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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1718. Robert Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 1 December 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 1, 1809

My dear Sir,

I am much obliged by your letter, and no otherwise sorry that your application to Lord Mulgrave [1]  has been deferred than because of the circumstance which occasions the delay.  [2]  On other accounts it is rather convenient that it should have been delayed, inasmuch as my brother stands in a somewhat different situation. Admiral Sotheby [3]  has made him Acting Commander in the Lyra brig; [4]  the object therefore at present is to solicit a confirmation of that appointment. This I believe it is the custom of the Admiralty not to grant, for the sake of preserving the patronage to itself; but if any interest can be made for an officer holding such conditional rank, they take an early opportunity of promoting him, though he is set aside at first. I have therefore good hope that your kind interference will be successful.

Coleridge has so pleasantly confuted my expectations concerning The Friend  [5]  that I begin to look confidently forward to a continuance of his exertions. He seems to be taking the advice of all his friends, and putting the reader in better humour. I hope that dreadful story in the thirteenth number is not true, [6]  and have almost convinced myself that it is not. I remember, however, to have read of a religious madness which prevailed in Denmark (I think), and not above half a century ago, precisely similar to the case in question. A set of fanatics had persuaded themselves that the best way to ensure their own salvation was by committing murder, in order that they might suffer death and die in a state of repentance; and they preferred children for their victims on account of their innocence. It was only put a stop to by condemning them to perpetual imprisonment. I cannot recollect where I met with this fact, it is so many years ago, but of it I have a full and perfect recollection; it is probably to be found in one of the earliest ‘Annual Registers’. [7]  It seems to me that upon this foundation some German horrorist has made up Coleridge’s story, for however monstrous the defects of law and justice in any part of Europe, it is scarcely possible that execution under such circumstances could have been ordered. Coleridge has related the story very finely, but the description of Maria’s voice and countenance is too beautiful for its place; it is too much like poetry. We should beware of mingling fancy with the narration of what we believe to be truth, – I mean to say of weaving it into, and making it part of, the story. However true the circumstances, an air of fiction is thrown over them whenever this is done.

My poem is finished, and in course of correction and transcription for the press. [8]  I am on the point of beginning another upon Pelayo, the father of the Spanish kings, – a subject long since chosen, but made especially interesting to me now from its applicability to the existing state of Spain. [9]  My hope, or rather my faith, of the ultimate success of the Spaniards continues unshaken and unabated, notwithstanding the imbecility of the Junta [10]  (to give it no harsher name) and the miserable manner in which the strength of this country has been wasted. That army which was sent to rot in the cursed islands of Walcheren [11]  might have exterminated every Frenchman in the Peninsula, and have given a mortal wound to the Buonapartes. Even now this might be done, but I confess myself quite hopeless that anything great will be effected by the present set of Ministers, or by any who are likely to supplant them. The people of England will always save themselves, even though Buonaparte could bridge the Channel; but their rulers will never deliver Europe. I groan in bitterness of spirit at the thought how surely and certainly it might be delivered if Peterborough [12]  or Wolfe [13]  or Chatham [14]  were among us!

Our ladies [15]  join with me in respects to Lady Beaumont. – Believe me, my dear Sir, very respectfully and truly yours,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from William Knight (ed.), Memorials of Coleorton, 2 vols (London, 1887)
Previously published: William Knight (ed.), Memorials of Coleorton: Being letters from Coleridge, Wordsworth and his sister, Southey, and Sir Walter Scott to Sir George and Lady Beaumont of Coleorton, Leicestershire, 1803 to 1834, 2 vols (London, 1887), II, pp. 86–89. BACK

[1] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): First Lord of the Admiralty from 1807, diplomatist and politician. BACK

[2] Lady Mulgrave was in ill health; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 25 November 1809, Letter 1713. BACK

[3] Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), who was Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

[4] HMS Lyra was a Royal Navy Cherokee class 10-gun brig-sloop, launched in August 1808. BACK

[5] Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was published in 26 instalments from 1 June 1809 to 15 March 1810. BACK

[6] The thirteenth number was dated 16 November 1809 and included the story of Maria Eleonora Schoning, which Coleridge claimed to have read on his visit to Germany in 1798. See Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend; A Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper (London, 1809), pp. 194–208. See S. T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1969), II, pp. 172–183. BACK

[7] The story of this sect is given in the ‘History of Europe’ in the Annual Register for the Year 1767 (1768), 164. BACK

[8] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[9] This was published as Roderick, the Last of the Goths in 1814. BACK

[10] The Junta’s unwillingness to organise supplies for the British Army while urging a policy of attack led several people, including Southey, to suspect some of their members of co-operating with the French. BACK

[11] The Walcheren expedition was an unsuccessful British attempt to open another front in the Netherlands in support of the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France. Approximately 40,000 soldiers with supporting horses and artillery landed at Walcheren on 30 July 1809. There was little fighting but the army sustained heavy losses from sickness, and in December 1809 withdrew. BACK

[12] Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658?–1735; DNB), renowned for his daring tactics during a British invasion of Spain in 1705. BACK

[13] James Wolfe (1727–1759; DNB), responsible for the decisive victory in 1759 that led to the British conquest of Quebec. BACK

[14] William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (1708–1778; DNB), the minister whose policies were credited with bringing victories during the Seven Years’ War. BACK

[15] The three sisters, Edith Southey, Sara Coleridge and Mary Lovell. BACK

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August 2013