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

1883. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 12 March 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 12. 1811.

I was reading Count Julian [1]  when your letter arrived. His sons names are not, to my knowledge, mentioned anywhere. Ippolito is not of that age or country, – Athanagild, or Ermenagild or Theodomir – are of the same measure, & the other may return to his original station which I am glad to hear of. This is a grand passage which you have sent me, – a mixture of the pathetic & the lofty & the profound which is not to be found in any other living writer, & in very few of those who are xxxxxx immortal.

There is nothing in the play so obscure as the two concluding {last} lines & half will be. [2] 

The chance it would have for representation lies in Kembles vanity. [3]  If he had would fancy that C Julian is a character just calculated to display his talents – no doubt he would bring it out. This I can try for you when I go to town with perfect secresy – Longman has some property in Covent Garden, – thro him I can ensure the piece a reading – which is something with such great men as managers, – & by accompanying it with a note to Kemble I may possibly at least excite his attention to it. As for his understanding the power & might & majesty that the tragedy manifests it is not to be expected from a man who can act in such trash as Cato [4]  & the Revenge, [5]  – after Shakespere. This last play so turned my stomach nine years ago that I verily believe I shall never set foot in a theatre again

The Cato has only been endured, because having originally escaped the damnation which it deserved, it would have been against all precedent to have damned it now. – I very much doubt the success of C. Julian, less from its want of pageantry, than because of its excellencies. Long experience has made me think as meanly of the public taste as you did when you wrote the preface to Gebir: [6]  the effect of this settled opinion is that I write without remorse because a printed book finds its way to the few who can rightly appreciate it, but I do not think I could submit a production which had cost me thought & passion, flushes of cheek & throbs of head, & quit quiet tears – to be decided upon by such a crew as the dramatic critics of London. God help me what a crew they are! fellows whose habitual profligacy absolutely incapacitates them from understanding any thing of which refers to the principles of goodness in human nature.

However if you wish it I will consign your play to Kemble, take all the man & manage all the correspondence between him & you as to alterations, – if the business should proceed so far. And should this attempt fail I can submit it to the Edinburgh theatre thro Walter Scott.

I fill up the sheet with an epitaph

This to a Mothers sacred memory [7] 
Her son hath hallowed. Absent many a year
Far over sea, his sweetest dreams were still
Of that dear voice which sooth’d his infancy;
And after many a fight against the Moor
And Malabar, – or that fierce cavalry
Which he had seen covering the boundless plain
Even to the utmost limits where the eye
Could pierce the far horizon, his first thought
In safety was of her who when she heard
The tale of that days danger would retire
And pour her pious gratitude to Heaven
In prayers & tears of joy. – The lingering hour
Of his return, long lookd for, came at length
And full of hope he reachd his native shore.
Vain hope that puts its trust in human life!
For ere he came the number of her days
Were full, & never more on earth he met
Her form revered. O Reader, what a world
Were this, how unendurable its weight
Of woe, & guilt & mystery, if they
Whom Death hath sundered, did not meet again!



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr./ South Parade/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 12
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 216–219. BACK

[1] Landor’s Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). None of the names Southey mentions were used for characters in the play. BACK

[2] As published, these read: ‘but tremble – years shall roll/ And wars rage on, and Spain at last be free’, Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), p. 128. BACK

[3] The actor and theatrical manager John Philip Kemble (1757–1823; DNB) of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. BACK

[4] Joseph Addison (1672–1719; DNB), Cato, a Tragedy (1713); one of the ‘Roman’ roles with which Kemble was most closely identified. BACK

[5] Edward Young (bap. 1683, d. 1765; DNB), The Revenge: A Tragedy (1721). A version revised by Kemble was staged at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, with the actor in the lead role of the vengeful Moor Zanga. Southey’s disgust was not shared by all his contemporaries. See, for example, the appraisal of the 1801 revival of The Revenge, the production Southey had seen, in the European Magazine, 40 (December 1801), 440: ‘The part of Zanga we have always ranked among the best performances of Mr. Kemble; and we scarcely ever witnessed a more powerful impression than was made on the audience in the present instance. His whole soul seemed absorbed in the one passion of revenge … In the last scene, when to satiate his appetite, he informed Alonzo that his dying wife and murdered friend were both innocent … his savage triumph was truly impassioned, and excited in every breast at once horror for his crimes, and a degree of admiration for his mistaken magnanimity’. BACK

[6] Landor’s Gebir (London, 1798). The ‘Preface’ ([i]–ii) had argued that: ‘A Poem, like mine, descriptive of men and manners, should never be founded totally on fiction … I have followed no man closely; nor have I turned from my road because another stood in it: tho’ perhaps I have momentarily … caught the object that attracted him. I have written in blank verse, because there never was a poem in rhyme that grew not tedious in a thousand lines … If there are, now, Englishmen of taste and genius who will applaud my Poem, I declare myself fully content.’ BACK

[7] The epitaph was for the mother of Major General John Peché (d. 1823) of the East Indian Army, a former neighbour of Southey’s at Keswick. Published in Southey, Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 129–130. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013