1575. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [begun a month before and continued on] 6 February 1809

1575. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, [begun a month before and continued on] 6 February 1809 ⁠* 

Mr. Walhouse & I Senhora do not agree in opinion respecting Petitions to the Crown upon great public occasions. [1]  It is the legal, orderly, & proper manner in which the People are by the Bill of Rights entitled to express their feelings, & it is their means of protesting against any measure which may be oppressive to them – or injurious to the honour & interest of the country. I believe it will now be admitted by most men that the Convention of Cintra was deeply injurious both to its honour & interests, – & the King has seldom been worse advised than when he made that most unmerited & unconstitutional answer to the City of London. [2] 

I am inclined to think that you have misunderstood what I said about my uncles marriage, & fancied it was Mr. Southey instead of my Uncle i.e., Mr Hill , the only person to whom I ever apply that name. [3]  You would not else I am sure have talked of his being managed by some servant maid.

A vile cold of three weeks standing has kept me in bed till breakfast time every morning, & thus stops Kehama. [4]  I am hard at work transcribing & filling up the skeleton chapters of my first vol. of Brazil, which is now in the press, – & five sheets thereof corrected.  [5]  It will be a good book, containing the truth, the whole truth, & nothing but the truth, – but I am by no means sanguine about its sale, nor tho I have no doubts about its final reputation, do I expect that it can ever be popular. People will be expecting a fine History, because Brazil is a fine country, just as they thought the history of Leo X [6]  must be splendid, because he had a splendid Court. I have begun with a sort of exordium very much to my own liking in which they are told what they are to look for & what they will find; [7]  – but it is in vain to tell them, – the public is a great ass that must have its ears tickled or it will bray with disappointment in your face.

We go on pretty much as usual, – except that a Goose & Turkey have arrived to day from Netherall, being the only visitors we are likely to have till the month of May. Your God daughter is almost big enough to stand in need of your instruction about the pencil, – for the use of which she certainly has not natural aptitude, – but all that is necessary is acquirable by anybody, if well taught & in time. We expect another about April. [8]  Huzza! the more the merrier, – one will help another; – the World pays me so badly that I shall leave it in debt to my children, & I have not so bad an opinion of it as not to believe that it will discharge its debt fairly & liberally at last.

It is unlikely that great political changes will soon take place. The Grenvilles & the Foxites [9]  must separate upon the question of peace, & as the People of England are not so mad as to join with the Foxites in their frantic wish for what would be little short of an act of national suicide, even the Grenvilles may acquire some popularity for the ground on which they stand, & Canning would be right glad to get them in & rid himself by their help of some of his wretched collegues. This change is very likely to take place, [10]  – I wish it may – because Wynn makes an excellent franker of large packets when he gets at Whitehall. [11]  Of any other benefit either to myself or the nation I have little hope & no expectation.

Yet Senhora by the living God, as able ministers might in six months time hang up Bonaparte for the Spanish Crows to feed upon, & reduce France within her ancient limits, By sending our whole military force into Spain, No man who knows what the French are, what the Spanish are, & what the English are can doubt this. Now is the time to put out this fire which has ravaged Europe, now when we can fairly get at it. Yet when we should be playing all our engines upon it, we do nothing more than send the maids to empty their chamber pots there. On such an occasion as this England might spare 150,000 men, – for it is as much our own cause as if it were upon our own ground. I would land 100,000 of them behind Bonaparte, seize the passes, & shut him in Spain, & send the rest to fight him there. [12] 

Feby. 6. 1809.

This letter has lain a month in this unfinished state. The truth is that I find the day too short for the business it brings with it, – tho during that month I have only once been outside my own garden gate. Whether it will ever be in my power to afford to be idle God knows, – I am sure it will never be in my inclination, – & yet I should like to feel that I might be idle if I pleased, & that nobody had any right to blame me if it was my will & pleasure to sleep a whole day long upon yonder sofa. I am working like a negro at some borrowed books which must be returned as soon as possible, [13]  – they throw me behind hand with the press, – & then I must work like ten negroes to fetch up my lea way there. – But it would be a long story to tell you all I am doing & have to do – Only I am tired sometimes, & then I make a great noise & that sets me right again.

We are soon about to compleat the study. have you got for us the brass rollers for the blinds, – & the little bellows for the books? for we stand in need of them. The juniperring [14]  is fairly got thro, except a little lettering – & I should be in my glory. if I were quite in full spirits, but little Emma is ailing, & has been so so long that I am not at ease. It is my nature to be over anxious about these things, – God be praised, not about any others.

I beg my remembrance to Sir Edward. Ediths love. Your god-daughter is delighted with collecting seals, – & as I know you delight in consuming sealing wax I pray you lose no opportunity of sending her a new specimen upon your letters –

God bless you yours as ever



* Address: To/ Miss Barker
Endorsement: Bonaparte
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 304–308.
Dating note: the letter seems to have been begun a month earlier than 6 Feb. BACK

[1] Edward John Walhouse (1791–1862), Sir Edward Littleton’s nephew and heir. He assumed the name of Littleton on Sir Edward’s death in 1812, and became MP for Stafford. BACK

[2] The Convention of Cintra was an agreement, signed on 30 August 1808, which allowed the defeated French troops to leave Portugal without further conflict. Southey’s account of the petition of the City of London ‘to express to your Majesty our grief and astonishment at the extraordinary and disgraceful Convention lately entered into by the Commander of your Majesty’s forces in Portugal, and the Commander of the French army in Lisbon’ and the King’s (George III (1738–1820, King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) court answer appears in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 211–212. BACK

[3] The letter from Southey referred to here appears not to have survived. BACK

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

[5] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[6] Southey’s review of William Roscoe, The Life of Pope Leo X, Son of Lorenzo de Medici (1805) appeared in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 449–467. BACK

[7] Southey’s ‘Introduction’ to the first volume of The History of Brazil (1810), pp. 1–2, fulfils this role. BACK

[8] Bertha Southey born 27 March 1809. BACK

[9] Factions within the Whig party who were followers of the peace policies of Charles James Fox or who preferred the less conciliatory policy of William Wyndham Grenville. BACK

[10] Canning, Foreign Secretary, wished to be rid of the Secretary for War and the Colonies, Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry, Lord Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB), who had sent troops intended by Canning for Portugal to the Netherlands instead. With the support of former Whig followers of William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), who were suspicious of the peace policy of Pitt’s former Whig rival Fox, Canning might have been able to lead a Tory government. Later in 1809, he fought a duel with Castlereagh; the King subsequently asked Spencer Perceval (1762–1812; DNB), rather than Canning, to form a government. BACK

[11] Wynn had sat in parliament since 1797, and as the nephew of William Wyndham Grenville, Prime Minister 1806–1807, it was expected he would hold government office again after his role as Under Secretary of State in the Home Office during the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’. Although he moved his allegiance to the Tories, Wynn did not enter the cabinet again until 1822. BACK

[12] On 9 January 1809 Arthur Wellesley was dispatched to Portugal in command of 21,000 soldiers. BACK

[13] Southey had asked Walter Scott to borrow the following books for him from the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, which he needed for writing his History of Brazil (1810–1819): Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus, Equestri, Bellicosaque Paraquariæ (1784); José Gumilla (1686–1750), Histoire Naturelle, Civile et Geographique de L’Orenoque (1758), a French version of the original Historia Natural, Civil, & Geografica de las Naciones situadas en las Riveras del Rio Orinoco (1731); Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485–1557), Navigationi et Viaggi (1550–1559). BACK

[14] Meaning to add a gold border and lettering to the bindings of Southey’s books. The allusion was possibly to Friar Juniper, disciple of St Francis, who cut the silver bells off the gold border of an altar cloth to give to a poor woman begging alms. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)