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

1954. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 10 September 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Sept. 10. 1811.

We concluded our long journey with remarkable good fortune, having in the course of twelve weeks & nearly nine hundred miles met with only two days of wet weather, & neither let, hindrance, accident or inconvenience of any kind. I was much pleased with Ludlow Castle, the only ruin of the kind I ever yet saw which bears evident marks that it has formerly been the seat of comfort. One of my walks was to the Boney Well near Richards Castle, it is one of the wonders of Guthries Grammar, & had wonderfully impressed my imagination when a boy. [1]  The description made me suppose a deep well, & I was well enough read in the legends even then to dream of caverns & pigmy people. When I came to the spot I found a beautiful spring, no where a foot in depth, & for all I could hear about the bones the wonder seemed to be that there should ever have been any wonder about them. The old Naiad of the spring told me that March was the time when they were to be found, & I vehemently suspect that if I were to go in March she would then recommend October.

Crossing from Teddesley to Shrewsbury we past thro the iron country near Wellington. There is something very striking in that sort of Hell above ground, – hills of scoria, an atmosphere of smoke, & huge black piles, consisting chiefly of chimneys & furnaces, grouped together in what x the finest style of the damnable picturesque. The things are too mean in themselves ever to be a ever to acquire a sublimity, to whatever xxxx {magnitude} they may attain, but they have a hideousness which almost produces the same effect. They are more hideous than horrid, – there should be an obscurity about horror, hid whatever is hideous is definite.

We saw a prodigious work of art of very different character, – the aqueduct over the Dee near Llangollen. It is little {not} more than half {two thirds} the height of the aqueduct at Lisbon, but the effect is far more dizzying. At Lisbon you walk between the covered gallery where the water runs, & a parapet wall breast high, so that you feel your security. The iron rails of the Welsh bridge by giving sight of the depth immediately under your feet, make it an effort of reason to imagine yourself safe, & the effect of looking across a narrow canal upon a precipice, from which as it appears nothing but a two inch plank seems to seperate it, gave birth to the ‘toys of desperation’ [2]  in a greater degree than I had ever before felt them. My knees were loosened, tho I did not stop to allow them to shake, & I felt an absolute longing for wings that I might have launched myself into the air. This sort of feeling explains how animals are fascinated by the eye of a snake or a beast of prey.

I have written to Durham & hope it may prove to some effect. The Taylors must so frequently know persons who are in want of farms & qualified to improve them, that it will be unlucky if this is not the case now. [3] 

I have been home a few days, but hardly long enough for me to have fairly settled to my regular employments. I have however resumed Pelayo, [4]  & it will not be long before I shall have another portion to send you. A heavy part which perhaps ought to have been hurried over is at length compleated, & as I bring more actors upon the stage, & the xxx interest increases I shall get on with more alacrity.

Remember us most kindly to Mrs L–

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Lanthony/ Abergavenny
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 17
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 231–232. BACK

[1] William Guthrie (1708?–1770; DNB), A New Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar, 2 vols (London, 1771), I, p. 281, described the ‘remarkable fountain near Richard’s castle in Herefordshire, commonly called Bone-well, which is generally full of small bones, like those of frogs or fish, though often cleared out’. Southey at some point acquired an 1808 edition of Guthrie, no. 1256 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4, line 75. BACK

[3] George Taylor (1772–1851), gentleman farmer, classicist and father of Sir Henry Taylor (1800–1886; DNB), Southey’s future friend. George Taylor’s brother, William Taylor (dates unknown) was also a farmer with literary interests. Southey was assisting Landor in finding a tenant for one of the larger farms on the Llanthony estate; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 8 September 1811, Letter 1952. BACK

[4] The early name for Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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August 2013