1982. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 13 November 1811 

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

1982. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 13 November 1811 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

The thing of most import which you object to is Adosindas exclamation, [1]  – I do not know what other words would be strong enough to convey the shrieking-shuddering emotion {passion} which is represented. They prepare you for what follows, – they in some degree withdraw your attention for it. then let me observe that the passage which immediately succeeds is natural, – because the speaker is seeking while telling of her own feelings to run out of them, – & it is peculiarly proper, because it calls away the reader from an image almost too shocking to be held up even for a moment. The phrase which you dislike that x of shrivelling like a scroll [2] – is scriptural, – & to my mind perfectly sublime.

And so Grosvenor you seriously advise me to make this poem the principal object of my time. Why man you might as well advise me to set up a carriage, buy an estate & build a house upon it. I can afford for it no other time than what it at present has, – an hour or half-hour before breakfast at which it may probably be finished in about eighteen months, six more will be required for printing it, – & then I shall truly rejoice to see it consigned into your critical hands, – but how much of uncertainty is there in all this!

Once more to your criticisms, – premising however that the old story of the painter who invited connoisseurs first to find fault with his piece & then to praise it, applies more to verbal criticism than to any thing else; – premising also that if you suppose I spare labour you are as much mistaken as the Gentleman [3]  who addressed me – with ‘Sir I expected to have found you a man of threescore, in a great wig.’ –

The grey of the morning [4]  is not like the cool of the evening, – because the one phrase is trivial & the other is not, – people not rising early enough to make it so. As for the redundant syllable, it is allowable wherever there is any occasion for it; – it is better any where than at the beginning of a book, because there the variety which it gives is not required. The expression in se [5]  is remarkably happy because of its truth, – but as I have it in Thalaba [6]  I x it may be dismissed from hence, provided any phrase as little objectionable can be found to supply it.

The image which the word ‘floor’ [7]  fixes, refer was noticed on the very spot where this part of the scene is laid, – for from thence to Coimbra I know the ground.

Surely your next objection is unfounded – worn down relates to his bodily weakness, – & the brighter thoughts are those on which he is musing as he goes. [8]  – One & the same state of mind, not three. – The twice [9]  which you next notice may be decided by mere euphony, – a mere matter of sound & of nothing else.

As for thereof & aforesaid [10]  – I take it for granted you will find the one used by Shakespear & Milton, & the other not.

Pieci  [11]  I grant you is more Portugueze than or Spanish than English – but this was an alteration even in the only alteration, – the choice might be appropriately determined by a toss up.

About the Cid you are right, & I entirely agree with you. [12] 

If I did not like the juxtaposition of lineage & language, [13]  thinking these echoes desirable, – progeny might be substituted for the first word; Famous [14]  is inclytus, [15]  & conveys precisely the proper idea, & the vow is the only proper manner, in which for it is abstraction which is spoken of.

In undiscoverable futurity, [16]  – happens to be a very sonorous line, – both words happen to be highly poetical, – but in the line to which you liken it are ridiculously & designedly otherwise.

Smouldering  [17]  is rather a stop gap – a locum tenens [18]  than an epithet of choice. You need not give me any advice about alliteration – I am too good a Spaniard not to understand that the use of it thoroughly.

I see no lameness in his longing to be a King. [19] 

Pray to Heaven cert obviously a slip of the pen. [20] 

Each where he fell [21]  if you can dispense with the plural image.

A sickness came over [22]  is the common mode of expression, & the right one as describing the actual sensation.

Surely ten words must be utterd [23]  in some tone or other, – & you have no reason to suppose them hastily utterd – I never imagined them to be so. I cannot argue with you if you feel any thing tame in Help me now to raise &c [24]  – it is what was to follow nothing else could follow, & no poet who understands his art could express it otherwise than in the plainest & shortest manner.

What description is there of the Inquisition? merely that they make it x cover in the vault, & then heap it with stones. [25] 

What you can find ludicrous in the word meagre [26]  I know not. Your friend Miss Christian [27]  saw nothing ludicrous in the thing when you spoilt her dinner. The word is in its place, & there is a necessity for keeping the image before the reader, & frequently reminding him of it for if Roderick were not thus altered by his penitence he would be recognized by many persons with whom he is soon to act.

In speaking of the Moon [28]  Adosindas language implies that the heavenly light favoured her. It is the nature of such {strong} passion to feel thus, – there you remember Hans Stade, [29]  – & if you have not noticed a note upon that passage pray turn to it, for it is a striking & affecting instance how the imagination becomes as it were drunk when the mind is under the influence of violent fear

You may be right about ‘call it not revenge’, [30]  – tho not I think on the score of its inconsistency, – which the speakers state of mind may well excuse, or even render necessary. I shall bear in mind your objection.

Concerning the ‘Lord God Almighty’ [31]  the question is whether any syllables which could be substituted would not weaken the passage, – for I perceive nothing redundant here; – the one feeling one impression only is made upon the understanding, & upon your ground of criticism all such phrases as Saturnean Jove, with the whole string of Homers patronymic epithets would be proscribed.

You do not enter into the meaning of feeling of Adosinda when she says it might move the dead, [32]  – she speaks with no reference to herself as seeking or needing commiseration, – but as I should speak of the siege of Zaragoza, [33]  – as of crimes & horrors which must needs excite in all who contemplate them one feeling of abhorrence & indignation.

____

Nov 13. 1811

Thank you for the half note. [34] 

I am very much obliged both to you & to Gifford, but as to that old Frenchmans shoes, I do not see what farther steps I can take about succeeding to them till he is pleased to leave them off. [35]  Ld Lonsdale no doubt would ask for the thing were it vacant. The only thing which could be done, certainly will not be done on the account of a man so actively unconnected with all borough influence as myself, – that is to make Dutens resign accept a pension in lieu of the office.

Thank Nicol [36]  for his commendation. He will be better pleased when he sees the article in question expanded into a compleat view of the subject, [37]  – it will, ni fallor, [38]  be as compleat a detection as that of Lauder. [39]  I do not come forward with my own name, tho the thing will be no secret. Names do harm in such cases. Be sure I shall strike hard & home.

I had almost forgotten t one thing which I should have been very sorry to have omitted. Upon objurgating Tom for not calling upon you, I find that he did call at the Exchequer, & you happened not to be there. So he stands exculpated, – in a matter of more weight with me than I am sure it ever could have been with you.

And now farewell

RS.

Kehama [40]  may daily be expected to appear; the new editions of J of Arc [41]  & of Madoc [42]  are each half thro the press.


Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ [in another hand] Exchequer/ J. C. Herries
Endorsement: Nov 13 1811
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24
Unpublished. BACK

[1] This letter contains Southey’s response to Bedford’s critique of a draft of what became Book 3, ‘Adosinda’, of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), starting with lines 299–321. BACK

[2] Revelation 6: 14. The phrase was retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 316. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] Not retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[5] ‘in itself’. It was not used in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 6, line 51. BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 6. BACK

[8] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 12 (slightly amended). BACK

[9] Not retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[10] ‘Thereof’ only occurs in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 20; ‘aforesaid’ is not used once. BACK

[11] Not retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[12] Southey had translated the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[13] Not retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[14] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 121. BACK

[15] ‘renowned’. BACK

[16] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 129. BACK

[17] Not retained in Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[18] A ‘place holder’. BACK

[19] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 151. BACK

[20] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 159 (amended). BACK

[21] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 201, as ‘Each where they fell’. BACK

[22] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, lines 206–207. BACK

[23] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 224 (amended). BACK

[24] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 268. BACK

[25] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, lines 269–274. BACK

[26] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 374. BACK

[27] Mary Christian (1759–1831), a neighbour of Southey’s at Keswick. BACK

[28] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 347. BACK

[29] Hans Staden (1525–1579), German soldier and mariner, who described his captivity in Brazil in Warhaftige Historia und Beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der wilden, nacketen, grimmigen Menschfresser Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen (1557). Southey had related Staden’s delusion that the moon was angry with him in History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), I, p. 193, and noted similar feelings by those in distress in a note at pp. 635–636. Southey read Hans Staden’s story in Theodore de Bry’s (1528–1598) Peregrinationes (1590–1592), no. 717 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s Library. BACK

[30] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, lines 397–398. BACK

[31] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 382. BACK

[32] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 3, line 378. BACK

[33] Zaragoza had fallen to the French in 1809. For Southey’s account see Edinburgh Annual Register, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. BACK

[34] i.e. a half-banknote – a secure way of sending money in the post, by tearing banknotes in half and sending the two halves separately. BACK

[35] The diplomatist and writer Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB). Southey hoped to succeed him as Historiographer Royal. Dutens died on 23 May 1812. BACK

[36] The bookseller and publisher George Nicol (1740?–1828; DNB); or his son, William Nicol (fl. 1800s–1855). BACK

[37] Southey’s defence of Andrew Bell’s system over Joseph Lancaster’s had appeared in the Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. This formed the basis of his The Origin, Nature, and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[38] ‘if I err not’. BACK

[39] The scandal resulting when John Douglas’s (1721–1807; DNB) Milton Vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism (1751) defended the author of Paradise Lost against the accusations of the forger William Lauder (c. 1710–1771; DNB). BACK

[40] The second edition of The Curse of Kehama (1811). BACK

[41] The fourth edition of Joan of Arc (1812). BACK

[42] The third edition of Madoc (1812). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013