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

2458. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 10–14 July 1814 ⁠* 

Sunday evening. 10 July 1814.

My dear Tom

In writing a poem a man may be as much out in his estimates as in building a house. I have written like a lion, if you know how lions write, ever since you left us. [1]  On the 3d of June the 20th section was finished, & that same evening the first memoranda for the Odes [2]  were made in the manner which you may remember – those odes with the interruptions of Miss Hutchinson & the Frenchman, [3]  detained me from the greater work till the 15th on which day I began the 21st book, – & I am now advanced as far as the 331st line of the 25th – It seems scarcely possible that there can be more than a hundred more requird to compleat it, & I go to bed in full hope that when I shall lie down tomorrow, it will be finished, & then O be joyful [4]  St Helens Auckland & Greta Hall – being I believe all the lands upon which I am entitled to call on this occasion. The whole extent of the poem will be somewhat more than 6800 lines, – I did not think it would have exceeded 5000. Many parts of these conclude latter books are as good as anything I can ever hope to produce. Orelio even disputes the preference with Nobs in my affections. [5] 

I am still too full of what remains to be done to know how I shall feel when my mind has laid down its burthen. But xxxx my shoulders have been so long used to it that I shall probably soon feel the xxxx want of another to keep them warm. My next undertaking in verse however will be upon a xx much smaller scale “A Tale of Paraguay”, [6]  – which will hardly exceed 1000 lines the circumstances which are true, are very few, very simple, but exceedingly curious & impressive. There is little or no passion in it. The character of the poem will be descriptive & thoughtful & the feeling melancholy but in no degree painful. – The story has lain among my preexistences for seven years. It will most probably be written in rhyme, for I am perfectly aware of the danger of repeating myself, & contracting a mannerism in pursuing one key too long.

Thursday 14 July.

Monday came & I continued at my task, still writing like a Lion, – it was like going up a mountain, the termination seemed to recede as I advanced. So I was still at it on Tuesday middleday, when in came a Laker to interrupt me. I was very glad to see him – first because my head was too full of the subject & yet nothing but such an interruption could have called me off when the end was so near, – & secondly because he was a person {to} whom I was very glad to have an opportunity of showing some civility: – a Mr Gooden who collected books & manuscripts in Brazil, for the purpose of lending them to me. He came from Penrith for the xx xx purposely to see me, & I made him stay over the next day, showing him all my treasures, which none but those who know something about Portugal & its history & literature can properly estimate. This morning I went again to work, & just at dinner time finished a poem which was begun 2 December 1809. The last book has extended to 580 lines, & the whole work to 7000, xxx some twenty more or less. – Hourra! your Serene Highness! – O be joyful St Helens Auckland & Greta Hall.

Having some 700 lines to transcribe my head is not compleatly discharged of the subject, so that it will pass off gradually. Other [MS torn] it would leave something like a strange sort of feeling for during the last six months it has been the chief object of my thoughts. I do not feel exactly as Gibbon [7]  did, who knew that it was impossible for him ever to execute xxxx {another} work of equal magnitude with his great history; – but I for I neither want subjects nor inclination for fresh attempts. But this poem has been 4 ½ years in hand, & had been thought of as many years before it was begun: & it is impossible not to feel how very doubtful it is whether I may ever again compleat a poem {one} of equal extent, – or xx xx of equal merit, – tho never at any part of my life better disposed for it in will or in power than at the present time.

Love to Sarah – & God bless you

RS.

The parcel is not arrivd, but may perhaps make its appearance to night


Notes

* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N./ St. Helens/ Auckland
Postmark: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 101–103. BACK

[1] Southey was hurrying to complete Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness The Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). BACK

[3] Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sarah Hutchinson (1775–1835): and the French officer, Eustace Baudouin (b. c. 1792). He served in the army of Louis Gabriel Suchet, 1st Duc d’Albufera (1770–1826), Marshal of France, and saw action at the first siege of Tarragona, 1811. In the same year he was captured by the guerilla army of Joaquin Cuevas Ibanez y de Valonga, Baron de Eroles (1784–1825). Baudouin spent time in Britain as a prisoner of war, and at one point was held at Oswestry, in Shropshire. On his release, he visited the Wordsworths before returning to France. Baudouin had made contact with Wordsworth in 1812 via mutual acquaintances: his brother was engaged to Caroline (1792–1862), daughter of Wordsworth and Annette Vallon (1766–1841). Caroline and Jean Baptiste Baudouin (b. c. 1780) married in February 1816. Southey travelled to France and visited them and their infant daughter in 1817, when he also renewed his acquaintance with Eustace Baudouin; see Southey to Edith Southey, 17 May 1817. BACK

[4] Psalm 100, line 1. BACK

[5] Orelio was Roderick’s horse in Roderick, the last of the Goths (1814), Book 25; Nobs was Dr Dove’s horse in The Doctor (1834–1847). BACK

[6] A Tale of Paraguay (1825). Southey’s source was Martin Dobrizhoffer (1717–1791), Historia de Abiponibus (1783–1784). BACK

[7] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013