pp. 397–404. BACK

[1] The Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August 1808, 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. BACK

[2] Philip II (1527–1598), King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily 1554–1598, whose rule over the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands (1556–1581) led to open warfare from 1568. BACK

[3] 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

[4] Sir Hew Whitefoord Dalrymple, 1st Baronet (1750–1830; DNB), one of the army generals who agreed to the Convention of Cintra (30 August 1808), by which the defeated French army in Portugal was repatriated in British ships. The other general responsible for this decision was Sir Harry Burrard, 1st Baronet (bap. 1755–1813; DNB). This act was condemned by the British press and public. BACK

[5] A letter in The Courier of Tuesday 10 January 1809, p. 2, alludes to a ‘Military Plan of the greatest importance’ without disclosing directly what the plan entails, but stating that its object is ‘to bring every action immediately to a close engagement, [and] to render portable fire areas useless to the enemy’. BACK

[6] Factions within the Whig party who were followers of the policies of Charles James Fox or William Wyndham Grenville. BACK

[7] George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[8] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. He held the post from 1798–1809, but was forced to resign in the wake of allegations that he had profited by allowing his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), to accept money from army officers, in return for which promotion was arranged. BACK

[9] The Courier of Monday 9 January 1809, p. 2, carried an article on the Duke of York in the light of allegations against him. See note 8. BACK

[10] The journal that Coleridge was proposing to produce and publish from the Lake District. It ran from June 1809 to March 1810. BACK

[11] Paul Henry Maty’s (1744–1787; DNB) New Review, which summarised foreign publications, was published from 1782 to 1786. BACK

[12] The Edinburgh Review, a periodical published in quarterly issues from 1802 to 1929. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013