2529. Robert Southey to Sir Walter Scott, 24 December 1814

2529. Robert Southey to Sir Walter Scott, 24 December 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 24 Dec. 1814

My dear Scott

Are you still engaged with the Lord of the Isles, [1]  or may I gave you joy of a happy deliverance? There are few greater pleasures in my life than that of getting fairly thro a great work of this kind, & seeing it when it first comes before us in portly form. I envy you the advantage which you always derive from a thorough knowledge of th your poetical ground: no man can be more sensible of this advantage than myself, tho I have in every instance been oblige led to forego it.

Longman was to take care that Roderick [2]  should be duly conveyed to you. Remember that if you do not duly receive every book which has the name of R.S. in the title page, the fault lies among the booksellers. – My last employment has been an odeous one. [3]  I was in good hope that this silly custom had been dispensed with, but upon making enquiry thro Croker  [4]  the reply was that an ode I must write. It would be as absurd in me to complain of this, as it is in the higher power to exact it. However I shall no longer feel myself bound to volunteer upon xxxx extraordinary service. I had a ridiculous disappointment x about the intended marriage of the Princess Charlotte which was so mischievously broken off. Willing to be in time, as soon as I was assured that the marriage was to be, I fell to work & produced some fifty six-lined stanzas, – being about half of a poem, in the old manner, which would have done me credit. [5] 

I do not like the aspect of affairs abroad. We make war better than we make peace. In war John Bulls [6]  bottom makes amends for the defects in his head: – he is a dreadful fellow to take by the horns, but no calf can be more easily led by the nose. Europe was in such a state when Paris was taken, that a commanding intellect, had there been such among the allies, might have cast it into whatever form he pleased. The first business should have been to have reduced France to what she was before Louis XIVs [7]  time: the second to have created a great power in the North of Germany with Prussia at its head, the third to have one consolidated Italy into one kingdom or commonwealth. A fairer oportunity was given us than at the peace of Utrecht, [8]  but moderation & generosity were the order of the day, & with these words we have suffered ourselves to be fooled. Here at home the Talents [9]  with that folly which seems to pursue all their measures like a fatality, are crying out on behalf of Poland & Saxony; [10]  the restoration of which would be creating two powerful allies for France. And in America we have both lost time & credit. Of Sir G Prevost [11]  from his former conduct I have too good an opinion to condemn him till I have heard his defence; – but there has evidently been misconduct somewhere. And at Baltimore I cannot but think that the city would have been taken if poor Ross had not been killed. [12]  Confidence is almost every thing in war

Jeffrey I hear has written what his admirers call a crushing review of the Excursion. [13]  He might as well seat himself upon Skiddaw & fancy [MS torn] he crushed the mountain. The Dagon [14]  of Edinburgh will sorely [MS torn] his hostilities against the Ark: or else ma[MS torn] hand forget xx its cunning. [15]  I heartily wish Wordsworth may one day meet with him & lay him alongside yard arm & yard arm in argument. Think of what would ha happen to a xxx bloated toad upon a pavement, if an Elephant should set foot upon it. Just so would this shallow & v puffed up & venomous coxcomb be pash’d, mash’d, squash’d, spread out & flattened like a pancake under Wordsworths hand.

I saw Canning for an hour or two when he was in the country & was far more pleased with him than I had expected. He has played his cards ill. In truth I believe that nature made him for something better than a politician. He is gone to a place where I wish I could go. [16]  Indeed I should think seriously of going to Spain if the country were not evidently in a very insecure state. Some of my old guerilla friends, for want of other occupation, might employ a cartridge upon me. I have still a communication with Madrid, but of course we get no information concerning the real state of things, nor can I guess who is the mover of all this mischief. For Ferdinand [17]  is a fool, & is moreover exceedingly popular which seems as if he were a good-natured fool. And a change of ostensible councillors has produced no change of system. [18]  – I am much gratified by the compliment the Academy [19]  have paid me, & if the Lisbon Academy should follow the example I should desire no other mark of literary honour. [20]  The concluding volume of my Brazil [21]  is in the press, & I am closely employed upon it. You will find in it some warfare of the old hearty character, the whole history of the Jesuits in Paraguay, & much curious information respecting the savages. Remember me to Mrs Scott & your daughter, [22]  & believe me

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqre/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK 298; Add! ½
Postmark: DEC/ B 27 M/ 1814
Watermark: J DICKINSON & CO/ 1811
Endorsement: Southey/ 24 Decr. 1814
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3885. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 95–98 [in part]. BACK

[1] Scott’s Lord of the Isles (1815), which dealt with the struggle to free Scotland from English rule and culminated in the Battle of Bannockburn 1314. BACK

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

[3] ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’. It was thought unsuitable by the authorities, and was not published until Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. It was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in the 1837–1838 edition of Southey’s poetical works. BACK

[4] See Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 6 December 1814, Letter 2512. BACK

[5] In June 1814 the Prince Regent’s only child Charlotte, had broken off her engagement to the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands, 1840–1849), the husband selected for her by her father and his advisers. Southey had planned a poem on the forthcoming nuptials. This eventually appeared in 1816 as The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), in celebration of Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865). BACK

[6] A popular embodiment of English national identity. BACK

[7] Louis XIV (1638–1715), King of France 1643–1715. BACK

[8] The treaty of 1713 which brought to an end the War of the Spanish Succession and was widely criticised in Britain as too lenient to France. BACK

[9] The Whigs and followers of Lord Grenville, who had both participated in the ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ of 1806–1807. BACK

[10] The Congress of Vienna (September 1814-June 1815) was deciding the future borders of Europe. It did not restore the independence of Poland, which had been partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1792–1795. Saxony, which had been a consistent ally of France, lost much territory to Prussia, though it survived as an independent State. BACK

[11] Sir George Prevost, 1st Baronet (1767–1816; DNB), Governor of Lower Canada and British military commander in North America 1811–1815. He was a conciliatory and effective Governor, but a disastrous soldier. He was recalled to England to meet charges arising from his bungling of the attack on Sacketts harbour on 27 May 1813 and the invasion of New York State in September 1814. BACK

[12] The Battle of Baltimore 12–15 September 1812 saw the defeat of an attempted British landing force by the Americans. The British commander Robert Ross (1766–1814; DNB) was killed. The engagement marked a turning point in the war. BACK

[13] For Jeffrey’s review of Wordsworth’s The Excursion (1814), see Edinburgh Review, 24 (November 1814), [1]-30. It began: ‘This will never do’ ([1]). BACK

[14] The god of the Philistines. 1 Samuel 5: 2–7 relates how the Ark of the Covenant was held captive in the Temple of Dagon at Ashdod. BACK

[15] Psalms 137, line 5. BACK

[16] Canning was British Ambassador to Portugal 1814–1816. BACK

[17] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). He had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812 on 4 May 1814 and returned Spain to absolute rule. BACK

[18] Ferdinand VII was notoriously fickle in his choice of ministers. Jose Miguel de Carvajal Vargas y Manrique de Lara, 2nd Duke of San Carlos (1771–1828) was dismissed as First Secretary of State (Prime Minister) on 15 November 1814 and replaced by Pedro Cevallos Guerra (1760–1840), Secretary of State 1799–1808, 1814–1816. BACK

[19] Southey had been elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Spanish Academy in autumn 1814. BACK

[20] Southey was to be disappointed. Neither the Portuguese Royal Academy of Sciences (founded 1779), or the Royal Academy of History (founded 1720), bestowed the honour Southey expected. BACK

[21] The History of Brazil, published in 3 volumes 1810–1819. In fact Volume 2 did not appear until 1817 and Volume 3 only in 1819. BACK

[22] Probably Scott’s eldest daughter, Charlotte Sophia (1803–1833). BACK


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