2657. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 1 October 1815 *
Brussels. 1 Oct. 1815.
We have been wishing for you every hour of every day since we set foot in this country, – a country which art seems to have endeavoured to render picturesque in proportion as it has been made otherwise by nature. Bruges is beyond all comparison the most interesting place I have ever seen. It seems as if there had not been one house built within the last century or two centuries, & yet nothing has been suffered to go to decay; the decay of the city has been relative & not actual; other towns have flourished & increased in size; – Bruges has stood still, & its state is the more gracious. It is like a city of Elizabeth’s age,  – you expect to see a head with a ruff looking from the windows. And what is most remarkable is that there appears to be no poverty there, at least no squalid poverty, – no absolute want. The poorest person is well lodged, & decently clothed. We met there at the Table d’hote Mr. Locker & his wife, whom Miss Alne  sent to you, – they were on their return to England, – & my route has been much influenced by the information which he gave me.
We left Bruges on Monday morning by the barge for Ghent, – this barge is said to be the best public conveyance in the world, & I should not dissent from this opinion, if the people had not taken two beggars on board & suffered them to go round asking charity. The barge was full of people of all nations, – a large proportion English. A Baronet’s chariot was on board, the two persons who belonged to it kept aloof from the other passengers, sitting sometimes on the box, sometimes in the carriage; & they would not dine with us. This called forth a good many sarcastic remarks, – but it was soon whispered that they were Mr. Peele & Sir Ch. Saxton,  – the latter I did not remember & he probably if he had recollected would not at this time have chosen to recognise me. It is about 8 hours passage to Ghent, when, as in our case there was no wind to assist the horse. For the first part of the way the country like that between Ostend & Bruges was cultivated like a garden & highly beautiful in its way, the general hue of the landscape being grey, from the predominance of the willow & aspen, – but there are elm & ash & oak & acacia & walnut. It was a Kermis or fair-day, & we past by a village where all the humours of a Flemish fair were displayed, – houses full of drinkers & smokers, & old women at cards al fresco before their doors. Our passage cost five francs each (4/2) for which we were provided with really an excellent dinner, paying extra for wine.
At Ghent we remained till Thursday Morning finding enough to occupy us in the churches, & the Beguinage,  & faring sumptuously. What we saw I shall describe in my next letter to Herbert , being desirous more of letting you know where we are & what are our plans. Of Harry we have entirely lost sight, he landed a week before us. I wrote to him at Brussels from Ostend, & can find no other clue to his movements than that my letter is not lying at the post office there. I conclude that he arrived during the hurry of the inauguration,  & finding no room here, hurried on toward Spa. We have joined company with the Vardons, friends of Mr. Knox,  – they have an artist with them whom we are all very fond of, – a little & deformed man, but who bears his deformity so well that it is impossible not to like him the better for it, from a feeling in which respect has at least as large a share as pity. Mrs. V. is a sweet woman about 35 with a daughter half as old as herself. On Thursday we came to Brussels, the Emperor Alexander  thought proper to come after us, & for want of carriages we are still detained here, but we hope to get away on Tuesday. Our route is by Waterloo to Namur, Liege, Spa, Aix-la-Chapelle, & back by Louvain & Mechlin to Antwerp, then to Calais, – which will just exhaust our money & our appointed time. & then we shall see the greater & best part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, a kingdom which being divided in itself cannot stand. 
Tell Glover  that I have been to the hospital, where they informed me that Richard Cartmell  died on the 14th of August. – Long as the time is which has now elapsed since the battle, I have seen dreadful marks of war. We past some waggon loads of wounded & convalescent soldiers who had been sent out to take the air, some of them lying upon straw in the waggon. One load of Frenchmen I observed nearly. a painter might have made a fine & instructive picture, – the pale languor emaciation & helplessness of some, contrasting with the unfeeling merriment of those who were more advanced in recovery, & seemed ready for the work of destruction again. – I sent a few books home from Ghent, & have bought 120 volumes here, besides agreeing for the Acta Sanctorum,  which the bookseller is to send after me as soon as he can complete the set. Sing & be joyful I entreat you.
There is an illumination to night in the Allee Vert, or Green Walk which is to be Vauxhallified  in honour of the Emperor. Koster is gone with the Ladies, – except Edith who not being well at this time remains at home & is writing to one of her sisters.  Mr V & Nash & I are, like true Englishmen, sitting at home, while all Brussels is in commotion. But in truth I could not otherwise have found time to write even this hasty letter, – nor can I keep pace in my journal  with the multiplicity of objects which I am seeing & the facts which I learn from conversation. I have now been eight days on the continent, & the time seems longer than as many months. Bruges is far more interesting than Ghent Ghent far more so than Brussels, which is the Paris of Belgium, & wants a little fire & brimstone, – yet if it should ever be caught in such a shower I hope the great square & the Town House may be spared.  You must certainly come to this country, & practice a little architectural drawing before you come. The good pictures are almost all gone, the bad ones very numerous, & worse than you could possibly suppose. The churches by no means equal to our Cathedrals, but they are still very fine; & they have the feature which was new to me, pulpits carved in wood in the finest style imaginable.
I have planned a poem upon Waterloo  & am likely to obtain much information respecting the battle &c – indeed I have learned more of it from a German by name Werth  than all our English publications, including a certain paper in the Quarterly Review,  have as yet imparted. We shall give a day to the ground at Waterloo & sleep at Genappe, & on the following day survey the ground at Les Quatre Bras & Ligny & proceed to Namur. We shall then get into a beautiful country – So now God bless you. I shall continue my history to Lunus whenever I can. Remember me to Mrs. Crothers, – & kiss the children in my name.
* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Keswick/
Postmark: OC 6 1815 FOREIGN P94P BRUXELLES
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 432–437
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 426–430. BACK
 Matthew, 12: 25. The Kingdom of the Netherlands had been created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 out of the old Dutch Republic, the Austrian Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liege. It was beset by regional tensions and the southern half broke away in 1830 to become Belgium. BACK
 Southey hoped he had bought the complete set of the rare, 53 volume Acta Sanctorum (Brussels, 1643–1794), no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. In fact he received a 6 volume edition of 1783–1794, no. 152 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK