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

2549. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 5 February 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 5 Feby. 1815

Your letter gives me great pleasure. Doubt not but that you will be able to keep your promise, & be the happier for keeping it. [1] 

Where shall I send Roderick [2]  to meet you when you cross the channel, or shall I direct it to Mrs Landor x & where? Xx xx x Before she sets out, if you wait for spring weather, it will be reprinted in a more portable form than its present cumbrous quarto.

In one of the first books which I published a crazy compositor took into his head to correct the proofs after me; & this he did so assiduously that it cost me no fewer than sixteen cancels to get rid of the most intolerable of blunders. [3]  One of his principles was that in printing verse, wherever the lines were so indented that two in succession did not begin in the same perpendicular, there was to be a full stop at the end of the former; – & upon this principle he punctuated my verses. I discovered it at last in the printing office upon enquiring how it happened that the very faults for which a leaf was cancelled appeared most perseveringly in the reprint: the man then came forward, quite in a fit of madness, told me I should have made a pretty book of it if he had not corrected it for me, – & it was as much as the master of the office could do to pacify him. [4] 

You have I think at Tours the grave of Ronsard, [5]  – who would have been a great poet if he had not been a Frenchman. I have read his works in those odds & ends of time which can be afforded to such reading, & have so much respect for him, Frenchman as he was, that I shall not visit Tours without enquiring for his grave. Never did man more boldly promise immortality to himself; never did man more ardently aspire after it: & no Frenchman has ever impressed me with an equal sense of power. But poetry of the higher order is as impossible in that curst language as it is in Chinese. – And this reminds me of a certain M. Le Mierre, [6]  Interprete – Traducteur &c – who has written to tell me that many of my compatriotes distingués par leur gout et leurs connoissances [7]  have spoken to him with great eulogies of my poem of Roderick, – whereupon he, not having seen the poem has resolved to translate it, & found a bookseller who will undertake to print the translation. – I wrote him as courtesy required a civil reply, but expressed my doubts whether such a poem would accord with the taste of a French public, & recommended him, if he should persist in his intention when he had read the book, to render it in prose rather {than} in verse.

I have begun my Quaker poem, [8]  & written the first book in irregular rhyme, a measure which allows of a lower key than any structure of rhymeless verse; & may be laid aside where the passion requires it for dialogue. The principal character is rather a Seeker (in the language of that day) than a Quaker, – a son of Goffe the Kings Judge, [9]  a godson of Cromwell, [10]  – a friend of Milton, – a companion of William Penn. [11]  The plan is sufficiently made out, – but I have no longer that ardour of execution which I possessed twenty years ago. I have the disheartening conviction that my best is done, & that to add to the bulk of my works will not be to add to their estimation. Doubtless I shall fini go on with the poem, & compleat it if I live, but it will be to please others, not myself; & will be so long in progress that in all likelihood I shall never begin another. – You see I am not without those autumnal feelings which your stanza expresses; & yet the decline of life has joys of delights of its own, – its autumnal odours & its sunset [MS torn] & hues hues. My disposition is invincibly chearful & this alone would make me a happy man, if I were not so from the tenour of my life: yet I doubt whether the strictest Carthusian has the thought of death more habitually in his mind.

I hope to see you in the autumn; & will, if it be possible.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Tours/ France.
Postmark: [partial] 8 FE 8/ 1815
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 28
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 100–102 [misdated 3 February 1815]. BACK

[1] Landor had quarrelled with his wife and separated from her. In Landor to Southey, 23 January 1815 (John Foster, Walter Savage Landor: a Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 415–417), he indicated there might be a reconciliation and described his hope that he could keep his promise to forget his wife’s ‘humiliating and insulting language’. BACK

[2] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). The second, duodecimo, edition was printed in 1815. BACK

[3] Possibly a reference to Southey’s troubles when publishing Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797), when he claimed the printer had ‘compleatly disgraced himself by the blunders he has made. I was obliged to cancel sixteen leaves.’ (Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 30 January – [2 February] 1797, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 198). BACK

[4] Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797) was printed in Bristol by William Bulgin (fl. 1790s-1830s) and Robert Rosser (d. 1802). BACK

[5] The French poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585). Southey possessed a 1592 edition of Ronsard’s Oeuvres, no. 2467 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[6] Auguste-Jacques Le Mierre d’Argy (1762–1815); see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 January 1815. BACK

[7] ‘My countrymen, distinguished for their taste and their knowledge’. BACK

[8] ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at Southey’s death. BACK

[9] William Goffe (d. 1679?; DNB), Puritan, regicide and major general, who fled to New England in 1660 after he was excluded from the Act of Indemnity after the Restoration. In Southey’s poem, he was the father of Oliver Newman. BACK

[10] Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; DNB), parliamentary general and Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland 1653–1658. BACK

[11] The Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644–1718; DNB). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013