2174. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 5 November 1812

2174. Robert Southey to Wade Browne, 5 November 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. November 5. 1812.

My dear Sir

Guy Faux [1]  is receiving his usual honours of bonfire & uproar in the market-place: the two girls [2]  are exhibiting themselves at the dancing-masters ball as happy as innocent hearts & <apple-green> kid-shoes can make them; good old nurse is twirling the spinning wheel in the room where Mrs Southey is in bed with her new-born daughter Isabel, & I, who like the last Duke of Cumberland [3]  am all alone by myself, take pen & paper to inform you of this daughters safe arrival.

I have desired Longman to send you a book of shreds & patches, [4]  the work of many hours of that sort of laborious idleness, which is to me the most delightful of all dissipation. You will find some things to smile at, & some curious facts affording matter for speculation, from which it is not impossible that scientific men may draw important conclusions of some importance. I inserted some things <articles> of Coleridges in the book, merely in the hope of getting some thing from him in this way, – he had literally only to cut them out of his commonplace books. Xx xxxxx xx it was my intention to make four volumes instead of two in this manner; – but he kept the press waiting fifteen months for an unfinished article, so that at last I ordered the sheet in which it was begun to be cancelled in despair. I have marked whatever is his, & you will wish that it were more.

My intended journey to London is postponed till spring, because it is expedient that the Register [5]  for 1811 should be published in April, & this therefore allows me no time to stir from home. I am busily employed upon it, & have this day got over in as summary a manner as possible the Bullion business, – a part to which I looked on with as much horror as ever Christian did to the Slough of Despond, or the Hill of Difficulty. [6]  This is a very laborious work; it does not weary me, – nevertheless as it commenced with the usurpation of Spain, [7]  the first instance in which Buonaparte unequivocally displayed himself in his true character of pure Devil, I should be well pleased to bring my part in it to a conclusion in his fall: an event which I verily hope is not far distant. This murderous war in Russia, since it has become not a political game at war for territory, but a national cause, in which men fight for to save their wives & children, or to revenge them, – promises to become as fatal to France as the Spanish contest has been; [8]  & a daybreak of hope has appeared even in Paris itself. [9]  Should he leave his army xx to prevent the danger of another insurrection. I hardly think, composed as it is of so many different people, all forced to serve, & hating him for whom they are sacrificed that it can be kept together: & should he continue with it, there is good hope that a winter at Moscow may involve him & his army in the same destruction, – or that a more succesful attempt at deliverance may be made in France, & that she may refuse any longer to supply so wicked & so wanton a waste of life. Oh that there were but energy enough in our Government to publish the terms upon which it is ready to make peace with France. – at the same time pledging itself never to make peace with this frantic tyrant! What an instrument would such a declaration have been in the hands of these Generals at Paris!

Curwen has been thrown out at Carlisle merely by the infamy of his private character. [10]  His election would have been certain, if he could have dared to face the stories which would have risen in judgement against him. This is at least a triumph of public decency. He has got into a sort of sentimental intrigue with the eldest Miss Watson, concerning which he has written a letter of exculpation to Spedding, – confessing imprudence, & protesting <his> innocence. The country rings with this scandalum magnatum, [11]  the common people see a sort of sacrilege in intriguing with a Bishops daughter – others half lose the feelings which his intimacy with the old Bishop have occasioned, in astonishment at his folly; – for that grossest & most outrageous imprudencies have take place is beyond all doubt.

So much for Cumberland scandal. Of other news the best is that our friend Miss Barker is settled in the next house. White-Widow, [12]  as she was called, having married the first man who asked her, – a good riddance for us. The wet October which we have had, has spoilt Calverts corn upon the top of Lattrig, which would else have been an abund a most profitable crop. The floating island [13]  attempted to rise about six weeks ago, but did not reach the surface. You heard of the failure of the Workington bank, [14]  – I have five & twenty of their notes, but am better off than many of my neighbours. Spence [15]  has left the country & sold his house to Mr Morsehead [16]  (son of Sir John M.) [17]  – who keeps a mistress in it, in more open scandal than his predecessor. Lord William has bought Marshalls house, [18]  & I hope will improve his <its> appearance. His property will be prodigiously increased by an inclosure which is about to take place of all the fells between Derwent & Buttermere. Methinks this is a tolerably good Keswick Gazette.

And now let me ask you whether little Mary [19]  is yet provided with a play-fellow? & how you & Mrs B. & your daughters [20]  have been during the long interval which (by our own fault) has elapsed since we have heard of you. Is Wade [21]  at his new school? And does he not sometimes wistfully remember not the fleshpots of Keswick, but the great fish of Keswick Lake?

Mrs S. joins in the kindest remembrances with

my dear Sir

Yrs most truly

Robert Southey.

Lucien Buonaparte [22]  has made his arrangements for publication with Murray, & no doubt his poem will be consigned to my critical care. This has long been settled. My own poem [23]  of which I had the pleasure of showing you the commencement, is rapidly proceeding. I had a curious letter last week from an Evangelical Clergyman, requesting that he might send me the moral of Thalaba, & telling me that it had strengthened his faith. [24] 


* Address: To/ Wade Browne Esqr/ Ludlow
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 299–301 [in part]. BACK

[1] Guy Fawkes (1570–1606; DNB), traditionally burned in effigy on the night of 5 November to celebrate the discovery of the Catholic plot to blow up Parliament in 1605. BACK

[3] The king’s younger brother Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745–1790; DNB). After a court case in 1770 concerning his affair with a married woman, Harriet Grosvenor (d. 1828), his love letters were published, to much ridicule, as they displayed his uncertain grasp of written English, including the tautology ‘all alone by myself’. BACK

[4] Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores (1812). BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[6] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 89–114. Southey compares his troubles writing this section with incidents in John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678–1684). BACK

[7] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810), which dealt with the French invasion of Spain in 1808. BACK

[8] The French had invaded Russia on 24 June 1812. Although they won a tactical victory at Borodino (7 September), in the longer-term Napoleon’s failure to destroy the Russian army marked a turning point in the campaign. Their numbers decimated by appalling weather, lack of supplies and guerilla attacks, the last French troops left Russia on 14 December 1812. BACK

[9] The attempted Parisian coup of 23 October 1812 led by Claude François Malet (1754–1812). This planned to announce the death of Bonaparte and establish a provisional republican government. It failed and the leaders were executed on 31 October. BACK

[10] At the 1812 general election, the wealthy colliery owner John Christian Curwen (1756–1828; DNB) had allegedly refused to stand for the Carlisle seat he had held for 21 years because of rumours concerning his seduction of Dorothy Watson (1777–1837), eldest daughter of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, who owned an estate at Calgarth on Lake Windermere. BACK

[11] ‘Scandal of magnates’; in (obsolete) English law a defamatory speech or writing that injures a peer of the realm. BACK

[12] The unnamed mistress and heiress of William White (d. 1811). BACK

[13] The Floating Island is a mass of vegetation in Lake Derwentwater that is sometimes raised to the surface by marsh gas. BACK

[14] The Workington Bank had failed earlier in 1812, causing much local inconvenience. BACK

[15] Henry Spence (dates unknown) had built ‘Pigmy Hall’, near Keswick. BACK

[16] Probably Sir Frederick Treise Morshead, 2nd Baronet (1783–1828), rather than his younger brother, John Morshead (d. 1831), a Lieutenant in the 10th Hussars. BACK

[17] Sir John Morshead, 1st Baronet (1747–1812), landowner and MP for Bodmin (1790–1801). In 1809 he lost much of his fortune, allegedly at the gaming table, and retired to the Isle of Man. BACK

[18] Lord William Gordon (1744–1823), son of Cosmo George Gordon, 3rd Duke of Gordon (1720–1752). He owned the Waterend estate on the west side of Derwentwater. Mr Marshall is unidentified beyond the information given here. BACK

[19] Mary Browne (dates unknown) was Wade Browne’s only child from his second marriage. BACK

[20] Wade Browne’s daughters from his first marriage: Lydia (c. 1789–1864); Elizabeth; and Sarah. BACK

[21] Wade Browne (1796–1851), only son of Wade Browne. He later became a country gentleman at Monkton Farleigh in Somerset. BACK

[22] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), brother of Napoleon and author of Charlemagne, ou l’Eglise Délivrée (1814). Southey refused a request to translate it into English. Southey did not review it but did insert a critical aside in his review of accounts of Wellington and Waterloo, Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526: ‘The publication of Charlemagne, so ostentatiously announced, was fatal to his [Bonaparte’s] literary character … his poem … proved him to be a sorry Homer’ (489). BACK

[23] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[24] Longmire had read Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) as an allegory of the powers and virtues of Faith, and drawn parallels between events and characters in Southey’s poem and the bible; see Southey to John Martyn Longmire, 4 November 1812, Letter 2172. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 3 times)