484. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 2-3 February 1800

484. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 2–3 February 1800 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

My letter must have reached you while yours was on the road. my mothers desk arrived safely – & Harry has rigged himself with the money you sent.

My life is almost as uniform as yours, & as barren of all occurrencies wherewith to fill a letter. we are both perpetually busy in unvarying employments. the knowledge of this makes me an unfrequent correspondent – to write is only to spin out into a sheetfull information not more than the answer to a How d’ye do ? – question. You ask me my opinion of peace. nothing but a series of defeats or a change of ministers can give it to us. the answer to Bonapartes offers is the most clumsy piece of insolence & inconceivable stupidity that ever disgraced an obstinate minister. [1]  they cannot treat with France because she does not acknowledge herself the aggressor – France had made no such acknowledgement when they treated last. They cannot treat because the French government has not existed long enough. the then French government had existed not so long when they treated last. they would treat if France restored her old monarchy – yet they disclaim xx the idea of forcing a government of their chusing upon France – & yet they continue the war because France chuses one herself. & this is all except personal insults to Bonaparte! & all these absurdities & contradictions are in the note – & for these reasons we are to have another campaign & another expedition! Amen – so be it!

In the mean time what have our ministers done – they have intercepted some Letters from Egypt – they have forged others – they have put these papers into the hands of Giffard the satirist – who has interlarded them with the rankest & most virulent abuse of Bonaparte – they have published all this by Authority – & thus contrived to xxxxx throw another obstacle in the way of peace – by rendering themselves the personal enemies of the Chief Consul. [2]  Good God admitting that he was the worst of all rascals – what is that to us? – they have as much right to force a wise governor upon us, as we have to force an honest one upon them. & when this man whom they so vilify – is Napoleone Bonaparte! – I do not justify his assumption of power – let the use he makes of it, do that. but in reviewing his past conduct – what I privately know of his youth – what all the world know of his actions – the rank he holds as a general – the views he entertains as a philosopher – the feelings which made him in the career of victory the advocate of peace – I do not hesitate in pronouncing him the greatest man that events have called into action since Alexander of Macedon. [3]  – And for what is the valour of Englishmen to be exerted, is the treasure & the blood of the country to be drained? to aggrandize Austria – & to restore the worthless Bourbons [4]  to that throne, from which for so many years they harrassed & distressed this country!! as if this were possible! – if Bonaparte could land a million of Frenchmen in England do you believe that he could compel the English to submit to a government of French fashion? & have not Frenchmen the same feeling of indignation? have they not the spirit of men – & numbers enough to trample under foot all the savages of Tartary [5]  that can be pourd among them?

There is a dawn of hope but a feeble one in the sentiments expressed by some of the House of Lords [6]  – they continue to vote with the Minister but blame him for not negotiating. – & the debates in the Commons have been twice delayed because some of the Members have qualms of conscience to be settled. Could we but shake off these accursed ministers – could we but once see the activity & the courage & the wealth of England well employed – what might we not hope for!

Enough of politics – in what has been said my own peculiar notions have not intruded – they are the arguments which must occur to every man whose interest has not hoodwinkd his common sense.

Lloyds direction is simply Cambridge. what you say about Coleridge could only be answered by entering into particulars, which, as they do not neither interest you, & would not amuse you, may as well be omitted. With Lloyd I have no quarrel. he remains an acquaintance, whose faults cannot injure xxx, & therefore shall not irritate me. I had long understood his character, & what I learnt at Stowey in confirmation of it was not from Coleridge. [7]  I had long known that no dependance could be placed upon his conduct – & is it strange that his word should be as little to be relied on? yet I do not impute this to conscious falshood – but to an instability of mind – perhaps a derangement.

You will I suppose be more at leisure, & may possibly come home during the summer. if I do not go abroad before the Autumn I shall pass the spring & summer at Burton.

As you are so fond of Taunton I wish you were settled there. the country in that neighbourhood which you have never seen is so beautiful, that I should much like to be in reach of it sometimes. beyond all comparison the North of Somersetshire is the most beautiful part of England that I have ever seen. & if only beauty of landscape were to influence me in choice of a residence – I should at once fix on Porlock.

To Bristol I grow more attached. my intimacy with Davy makes it more agreable than it ever was before to me. if the College Green were but transplanted among the Hottentots then might my Mother live here in peace.

God bless you. Edith & Harrys remembrance.

Robert Southey.

Kingsdown. Feby. 2. 1800.

The second Anthology [8]  will soon be published. you have never had the first yet. where shall they be directed?

NB. I drink Port Wine plentifully & “suck air out of a bag.” [9] 

Feby 3. Yours has just reached me. I am glad you have got St Pierres book. [10]  it is full of genius, & of hints which ought to be pursued. the bottle-experiment [11]  I have often wished to have generally tried. – Burton is by no means an unwholesome place. I took my complaint with me from Westbury & my mother was never better anywhere. [12] 


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Thomas Southey/ Bellona/ Torbay/ Single
MS: Bristol Reference Library, B20862. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 220–223. BACK

[1] As soon as Napoleon took power in the Brumaire coup of November 1799 he instituted a number of peace feelers towards members of the Second Coalition. William Wyndham Grenville, Baron Grenville (1759–1834; Foreign Secretary 1791–1801; DNB), gave a lengthy speech to the House of Lords on 27 January 1800 outlining the history of the French approaches and explaining why the British government had declined to negotiate. BACK

[2] Probably Copies of Original Letters from the Army of General Bonaparte in Egypt (1798), which had gone into numerous expanded editions since its first publication by the loyalist bookseller and propagandist John Wright (1770/71–1844; DNB). BACK

[3] Alexander III, the Great (356–323 BC; King of Macedonia 336–323 BC). BACK

[4] The ruling dynasty of France since 1589. BACK

[5] Russia was a member of the Second Coalition formed in 1798. BACK

[6] William Wyndham Grenville had given a speech to the House of Lords on 27 January 1800 on the government’s refusal to negotiate with Napoleon; it had been heavily criticised by Whig Peers like Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford (1765–1802; DNB). BACK

[7] Thomas Poole had written to Southey on 8 August 1799 about Lloyd’s conduct (E.L. Griggs (ed.), The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 286). BACK

[8] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[9] Southey had participated in experiments with nitrous oxide at the Pnuematic Medical Institution, Bristol. These involved inhaling the gas from a green bag. Its effects on Southey were described in Thomas Beddoes, Notice of Some Observations Made at the Medical Pneumatic Institution (Bristol, 1799), p. 11; and Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and Its Respiration (London, 1800), pp. 507–509. They were also parodied in ‘The Pneumatic Revellers, An Eclogue’, Anti-Jacobin Review, 6 (May 1800) 109–118 (esp. 115–116). BACK

[10] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre (1737–1814), Paul et Virginie (1787). BACK

[11] Tom Southey took up his brother’s suggestion and in 1802 threw a number of bottles containing messages overboard in mid-Atlantic. One was washed up in the Bahamas and the message was posted to Tom’s brother in England; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 April 1803, Letter 775. BACK

[12] ‘Feby 3 ... anywhere’: inserted upside down at top of fol. 1 r. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Burton (mentioned 2 times)
Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)
Westbury (mentioned 1 time)
Stowey (mentioned 1 time)
College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)