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

1951. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 8 September 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Sept. 8. 1811.

My dear Scott

You will have thought me very remiss in not thanking you sooner for the Vision, [1]  – if you did not remember that I had been travelling from Dan to Beersheba, [2]  & take into consideration how little opportunity can be found for the use of pen & ink in the course of a series of run-away visits during a journey of nine hundred miles. It was given me at the Admiralty the very day that it arrived there, xx I opened it on the spot, in xxxx to & discovered that a letter to Polwhele [3]  had been inclosed to me, in time for Croker to rectify his mistake by making a fair exchange & thus saving mine from a journey to the Lands End. – If however I have not written to you about D Roderick I have been talking to every body about him. The want of plan & unity is a {defect} inherent in the very nature of your subject, & it would be just as absurd to censure the Vision for such a defect as it is to condemn Kehama [4]  because all the agents are not human personages. The execution is a triumphant answer to those persons who have supposed that you could not move with ease in a metre less loose than that of your great poems. To me it appears, on the whole, better written than those greater works for this very reason. you have taken fewer licenses of language, – & have united with the majesty of that fine stanza (the most perfect that ever was constructed) an ease which is a perfect contrast to the buckram & barbarisms of Gertrude of Wyoming. [5] 

It is remarkable that three poets should at once have been employed upon Roderick. [6]  I have a tragedy of Landors in my desk of which Count Julian is the hero, [7]  –it contains some of the finest touches both of passion & high poetry that I have ever seen. Roderick is also the prominent personage of my own Pelayo, [8]  as far as it has yet proceeded. Differing so totally as we do in the complection & management of the two poems, I was pleased to find one point of curious comparison, in which we have both represented Roderick in the act of confession & both finished the picture highly, xx our representations are so totally different as to form a perfect contrast, yet each so fitted to the temper of in which the confession is made, that it might be sworn, if you had chosen my point of time you would have written as I have done, & that if I had written of the unrepentant king I should have conceived of him exactly in like yourself. I copy my own lines, because I think you will be gratified at seeing a parallel passage which never can be produced except to the honour of both

Then Roderick knelt
Before the holy man, & strove to speak.
Thou seest, he cried, – thou seest, – but memory
And suffocating thoughts represt the word,
And shudderings, like an ague fit, from head
To foot convuls’d him. Till at length, subduing
His nature to the effort, he exclaim’d,
Spreading his hands, & lifting up his face,
As if resolved in penitence to bear
A human eye upon his shame, – thou seest
Roderick the Goth. That name would have sufficed
To tell its whole abhorred history.
He not the less pursued, – the ravisher!
The cause of all this ruin! – Having said,
In the same posture motionless he knelt,
Arms straightened down, & hands dispread, & eyes
Rais’d to the monk, like one who from his voice
Expected life or death. [9] 

I see but little of Gifford in town, because he was on the point of taking wing for the Isle of Wight when I arrived. The review seems to have shaken the credit of the Edinburgh, & might shake it still more. [10]  The way to attack the enemy with most effect is to take up those very subjects xx which he has handled the most unfairly, & so to treat them as to force a comparison which must end in our favour. I am about to do this upon the question of Bell & Lancaster, – a question on which Brougham has grossly committed himself. [11] 

You may well suppose that three months idleness has brought upon me a heavy accumulation of business. Meantime good materials for the third years Register [12]  have reached me from Cadiz, [13]  & I {have} collected others respecting Sicily & the Ionian islands. I saw the last volume on my road & thought I could trace your hand in a powerful but too lenient essay upon Jeffrays journal. [14]  It is well for him that I am employed upon worthier subjects or he would ere this have been gibbetted to all generations.

Mrs Southey joins me in remembrances to Mrs Scott

believe me yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Ashistiel/ Selkirk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Watermark: IPING/ 1806
Seal: [illegible] Black wax
Endorsement: Southey/ 8 Sept.r/ 1811
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3881
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 314–317. BACK

[1] Scott’s Vision of Don Roderick (1811), which covered similar territory to that in Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] A common biblical phrase to describe the whole land of Israel, from North to South, e.g. Judges 20: 1. Southey had been to London and back. BACK

[3] The poet, historian and contributor to the Anti-Jacobin, Richard Polwhele (1760–1838; DNB). He was a clergyman, with several livings in Cornwall. BACK

[4] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[5] Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB), Gertrude of Wyoming (1809), a poem set in Pennsylvania. BACK

[6] Roderick (d. 711/ 712), Visigothic king of part of Spain from 710. He was defeated and killed by Muslim invaders who went on to conquer most of the Iberian peninsula. BACK

[7] Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). BACK

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

[9] An early version of an incident in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 1, lines 220–237. BACK

[10] The review’s identity is not certain. It is one of Southey’s reviews 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; and Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810), Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457. BACK

[11] Brougham was an advocate for Joseph Lancaster’s system and a member of the board of directors of the Royal Lancastrian Institution (later the British and Foreign Schools Society). He had severely criticised Andrew Bell in ‘The Education of the Poor’, Edinburgh Review, 17 (November 1810), 58–88. Southey responded with The Origin, Nature and Object of the New System of Education (1812), especially, pp. 153–180. BACK

[12] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[13] Diario de las Discusiones y Actas de las Cortes, 1810–1813 (1811–1813), no. 3288 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[14] ‘On the Present State of Periodical Criticism’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811), 556–581. It concluded: ‘Its surprising and unprecedented success has rendered the Edinburgh Review the mirror in which the others dress themselves … The tone of critcism … at the commencement of the nineteenth century may be characterized as harsh, severe and affectedly contemptuous, dwelling rather in general and excursive discussion, that in that which applies itself to the immediate subject; but requiring, from those very circumstances, an elevation of talent and extent of information, unknown, or at least unnecessary, to the humble labourer of the preceding period’ (581). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013