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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1765. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 26 March 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 26. 1810.

It is very long since you have heard from me, – & for a two fold reason, – first because your verses [1]  tantalized me as a barrel of oysters would have done if set before me without a knife. I could not read them. There is little difficulty in understanding the worst possible hand writing in our own every-day language, – tho I once saw two franks which had travelled all over England, & at last found their way by the lucky guess of some Post Office clerk who wrote on them “try Durham” – they had tried Dublin previously. But when a fore sight of the meaning is necessary to make out the words, any thing not easy in itself becomes very difficult. If I could have read these verses I should have understood them, – for because I did not understand, I could not read them. The case however is not desperate, in some season of leisure I purpose transcribing them, & shall thus make them out step by step.

The other reason was that I might send you the first section of Pelayo [2]  & this I have been prevented from compleating because my hours for poetry have been partly employed in correcting Kehama, [3]  partly diverted to the pressing business of the Edinburgh Register. [4]  Kehama is half printed, & the remaining half still requires correction, – I want to get rid of the Snake in the Water-Chambers, [5]  – which is neither well-conceived, nor well written, & something is wanting at the conclusion. It will probably be published in June. I have made my usual bargain with the bookseller, – that is to say no bargain at all, – they print & I share the profits. Scott recommended strongly the quarto form, & quarto accordingly it is, my own opinion being that x in whatever form it appeared a sale to clear the expences was certain, & any thing beyond that exceedingly improbable.

I wish I could see your Hints to a Junta. [6]  From the beginning I wishd the Spaniards & Portugueze had sung Te Deum [7]  for the loss of their respective Dynasties, & united in a federal Republic, the form of Government peculiarly adapted for that peninsula because of the different Fueros  [8]  of the different Kingdoms. It might perhaps have prevented this country from assisting them, – but they would have been better without its assistance, & might have not impossibly have occasioned a resurrection of the Jacobines in France. I am just at this time writing upon this subject. I feel sorely the want of circumstantial documents, but have made the most of what there are, & written with a spirit which will surprize most persons in these base times.

It is a mark of strength or of weakness, of maturity, or of incipient decay, that it is more delightful to me to compose history than poetry, – not perhaps that I feel more pleasure in the act of composition, – but that I go to it with more complacency, as to an employment which suits the {my} temperature & my I am loth to ascribe this lack of inclination to any conscious deficiency of power, & certainly am not conscious of any; – still I have an ominous feeling that there are poets enough in the world without me, & that my best chance of being remembered will be as an historian. A proof sheet of Kehama, or a second-sight scene in Pelayo disperses this cloud, – such however is my habitual feeling, – it did not use to be the case in those days when I thought of nothing but poetry, & lived as it were in an atmosphere of nitrous oxyd, – in a state of perpetual excitement, which yet produced no exhaustion.

The first volume of my history of Brazil makes its appearance in a few days, perhaps at this time it may have been published. [9]  This is the commencement of a long series, – the hist. of Portugal is to follow, – then that of Portugueze Asia, then a supplementary volume concerning the African possessions – lastly, – if I have life, health, & eye sight permitted me, the hist. of the monastic orders – sufficient employments for a life which I should think well employed in compleating them. [10] 

Let me tell you a melancholy story. A Bristol youth by name Wm Roberts died not long since at the age of 19, of consumption, bequeathing in a paper written about three days before his death, his poems to two of his friends, to be by them published for the benefit of his sister, whom he passionately loved. His brot father was a Brewer, [11]  who having failed, obtained an inferior situation in the Customs, which with the little profits of a lodging house on St Augustines Back, & Williams salary of 70 £ from a Bank {just} sufficed to support a family in decent as with decency which had been accustomed to better days. The sons death was therefore a heavy severe loss in the cruellest sense of the word. The father has since been incapacitated by illness for discharging the duties of his situation, & he has th in consequence been displaced, – & the family consisting of father, mother, grandmother & the daughter [12]  are in danger of being reduced to want. James of Birmingham (a Banker) has the charge of editing these poems, – in a half-guinea poem {volume}, – if & if a thousand or 1200 subscribers can be obtained, a sum will be raised sufficient to place the daughter in some situation wherein she may be able to support her parents & herself. – James sent me the whole of the papers, – thirty years ago they would have been thought wonderful, – neither you nor I wrote better at nineteen, perhaps not so well, – but what can be written {produced} at nineteen except promises of after excellence, – which serve only to give one the heart-ache when that p the blossom has been cut off – I do not know the family, – but I am exerting myself earnestly to make this poor bequest productive. Get me if you can a few names for the subscription list, – the money is not paid till the delivery of the book. [13] 

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 9
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 532–535; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 283–284 [in part]; John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 254 and 260 [in part]. BACK

[1] Landor had sent Southey an idyll written in Latin hexameters, John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 252–253. This was published as ‘Coresus et Callirhoe’ in Landor’s Poemata et Inscriptiones (London, 1847), pp. 36–41. BACK

[2] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[3] The Curse of Kehama (1810). Landor had been instrumental in encouraging Southey to continue with the poem. BACK

[4] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[5] A passage that followed The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 16, line 211, but was deleted in the printed version. BACK

[6] Landor’s unpublished ‘Hints to a Junta’, which drew on his first-hand experience of Spain. John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 245. BACK

[7] ‘Thee, O God’, an early Christian hymn of praise. BACK

[8] Laws which defined the position of the king, nobility and judicial procedures in the realms of Castile, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Navarre, which had united to form Spain. BACK

[9] The History of Brazil, published in three volumes 1810–1819. BACK

[10] None of these projects were completed or published. BACK

[11] William Roberts (dates unknown), declared bankrupt in 1793. BACK

[12] Eliza Roberts (dates unknown). BACK

[13] William Isaac Roberts, Poems and Letters (1811). Landor was not listed amongst the subscribers. BACK

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August 2013