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

1836. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 December 1810 ⁠* 

My dear Tom

I am sorry George Taylor [1]  should have read Kehama in its imperfect state, for there {are} a good many parts in the manuscript in which the versification is defective, – not to mention the many insertions in the printed copy. – It never will surprize x me to find that the poem is not relished, – it is just as impossible to give a taste for works of imagination, as it is to give a taste for music, & I who am without one shall never quarrel with any body for being without the other. The sort of praise which I wish Kehama to obtain, & the real value of such works, is expressed in what Turner tells me his wife [2]  said of the poem when he made her leave of it off at midnight. She could have read it all night, she said, she felt it elevate her conceptions, & occasion an excitement of mind that made her feel superior to herself. This is there use, to take us out of ourselves, to carry us into the world of unrealities, to busy us with some thing which is not immediately connected with flesh & blood; – to elevate rather than to affect, – & to make us perceive our own imaginative powers instead of constantly referring us to ordinary feelings.

Bedford has seen the review which Scott has written of it, [3]  – & which from his account tho a very friendly one, is like that of the Cid very superficial. [4]  He sees nothing but the naked story, x the moral feeling which pervades it has escaped him. I do not know whether Bedford will be able to get a paragraph interpolated touching upon this & showing that there is some difference between a work of high imagination & a story of mere amusement. –

Since this was written I have had a letter from Scott himself, telling me of his reviewal, & how hastily he wrote it while the first impression of the poem was fresh upon him, – that he might be beforehand with the Edinburgh in fixing its character with the public, as far as it is to be fixed by public criticism. – I do not know who reviewed the Brazil, but I guess it was Reginald Heber. [5]  He is wrong in complaining of the want of general & retrospective views, – or rather this is an imputation to which the work is subjected only because it has been published by halves. In their fit time & place they will come in. A coronal is not a coronet, for the last word is appropriate to rank & heraldry. A poitral is a horses breast-flesh. A tambour is an outlandish drum, not such as the soldiers use. Napery implies napkins & tablecloths, either or both. Therefore properly used when a comprehensive term was required. Harry will tell you that a Broad is the spread of a river into a sheet of water, – someth which is certainly neither lake nor lagoon. – The mistake about Lutheranism the Reviewer has well accounted for by the constant presence {use} of the word Luteranos in the Portugueze writers. Araboutan he might have seen in one of the notes is the indigenous name not of Brazil itself, but of the Brazil-tree. [6]  On the whole I could not have desired a more favourable reviewal, nor one in which the temper of the reviewer should, in the main, join better with my own. As for what he says concerning a change in my way of thinking, he does not perceive that it is the times that have changed most.

I am exceedingly tickled with the notion about Sir John Sinclair – alias Sir John Jackass – & the Black ram in the last article. [7]  – My Evangelical article has been hurt by mutilation [8]  – they have marred the whole sarcasm against Sidney Smith [9]  by leaving out, I cannot conceive why, the flea-bites, – pray write the words in in Harrys copy, – after “crackd him – ” in resentment for the flea-bites of his small wit” – p. 486. & They have also left out what I said about changing the condition of the Clerk, & restoring the old race of Catechists. [10]  This does not much surprize me, & I shall find a place for it elsewhere, together with a proposal for abolishing the indiscriminate use of sermons, – which of course was too bold to be proposed xx to the Quarterly.

Rickman writes me a very high account indeed of Pasleys [11]  book & urges me to review it, – in consequence of which I have written to Gifford about it.

Thursday last I received the box from Bristol, with 20 volumes from Gutch’s catalogue – Oh there was joy in Greta Hall at the arrival. And that same evening there came two parcels. I was too xxxxxxx happy, – it was happiness enough for three days. One was from Edinburgh, – a vol. of the Somers Tracts, [12]  a vol. of Hogg the Ettrick Shepherds poems [13]  for which I subscribed long since, with a presentation copy & a letter from poor Hogg himself. – The other from Murray containing the Quarterly, & a present from him of three volume of Metrical Romance, just published by Weber, [14]  a two guineas worth, admirably edited, exceedingly curious, & to xxxx after my own heart. – I have got start enough with Ballantyne to lay the Dutch aside [15]  & take a spell at Abella’s documents, which are very clear & good. – God bless you. Our love to Sarah. The children have had a good deal of sickness in this unusually sickly time, but they are now recovered God be thanked.

Yrs RS.

Dec. 5. 1810.

Many happy returns to you both. – my love to Mary, – & tell the Doctor I am become a convert to his system of drinking beer with pastry – Bertha still remembers that Aunt Tom used to give her suga-pumm.


* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey / with Samuel Castle Esqr/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 306–309 [misdated 5 December 1812]. BACK

[1] George Taylor (1772–1851), a Co. Durham farmer, with literary tastes, father of Southey’s future friend and literary executor Sir Henry Taylor and acquaintance of Tom Southey. He had read a MS version of The Curse of Kehama (1810), presumably the version sent to Tom Southey, which is now British Library, Add. MS 36485. BACK

[2] Mary Turner, née Watts (c. 1768–1843). BACK

[3] Scott had been commissioned by Gifford to review The Curse of Kehama (1810). Bedford had also applied to review the poem and had been shown a pre-publication version of Scott’s article. Bedford was concerned at its emphasis upon narrative, rather than morality, and was allowed to make additions to it along the lines suggested in this letter. Bedford remained, however, unhappy with the overall tone. For the review as published see Quarterly Review, 5 (February 1811), 40–61 (esp. 55–56, probably Bedford’s interpolation); see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 January 1811, Letter 1848. BACK

[4] Scott had reviewed The Chronicle of the Cid (1808) in Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 134–153. BACK

[5] Southey was correct, Heber was the reviewer of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1810). The remainder of this paragraph is a response to the appraisal published in the Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 454–474 (esp. 472; 474). BACK

[6] For Southey’s use of unusual words: History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I: ‘coronal’, p. 187; ‘poitral’, p. 122; ‘tambour’, pp. 89, 121; ‘napery’, p. 381; ‘broads’, p. 133; Southey inadvertently referred to Dutch missionaries in Brazil as Lutherans rather than Calvinists on p. 567; The Tupi word ‘Araboutan’ for the Brazil-nut tree is noted on p. 626. BACK

[7] Southey was amused by an extremely personal attack, authored by George Ellis, George Canning and William Huskisson (1770–1830; DNB), on Sir John Sinclair’s (1754–1835; DNB) Observations on the Report of the Bullion Committee (1810), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 534–535. The review had noted the Berkshire custom that a widow of a customary tenant would forfeit her lifetime rights to her husband’s copyhold land if she remarried or was discovered to be ‘unchaste’. She could reclaim her rights by riding into court seated backwards ‘upon a black ram, with his tail in her hand’ and reciting a doggerel verse. The review suggested that Sinclair atone for his errors on the bullion question by entering the lobby at Whitehall in the same fashion. BACK

[8] Southey’s review of Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[9] Sydney Smith (1771–1845; DNB), one of the founders of and leading contributors to the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[10] In the Catholic Church, an assistant to the parish priest, who helps instruct children in the basics of the Church’s teachings. BACK

[11] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457. BACK

[12] John Somers, Baron Somers (1651–1716; DNB), A Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts, published in 13 volumes from 1809–1815. Southey’s copy was no. 2613 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[13] Hogg’s The Forest Minstrel: A Collection of Songs (1810). BACK

[14] Henry William Weber (1783–1818; DNB), Metrical Romances (1810). Southey’s copy was no. 2990 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[15] i.e. work on the Walcheren Campaign, an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809. The plan had been to open another front in the war against Napoleon. Although there was little actual fighting, the British forces were severely depleted by a sickness quickly dubbed the ‘Walcheren Fever’. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 660–692. BACK

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August 2013