2703. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 28 January 1816

2703. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 28 January 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 28 Jany. 1816.

My dear Sir

I was the more vexed at finding you had left Keswick (tho indeed the season of the year made me expect it) when we returned because we missed each other by only two days. Had we happened to take the same road we might have met, – but we came by Nottingham & Halifax & you I believe went by way of Lancaster.

Our journey was very pleasant, & in all things fortunate, – for I may even call the illness of the child.  [1]  so, since by detaining us at Aix la Chapelle it threw us in the way of some foreign officers, men of great ability & high character. One of them was the very Aid-de Camp of Blucher who was with him when he was ridden over on the field of battle at Ligny. [2]  Another is the man <to> whom according to the account of all his comrades, Blucher was indebted for having won the battle of Donowitz. [3]  A third, Major Foster of the German Legion, was with the Duke of Brunswick in his memorable retreat, & had been with Lord Wellington in all his battles from Busaco to Thoulouse. [4]  We lived five days with these officers, & some of them escorted us out of the city when we departed for Maastricht.

The hatred which the Prussians bear the French & their admiration of Lord Wellington & the English was such as they ought to be. I gave as a toast the first day, ‘the Belle Alliance between Prussia & England, – may it endure as long as the memory of the battle,” [5]  – & they all rose & embraced & shook hands with me; – overhauling my hand in a most unmerciful manner to discover whether I were a free-mason. We agreed admirably in one point, – in thinking that France had not suffered sufficient punishment, & that for the security of Europe her territory ought to have been lessened. Were I to judge of the Prussian only by those whom I know, my opinion of them would be highly favourable; but their general conduct throughout Belgium has been the worst possible. There is but one character of them, – every one complains of their rapacity & their insufferable insolence, – qualities in which they were said to have equalled the French, & never to have palliated them, like the French, by their manners, – no monkey-moods, but always the tyger. I was grieved to lear hear this, – but so it is; & xx wherever the military spirit predominates as strongly as it does in Prussia, the result is likely to be the same.

The British troops were as much extolled for their inoffensive conduct as for their courage. Never surely did the name of Englishman stand so high, – it seemed every where to command respect, attention & kindness. We made two visits to the field of battle; – the second was for the purpose of obtaining some views of the more important points, which Mr Nash an artist who was of our party made for me, & which he is now preparing for the engraver that they may accompany my poem. [6]  Do not expect from it a description of the Battle. Modern battles are not subjects for poetry, & if the objection to treating them as such were less weighty, I should still not choose to enter into a competition with Walter Scott. My plan differs from his in toto. [7]  The title may in great part explain it; ‘A pilgrimage to Waterloo.”

Our route home was by Courtray, Menin, Ypres, Dunkirk & Calais, a line of such military ground that for that reason I was glad to see it. otherwise it is very uninteresting, – the only fine object being the great square at Ypres; – that indeed, tho partaking of the dilapidated appearance of the city is exceedingly fine; – indeed there is nothing finer in the Low Countries. Of all the cities which I ever saw Bruges pleased me most, – & I found great beauty in the proper Flemish landscape, – such as it about Bruges & in the Pays de Wals between Antwerp & Ghent. The only grand scenery <thro> which we past was upon the Meuse from Namur to Liege, – I you probably know this line of country, – which excels any river scenery that I had ever seen before. I saw enough in the neighbourhood of Huy to convince me that this country is as fine in its detail, & recesses, as in its general effect. With Spa I was disappointed, the armies who bivouacked about it in 1813 cut down the wood, & have thus given a naked appearance to the country.

I purchased a good many books, but have as yet only received a small part of them. – The destruction of the convent libraries has been very great, & reminds me of the havock made at our own Reformation. – A bookseller told me that he had sold above 100,000 weight of books to be destroyed! This man [8]  knew the value of books, & spoke of it with an unaffected feeling of regret. I found a general horror of the Revolution, – a general belief that Buonaparte [9]  had been purposely let loose from Elba (the absurdity of which it was in vain to combat) & a general & proper sense of dissatisfaction that, he had not been punished for all his crimes, “O my God! said the peasant who led me over the field of battle, – my house was full of wounded men: – it was nothing but sawing off arms & sawing off legs – O my God! – & all for one man! – why did not you put him to death?” [10]  – Among the lower classes this feeling was universal. Their sense of right & wrong had been outraged, & they seemed to think that if such a criminal were suffered to go unpunished, there was an end of justice upon earth.

Mrs Southey & her sisters [11]  join in kind remembrances to Mrs Peachy. Present my remembrances also & believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] Major General Peachy/ Bury St Edmunds/ Beresfords Hotel/ Cork St
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: FE/ 2/ 1816; 4 oClock/ FE 2/ 1816
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] During the Southeys’ continental tour, Edith May’s illness had delayed them at Aix-la-Chapelle, 10–17 October 1815. BACK

[2] At the battle of Ligny, 16 June 1815, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742–1819), Field Marshal in command of the Prussian army, was trapped under his horse and ridden over by French cavalry. The officer whom Southey met was Ferdinand Augustus Leopold Francis von Dresky (dates unknown), who led the 2nd Regiment of Silesian infantry at the Battle of Ligny. BACK

[3] The Battle of Dennewitz, 6 September 1813, in which a French force was defeated by a combined army from Prussia, Russia and Sweden. It was an important turning point in the war in north Germany. The officer concerned was a Major Petry (dates unknown). BACK

[4] Constantine Charles Henry Ernest Frederick Augustus Gustav Adolph de Forster (dates unknown), of the King’s German Legion, a British Army unit made up of expatriate Germans. Forster had previously served with Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1771–1815). He commanded the German volunteer force raised to fight the French, known as the Black Brunswickers, which had retreated to Britain in 1809. They then participated, under the overall command of Wellington, in the Peninsular campaign, including the victories at Bussaco in Portugal (27 September 1810) and Toulouse in southern France (10–12 April 1814). BACK

[5] The Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815). The Prussians wished to call the battle ‘La Belle Alliance’, after the farmhouse at which Blucher and Wellington met near the end of the battle. BACK

[6] Seven sketches made by Nash at the Waterloo battlefield were engraved and used as illustrations in Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[7] Scott’s The Field of Waterloo; a Poem (1815). BACK

[8] Jean-Baptiste Ver Beyst (1770–1849), famous Brussels bookseller. BACK

[9] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814,1815). BACK

[10] Southey’s first visit to the battlefield was on 3 October 1815. This report of his guide’s speech is very close to the words Southey noted in his journal; see Journal of a Tour in the Netherlands in the Autumn of 1815 (Boston and New York, 1902), p. 98. BACK

People mentioned

Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)
Wellesley, Arthur (1769–1852) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Mary (1771–1862) (mentioned 1 time)
Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)