1546. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [Nov/Dec 1808]

1546. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [Nov/Dec 1808] ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

I have been prepared to hear of the recoronation at Madrid – & the utter destruction of Zaragoza. [1]  Had Bairds [2]  army been landed at Santander, – or better still at Bilbao, Blake [3]  might have been saved, – but we do all things badly. If the French were to be met in the field, our army <force> should have been 100,000 men, – not in one army – but in fxx four or perhaps five – The end will yet be well. It is before walld towns that the xxxx strength of the French will be baffled. I have not much apprehension from Sir John Moore [4]  – if the junta be formd, he will beat twice his number of French, & if it be necessary to retreat there is the xxxx frontier of Portugal at hand. & he will divide his men among the frontier towns, – many of them are very strong, – Elvas, or rather Fort Le Lippe – nearly impregnable.

Landor is come back – to fight that fool Stewart [5]  – our Envoy at Corunna, – who said in his hearing when he made his offer of paying the troops to the Junta – il est fou. il n’a pas l’argent. [6]  Landor has printed the letter which he wrote to Stewarts secretary in consequence, [7]  & the moment Frere xx arrived, over he came, to put his threat in execution. If you have not seen this letter I will send it you, as a noble specimen both of him & of our Diplomatists. They & are our Generals are the disgrace of their country & the jest of all Europe. What he says is, ‘The Spaniards will be victorious in spite of their allies’ – but they feel as I feel & as he feels about their black business in Portugal that is infamous in all th his parts, & that their xxx xxx <cause has> been betrayed.

The Palace of the Elements is badly built & must I believe be pulled down, – The horse sacrifice (call it the Aswamedha if you would look learned) not too long for its importance, the agony of fire was full, he could not be hotter. The fiendish hand very well, – yet not more than very well. There is fine rhyme about the horse, but the finest thing is Ladurlads appearance & the way in which he mars the sacrifice. [8]  Here you have a book of repose. The second verse of the Sapphics is bad, – yet I cannot for the life of me mend it at present, – meteor cannot be made into a trochee which the sound requires. The mythology is all true – the passage about love extraneous, & must be struck out unless I can condescend to let it stand for a clap-trap. I am getting on, & after this book the close of which about Camdeo does not please me, [9]  – the farther you get advance the better I hope you will be pleased. Tomorrow I begin my descent into the Ancient Sepulchers which are below the sea, – the real scene is the Seven Pagodas on the Coromandel Coast, – for which you may see the first Vol. of the Asiatic Researches if it be at hand. [10]  When I come out there will still be a journey to the very presence of Seeva, – & lastly the Grand catastrophe down in Padalon, when I have to drive Kehamas <triumph> chariot over the brazen floor of Hell. [11]  Zounds what a noise th will I make then!

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ 9 Stafford Place/ Pimlico
MS: Bodleian English Letters c.27. ALS; 2p.
Published in: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 487–488 (who dates it October 1808). BACK

[1] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844), the elder brother of Napoleon, was made King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, in August 1808, King Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). Joseph was forced by a revolt to abandon Madrid and did not return until January 1809, after French reinforcements retook the city. From December the town of Zaragoza was besieged (for the second time that year) by the French. The siege involved ferocious street fighting, in which the Spanish civilians took full part. When the French finally succeeded in February, 54000 people had died. BACK

[2] Sir David Baird, 1st Baronet (1757–1829; DNB), landed his army at Corunna in October and marched through the mountains to support Moore’s troops. After the French recapture of Madrid, Baird retreated to Corunna where, with the remnants of Moore’s force, his soldiers fought a defensive battle in January 1809. Baird lost his left arm in the fighting. BACK

[3] General Joaquín Blake y Joyes (1759–1827) commanded a Spanish army shattered by Napoleon’s troops on 10 and 11 November at the village of Espinosa de los Monteros in the Cantabrian Mountains. BACK

[4] 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. BACK

[5] Charles Stuart, Baron Stuart de Rothesay (1779–1845; DNB), British envoy to the Spanish juntas in French-occupied Spain. Landor had funded a small group of soldiers during his own service with the Spanish military. BACK

[6] ‘He’s mad; he doesn’t have the money’, a remark made by Stuart about another, which Landor, overhearing, thought applied to himself. See John Forster, Walter Savage Landor, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 135–141. BACK

[7] Landor had privately printed his letter to Charles Robert Vaughan (dates unknown), his former schoolmate and Stuart’s aide, complaining of the imagined slight. BACK

[8] Incidents at the end of The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[9] Book 10 of the poem. BACK

[10] William Chambers, ‘Some Accounts of the Sculpture and the Ruins of Mavalipuram, a place a few miles north of Sadras, and known to seamen by the name of Seven Pagodas’, Asiatic Researches, I (1788), 145–171. Southey draws on this source in Book 16 of the poem. BACK

[11] In books 23 and 24 of the poem. BACK

People mentioned