2407. Robert Southey to John May, 25 April 1814

2407. Robert Southey to John May, 25 April 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 25. 1814

My dear friend,

If the King of France [1]  has any stray cordon bleu to dispose of here is Herbert has a fair claim to one, having been the first person in G Britain who mounted the white cockade. [2]  He appeared with one immediately upon the news from xxxxxxxxxx Bourdeaux, & wore it till the news from Paris, [3]  – my young ones were then all xx as happy as paper-cockades could make them, & to our great amusement all the white ribband in Keswick was bought up to follow their example. – My own feelings on the first intelligence were unlike any thing that I ever experienced before, or can experience again. The curtain had fallen after a tragedy of five & twenty years; – those persons who had rejoiced most enthusiastically at the beginning of the revolution were now deeply thankful for a termination which restored things as nearly as can be to their the state from which they set out; – & what I said with a voice of warning to my own country is here historically true that “all the intermediate sum of misery is but the bitter price which folly pays for repentance.” [4]  The mass of destruction, of wretchedness & of ruin which that revolution has occasioned is beyond all calculation, – our conception of it is almost as vague & inadequate as of infinity. This however occurred to me at the time less than my own individual history, for I could not <but> remember how materially the course of my own life had been influenced by that tremendous earthquake, which seemed to break up the great deeps of society, like a moral & political deluge. I have derived nothing but good from it in every thing, except perhaps the mere consideration of immediate worldly fortune, – which is to me as dust in the balance. Sure I am that under any other course of discipline I should neither <not> have possessed half the intellectual powers which I now enjoy, – & perhaps neither the moral strength, nor the self respect. without especial favours The hopes & the ardour & the errors & the struggles & the difficulties of my early life crowded upon my mind, – & above all there was a deep & grateful sense of that superintending Goodness which had made all things work together for good in my fortunes, & will I firmly believe in like manner uniformly upon the great scale educe good from evil upon the great scale of human events.

I fear we shall make a bad peace. Hitherto the people have borne on their le Governors, – (I except Prussia where Prince [5]  & People have been worthy of each other) – the Rulers are now left to themselves, & I apprehend consequences which will fall heavy upon posterity tho not perhaps upon ourselves. I had rather the French Philosophy had left any other of its blessings behind it than its candour & its liberality. It was very natural that the Emperor of Austria [6]  should not chuse to have his son in law [7]  hanged, or broken upon the wheel, – which would have been his appropriate death. But here is Alexander [8]  breakfasting with Marshall Ney [9]  who if he had more necks than the hydra or than my Jaggernaut, [10]  owes them all to the gallows for his xxxxxxxx <conduct> in Galicia & in Portugal. Caulaincourt [11]  is to have an asylum in Russia – & no doubt will be permitted to chuse his latitude there. Candour is to make us impute all the enormities which the French have committed to Buonaparte, all the horrors, absolutely unutterable as they are which you know were perpetrated in Portugal, & which I know were perpetrated in Spain – but which I literally cannot detail in history – because I dare not outrage human nature & common decency by such details, – all these must in candour be put out of remembrance; – all was Buonapartes doing, – & the most amiable of nations were his victims rather than his agents: – so this most voracious of nations tell us, & so we are to believe. But if the Devil could not have brought about all these crimes without the Emperor Napoleon, neither could the Emperor of Napoleon have discharged the Devils commission without the most amiable of nations to act up to the full scope of his diabolical desires. – It is not the individual, it is the national character which ought to be held up to execration.

At present, I admit, our business is to conciliate, & consolidate the counter revolution. But no visitings to Marshall Ney, – no compliments to his worthy colleagues, – no asylums for the murderers of the Duc d’Enghien, [12]  no revenue of 240,000 £ a year as a instead of a dungeon & dungeon fare for the foulest of all tyrants. [13]  – In treating for peace liberality will not fail to be urged by the French negociators as a reason for granting them terms which are inconsistent with the welfare of Europe: – Alexander is a weak man, tho a good one; – & our ministers will be more better pleased to hear themselves called liberal by the opposition, – than to be called xx wise by after ages. There is the peace of Utrecht [14]  before th our eyes. The mischief which was done then, ought to be done <undone> now. I am very ready to give up colonies which are better in the hands of the French than in ours, for the weal of the inhabitants themselves, – but it should be in return for continental cessions on their part, they should cede <be stript of> Alsace Lorrain & Franche-Comte.

This topic has led me on so far that little room is left for any thing else. There was nothing of mine in the last Quarterly, – there might have been two short articles upon Montgomerys World before the Flood, [15]  & the Nicobar Isles. [16]  I am reviewing the collection of the poets by Chalmers, [17]  & about to take the Reports of your Society for bettering the Poor as an excellent text, which will enable me to preach upon real, radical & practicable reform. [18]  To this subject I am now girding up my loins. – I hope to do some good by it, – & this reconciles me to the necessity of employments which certainly as you will remark interrupt me in the progress of greater & more important works. I sincerely wish I could have continued the Register [19]  up to this period, & perhaps it will one day be wished that this work had met with a better sale, in which case the booksellers would have got money, & I should not have lost the of my labours continued my labour fatiguing as it was, – the defalcation in my revenue is very great, but it is only for a time – Ballantyne has promised fair, & cannot break those promises other without exposing himself as well as his brother to a loss of character, which I think he would not venture upon, & a loss of custom with me as his printing business, which it is certainly his interest to preserve. He asked for time – & I wish the time were come, – part of this money having long been destined to be remitted to you.

God bless you. We are all well. Remember us to Mrs May. The Walpole [20]  papers will be three weeks on the way. I shall set about them when they arrive. RS.


* Address: To/ John May Esqre/ Richmond/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 28AP28/ 1814; [partial] 10o AP.28/ 1814F.N.n
Watermark: C Wilmott/ 1807
Endorsement: No. 171 1814/ Robert Southey/ Keswick 25th April/recd. 28th do/ ansd 28th June
MS: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Ramos, The Letters of Robert Southey to John May: 1797–1838 (Austin, Texas, 1976), pp. 130–133; and Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 65–68 [in part]. BACK

[1] Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824). BACK

[2] Symbolic of support for the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty. BACK

[3] Louis XVIII had first been proclaimed King in France at Bordeaux on 12 March 1814. Paris was occupied on 30 March and Napoleon abdicated on 6 April 1814. BACK

[4] Quarterly Review, 10 (October 1813), 93. In its original context, Southey warns against the ‘moral and religious anarchy’ that would ensue if ‘the [Anglican] Church Establishment should … be overthrown’. BACK

[5] Frederick William III (1770–1840; King of Prussia 1797–1840). BACK

[6] Francis I (1768–1835; Holy Roman Emperor 1792–1806; Emperor of Austria 1804–1835). BACK

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte, whose second wife was Marie-Louise (1791–1847), daughter of Emperor Francis I. BACK

[8] Alexander I (1777–1825; Emperor of Russia 1801–1825). BACK

[9] Michel Ney (1769–1815), Marshal of France. He had played a key role in the French campaigns in the Iberian peninsular in 1808–10, but in April 1814 had been instrumental in forcing Napoleon to abdicate. The Times, 21 April 1814, reported Alexander I had breakfasted with Ney on 16 April. BACK

[10] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 14, lines 82–84, where the idol of ‘Jaga-Naut’ is described as a snake with seven heads. BACK

[11] The French general and diplomat Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt (1773–1827). Minister of Foreign Affairs 1813–14 and March-June 1815. He was French Ambassador to Russia 1807–11. Caulaincourt might have needed asylum in Russia because of his alleged involvement in the capture and execution of the Duc d’Enghien (1772–1804) in 1804. BACK

[12] Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d’Enghien (1772–1804). A relative of the Bourbons, he took a prominent part in campaigns by French émigrés against the Revolutionary government. In March 1804 he was kidnapped from his home in Germany and convicted by a French military tribunal of involvement in a recent royalist plot, even though the French government knew he was innocent of the charges. He was shot on 21 March 1804. Caulaincourt was accused of being implicated in the Duc’s kidnap – a charge he vigorously denied. BACK

[13] The Treaty of Fontainebleu, signed on 11 April 1814, allowed Napoleon an annual pension of two million francs. BACK

[14] The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ended the long-running War of the Spanish Succession. It was widely-criticised in Britain for being too lenient to the French. BACK

[15] James Montgomery, The World Before the Flood (1813), Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 78–87. BACK

[16] Johann Gottfried Haensel (1749–1814), Letters on the Nicobar Islands (1812), Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 57–72. BACK

[17] Alexander Chalmers (1759–1834; DNB), The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper (1810), Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 480–504; and Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 60–90. BACK

[18] The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. The essay was a long time in gestation, eventually appearing as ‘The Poor’, Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. It attracted a great deal of attention and was reprinted in Southey’s Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols (London, 1832), II, pp. 159–247. BACK

[19] The Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[20] Robert Walpole (1736–1810), Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal, 1771–1800. Southey had promised to consider writing his biography. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)