2277. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 30 June 1813

2277. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 30 June 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. June 30. 1813

Your comedy [1]  came to hand a fortnight ago. My house then was & long had been in a dismal & comfortless state. A brother of my wife’s came here at Christmas, intending to stay only a few weeks; – he brought a liver-complaint with him, a blood vessel gave way in the lungs soon after his arrival, & he died on Thursday last, having long been more like a skeleton than I could have supposed it possible for any thing living to be.

What you tell me of Bethams conduct equally grieves & surprizes me. [2]  Of him personally I know very little; but his sister is a woman of talents & great goodness, – & in spite of every disadvantage of person & manner, a favourite with all who know her; – I thought him a of a good stock, & doubted not that he was a man of honour as well as honesty, – otherwise I should never in evil hour have directed him to the vale of Ewias. Nothing can be worse than what you say of him, nor does it appear possible that any representation on his part can alter the plain facts, which are as bad as possible. – He sent me a vulgar fellow from Aberga’ny last summer, which gave me a bad opinion of his taste in companions. [3] 

The Charitable Dowager I suppose is drawn from life, – at least it has all the appearance of a portrait. As a drama there is a want of incident, & of probability in that upon which the catastrophe depends; but the dialogue abounds with those felicities which flash from you in prose & verse, more than from any other writer. I x remember nothing which at all resembles them, except in Jeremy Taylor; [4]  he has things as perfect & as touching in their kind, but the kind is different; there is the same beauty, the same exquisite fitness, – not the point & poignancy which you display in the Comedy & in the Commentary, [5]  – nor the condensation & strength which characterise Gebir & Count Julian. [6] 

I did not fail to notice the neighbourly compliment which you bestow upon the town of Abergavenny. [7]  – Even out of Wales however something good may come, – besides Welsh flannel, & lambs-wool stockings. I am reading a great book from Brecknock, – for from Brecknock of all places under the sun, the fullest Mahommedan history which has yet appeared in any European language, has come forth. [8]  Without being a good historian Major Price is a very useful one; he amuses me very much, & his volumes are full of facts which you cannot forget, tho the Mahommedan Propria quæ maribus [9]  render it impossible ever to remember any thing more than the great outlines. – A x dramatist in want of tragic subjects never need look beyond these two quarto volumes.

In about three weeks I go to London, at an ill-timed season – but unavoidably. I give up the Edinburgh Register with this fourth volume, [10]  having got into bad hands with it, & therefore in a fair way of being defrauded. Except in the direct loss which I am likely to sustain there is little to regret in this, – for if I cannot employ myself to more advantage, I shall at least in fortune be perfectly master of my own time.

What Jupiter means to do with us, he himself best knows, for as he seems to have stultified all parties at home, & all powers abroad there is no longer the old criterion of his intentions to help us t in our foresight. I think this campaign will lead to a peace, – tho such a peace be xxxx may probably <will> be worse than a continuance of the war if it leaves Buonaparte alive; but the causes of the armistice [11]  are as yet a mystery to me, & if hostilities should be renewed which on the whole seems more probable than that they should be termin[MS torn]. I still hope to see his destruction. The peace which would then come would be lasting, & during a long interval of exhaustion & rest perhaps the world will grow wiser, & learn a few practical lessons from experience. The worst prospect is at home, – & our naval superiority shaken, – the foundations of every establishment undermined, & the dragons teeth sown all around us. – I suspected that the Americans [12]  must have made some improvements in gunnery, & it was a relief to my heart when I learnt that this was actually the case. They stuff their wadding with bullets, – which accounts for the carnage on board our ships, – & they make their cartridges of very thin sheet lead, so that it is not necessary to spunge the guns, – thus they give nearly two to one, almost doubling their force.

I fear I shall not see you this year. Remember me to Mrs Landor – God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Llantony/ Abergavenny
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 26. ALS; 4p.
Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 36–37 [in part]. BACK

[1] Landor had sent Southey the manuscript of ‘The Charitable Dowager’, a comedy. It was never published or performed. BACK

[2] Charles Betham (b. 1779), brother of Mary Matilda. Southey had been responsible for introducing Betham and Landor, see his letter to Mary Matilda Betham, 30 October 1811, Letter 1974. Charles had rented one of Landor’s largest farms at Llanthony. Betham and Landor were soon in dispute over the rent and the use of the land. The final straw was when Betham’s brother, Frederick (b. 1789/1790), dug up trees Landor had planted. Landor denounced Frederick in a handbill that he personally posted up in Monmouth during the assizes. Betham sued for libel, Landor lost and had to pay £100 in damages. For Betham’s version of events, see Ernest Betham, A House of Letters (London, 1905), pp. 262–277. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] The Church of Ireland bishop and religious writer Jeremy Taylor (bap. 1613, d. 1667; DNB). BACK

[5] Landor’s Commentary on Memoirs of Mr Fox, which was ostensibly a response to John Bernard Trotter’s (1775–1818; DNB) laudatory account of his erstwhile employer Charles James Fox. Although the Commentary was printed, Murray eventually suppressed its publication, refusing to issue a book that attacked the Tory government and was dedicated to James Madison (1751–1836), President of the United States 1809–1817, with whom Britain was about to go to war. BACK

[6] Landor’s epic Gebir (1798) and his tragedy Count Julian (1812). BACK

[7] The town nearest to Landor’s Llanthony estate. Landor’s disputes with his neighbours had given him a hatred of most things Welsh. BACK

[8] The orientalist and army officer David Price (1762–1835; DNB), a native of Breconshire and later deputy lieutenant of the county. His Chronological Retrospect, or, Memoirs of the Principal Events of Mohammedan History was published in three volumes between 1811–1821. Southey’s copy was no. 2350 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[9] ‘names which are deemed appropriate’. Southey clearly had difficulty with Arabic proper names. BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813) was the last issue to contain contributions from Southey. BACK

[11] There was a brief armistice between France and the forces of the Sixth Coalition 4 June-13 August 1813, to allow both sides to re-group their forces. BACK

[12] Britain and the United States were at war 1812–1814. The United States had only six frigates, but they were heavily armed with 44 or 38 guns and won some notable victories against British ships, beginning with the USS Constitution’s defeat of HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812. BACK

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