March 17 1816: Meeting in Waterloo!

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On March 17 1816, Robert Southey writes to Walter Scott.

Keswick, March 17. 1816.

“My dear Scott, I have a debt upon my conscience, which has been too long unpaid. You left me a letter of introduction to the Duchess of Richmond, which I was graceless enough to make no use of, and, still more gracelessly, I have never yet thanked you for it. As for the first part of the offence, my stay at Brussels was not very long. I had a great deal to see there; moreover, I got among the old books; and having a sort of instinct which makes me as much as possible get out of the way of drawing-rooms, because I have an awkward feeling of being in the way when in them, I was much more at my ease when looking at Emperors and Princes in the crowd, than I should have been in the room with them.

“How I should have rejoiced if we had met at Waterloo! This feeling I had and expressed upon the ground. You have pictured it with your characteristic force and animation. My poem will reach you in a few weeks: it is so different in its kind, that, however kindly malice may be disposed, it will not be possible to institute a comparison with yours. I take a different point of time and a wider range, leaving the battle untouched, and describing the field only such as it was when I surveyed it. . . . .

“Mountaineer as I am, the cultivated scenery of Flanders delighted me. I have seen no town so interesting as Bruges,—no country in a state so perfect as to its possible production of what is beautiful and useful, as the environs of that city and the Pays de Waes. Of single objects, the finest which I saw were the market-place at Brussels and at Ypres, and the town-house at Louvain; the most extraordinary, as well as the most curious, the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle, which is, perhaps, the most curious church in existence. The most impressive were the quarries of Maestricht. I found a good deal of political discontent, particularly in the Liege country—a general sense of insecurity,—a very prevalent belief that England had let Bonaparte loose from Elba, which I endeavoured in vain to combat; and a very proper degree of disappointment and indignation that he had not been put to death as he deserved—a feeling in which I heartily concurred.

“Did I ever thank you for the Lord of the Isles? There are pictures in it which are not surpassed in any of your poems, and in the first part especially, a mixture of originality and animation and beauty, which is seldom found. I wished the Lord himself had been more worthy of the good fortune which you bestowed upon him. The laurel which it has pleased you, rather than any other person, to bestow upon me, has taken me in for much dogged work in rhyme; otherwise, I am inclined to think that my service to the Muses has been long enough, and that I should, perhaps, have claimed my discharge. The ardour of youth is gone by; however I may have fallen short of my own aspirations, my best is done, and I ought to prefer those employments which require the matured faculties and collected stores of declining life. You will receive the long-delayed conclusion of my Brazilian history in the course of the summer. It has much curious matter respecting savage life, a full account of the Jesuit establishments, and a war in Pernambuco, which will be much to your liking.

“Remember me to Mrs. Scott and your daughter, who is old enough to be entitled to these courtesies, and believe me, my dear Scott,

Yours very affectionately,
Robert Southey.”

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