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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1666. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 8 August 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Scott

The Quest is over. [1]  I believe the Stewardship would have been promised me had I been fit for it, but Lord Mulgraves [2]  words are – ‘a knowledge of agriculture, a practical experience in the management of mines, knowledge in the cultivation & profit of woods, – in short a man born, bred, educated, & occupied in the superintendance of such property as the Greenwich estates, must be sought for when a vacancy occurs’. This answer Sir G. Beaumont has communicated to me. I learn from another quarter too that the present possessor ‘with all his knowledge, assiduity & rapidity in the mode of transacting business, has always been employed for 17 or 18 hours out of every 24 together with his first Clerk.’ – All therefore that I have to regret is – having relied so implicitly upon Sharps information, & as to apply for the post before I had thoroughly ascertained my own competency for it. – This was only one blunder. Another was in supposing there was no English Historiographer – Old Dutens has had the office, with a salary of 400 £, for many years, [3]  – upon what plea they who gave it him can best tell. My aim mu[MS torn]ow [4]  be to succeed him whenever he pleases to move off, obtaining, if possible, [MS torn]crease [5]  of salary so as to make it equivalent to what it originally was. And toward[MS torn] [6]  this I hope some way is gained by what has already been done. – I go to [MS torn]wther [7]  this day week, & according as I feel my footing, will contrive to have my views & wishes explained.

There came last night a letter from Ellis, communicating the result of his conversation with Canning. I have thanked him for his friendly interference & told him how things stand.

I will do my best for Ballantyne, & going to work with clear views of the subject, & a thorough knowledge of the Spanish & Portugueze character, – I shall come to it with great advantages. [8]  That lamentable ground over which poor Sir J Moore retreated (as one of his own officers expresses it) ‘faster than flesh & blood could follow him’ [9]  – I paced on foot, loitering along that my footpace might not outstrip a lazy coach & six. & my recollection of passes where five hundred Englishmen could have stopt an army is as vivid as if I had just seen them. Bonaparte owes more to the blunders of his enemies than to his own abilities, – & he has no surer allies than those writers who prepare our very Generals to fear him, by constantly representing him as not to be conquered. Oh for Peterborough! [10]  Oh ‘for a single hour of Dundee.’ [11]  – Sir John Moore was as brave a man as ever died in battle, – but he had that fear upon him, – his imagination was cowed & intimidated, – tho his heart was not. And now because the Galicians did not turn out & expose themselves to certain destruction by or attempting to protect an army, – whom he would not suffer to protect themselves – a party in this count[MS torn] [12]  attempted {are labouring} to prove that we ought to abandon the Spaniards! Assuredly if I am [MS torn]rite [13]  the history of the campaign not a syllable shall be set down in malice, but [MS torn] [14]  Heaven I will nothing extenuate. – the retreat shall be painted in its true colours [MS torn] [15]  shame & horror, – accurately to the very life, – or rather the very death, – for [MS torn]eath [16]  it was, – not only to the wretched women & children – who never should have been permitted to enter Spain, but to man & beast, – both marched till death flesh & blood failed them, & the men broken-hearted to think that their lives were thus ignominiously wasted.

If I thought you repeated the Retainers wish in sober earnest, – I could not in conscience wish your Old Man of the Sea were off your shoulders, [17]  – but I believe whenever he is laid down, doing what you please will be doing much, & that we shall have more Marmions [18]  & William of Delorains. [19]  Lord Byrons waggery was new to me [20]  & I cannot help wishing you may some day have an opportunity of giving him the retort as neatly as you have given it to that poor envious old Cumberland. [21] 

I have fixed myself here by a lease of one & twenty years, which after many weary procrastinations was executed a few days ago.

I had nearly forgotten to say something concerning Morte Arthur. [MS torn] [22]  now more than a year that I have been playing the dog in the [MS torn]nger [23]  towards you, – but the fault is not in me. Longman has been to blame in adjourning the printing the work sine die. [24]  I will in my next letter state to him that in making me use you ill, – & [MS torn] [25]  if there be any farther delay I shall feel myself bound to throw up the business [26] 

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

Tuesday Aug 8. 1809.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr./ [deletion and readdress in another hand] Edinburgh/ {Achesteel/ Selkirk}
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: AU/ 1809/ 10
Endorsement: Southey/ 8th. August/ 1809
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3878
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251 [dated 6 Aug]. BACK

[1] In July 1809, Southey was informed by Richard Sharp that the stewardship of the Derwentwater Estates (which were owned by Greenwich Hospital) would soon become vacant on the death of the incumbent. Southey asked several friends, including Senhouse and George Beaumont to intercede on his behalf, but in the end it was considered to be unsuitable for him. BACK

[2] The politician Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB). BACK

[3] Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), a French Protestant, held the post of Historiographer Royal until his death on 23 May 1812. Southey’s campaign for the post proved unsuccessful and it was given to James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB). BACK

[4] Text given as ‘must now’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[5] Text given as ‘increase’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[6] Text given as ‘towards’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[7] Text given as ‘Lowther’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. Lowther Castle, the residence of Lord Lonsdale, near Penrith in Cumbria. BACK

[8] Southey had agreed to provide historical material for Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[9] 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 on 16 January 1809. Moore’s actions were posthumously defended by his brother, James Moore (1763–1860; DNB), in A Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army in Spain, Commanded by His Excellency Sir John Moore. Authenticated by Official Papers and Original Letters (1809). For Southey’s account, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 442–459. Although he praised many of Moore’s personal qualities, Southey suggested that he was not ‘equal to the difficulties of his situation’ (458). BACK

[10] Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658?–1735; DNB), renowned for his daring tactics in an earlier war in Spain. BACK

[11] Line 11 of Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘In the Pass of Killiecranky’ (1803), referring to John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee (known as Bonnie Dundee; 1648?–1689; DNB), Jacobite army officer. BACK

[12] Text given as ‘Country’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[13] Text given as ‘to write’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[14] Text given as ‘by Heaven’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[15] Text given as ‘of’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[16] Text given as ‘death’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[17] An allusion to Scott’s own allusion to the story of Sinbad in the Arabian Nights’ Tales in which the Old Man of the Sea was a burden carried on the shoulders of his companions. In a note to Marmion (Edinburgh, 1808), Scott describes ‘the relics of St. Cuthbert. The Saint was, however, a most capricious fellowtraveller: which was the more intolerable, as like Sinbad’s Old Man of the Sea, he journeyed upon the shoulders of his companions. They paraded him through Scotland for several years’ (p. xlvii). Scott’s burden in this case was the editing work on English Minstrelsy. Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors; with some Original Pieces Hitherto Unpublished (1810). BACK

[18] Scott’s Marmion (1808). BACK

[19] Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem (1805). BACK

[20] Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). BACK

[21] Walter Scott had reviewed Richard Cumberland (1732–1811; DNB), John de Lancaster: A Novel (1809) in the Quarterly Review 1 (May 1809), 337–348. BACK

[22] Text given as ‘It is’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[23] Text given as ‘manger’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[24] Meaning ‘indefinitely’. BACK

[25] Text given as ‘that’ in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 248–251. BACK

[26] Southey’s edition of Thomas Malory’s (c. 1415–1471; DNB), The Birth, Lyf, and Actes of Kyng Arthur: Of his Noble Knyghtes of the Rounde Table, they’r Merveyllous Enquestes and Aduentures ... : and in the end, Le Morte D’Arthur, with the Dolourous Deth and Departyng out of thys Worlde of them Al was finally published by Longman in 1817. BACK

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August 2013