1899. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 8 April 1811

1899. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 8 April 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 8. 1811

My dear Tom

I am exceedingly glad to have got scent of James Grahame by your letter, – a man for whom (tho with little personal knowledge of him) I have the highest respect. Pray make it your business in the first place to pay him half a crown, for a book [1]  which he procured me at my request from a catalogue when I had no other means of getting it, – & in the second ask him where I can direct a copy of Kehama [2]  for him, – that is in other words whether he will be at Durham long enough to receive one.

The history about the Admiralty is this. Bedford reported to me Giffords great wish to serve me if he could. – I replied that it was not an easy <matter> to serve me, but a very easy one to serve you which would please me quite as much. What Gifford will do in consequence I know not, but Herries (who is Percevals confidential secretary, & actually does the main business of Chancellor of the Exchequer) offerd to Bedford to mention your name to Croker, & the many little & gratuitous civilities which I have of late received from Herries in the way of sending me Gazettes pamphletts & news as fast as it arrives, makes me believe that he would not have said this if he had not hoped to be of some use.

The Moon is well again – Katharine plagued with cough. All the faults you notice had been corrected. Harveys [3]  business I had spoken of in the former part of the chapter, – yet had your letter reached me in time, – rather – had that proof been sent you as it ought to have been, I should have added something a remark which ought not to have been overlooked by me.

The proposed object of Parl: Reform is, as far as possible, to make all elections popular, like those of Westminster & Middlesex. [4]  The effect of this would be that the mob would then be the electors, would elect none but those who engaged to vote as they were instructed by their constituents, – & this leads to direct & immediate anarchy, ending in the destruction of the state as at Athens & Carthage.

It is public opinion that requires reformation – not Parliament. Our H. of Commons is not a legislative body composed of men who assemble with no other object than to take measures for the public good, – there is always a party there whose avowed & only business is to thwart the Government in all its measures & impede it by every possible means. It is speaking too mildly to say that they are in semi-alliance with the Enemy – Look at the language of Grenville Whitbread [5]  &c about Spain & Portugal! In no other Gov. then but our own are the measures of state decided on by vote: when this is the case there must be such an influence in the Executive as will enable them <it> to carry their <its> measures, – otherwise every thing would be presently disarranged. The influence is necessary owing to the nature of our Government, & arises out of it. In itself it is no evil, – it becomes so sometimes by mismanagement. The case of the D of York [6]  was an instance of such mismanagement. Still even in that case public opinion triumphed, & I believe that public opinion has attained in England its maximum of power compatible with the purpose of government. In England Government can never be tyrannical except when it acts with the popular cry in its favour. This was the case in the dancing days of Anti-jacobinism & Mr Pitt. [7]  But in general the tide sets against the Ministry: – hence the imbecillity of all our external politics, – but hence also our strength & our prosperity at home.

The Register will say more about this. [8]  – Only xxxx imagine a whole H of Commons full of Whitbreads, Wardles [9]  & Burdetts, to which you may add Finnerty, [10]  Waithman [11]  & Harrys friend Quin, [12]  – & you will have a just notion of a reformed Parliament.

My article upon Pasley is deferred till the next quarter, – it is too long a story to explain at present. [13] 

There is no end to this Register. I am now at the mouth of Cataro, busy with Turkish politics, Czerni George, [14]  & the independence of Greece. [15] 

La Peña [16]  was only sulking & had some reason to do so. He & Graham [17]  diasgreed, – the latter would not give his opinion when asked; – I have the whole secret history from authority.

God bless you


I inclose the draft.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ Durham
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Antonio de Vieira (1608–1697), Relaçaon Exactissima de Procedimento das Inquiziconis de Portugal (1750), no. 3677 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s Library; see Southey to James Grahame, 4 January 1808, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1412. BACK

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

[3] Rear-Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey (1758–1830; DNB), see Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 368. He was court-martialed and dismissed from the Navy (though later re-instated) for publicly disagreeing with James, Lord Gambier’s (1756–1833; DNB) orders in the Battle of the Basque Roads in April 1809. Southey had asked for the proofs of his account of the Battle in Edinburgh Annual Register for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 364–379 to be sent to Tom Southey for comment. BACK

[4] Westminster had c. 12,000 electors and Middlesex c. 6,000, making them two of the largest constituencies in England and the site of regular, intensely-fought contests. Athens and Carthage both had republican forms of government, which included some role for popularly-elected assemblies, at the height of their power. BACK

[5] The radical MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). BACK

[6] In 1809, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), had been forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the British army in the wake of allegations that he had profited from office trafficking. After a lengthy investigation, the charges were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that his former mistress Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB) had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[7] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 282–316. BACK

[9] Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle (c. 1761–1833; DNB), MP for Okehampton 1807–1812, had played a central role in exposing the Duke of York and Mary Anne Clarke’s involvement in office trafficking. However, his own reputation was quickly sullied by counter-allegations from Clarke, alleging corruption and conspiracy. BACK

[10] The radical journalist Peter Finnerty (c. 1766–1822; DNB). In February 1811 he had been found guilty of libel and sent to prison for 18 months. BACK

[11] The political reformer Robert Waithman (c. 1764–1833; DNB), prominent in Radical politics in the City of London. BACK

[12] The politician Windham Henry Quin (afterwards Wyndham Quin; 1782–1850), Whig MP for Limerick 1806–1820. In 1824 he became 2nd Earl of Dunraven. BACK

[13] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810) had been sent to Southey for review. The ensuing article was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’ with the result that the version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[14] Karageorge Petrovitch [Czerni George; Black George] (1768–1817), one of the leaders of the first Serbian uprising against Ottoman rule. BACK

[15] See the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 446–469. BACK

[16] The Spanish commander Manuel La Peña (fl. 1808–1811), whose actions at the Battle of Barossa (5 March 1811) had resulted in his being court-martialled and relieved of his command. For Southey’s belief that La Peña was the victim of disagreements between the British and Spanish generals and governments, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 297. BACK

[17] Major-General Thomas Graham (1748–1843; DNB), who played a crucial part in the victory of an Anglo-Spanish force at Barrosa on 5 March 1811. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)