2709. Robert Southey to John Murray, 7 February 1816

2709. Robert Southey to John Murray, 7 February 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 7 Feby. 1816

My dear Sir

After maturely considering Sir Hew Dalrymples letter I have to chuse between the apparent incivility of not acknowledging it, or the inconvenience of involving myself in a correspondence which could not be satisfactory to him & would be very painful to myself. [1]  The former alternative is the least evil of the two, & the incivility is considerably lessened by his having addressed me not personally, but as the author of the paper in the Q Review.

I need not tell you how ill it would become me to let myself in the great work of this history [2]  be influenced by personal considerations. Sir Hew evidently feels at this time that the judgement of the <a> Court of Inquiry is not definitive, – & that the voice of history is so. [3]  His letter communicates nothing which can in the slightest degree alter my opinion, what indeed could he communicate which had not appeared upon the Inquiry? – Far be it from me to speak of him with asperity, – what the fault which he committed was an error of judgement; – but a generous error it was; proceeding less from a want of local knowledge than from a want of political wisdom, & a total ignorance of the means by which alone the contest in which we were engaged could be brought to a happy termination. I will speak of say every thing what can be said in his behalf, to represent things as they appeared to him: I will speak of him where I can (one of the letters which he has transmitted will enable me to do it) with commendation, – never with disrespect. But in this work I take a higher moral ground & a wider political scope than historians have usually done; – & write as I must answer for it to posterity & to my own soul.

You have never proposed to me a richer subject than Dr Aikins Annals. To review it would be to sketch the outline of my intended Age of George 3d. [4] 

Do not fear that Ali Bey will escape too lightly thro my hands. [5]  Could you borrow to compare with him, a duodecimo volume about threescore years old by an Englishman who being made a slave in Barbary, performed the journey to Mecca, got home at last & published his adventure. He was a West Country man (of Exeter if I recollect rightly) but whether his name were Pitts or Pellew I cannot recollect, – there are travels by men of both names, & I have read both, – but it is nearly twenty years ago. [6]  It would be curious to ascertain whether this unpretending Englishman has not seen as much as this strange Spaniard, who having got leave to act the Renegado seems disposed to make all the advantage he can of the character for himself, – if not for the advancement of geographical knowledge.

Thank you for Sir J Malcolm. [7] 

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Albemarle Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 10 FE 10/ 1816
Watermark: J DICKINSON & Co/ 1811
Endorsement: 1816 Feby 7/ Southey Robt
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] In his first article on the ‘Life of Wellington’, in Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275, especially at 242–243, Southey had criticised the conduct of Dalrymple when, arriving in Portugal as commanding officer, he had, at the Convention of Cintra, signed 30 August 1808, allowed a defeated French army free passage out of the country with its weapons and supplies intact. Dalrymple responded by sending papers giving his version of events; see Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 January 1816, Letter 2706. Southey was unable to avoid the correspondence that he here wished to escape; see Robert Southey to Hew Dalrymple, 6 March 1816, Letter 2732. BACK

[2] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[3] Dalrymple was one of the generals responsible for signing, on 30 August 1808, the Convention of Cintra, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Wellington at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellington, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by Dalrymple and by Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB). These veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, were content to make peace. After a national outcry in Britain, a Court of Inquiry was appointed 14 November–27 December 1808, which failed to discipline Burrard and Dalrymple. They were, however, never afterwards given active command. BACK

[4] John Aikin, Annals of the Reign of King George III (1816) was not reviewed by Southey in the Quarterly Review. (The book was no. 20 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library.) Nor did Southey author a history of the age of George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[5] Southey reviewed ‘Ali Bey’, i.e. Domingo Badia y Leblich (1766–1818), Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, Between the Years 1803 and 1807 (1816) in Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 299–345. BACK

[6] Southey was thinking of Joseph Pitts (1663–1735?; DNB), A True and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mohammetans (1704). Pitts was originally from Exeter and travelled to Mecca in about 1685. The other work was Thomas Pellow (1704–?), The History of the Long Captivity and Adventures of Thomas Pellow in South Barbary; Giving an Account of His being taken by two Sallee Rovers and carry’d a Slave to Mequinez at Eleven Years of Age (1739). Southey referenced Pitts’s work in a note to the second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer, 2 vols (London, 1809), I, pp. 42–43. BACK

[7] John Malcolm (1769–1833; DNB), The History of Persia, from the most Early Period to the Present Time: containing an Account of the Religion, Government, Usages, and Character of the Inhabitants of that Kingdom (1815), no. 1662 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, was reviewed in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 236–292, by Southey’s friend Reginald Heber. BACK

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