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

2342. Robert Southey to John Rickman, 8 December 1813 ⁠* 

My dear R.

Verses which are to be printed have a certain flavour in manuscript analogous to the sweetness of stolen water, & the pleasantness of bread eaten in secret, – a pleasantness by the bye which I do not understand having no taste for a crust in a corner, nor for dry bread at any time. Mrs R. may peradventure like to cast her eye over the Laureates first performance, I send it therefore unwafered. [1]  When she has read it, consign it to the Twopenny Post, & it will find that it may find its way to the Row. [2]  The 1. 2. 6 & 19 stanzas are taken out for Sir Wm Parsons, – they cohere sufficiently.

If you ask me why I call it Carmen Annuum, – not in imitation of Carmen Seculare [3]  (which however justifies the title) but because I can hit upon no suitable English appellation. An ode it is not, because of its length: so at least I think, & Carmen is a generic word.

My next appearance in my new character will be with a series of Inscriptions upon the events of the peninsular war, as far as the British army has been concerned. [4] 

God bless you


Dec. 8. x 1813.


* Address: To/ J Rickman Esqre
Endorsement: RS./ 8 Decr. 1813
MS: Huntington Library, RS 215
Previously published: Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 172-173 [in part]. BACK

[1] The enclosure was a copy of Southey’s first production as Poet Laureate. Originally entitled ‘Carmen Annuum’, it was eventually published – after some controversy and much cutting – as Carmen Triumphale, in a quarto of 30 pages on 1 January 1814. Rickman was horrified by the version sent to him in this letter, for his criticism see, Orlo Williams, Lamb’s Friend the Census-Taker. Life and Letters of John Rickman (Boston and New York, 1912), pp. 173–174. He was especially worried by the hostile references to Bonaparte, given that it was not certain that the allies wished to depose him. BACK

[2] To Southey’s publishers, Longman & Co. BACK

[3] ‘Song of the Ages’, 17 BC, an ode by the Latin poet, Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–27 BC). BACK

[4] Southey planned 30 inscriptions, but only managed to write 18. The proposed volume did not materialise. BACK

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August 2013