1492. Robert Southey to Thomas Smith, 15 August 1808

1492. Robert Southey to Thomas Smith, 15 August 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. Aug. 15. 1808.

My dear Sir

Both cheese & rug have at last arrived in safety – they parted company on the road, & the latter was left a week at Kendal, for the carriers convenience. – I would not write to thank you for them till both had made their appearance. The cheese is in course of eating, & an excellent specimen it is of the produce of my native county.

Great things have been done in Spain since the date of your letter. I myself, since the insurrection in Madrid [1]  & the carnage which took place there, have never entertained a doubt of the eventual success of the Spaniards, – the compleat deliverance of that peninsula is certain, & I am not without a lively hope that it may draw after it the deliverance of Europe. French literature which carries plague & poison rottenness & ruin with it wherever it goes, had infected Germany from one end to the other. Every state there had its own politics, – its own vexations, its own tyrants, – they were Saxons, Hessians, Bavarians &c – any thing but Germans, – & the Germanic body was a mazy limbed monster, with one palsied head, & without a heart. There was no common feeling then, difference of religion produced animosities which were aggravated by their sameness of language, & we have had disastrous proofs that their army & jealousy of each other were stronger than their hatred of an invading enemy. Every thing is different in Spain: there & in Portugal the people have not degenerated, tho the Governments have been below contempt, – & such as the Governments were they, xxx excited pity & regret in the subject, rather than hatred <resentment>. The relaxation of criminal justice passed for lenity, – & the people even took a pride in the Despotism which had become inoffensive, – King Lion on a velvet cushion, showing his teeth only when he yawn’d, & his claws only when he stretched himself, is of all objects of political devotion that which would most be admired by a people who can bear with any King at all; – & the constant tendency of all monarchies towards despotism is because the people are ashamed of King Log. [2]  The Portugueze, would willingly hang three fourths of their fidalgos, – & I should have no objection to supply them with halters for the occasion; – but they love the house of Braganza. [3]  – In both countries there is a proud remembrance of their faded greatness, a generous feelings of what their fathers were, an exultation at the mention of old times, accompanied with an expression of regret & shame, yet not without hope, – which no person can ever have witnessed without a conviction that the degeneration of those countries was at hand. Their very religion, amid fopperies & follies which pr excite a smile in every stranger, & abominations which an xxxx enlightened Christian cannot regard without humiliation & sorrow, – has yet with it a life & ardour which it is impossible to contemplate without wonder, – I might almost say without respect. Never was any idolatry so fitted to the wants of weaknesses & wishes of human nature, – never was any mythology so rivetted & rooted in the hearts of the people.

Bonaparte has not done all the work which I hoped he would do. The house of Austria is not swe yet swept from the earth, – & the Cross is not yet replaced upon the dome of St Sophias. [4]  The heart of man is against him & it will not surprize me if the French themselves turn against him in his hour of evil. They are a cursed race on whom there can be no hold. Religion will sometimes supply the place of moral feeling, moral feeling sometimes supply the place of religion. honour sometimes supply the want of both, – but the French have neither. They have never loved Bonaparte, & when Fortune forsakes him he has nothing to trust to.

The real cause why my History [5]  has been kept back is the enormous price of paper, – advertisements xxx very often use the present tense for the future, & the fact is that the Book is not yet in the press, – but waiting for rags from the continent. The paper for the Cid [6]  was laid in in better times & that volume will appear in the course of a fortnight. Those persons who have any relish for Froissart [7]  will be delighted with it.

I have not seen the reviewal of Marmion. [8]  It is not likely to produce a quarrel between Jeffray & Scott. Scott is too prudent as well as too sensible a man for that. His wife is a Frenchwoman, & I should think likely enough to express her anger.

Edith joins me in remembrances to Mrs S. Miss Bayley [9]  & yourself, & hopes that you will one day revisit this country & see it more at leisure – believe me

yours very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Thomas Smith Esqr/ Easton Grey/ Totbury/ Gloucestershire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Latrobe’s Selection of Sacred Music published by Birchall – numbers 3d each – Solus [MS illegible] in the 12th no –
MS: Cornell University, Healey 3115. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The French army occupying Madrid was forced from the city by a popular uprising that began on 2 May 1808. BACK

[2] From a classical fable in which the frogs wanted a king, and Jupiter gave them a log of wood; when they complained, he sent them a stork, which promptly gobbled them up [OED]. BACK

[3] The Portuguese ruling family. BACK

[4] The mosque in Istanbul. BACK

[5] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[6] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[7] Jean Froissart (c. 1337–c. 1405), chronicler of medieval France. Southey’s friend Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) translated Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II to the Coronation of Henry IV (1804). BACK

[8] Scott’s poem Marmion (1808) was negatively reviewed by Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, 12 (April 1808), 1–13. BACK

[9] Unidentified. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)