2732. Robert Southey to Hew Dalrymple, 6 March 1816

2732. Robert Southey to Hew Dalrymple, 6 March 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 6 March. 1816


It is but four & twenty hours since your letter of Jany 12 came to my hands, inclosed in a parcel from Mr Murray.

I had the honour of receiving your former communications. Addressed as they were to the Writer of a paper in the Quarterly Review, I did not feel myself called upon to reply to them, & therefore avoided a task which could not but be painful. [1]  On no occasion have I ever felt myself more painfully embarrassed than in replying now to this personal address. There is in it a tone of wounded feeling, expressed in a manner so manly & so devoid of all irritation, that as to command my sincere respect, but my opinion of the Convention of Cintra remains unaltered. [2] 

There are some points upon which you have corrected errors into which I had fallen: these shall be carefully rectified in the great work upon which I am engaged. [3]  In particular what you say of the Bishop & Junta of Porto is of importance. I can easily imagine that the publication of your documents upon that subject in the Report of the Inquiry might have been imprudent; but I perceive also that it might have established the propriety of the political measures which you pursued; & readily admit that any error in the manner of xxxx restoring the Regency becomes of inferior moment. [4]  – The mistake of Oviedo for Oporto originated in one of the many misprints in the folio Report: being accustomed always to think of the latter word in its Portugueze form without the O. the possible mistake did not occur to me, as it ought to have done, until the absurdity of the erroneous statement was considered. [5]  With regard to the stipulation concerning the Russian fleet, the observations in the Edinburgh Annual Register expressly refer to the Armistice, – not to the Convention. [6] 

My own deliberate judgement upon the whole transaction, in all its bearings, I must not conceal. But no man can be more desirous of discharging faithfully the duty of an historian. I will state your views of the subject as fully, as distinctly & as forcibly as is in my power; & I will not fail to point out the advantages which resulted from having dispossessed the French of Almeida & Elvas, – the possession of either of which points would <might> probably have led to their occupation of Lisbon in the ensuing spring. [7]  And in delivering the <an> opinion which is too strongly rooted in my <the> principles of political wisdom to be altered <shaken> by any minor considerations, – that manner will best accord with my own feelings which may appear to be least offensive to yours.

I thank you Sir for the documents with which you have favoured me,

& have the honour to remain


your most obedient

humble Servt

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Sir Hew Dalrymple, Bart/ &c &c &c/ 23. Upper Wimpole Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 9 MR 9/ 1816
Seal: [partial] red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
Watermark: J DICKINSON & CO/ 1811
MS: National Library of Scotland, Acc. 10698. ALS; 4p.
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 writing to the Quarterly Review and then sending Southey papers giving his version of events. BACK

[2] After a national outcry in Britain over the Convention of Cintra (1808), a Court of Inquiry was appointed and sat 14 November–27 December 1808, but it failed to punish its authors, Dalrymple and Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB). They were, however, never afterwards given command and Southey fully endorsed the dim view that the Inquiry took of Dalrymple and Burrard’s conduct. BACK

[3] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 576–581, delivered a measured verdict on the Convention of Cintra (1808), balancing its ‘military advantages’ against ‘some political errors’ (p. 577). BACK

[4] The Minutes of the Proceedings of the Court of Inquiry upon the Treaty of Armistice and Convention of Cintra (1808), although it did not publish Dalrymple’s documents, made it clear that, (p. 34) on the evacuation of the French occupying army, he resisted the attempts of Antonio de Sao Jose de Castro (1754–1843), the Bishop of Oporto, and the Junta set up in that city in June 1808, to be recognised as the rulers of Portugal, in the interests of restoring the authority of John VI (1767–1826), Regent of Portugal 1799–1816, King of Portugal 1816–1826. Dalrymple felt that much of the hostility to him in Portugal derived from his attitude on this issue. BACK

[5] The misidentification is made in Southey’s article ‘Life of Wellington’, Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275 (243). BACK

[6] In Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 357–381, Southey had criticised the conduct of the armistice with the French troops in Portugal that preceded the Convention of Cintra (1808). The bearing which the presence of the Russian fleet had on Dalrymple and Burrard’s actions is discussed at p. 366. There was a Russian fleet at anchor in Lisbon and while Russia was an ally of France, it was not at war with Portugal. Admiral Dmitri Senyavin (1763–1831) insisted he would resist an attempt by the British fleet to take Lisbon, but he did not aid the French troops on land. BACK

[7] These towns were gained by the British at the Convention of Cintra (1808). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)