1668. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 10 August 1809

1668. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 10 August 1809 ⁠* 

August 10. 1809. Keswick

My dear Tom

This candle has just put out that sort of view which I feel most pleasure in looking at, – at least it is to be supposed it gives the most pleasure, for I look at it longer than at any other. [1]  It is one of our still, grey, evenings, the rain which has been falling since noon has ceased for awhile, but there is yet plenty of it to come down, & broken clouds are moving slowly, below a leaden stratus which threatens us for tomorrow. Johnny Tugman stretches from his headquarters the whole breadth of Borrowdale, the mountain top is visible above him, & Castle Crag stands out dark & alone in front. [2]  Up in Newlands & along Brandelhow a few light clouds are hovering on the fell sides. [3]  – If I had not been resolved to write to you before supper this weather would have kept me at the window as long as there was light enough to see from it. We sallied this morning for a walk to the Vale of St Johns, by a route which you never took, Edith, Mrs C & Miss Betham – about 2½ miles the Ambleside road, then turn to the left across the vale of Naddle, & over Naddle fells by St Johns Chapel, – from thence along the terrace which runs on the side of Naddle nearly to Domine Ford. [4]  It is one of the finest things in this country. When we were almost at the extent of our walk rain came on, – we stopt an hour & half xxx with some good people of the name of Wetherall, who gave us gooseberry wine – & were exceedingly xxx amused by my giving them an account of the Jumpers. [5]  However it was useless to wait & we had a wet walk home, – not back, for my convoy would not submit to turn back, so we fairly proceeded, crost the Greta [6]  & returned on the other side of the Vale. A good wetting did us no harm, & we <are> now quite comfortable.

Miss Betham has made me a delightful picture of Edith, which is the admiration of every body who has seen it. She has also succeeded very happily on Herbert, the face is done, the rest as yet incompleat. Your eldest niece is to sit next. With me she has failed from over anxiety to do it well, so I am my face is rubbed out from a finished picture, in hopes of being better put xxx in again. You cannot tell how much we wish you were here.

That boat-business provokes me. Whenever those attempts end disastrously the Captain who permitted them to be undertaken ought to be called to an account, & severely reprimanded if it appears that there was not the strongest probability of them succeeding. – It will be a good thing to keep Walcheren & hermetically seal up the Scheld against all preparations for invasion. [7]  The rest of our plans I do not comprehend, – but if Austria had only been true to herself we should soon have seen the deliverance of Europe. [8]  My own plan for the expedition had at least the merit of boldness, & would I think have been practicable. It was to mask Cronstadt, land & seize Petersburgh by a coup de main, & depose Alexander. [9] 

This reminds me of telling you something. At Paterdale the other day I heard there was a Gentleman from Petersburgh, & looking at his portmanteau I read his name Edward Bayley Esq St Petersburgh. [10]  I immediately recollected that a family of that name & place had lodged with my mother in Duke Street, for she often used to talk of them with much pleasure, – so I said to Charles I had half a mind to introduce myself & ask him to come to see me. What does that man of Antwerp [11]  do, but happening the next morning to go down stairs before me, & finding him about to start, he stops him telling him I wanted to speak to him. Of course all that was then to be done was to do the thing as willingly as I could – & here we had him. It was his brothers family [12]  who had then been in England. He himself is a very pleasant well informed man. I got from him a good deal of information, – have his address, – in order to get him to send me Russian books whenever the state of affairs permits him to return.

I have had an invitation to Lowther thro Humphrey Senhouse who is going there next week, – & I must needs go too. So I shall see the grounds at leisure & overhaul the library.

Rickman is coming, I shall take him to Irton. [13]  We have some pleasant acquaintance in the Brownes & Wolseleys [14]  who were both here last year, but the latter soon take their departure. The family at Dale head [15]  – that house on this side Thirlmere which has newly been enlarged & repaired want much to get acquainted with us, & I am well disposed to gratify them, hearing much that is good of them, & to Moreover it will be pleasant to have a house of call there.

I will transcribe another number of Kehama [16]  this week sans fail, & get on as fast as possible. My cold has just left me, & but just. This is perhaps the very first day that I have felt quite rid of it.

Ballantyne who starts an Edinburgh Annual Register which will have an immense sale, has applied to me to write for it the history of Spanish affairs for the last year, [17]  xxx most probably I shall do it, – & if so I shall speak English both about the Convention of Cintra [18]  & the flight of Sir John Moore. [19]  Two histories of that flight I have got – sent down for the Annual Review, in which I did not intend to have done another stroke. [20]  It was one of the most disastrous & disgraceful flights upon record & would everlastingly have tarnished our army had he not luckily been compelled to fight at last. By God Tom such a man as Lord Peterborough of old, [21]  or Lord Cochrane now, [22]  at the head of that army, would have a fair chance of ridding Europe & the world of it chief plague. Huzza – fight on my merry men all, [23]  & we shall do the business yet.

416 pages of Brazil. [24]  – Curious enough – one of these accounts of Sir John Moores campaign gives a view of the castle of Almourol, [25]  without knowing that it is the main scene of adventure in Palmerin [26]  – which I so regretted not having seen.

God bless you


My Bristol six shilling shoes have turned out so well that I have sent for four pair more. [27] 


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 513–516. BACK

[1] From Southey’s first floor study window in Greta Hall. BACK

[2] The cloud and mist lying low in the valley of Borrowdale, in which stands Castle Crag, to the south of Derwentwater. BACK

[3] Newlands is a valley running to the southwest of Keswick; Brandelhow a fell that rises on its eastern side. BACK

[4] A route across the hills and valleys leading to St John’s Vale, to the east and south of Keswick. BACK

[5] So-called from their habit of jumping and bouncing for joy during worship, the Jumpers were Calvinistic Methodists. The practice began in Caernarvon, North Wales, beginning in the 1740s, and spread through Cardiganshire, persisting into the early nineteenth century. BACK

[6] This river rises to the north of St John’s Vale and flows west, past Southey’s home, into the river Derwent. BACK

[7] The Walcheren expedition was an unsuccessful British attempt to open another front in the Netherlands in support of the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France. Approximately 40,000 soldiers with supporting horses and artillery landed at Walcheren on 30 July 1809. There was little fighting but the army sustained heavy losses from sickness, and in December 1809 the rest of the force withdrew. BACK

[8] Britain and Austria were in alliance against France in 1809, but Napoleon advanced into Austria where he suffered a significant defeat at the battle of Aspern-Essling (22 May 1809). The Austrians failed to follow up this victory, which allowed Napoleon to seize the capital, Vienna, in early July. The Austrians were then defeated by the French at the battle of Wagram on 5–6 July 1809. BACK

[9] Alexander I of Russia (1777–1825), Emperor of Russia 1801–1825, had declared war on Britain in October 1807. Though there was little military action between the two countries, during August 1809 British ships were victorious in battles with the Russians in the Gulf of Finland. BACK

[10] Edward Clive Bayley (1776–1841), a British merchant in St Petersburgh. BACK

[11] Southey’s nickname for Danvers was ‘Charles of Antwerp’. BACK

[12] Bayley had twelve brothers. BACK

[13] Southwest of Wastwater in Eskdale, Cumbria. Irton Hall, designed around a fourteenth-century Pele tower, was the seat of the Irton family, Lords of the Manor of Irton and Melthwaite since medieval times. BACK

[14] Reverend Robert Wolseley (d. 1815), son of William Wolseley, 6th Baronet (1740–1817) was a fellow pupil of Southey’s at Westminster School. He and his wife (first name and dates unknown) visited Keswick several times in 1808 and 1809. BACK

[15] Dale Head Hall, Thirlmere, had been the residence of the Leathes family since the seventeenth century. BACK

[16] Southey was sending Thomas drafts of The Curse of Kehama, which was published in 1810. BACK

[17] Southey agreed to provide historical material for the Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[18] A British inquiry into the circumstances surrounding, and the conduct of those involved in agreeing, the Convention of Cintra (1808), under the terms of which the defeated French were allowed to evacuate their forces from Portugal. See Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 379–381. BACK

[19] The British commander, Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), who was killed in battle at Corunna on 16 January 1809 after a disastrous retreat. For Southey’s account, see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 442–459. Although he praised many of Moore’s personal qualities, Southey suggested that he was not ‘equal to the difficulties of his situation’ (458). BACK

[20] The Annual Review closed before Southey could write this review for it. BACK

[21] Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658?–1735), army officer renowned for his daring actions in Spain. BACK

[22] Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), naval officer and formerly Tom Southey’s captain. Cochrane gained renown through a campaign of daring and brilliantly executed raids harassing and attacking settlements on the Spanish and French coasts. BACK

[23] A line which occurs in both the broadside ballad ‘John Armstrong’s Last farewel’ (c. 1701) and ‘The Ballad of Chevy Chase’ (first recorded in the 15th century). BACK

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

[25] Almourin Castle, on an island in the Tagus in Portugal. BACK

[26] Southey’s Palmerin of England (1807). BACK

[27] The postscript is written at the top of the first sheet. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)