1699. Robert Southey to Daniel Stuart, 22 October 1809

1699. Robert Southey to Daniel Stuart, 22 October 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick. Oct. 22. 1809.

My dear Sir

I am very much obliged to you for your letter. Were you near enough, there is no person living to whom I could apply for advice in this undertaking with so much confidence, nor to whom I should so willingly submit my manuscript for correction. [1]  You will perceive that with respect to the two last ministries, & indeed to the whole conduct of the war, my opinions perfectly coincide with yours. – & upon those points on which we differ, I have expressed myself less positively, & indeed almost with hesitation, in deference to your judgement. which That letter of X. Y. is a memorable instance of political foresight: [2]  – I recollect it well, & am sorry it is not preserved, – but the papers are consumed at Grasmere, – a sort of act which I have always regretted.

The Count de Norona who distinguished himself in Romanas army & is now commanding at Coruña, published two volumes of poems which I reviewed for the Critical either in 1802 or 1803. [3]  They are of considerable merit, – & that review or a portion of it, might be read with interest at present, when you want something to fill up your columns in the Courier. There is a translated extract <given> from a mock-heroic poem which is curious as it shows his opinion of Courts, – formed no doubt from the state of his own. A messenger is sent to seek for Care, & according to the old notion of the moralists, goes to seek for him in the a Palace, – but when he comes there he finds Indolence in his stead. [4]  The satire is new & very elegantly executed. I think if it were brought before the public now, it would place the character of the nobleman very high in their esteem. The article is in one of the Appendixes & you may if you think proper mention me as the reputed writer of it.

I had no conception that it could be so difficult to procure a file of papers only one year old, as it has proved to be. It is a pity they should so very generally be destroyed, & if they were printed in Cobbetts form, they it would not be the case. [5]  After a six weeks search the Star [6]  has been procured for me, – & the Times is <now> regularly sent me for filing. I shall take as much time as possible, – that is to say I will not slight the work by hurrying it, – part of it I am conscious cannot be done well, that is, what relates to financial & commercial questions, – but all I can do is to explain things perspicuously as far as I comprehend them & pretend to nothing more. The history of Spanish affairs I shall do perhaps <better> than any other person, bringing with me some peculiar knowledge, & certainly a right spirit. For any things <hints> that you can give me relating to the last or present year, – or of things as they are passing, believe me I should be very thankful.

Last years tragedy is about to be re-acted in Spain, – yet what great things might be done by a floating force even now, ready to land wherever opportunity invited or need required them. Such a force would long ere this have cut to pieces the besieging army before Gerona. [7]  That poor city will fall, after the most heroic defence of modern times, but it is our fault if we do not practically assist those places which are accessible by sea, whenever their hour of danger comes, & there is a long line of such important posts between Barcelona & Cadiz, every one of which Ld Cochrane [8]  or Sir Sidney Smith [9]  might render another Acre. [10]  I do not despair of Spain, I never have despaired of it. I said both privately & to the public that this spirit existed in the country, when scarcely any person believed me, & no symptoms had appeared, & it is my firm belief that that spirit is not to be subdued, tho Buonaparte may & probably will overrun the country, & for a time keep it down. There has been great imbecillity in their Juntas and some treachery: [11]  – both were to be expected. The Cortes [12]  would be the best remedy, & the same system of Deputies with the armies, armed with full power from the Cortes, which the French adopted with such success – in their most perilous times. Have you seen the reviewal of Moores book in the last Quarterly? – I offered to undertake it, but it was done by G. Ellis, & the concluding five pages by Canning. [13]  It is not his fault that we have so grievously mismanaged in Spain. He would have done every thing, – but the arrangements in the Cabinet were made by compromises & [MS torn]ssions, – & the consequences could not but be disgraceful & ruinous.

I was in hopes you meant to have prest the necessity of a Court Martial upon Ld Chatham, [14]  – it is only by means of the newspapers that any good can be done, from Parliament nothing is to be expected in any other way than by making the public feeling act upon them thus, & when the Courier goes against the Ministry, it carries with it more weight than all the regular papers of opposition. Heaven help this poor country! with a power which even now if xxx wielded with only common wisdom might change the dir fortune of this Europe & the World, – we experience nothing, & can look for nothing but disgrace after disgrace, & disaster after disaster. If we balloted the whole xxx Empire for a Ministry the chance is that we should have a better & could not have a worse, than any which could at this time be formed from any party – or from all. – I see two circumstances of considerable danger, – one is that any ministry will make peace for the sake of a momentary popularity; – the other that these cursed Congreve arrows will be employed against our ships. [15]  You see the French have analysed them – indeed such compositions cannot possibly long be kept secret in the present state of chemistry. When Mr Grenville was at the Admiralty & they were first talked of, I prest this danger earnestly upon my friend Williams Wynn.

Is it too late to point out the importance of a floating force off the coast of Spain? A few such sieges as Zaragoza [16]  would waste even Buonapartes armies, – & there are many other along the coast which may be expected to make the same resistance, – especially if our ships were at hand to remove the xxxxxx xxxxx <women & children> & lend assistance. xxxxxx in Even yet we may win the game if we play it well.

The last delay of the Friend was owing to a ridiculous cause. – the Rats eat up the motto at the Printers.  [17]  A few such numbers as the 8th would win readers to it. [18]  I am surprized a the regularity with which it has gone on, & expect as well as hope that it will continue.

yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Daniel Stuart Esqr/ Lilac’s Boarding House/ Cheltenham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Southey October/ 1809/ Spain/ Friend
MS: British Library, Add MS 34046. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Mary Stuart (ed.), Letters from the Lake Poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, to Daniel Stuart (London, 1889), 400–404. BACK

[1] Southey is referring to his work for the Edinburgh Annual Register to which he contributed the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810. BACK

[2] Stuart had authored several letters on the Peninsular war in the Courier in 1808. These took issue with the negotiations and peace arguments of the Whigs and radicals. See the Courier, 8, 9, 26, 29 November (‘The Campaign in Spain’); 14, 15, 16 November (‘The Court of Inquiry’); 1 December (‘The Apstoacy of Don Cevallos’), 2 December (‘Apostacy of the Edinburgh’), and 22 December (‘Spain and Revolutions’). Coleridge also praised these articles and responded to them with his own ‘Letters on the Spaniards’ in the Courier of 7, 8, 9, 15, 20, 21, 22 December 1809 and 20 January 1810. See S. T. Coleridge, Essays on his Times, ed. David V. Erdman, 3 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1978), II, 41 and 44–100. BACK

[3] Gaspar Maria de la Nava Alvarez, Conde de Norona (1760–1815), Poesias (1799–1800). Southey’s review appeared in Critical Review, 36 (1802), Appendix, 538–549. BACK

[4] Norona’s mock heroic poem ‘La Quicayda’, extracts of which are included on pages 544–547 of Southey’s review. BACK

[5] William Cobbett’s weekly paper the Political Register which printed transcriptions of parliamentary debates. BACK

[6] The Star was an evening daily newspaper, which began publication in 1788 under the editorship of Peter Stuart (c.1760-c.1812; DNB). BACK

[7] The Spanish city of Gerona had been under siege by the French since 6 May 1809. After nearly seven months it finally fell on 11 December 1809. BACK

[8] 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

[9] The naval officer Sir William Sidney Smith (1764–1840; DNB), who was promoted to the rank of Admiral and received several awards for his actions in the war with France, achieving a high popular reputation by 1809. BACK

[10] In March 1799 the Middle East city of Acre was besieged by the French, but a British naval flotilla under the command of Admiral Sidney Smith assisted its Ottoman defenders and the siege was raised in May with Napoleon’s retreat back into Egypt. The defence of Acre made Smith’s name and in September 1799 he received the thanks of both British houses of parliament for his actions. BACK

[11] The Juntas unwillingness to organise supplies for the British Army while urging a policy of attack led several people, including Southey, to suspect some of their members of co-operating with the French. BACK

[12] The Cortes Generales (or ‘General Courts’) is the legislature of Spain. BACK

[13] The review by George Ellis and George Canning of James Moore, A Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army in Spain, Commanded by His Excellency Lt. General Sir John Moore, K. B. &c. authenticated by Official Papers and Original Letters; A few Remarks explanatory of the Motives which guided the Operations of the British Army, during the late short Campaign in Spain; Observations on the Movements of the British Army in Spain, in Reply to the Statement lately published by Brig. General Clinton. By a British Officer; Letters from Portugal and Spain &c. By an Officer; James Wilmot Ormsby (d. 1831), An Account of the Operations of the British Army &c; Adam Neale (1778?-1832), Letters from Portugal and Spain: Comprising an Account of the Operations of the Armies under their Excellencies Sir Arthur Wellesley and Sir John Moore (1809). Possibly Robert Ker Porter (1777–1842), Letters from Portugal and Spain: Written During the March of the British Troops under Sir John Moore. By an Officer (1809), 203–234. BACK

[14] John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1756–1835; DNB), army officer and younger brother of the former prime minister William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB) whose role in the ill-fated Walcheren expedition of 1809 was criticised. BACK

[15] Rockets developed by Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet (1772 -1828; DNB) in 1804 and used to bombard Copenhagen in 1807. BACK

[16] In December 1808 the Spanish town of Zaragoza was besieged (for the second time that year) by the French. The siege involved ferocious street fighting, in which Spanish civilians took part. When the French finally succeeded in February, 54000 people had died. For Southey’s accounts see: Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 306–321; and Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. BACK

[17] Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was published in 26 instalments from 1 June 1809 to 15 March 1810. The motto, from Richard Hooker (1554–1600; DNB), Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie (1593–1662), appeared at the start of the ninth number dated 12 October 1809. See Coleridge, The Friend; A Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper (London, 1809), p. 129. The text is given in S. T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1969), II, p. 122. BACK

[18] Dated 5 October 1809, and dealing with ghosts, visions and illusions, and giving a biographical sketch of Luther. See Coleridge, The Friend; A Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper (London, 1809), pp. 113–128. The text is given in S. T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols (London and Princeton NJ, 1969), II, pp. 110–121. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 1 time)