3524. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 August 1820

3524. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 August 1820⁠* 

Ere this I trust you will have received Wordsworths Peter Bell, his Waggoner, & his sonnets on the river Duddon &c, – the last volume of the Hist. of Brazil & the Life of Wesley. [1]  They were detained some time for the chance that your brother Robert might have occasion to send any thing in the same package.

After xx having been nearly three months from home, you may suppose with what pleasure I returned to my own family, my own fire side, & my own pursuits. During my absence to gratify others rather than myself I went to Oxford to receive an honorary degree [2]  – except that I passed it thro it twice in stage coaches, once after the inhabitants were gone to bed, & once before they had got up, I had not been there since I left it in 1794, with the intention of bidding farewell not to the University alone, but to England & to Europe, & trying an Utopian scheme in the back-settlements of the United States. [3]  After the business of the Theatre [4]  was over I went into Christ Church Walk, & there chewed the cud of remembrance. Except Phillimore the Professor of Law, I did not meet with one contemporary, of whom I have had even the slightest knowledge. In the evening, or rather at night, I dined in Balliol Hall with the Master [5]  & Fellows, all being so much my juniors that the Master himself did not enter the College till some years after I had left it. There was no person to recognize me but the porter, a poor fellow who in my time had served as hair-dresser, & supplied the College with fruit. His wife had been my laundress, – & the poor infirm old woman sate up till midnight, that she might see me when I was let out. [6] 

Ill as you think of the rabble, & of the Whigs, who have long since proved that it is possible to be at the same time odious & contemptible, – you cannot but marvel at the effect which the modern Messalina [7]  has produced in London. Ballad singers go about the streets proclaiming the Queens title to the throne, & in doggrel rhyme declaring that she shall speedily be seated there, & reign by the peoples free election. There is every probability of a more tremendous explosion than that which Lord George Gordon [8]  brought about in our childhood, & no reliance can be placed upon the soldiers. For they are not only xx duped by the devilish newspapers to believe that the Queen is an innocent & injured woman, but they are infected by the moral pestilence of the age, since the armies [9]  in Spain & Naples have chosen to interfere in state affairs. [10]  Before this letter can reach you the crisis will in all likelihood have come on. It will be a trial between the Government supported by the civil power alone, & the mob, with the traitorous Whigs & the press & their troops on their side, – the troops being worse than doubtful. Of course care is taken to send away such regiments as have given the plainest indication of their determination “to see the Queen thro it” [11]  as they express themselves. [12]  My comfort is that as things must be worse before they can be better, the sooner the abscess bursts, the more strength there will be in the constitution to throw xx off & struggle thro the disease. The only chance of getting safely thro the affair is that the evidence against the woman may convince the honest persons who now believes her to be innocent; but as the villainous part of her partizans outnumber the others ten times told, this is but a poor hope.

Being blessed with good spirits & chearful opinions, I have a habit of looking on with a resolute hope, however unfavourable all may be the aspects. One of my occupations at this time is a series of Dialogues, upon a plan which was suggested by Boethius. [13]  The motto will explain their object, – it is three words which I found somewhere quoted from St Bernard, – Respice, aspice, prospice. [14]  I am going to press quam celerrime [15]  with the History of the Peninsular war. [16]  In poetry I have done little, but must take up those poems which have been so long in hand, in good earnest ere long & go thro with them. The difficulty of Spensers stanza has I think very much impeded my progress in the Tale of Paraguay, [17]  – tho with what I have done is done I am very much pleased my self.

My little boy is now a year & half old, as healthy, as intelligent & as good-natured as one could wish.

You will scarcely know London when you return to it, – that is if there be any such city left a few years hence, which is rather doubtful as our Catalines [18]  have more than once intended to set it on fire in sundry places. What with pulling down narrow streets & lanes, & building wide streets, circles & heaven knows what, they are making it a very fine place; & when the inhabitants are taught to consume their smoke in the fire, instead of letting it go up the chimney, we shall again have as clean (tho not as clear) an atmosphere as our neighbours on the continent, – which was the case before pit-coal came into use.

Direct the books [19]  to the care of Messrs Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown – London. & they will find their way to me. The duty is not as no object except for voluminous works in folio.

God bless you


14 Aug. 1820.


* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre_/ Pisa./ Italy
Postmarks: F/ 261/ 20; [partial] SETTEMBRE
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 34. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 205–208. BACK

[1] Wordsworth’s Peter Bell, A Tale in Verse (1819), The Waggoner. A Poem. To Which are Added Sonnets (1819) and The River Duddon, A Series of Sonnets: Vaudracour and Julia: and Other Poems (1820); and Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820) and the third and final volume of his History of Brazil (1810–1819). See Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 20 February 1820, Letter 3443. BACK

[2] Southey had been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law at the University of Oxford on 14 June 1820. BACK

[3] i.e. Southey’s and Coleridge’s scheme of Pantisocracy. BACK

[4] The Sheldonian Theatre (built 1664–1668), the main centre for ceremonies at the University of Oxford. BACK

[5] Richard Jenkyns (1782–1854; DNB), Master of Balliol College, Oxford (1819–1854), where Southey had been an undergraduate 1792–1794. Southey had, of course, never completed his studies and left without a degree. BACK

[6] The porter was called Adam. BACK

[7] Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, had returned to England on 5 June 1820. Her arrival and the series of events that followed, as attempts were made to deprive her of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King, made her a figurehead for radicals, and also triggered public protests in her support. Southey, who was ferociously opposed to Caroline, here compares her to Messalina (c. AD 17/20–48), the infamously dissolute wife of Claudius (10 BC–AD 54; Emperor of Rome AD 41–54). BACK

[8] The anti-Catholic riots triggered in London in June 1780 by Lord George Gordon’s (1751–1793; DNB) call for the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act (1778). Nearly 300 people were killed. BACK

[9] Initially ‘army’. BACK

[10] Military revolts in Spain in January 1820 and in Naples in June 1820 had led to the creation of liberal regimes. BACK

[11] A battalion of the 3rd Regiment of Guards in King’s Mews had mutinied on 15 June 1820, complaining of poor conditions. Queen Caroline was reported to be very popular in Guards Regiments. The 3rd Regiment was sent to Portsmouth on 16–17 June 1820. BACK

[12] Initially ‘themself’. BACK

[13] This became Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). Southey’s model was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. BACK

[14] ‘Look to the past, the present, the future’, words attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). This motto appeared on the title page [unpaginated] of vol. 1 of Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829). BACK

[15] ‘as fast as possible’. BACK

[16] History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[17] A Tale of Paraguay (1825), which used the stanzaic form pioneered by Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB). BACK

[18] i.e. contemporary equivalents of Lucius Sergius Catalina (c. BC 108–62), a Roman senator who attempted to overthrow the Roman Republic. BACK

[19] Landor’s letter of May 1820 had promised to send Southey a consignment of books from Italy, John Forster, Walter Savage Landor, a Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 459. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 1 time)


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