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

2554. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 12 February 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 12 Feby 1815

My dear Tom

It is a long while since I have heard from you, – & things go on in so even a course here where my life passes between down stairs to my meals & up stairs to my books or desk, – that this is verily all I have to say. To fill up the sheet I must beat about the bush & follow whatever happens to start.

Did I tell how a Monsieur A. J. de Mierre, Interprète Traductions asserviente des langues etrangeres pres la Cour de Casation, has written a letter directed A Monsieur Monsieur Robert Southey Esqre, Poete Laureat, auteur du Poeme intitulé Roderick the Last of the Goths, a Londres, [1]  & how this said epistle by some strange stupidity at the General Post Office travelled about London in the postmans pocket till it became as filthy as that pocket itself; & how Mr Southey the paper-hanger in No 28 Bedford Place (who’s he? the paper hanger lived in Bedford Street) – refused it, – & so at last some person had wit enough to carry it to Longmans? – M. Le Mierre having heard many of my compatriots speak with the greatest eulogies of my works & particularly of Roderick, is desirous of passing it into his language, – his last translation having been the Castle of Indolence. [2]  But seeing the poem advertised in the Times [3]  newspaper, he continues, J’avoue que le prix auquel il est porté est un peu au dessus de mes facultes; et pourtant je me voudrois pas perdre l’occasion de faire connoitre un bon livre à ma nation. Auriez-vous la boute, Monsieur, si vous avez un exemplaire defectueux de votre poeme, pourvu qu’il fut bien complet (good!) de xx me l’envoyer a Paris. Je m’occuperois sur le champ de le traduire, apres quoi, je vous renverrai religieusement votre exemplaire. Je mettrai à cette traduction tout le soin dont je suis susceptible, et je me plais à croire qu’elle me fera honneur. Un libraire de cette ville se charge de l’impression. S’il y avoit quelques-uns de vos autres ouvrages que vous voulussiez faire connoitre en France par la voie de le traduction – je vous le demanderai également. [4]  And then he ends with a flourish about the Republick of Letters.

I wrote a civil answer to this poor hungry fellow, who would set about translating a book poem that he has never seen: telling him in the first place that when the second edition was published I would send him a copy [5]  which I desired he would not think of returning, but adding withal, that he probably did not know the extent or nature of the work, which I was very sure was no way calculated adapted to the taste of a French public. I reminded him with a reference to his Castle of Indolence, how much the character of every poem must be affected by the metre in which it is written, & the impossibility of giving any thing like a resemblance of an English blank verse poem in French rhyme, – & therefore counselled him, if he persisted in his purpose after seeing the book, to render it into prose. And so God send Roderick a good deliverance! – I added that of all my works the one which might be Frenchified with the best chance of success was Kehama; [6]  the measure being of so novel a kind that it would justify an attempt at a like experiment in translating it. [7] 

I give you joy of the xxxx death of the Income Tax: [8]  it is a great evil got rid of, tho I certainly think in all sober reason that it would have been much better to have continued it for another year, so as to have let government wind up the account of the war with as much ease as possible. This was not done You doubtless see why Government has not been able to do this: – not because the tax fell with a crushing weight of injustice upon the annuitant, & those persons who like you & I live upon little, – but because it falls xxx justly as well as heavily upon the rich landed proprietors, who cannot be got at so justly in any other manner. Lord Lonsdale for instance must pay not less than 10,000 £ a year income tax: no other direct tax can take from him a tenth part of that sum.

I have worked hard at reviewing lately, – to make both ends meet. – My last operation was upon Lewis & Clarkes travels [9]  – my next will be upon a Life of Ld Wellington. [10]  – Just now I am taking a treat at my great history. [11]  – Meantime the Printer goes on with Brazil, [12]  & the new edition of my poems is half printed. [13]  I place at the end of the second volume the fiery ode against Buonaparte, & that which I xxxxx wrote for the fiddler in December, – but which was too good to be fiddled; – so I sent them a second which was fit to be bum-fiddled. [14] 

Love to Sarah & the young ones. The Moon has begun to learn German, & has for his own amusement written the life of William the Conquerer. [15] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N./ St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 396–399. BACK

[1] ‘Maker of translations from foreign languages in the service of the Court of Appeal’. BACK

[2] Auguste-Jacques Le Mierre d’Argy (1762–1815), Le Château de l’Indolence, Poème en Deux Chants, suivi de Deux autres Poèmes, Traduit, Avec le Texte en Regard (1814), a translation of James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Castle of Indolence (1748). Although Mierre did not live to translate Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), two French versions were published: Roderic, dernier roi des Goths. Poème, traduit de l’anglais de Robert Southey, Esq., poète lauréat, par M. le Chevalier *** (1821) and Roderick, le dernier des Goths, poëme, 3 vols, in Oeuvres poétiques de Robert Southey, traduites de l’anglais par M. B. de S. (1820). See also Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 January 1815, Letter 2544. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] ‘I confess that the price at which it is offered is a little beyond my means; and yet I would not wish to miss the opportunity of bringing a good book to the attention of my countrymen. Would you have the kindness, Monsieur, if you have a faulty copy of your poem, provided it was fully complete (good!) to send it to me in Paris. I would immediately get busy translating it, after which I would faithfully return your copy. To this translation I would apply all the care I am capable of, and I like to think it would do me honour. A bookseller in this town will take care of the printing. If there were any of your other works which you would like made known in France by means of translation – I would ask for it in the same way.’ BACK

[5] The second edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths appeared in 1815. BACK

[6] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[7] Southey’s reply does not appear to have survived. BACK

[8] The Government had made an announcement in the House of Commons on 9 February 1815 that income tax would be abolished. In fact, the renewed war with France in 1815 meant the war-time income tax was not finally ended until 1816. BACK

[9] Meriweather Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, and Across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean (1814), reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 12 (January 1815), 317–368. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed George Elliott (dates unknown), The Life of the Most Noble Arthur Duke of Wellington, from the Period of his first Achievements in India, down to his Invasion of France, and the Peace of Paris in 1814 (1814), Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275. He went on to review a further series of books relating to Wellington in the Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526. BACK

[11] History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[12] The History of Brazil; volume 2 was published in 1817 and volume 3 in 1819. BACK

[13] Minor Poems (1815). BACK

[14] ‘Ode, Written During the Negociations with Buonaparte in January, 1814’, Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 217–224. ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’, Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. The latter was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 221–228. Southey had also provided a more anodyne, official version; see Robert and Edith Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 31 December 1814, Letter 2534. BACK

[15] William I (1027/8–1087; DNB; King of England 1066–1087). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013