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

2512. Robert Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 6 December 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 6 Decr. 1814.

My dear Sir

I am three hundred miles from town, & were I there upon the spot I should not know of whom to ask a question which it behoves me to have resolved, – except of you. New Years Day is at hand, & whether I am expected to bring forth a New Years Ode more nefasto majorum, [1]  or not, I am altogether ignorant. Last year Sir Wm Parsons wrote to me as I was leaving town, & desired he might have the Ode as soon as possible. I sent him such a portion as made a whole of itself sufficient for his purpose; & that I might not be deficient in any proper civility, told him that if any other parts of the Carmen [2]  would suit him better, I hoped he would take just what he pleased, – & therefore submitted the whole to his choice. He never thought proper to take the slightest notice of my letter, & whether any portion of the Ode were performed, or if the ceremony were dropt, I know not. But I rather xxxx think it must have been waived, because no part of the poem appeared in the papers till the whole was published; [3]  & otherwise the portion performed would most probably have been procured by the papers in the usual way. Tell me according to your judgement whether I may rest in peace upon this subject, or if you think it necessary that I should tax brains which are bona fide better employed?

If you are of the opinion that I may hold myself absolved, shall I insert these lines in a copy of Roderick, [4]  for presentation. Understand I pray you, that I am far from wishing to be thought obtrusive with such things, & only wish to do it, if it xxx ought to be done & could not without some impropriety be left undone.

Prince, I approach thee not with annual strain
On temporal theme, soon framed nor lasting long,
Nor seek I now with gratulations vain
To win thine ear. What need the Poets song
To join the general praise when all rejoice,
And grateful nations with one heart & voice
Thee & thy counsels bless? Let History pay,
Then most extolling both when most sincere,
The eternal meed to George & England due.
Hither I come with this elaborate lay
The thoughtful work of many a studious year;
So may I best becoming sense display
Of the high honour by thy hand conferrd
On no unworthy servant of the Muse,
Nor eer to thy dispraise shall it be heard
Whom for thy Laureate thou wert pleased to chuse.
With Heroes & with Kings the Poets name
Is doomed to live, when Empires pass away:
And while the glories of the Georgian age
Endure amid the treasured rolls of Fame,
By Art, by Science, & by Victory crownd,
There, if it boast of aught divine, this page
Shall with its living {deathless} monuments be found.

The si quid merui  [5]  qualifies the aere perennius; [6]  & there is no want of precedent to justify the tone. But I am solicitous to do what is proper, – not to make use of the verses.

Few public measures have ever given me so much satisfaction as your late Admiralty measures. [7]  These are the real radical reforms, of which not many are wanting to render the strength & the prosperity of this country as permanent, as human institutions are capable of being made. I shall do my best to hold this up in its proper light.

Will you not smile to hear that I had written not less than fifty six-lined stanzas upon the intended marriage with the Prince of Orange; – a good many of which are not convertible to the xxx xx any other Prince. [8]  This is one of the miseries of human life which cannot fall to every ones portion. However I have my labour for my pains (which is all I ever should have had) & a good laugh xxx at my disappointment. It is not the first time that in a restless apprehension of being too late, I have been {found myself} too soon.

Ferdinand [9]  affects to patronize letters! He has been visiting the royal Printing Office at Madrid, {where} xxx they xxx struck off in his presence inscriptions to his honour in Castillan, Latin, Greek, Hebrew & Arabic, – & these are the only importations I can now get from Spain!

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs with sincere respect

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library
Endorsement: Ansd Dec 14
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 109–111. BACK

[1] ‘After the manner of our ancestors’; i.e. as Southey’s predecessors as Poet Laureate had done. BACK

[2] Southey’s first official poem as Laureate, Carmen Triumphale (1814). BACK

[3] Part of Carmen Triumphale appeared in the Courier, 8 January 1814. It was published in book format, with notes, on 1 January 1814. BACK

[4] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). These lines were not used to preface the poem. BACK

[5] ‘If I deserved’. BACK

[6] ‘More lasting than bronze’. BACK

[7] The Admiralty had reformed the Royal Navy pension system, so that all sailors were entitled to a pension after 14 years’ service and all could demand their discharge after 21 years’ service, with a pension of at least 1s. per day. These measures were announced publicly in January 1815. BACK

[8] The engagement between Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796–1817; DNB), only child of the Prince Regent, and Prince William of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849) had been broken off in June 1814. Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865) in 1816 and Southey turned his planned poem into a public celebration of the marriage, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816). BACK

[9] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013