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

2528. Robert Southey to James Hogg, 24 December 1814 ⁠* 

My dear Hogg [1] 

I am truly obliged to you for the solicitude which you express concerning the treatment Roderick [2]  may experience in the Edinburgh Review, & truly gratified by it, notwithstanding my perfect indifference as to the object in question. But you little know me if you imagine that any thoughts of fear or favour would make me abstain from speaking publicly of Jeffrey as I think & as he deserves. I despise his commendation & I defy his malice. He crush the Excursion!!! [3]  Tell him that he might as easily crush Skiddaw. For myself, popularity is not the mark I shoot at; if it were I should not write such poems as Roderick: & Jeffrey can no more stand in my way to fame, than Tom Thumb could stand in my way in the street. [4] 

He knows that he has dealt unfairly & maliciously by me; he knows that the world knows it, that his very friends know it, & that if he attacks Roderick as he did Madoc [5]  & Kehama, [6]  it will universally be imputed to personal ill-will. On the other hand he cannot commend this poem without the most flagrant inconsistency; this would be xx confessing that he has wronged me in the former instances; for no man will pretend to say that Madoc does not bear marks of the same hand as Roderick; – it has the same character of language, thought & feeling; it is of the same ore & mint; & if the one poem be bad, the other cannot possibly be otherwise. The irritation of the nettling (as you term it) which he has already received from me (a small earnest of what is due to him) is not subsided. If he abuses Roderick it will be imputed to resentment; if he praises it, it will be imputed to fear. I assuredly should impute it to this motive. But he will take the other part & kick against the pricks. [7]  And whatever [8]  part he takes {may take} my conduct towards him will be the same. I consider him a public nuisance & shall deal with him accordingly.

Nettling is a gentle term for what he has to undergo. In due season he shall be scorpion’d & rattle snaked. When I take him in hand it shall be to dissect him alive, & make a preparation of him to be exhibited in terrorem, [9]  an example to all future pretenders to criticism. He has a forehead of native brass, – & xxx I will write upon it with aqua-fortis. I will serve him up to the public like a Turkeys gizzard, sliced, scored, pepperd, salted, kiann’d, grilled & bedevilled. I will bring him to justice; he shall be executed in prose, & gibetted in verse, & the Lord have mercy on his soul!


You wish all quartos in hell. Provided the Devil would buy up the edition of Roderick I should have no objection to consign it there. It has however made good speed in the world, & ere long I shall send you the poem in a more commodious shape, for Ballantyne is at this time reprinting it. [10] 

I finished my official ode a few days ago. [11]  It is without rhyme, & as unlike other official odes in matter as in form; for its object is to recommend as the two great objects of policy general education, & extensive colonization. At present I am chiefly occupied upon the history of Brazil [12]  – which is in the press, – a work of great labour.

The Ladies [13]  here all desire to be kindly remembered to you. I have ordered the Pilgrim of the Sun, [14]  & we look for it xx with expectations which I am sure will not be disappointed.

God bless you

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 24 Dec. 1814.


* Address: To/ Mr James Hogg/ (The Ettrick Shepherd)/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; Add! 1/2
Postmark: [partial] 3 DEC/ 1814
Watermark: J DICKINSON & CO/ 1811
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 2245 [fragment]; and British Library, Add MS 47891 [unsent draft]
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 112–113.
Note on the text: the text is a composite of National Library of Scotland, MS 2245 (fragment of a once complete letter sent to Hogg); and British Library, Add MS 47891 (an unsent, fragmentary draft of the letter). Material interpolated from Add MS 47891 is indicated in the footnotes. BACK

[1] My dear Hogg: Text taken from BL Add MS 47891. BACK

[2] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), reviewed in Edinburgh Review, 25 (June 1815), [1]–86, as ‘The best … and the most powerful of all Mr Southey’s poems’, though ‘now and then a little absurd – and pretty frequently not a little affected … The author is a poet undoubtedly; but not of the highest order’ ([1]). BACK

[3] For Jeffrey’s review of Wordsworth’s The Excursion (1814), see Edinburgh Review, 24 (November 1814), [1]-30. It began: ‘This will never do’ ([1]). BACK

[4] A character from popular culture; Tom was no bigger than his father’s thumb. Another Southeyan jibe at Jeffrey’s lack of physical and cultural stature. BACK

[5] Review of Madoc (1805) in Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), [1]–28. BACK

[6] Review of The Curse of Kehama (1810) in Edinburgh Review, 17 (February 1811), 429–480. BACK

[7] Acts 26:14. BACK

[8] from me … whatever: Text taken from BL Add MS 47891. BACK

[9] The Latin translates as ‘in [order to] frighten’, i.e. a warning. BACK

[10] The second edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths was published in two duodecimo volumes in 1815. The first edition of 1814 had been in quarto format. BACK

[11] ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’. It was thought unsuitable by the authorities, and was not published until Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. It was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in the 1837–1838 edition of Southey’s poetical works. BACK

[12] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). The second and third volumes appeared in 1817 and 1819. BACK

[14] Hogg’s The Pilgrims of the Sun (1815). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013