1645. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 16 June 1809

1645. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 16 June 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick. June 16. 1809.

Dear Scott

My friends leave Bristol on Monday next, – on their way hither, – you thus perceive how impossible it is that I can now accompany you to Edinburgh, – as I should else willingly have done.

The latter part of your letter requires a confidential answer. – I once wished to reside in Portugal, because my the great object of my literary life related to that country. I loved the country, & had then an Uncle xxx settled there. Before Fox came into power this was told him by Williams Wynn, & when he was in power he was asked by Wynn to send me there. It so happened that John Allen [1]  wanted something which was in the Grenvilles gift, and this was given him, on condition that Fox in return provided for me. There were but two things in Portugal which I could hold, the Consulship, – or the Secretaryship of Legation. The former was twice given away, – but that Fox said was too good a thing for me, – the latter he promised, if an opportunity occurred of promoting Ld Strangford, [2]  – & that never took place. Grey [3]  was reminded of his predecessors engagement & expressed no disinclination to fulfill it. The party got turned out, – & the one of the last things Ld Grenville did was to give me a pension of 200. Till that time I had received one of 160 from Charles W. Wynn – my oldest surviving friend, – the exchange leaves me something the poorer, as the Exchequer deducts above sixty pounds. This is all I have. Half my time I sell to the Booksellers, – the other half is reserved for works which will never pay for the paper on which they are written, but on which I rest my future fame. I am of course straitened in circumstances, – a little more would make me easy. My chance of inheritance is gone by, my fathers elder brother was worth 40,000, but he cut me off without the slightest cause of offence.

You would see by this that I would willingly be served, – but it is not easy to serve me. Lisbon is too insecure a place to remove to with a family, & nothing could repay me for going without them. I have neither the habits nor talents for an official situation, nor if I had could I live in London – that is I should soon die there. I have said to Wynn that one thing would make me at ease for life – ‘create for the <me> the title of Royal Historiographer for England (there is one for Scotland) with a salary of 400 £’. [4]  the deductions would leave me with a nett income of 278 – With that I should be sure of all the decent comforts of life, – & for every thing beyond them it would then be easy to supply myself. – Of course my present pension would cease. Whether Mr Canning can do this I know not, but if this could be done it would be adequate to all I want, & beyond that my wishes have never extended. –

I am sorry we are not to meet – but it would be unreasonable to expect it now, – & at some more convenient season I will find my way to you & to the Advocates Library. You will hear from Ballantyne what my plan is for Rhadamanthus, [5]  – concerning which I shall think nothing more till I hear from him upon the subject. – Since last you heard from me I have lost one of my children. The rest thank God are well. Edith desires to be remembered to your & Mrs Scott

believe me yours very truly

Robert Southey.


* Watermark: 1807
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3878. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 238–240. BACK

[1] John Allen (1771–1843; DNB), political and historical writer on Spain who was part of the Holland House set around Lord Holland (nephew of Charles James Fox). BACK

[2] The diplomatist Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855; DNB). BACK

[3] Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845; DNB), Prime Minister 1830–1834 and leading Whig; he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1806 in the ‘Minstry of All the Talents’ and succeeded Fox as Foreign Secretary 1806–1807. BACK

[4] For the letter to Wynn, see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 25 November 1806, Letter 1239. Southey long coveted the post of Historiographer Royal. It was occupied by Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), and, on his death, given to James Stanier Clarke (1765?–1834; DNB). BACK

[5] Ballantyne had sounded Southey out on the possibility of his editing a new periodical which would review literary works by dead authors; see Southey to John Rickman, 16 May [1809], (Letter 1629) and Southey to Thomas Southey, [16 May 1809] (Letter 1630). It was named after the Greek mythological figure Rhadamanthus, a wise king, who was one of the judges of the dead. Southey’s plans for this periodical were never fulfilled. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)