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

2327. Robert Southey to [Wade Browne], 11 November 1813 [fragment]⁠* 

London. Nov. 11. 1813

My dear Sir

Still you see I am in this city, & you will I am sure, forgive me, if after so long & for the most part, compulsory an absence, I travel home by the straightest road & the quickest conveyance, instead of extending the time as I originally hoped to do by a series of visits thro Shropshire & Wales to Liverpool. – I am as homesick as a Swiss [1]  (or a school boy) & long equally for regular employment & for rest.

Today I am to make my appearance at the Levee. [2]  Of my appointment to the Laureatship you will seen some truth mixed with much falsehood in the newspapers. The real statement is this. On my arrival I found most unexpectedly that upon Pyes [3]  death Mr Croker had asked the succession for me, & the Prince had granted it saying, he understood I had written well in defence of the Spanish cause. Meantime Lords Liverpool & Hertford (the latter of whom has the situation in his gift) consulted together & agreeing that Scott was the most proper person, wrote & offered it to him. The Prince when he learnt this was angry, & said he had given it to me & I should have it; Croker very properly then said that he was a friend of Scott as well as of mine, – that we also were friends – & that it would be equally unpleasant to all three if the matter were not suffered to rest.

Scott who knew nothing of all this declined the appointment, thinking that the two professional situations which he enjoyed to the amount of 1500 a year rendered it unfit for him to accept one of the very offices which seem to have intended for men of letters exclusively. [4]  He urged that it should be offered to me, & wrote to me in the handsomest terms, I hardly know how to express my sense of the manner in which this was done. [5]  This result had seemed to me so far probable, that I had thought seriously how it would become me to act. So I wrote to Croker saying that the time was past when I could write verses upon demand upon any subject – but that if I were permitted upon great public occasions to write, or to be silent, as the spirit might move, in that case the office would become a mark of honourable distinction which I should gladly accept. Of course it was not for me to propose terms to the Prince, & I left it to him to determine discover how this sort of arrangement could be made. [6] 

The salary was originally 100 marks. It was raised for B Jonson [7]  to 100£ & a tierce of Spanish Canary Wine. The wine has been wickedly commuted for £26 – & the various deductions reduce the whole to £90. There was nothing to tempt me in such a salary, but in thinking over the matter it occurred that there was a way in which it might be made of great & permanent advantage. Accordingly by adding about 12£ annually I have ensured my life for 3000£, & thus converted it into this substantial legacy for my family. And this thought will make me even write the odes with good will if they should be called for.

At all events I purpose preparing a lyric poem upon the present state of public affairs, as soon as I reach home, – so that something for the Court Fiddlers may be ready if called for. And my intention is to publish it with an Epistle to the Prince Regent in blank verse saying something about the office, – about those who have held if, about myself, & finally of the manner in which it becomes him to be addressed & me to address him. [8] 


* MS: British Library, Add MS 47891
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The idea of homesickness (nostalgia) as a peculiarly Swiss illness was explored by Johannes Hofer (1669–1752) in his Dissertatio medica de nostalgia, oder Heimehe (1688), which tried to develop a scientific theory to explain the symptoms suffered by Swiss mercenaries serving abroad. BACK

[2] Southey’s official presentation at Court as Poet Laureate. BACK

[3] Southey’s predecessor as Poet Laureate the poet-politician Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB). He died on 11 August 1813. BACK

[4] See Scott to Hertford, 4 September 1813, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 342–343. Scott held two legal offices: he was Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire (since 1799); and Principal Clerk of the Court of Session (since 1806). These posts gave him a combined salary of £1600 p.a. BACK

[5] See Scott’s letter of 1 September [1813], telling Southey that he had declined the Poet Laureateship and instead recommended him to Croker. He also cautioned ‘I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, and as at present managed, its duties are inconvenient and somewhat liable to ridicule’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. Southey replied to Scott on 5 November 1813, Letter 2323. BACK

[6] Southey to John Wilson Croker, [4 September 1813], Letter 2298. BACK

[7] One of Southey’s predecessors; Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), Poet Laureate 1616–1637. BACK

[8] Southey’s first official poem was the controversial ‘Carmen Triumphale, a New Year’s Ode for 1814’. It was not accompanied by an epistle to the Prince Regent. BACK

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August 2013