2738. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 17 March 1816

2738. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 17 March 1816⁠* 

Keswick. March 17.1816.

My dear Scott,

I have a debt upon my conscience, which has been too long unpaid. You left me a letter of introduction to the Dutchess of Richmond, [1]  which I was graceless enough to make no use of, – & still more gracelessly I have never yet thanked you for it. As for the first part of the offence my stay at Brussels was not very long, [2]  I had a great deal to see there, moreover, I got among the old books; & having a sort of instinct which makes me as much as possible get out of the way of drawing-rooms, because I have an awkward feeling of being in the way when in them, I was much more at my ease at <when> looking at Emperors & Princes in the crowd, than I should have been in the room with them.

How I should have rejoiced if we had met at Waterloo! This feeling I had & expressed upon the ground. You have pictured it with your characteristic force & animation. My poem [3]  will reach you in a few weeks: – it is so different in its kind, that however kindly malice may be disposed, it will not be possible to institute a comparison with yours. [4]  I take a different point of time & a wider range, leaving the battle untouched, & describing the field only such as it was when I surveyed it; the poem extends to some length; it is in two parts of four cantos each; the first comprehends the journey; the second consists of political matter allegorically drest, after the manner of our old worthies.

My route included the xxxx <three> scenes of action, for I went to les Quatre Bras & to Ligny, [5]  – a spot where you first begin to exchange the scenery of Brabant for something bolder. This ground became more interesting when we afterwards fell in with some wounded Prussian officers at Aix la Chapelle [6]  who had been in the field, – one of them the very Aid de Camp who had the pleasure of lying beside Blucher when he was ridden over. [7]  I wish you had been with me when we drank the Belle Alliance between England & Prussia with all the glee that good wine, good spirits & good fellowship could impart.

Mountaineer as I am, the cultivated scenery of Flanders delighted me, I have seen no town so interesting as Bruges, – no country in a state so perfect as to its possible production of what is beautiful & useful, as the environs of that city & the Pays de Waes. [8]  Of single objects, the finest which I saw were the market-places at Brussels & at Ypres, & the Town house at Louvain; – the most extraordinary, as well as the most curious, the cathedral at Aix la Chapelle, which is perhaps, – the most curious Church in existence; – [9]  the most impressive were the Quarries of Maestricht. I found a good deal of political discontent particularly in the Liege country [10]  – a general sense of insecurity, – a very prevalent belief that England had let Buonaparte loose from Elba, [11]  which I endeavoured in vain to combat, – & a very proper degree of disappointment & indignation that he had not been put to death as he deserved, – a feeling in which I heartily concurred. I saw nothing more of France than the miserable country between Boulogne & Calais.

Did I ever thank you for the Lord of the Isles? [12]  There are pictures in it which are not surpassed in any of your poems, & in the first part especially a mixture of originality & animation & beauty which is seldom found. – I wished the Lord himself had been more worthy of the good fortune which you bestowed upon him. The laurel [13]  which it has pleased you, rather than any other person, to bestow upon me, has taken me in for much dogged work in rhyme; otherwise, I am inclined to think that my service to the Muses has been long enough, & that I should perhaps have claimed my discharge: the ardour of youth is gone by; however I may have fallen short of my own aspirations my best is done, & I ought to prefer those employments which require the matured faculties & collected xx stores of declining life. You will receive the long-delayed conclusion of my Brazilian history [14]  in the course of the summer, – it has much curious matter respecting savage life, a full account of the Jesuit establishments, [15]  & a war in Pernambuco [16]  which will be much to your liking.

Remember me to Mrs Scott & your daughter, [17]  who is now old enough for these to be entitled to these courtesies & believe me

my dear Scott

yours very affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqre/ Abbotsford/ near/ Melrose
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Southey/ 17th – March
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3887. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life & Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 152–154 [in part]. BACK

[1] Charlotte Lennox, Duchess of Richmond (1768–1842; DNB). The Duchess lived in Brussels from 1814 to 1818; the ball she held on 15 June 1815, on the eve of the Battle of Quatre Bras, was attended by most of the British officers. BACK

[2] Southey was in Brussels between 28 September–3 October 1815. He saw Alexander I (1777–1825; Tsar of Russia 1801–1825) from the crowd, but spent more time at the shop of Jean-Baptiste Ver Beyst (1770–1829), the famous Brussels bookseller. BACK

[3] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). BACK

[4] The Field of Waterloo; a Poem (1815). BACK

[5] Les Quatre Bras, Belgium, was a strategic crossroads at which French and Allied armies fought on 16 June 1815; on the same day at nearby Ligny, Napoleon’s forces defeated the Prussian army. The Battle of Waterloo occurred two days later. BACK

[6] Present-day Aachen, Germany. Southey was delayed there 10–17 October 1815, by the illness of his daughter, Edith May. BACK

[7] At Ligny, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742–1819), Field Marshal in command of the Prussian army, was trapped under his horse and ridden over by cavalry. The Prussian officer who Southey met was Ferdinand Augustus Leopold Francis von Dresky (dates unknown), who commanded the 2nd Regiment of Silesian infantry at Ligny. BACK

[8] This area comprises part of the modern provinces of East Flanders in Belgium and Zeeland. BACK

[9] Present-day Aachen Cathedral is ‘curious’ because its architecture exhibits a mixture of styles, reflecting its function as the coronation site of Holy Roman Emperors and a focus for pilgrimages. BACK

[10] The formerly independent Prince-Bishopric of Liege had been incorporated in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. BACK

[11] On 26 February 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815) escaped from imprisonment on the Isle of Elba, returning to France to begin the ‘Hundred Days’ of rule that ended at Waterloo. BACK

[12] Scott’s narrative romance The Lord of the Isles (1815). BACK

[13] The Poet Laureateship, which was given Southey after Scott turned the role down in 1813. BACK

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

[15] The ‘Reductions’ – village colonies – into which Jesuit missionaries gathered some Indian groups. BACK

[16] The struggle between the Dutch Republic and Portugal to control Brazil in 1624–1661. BACK

[17] Charlotte Sophia Scott (1799–1837), who married John Gibson Lockhart in 1820. BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)