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

2568. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 March 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 9 March. 1815.

My dear Wynn

I have fished up your last letter in order to reply to it & the depth at which it was found beneath an accumulation of more weeks correspondence than I dare remember, makes me at once sensible & ashamed of the long lapse of time since it was received. It would be xxx needless to say that I am much gratified by your general opinion of Roderick. [1]  To most of your objections I can reply satisfactorily to my own judgement. The eleven syllable lines (by which we now we must here understand them those which have the redundant syllable any where except at the end,) I justify upon principle & precedent, appealing {referring} to the practise of Shakespere & Milton, as authorities from which there can be no appeal: the blending two short syllables into the time of one is as well known in versification as what are called binding-notes are in music.

The descriptive passages are the relief of the poem, – the time in which the action took place x not affording me any costume available for this purpose. And relief was especially required in a work wherein the passion was pitched so high. P 191 you have hit a blot. [2]  The passage is too long, unless it were better. P 229 does not displease me. – I wanted to indicate that the xxxx Bear & Wild-Ass were found at that time in Spain, – & here they seemed to me characteristically & easily naturally introduced. [3]  295–6 The Moors speeches cannot be curtailed without being spoilt: I wished to mark in the one the infidelity which was not uncommon in that age among the Moslems, & in both to xxx notice some Mahommedan superstitions which are well suited for poetry. [4] 

I cannot abbreviate the scene betw first scene between Julian & Roderick without destroying the connection: [5]  – & for the blinding of Theodofred [6]  where else could it have been introduced with so much effect as in its present place where it is so related as at once to mark the character of Rusilla?

Your objection to the manner in which Orpas is dismounted has not occurred to others (that is as far as any objections have reached me) – I thought I had sufficiently mailed force enough, – but however I will endeavour to amend it to {according to} your xxx judgement. [7] 

The words to which you object are one & all legitimate English words, & I believe in those places where they are used those the same meaning could not be expressed without a periphrasis. – The account of the Spanish towns &c was for the double purpose of relief, & of distinctly marking the geography; – the auriphrygiate [8]  is the only piece of pedantry that I acknowledge, – & I was tempted to it by the grandiloquence of the xx word: you need not be told how desirable it often is to enrich blank verse with sonorous words.

The image of the clouds & the moon [9]  I saw from my chamber window at Cintra when going to bed; & noted it down with its application the next morning. I have it at this moment distinctly before my eyes with all the accompanying earth-scenery.

_____

Thus much for Roderick. Shall I ever accomplish another work of equal magnitude? I am an older man in feelings than in years, & the natural bent of my inclinations x would be never again to attempt one.

The last Register [10]  was not mine, nor do I know by whom it was written. I have not seen it. For the former volume [11]  I have never been wholly paid, – & have been shuffled out of from 3 to 400£ altogether to me a very serious loss. At present my time is divided at fits between the history of the Spanish war, [12]  & that of Brazil; the latter is in the press, & will be publishd about the close of the year. [13]  I shall follow it immediately with the history of Portugal, which will be by far the most interesting of my historical works. [14] 

The prospect of affairs is very unpromising at home. Never did any Ministry stand more in need of reinforcements, & I know not where they are to look for them. You know how much I abhorred the inequality of the Property Tax; – yet assuredly I would have had it continued for one or two years longer, that Government might have had every possible facility in winding up the accounts of so arduous a war: this would have been both just & politick. It has been yielded to a cry produced by a coalition between the mob & the landed-interest. [15]  And what a scrape have they got themselves into by the Corn Bill! [16]  & where was their common sense that they could not foresee the clamour & the consequences? The question is by no means a clear one: but this is perfectly clear that unless the argum reasons for the bill were demonstrable to the plainest capacity, & in the measure itself indispensably necessary, xx any thing so repugnant to the known feeling of the people, & apparently so injurious to the lower classes ought not to have be tried. If it be persisted in, I x have very little doubt but that the Luddites [17]  will carry on war against corn-fields & stacks as successfully as against stocking frames: & if it be given up like the property tax, – what are we to expect in future but that the rabble on every occasion will try their strength with Government!

Your godson bids fair to walk in the ways of his father: he is now in his ninth year & knows about as much Greek as a boy in the under fifth: his Latin consists in a decent knowledge of the grammar & a tolerable copia verborum, [18]  his sister teaches him French, & he & I have lately begun to learn German together. Do not fear that xx we are overdoing him, – for he has plenty of play, & indeed plays at his lessons. He takes it for granted that he must be a poet in his turn, & in this respect, as far as is possible to judge, nature seems to have been of the same agree with him. Be that as it may, there is not a happier creature upon this earth, nor could any father desire a child of fairer promise, as far as to moral & intellectual qualities.

When shall I see you? Alas how little have we seen of each other for many many years! – I might also say since we used to sit till midnight over your claret at Ch. Ch. [19]  – The first term of my lease expires in two years, & some reasons would induce me to come near London if I could encounter the expence: but tho my history of the war might possibly enable me to make the arduous removal, – the increased costs of housekeeping would probably be more than I could meet. I know not whether I shall be in London this year: if I go, it will be shortly, but I can ill afford the time, & for weighty reasons ought not to afford it. On the other hand my Uncle is advancing in years & declining in health, & if my visits are to be at such long intervals as they have hitherto been, – there can be very few more, even upon the most favourable chances of life.

Is there any chance of seeing you here this summer?

God bless you

RS.

I inclose the two suppressed stanzas of the M to Moscow. The whole doggrel in fact grew out of the rhymes to Moscow; – but I liked Roscoe too well & respected him too much to give it circulation, much as his political pamphletts deserved exposure in their day. [20] 


Notes

* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850),IV, pp. 106–109 [in part]. BACK

[1] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 16, lines 61–83. BACK

[3] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 18, lines 267–273. BACK

[4] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 23, lines 145–178. BACK

[5] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 21, lines 76–434. BACK

[6] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 2, lines 183–198. BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 25, lines 99–107. BACK

[8] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 18, line 99. BACK

[9] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 21, lines 427–434. BACK

[10] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1812 (1814). The historical section was written by the Scottish lawyer and writer, James Russell (1790–1861; DNB). BACK

[11] i.e. the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). Southey felt that responsibility for non-payment lay with John Ballantyne, whose ‘shuffling’ habits he particularly disliked. BACK

[12] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[13] The second volume of the History of Brazil appeared in 1817 and was followed by a third and final volume in 1819. BACK

[14] The ‘History of Portugal’ was neither completed nor published. BACK

[15] 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

[16] The Government had introduced its proposal for a sliding scale of duties on imported corn on 1 March 1815. The Bill passed on 23 March 1815, despite much urban opposition. BACK

[17] The Luddites smashed textile machinery that they saw as a threat to employment. The movement was based in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire. BACK

[18] ‘Plentiful supply of words’; i.e. vocabulary. BACK

[19] Christ Church, Oxford, where Wynn had been a student, while Southey was at Balliol College 1792–1794. BACK

[20] The inclosure has not survived; but consisted of two stanzas belonging to ‘The March to Moscow’, a ‘droll ballad’, first published in the Courier, 23 June 1814. One of the stanzas, that satirised William Roscoe, was suppressed (much to Southey’s disgust) in the published version; for the stanza, see Southey to John Rickman, 15 June 1814, Letter 2442. Post-publication, Southey had added another stanza which took a swipe at Jeffrey and Brougham. It read: ‘And Counsellor Brougham was all in a fume/ At the thought of the march to Moscow:/ The Russians, he said, they were undone,/ And the great Fee-Faw-Fum/ Would presently come/ With a hop, step, and jump unto London./ For as for his conquering Russia,/ However some persons might scoff it,/ Do it he could, and do it he would,/ And from doing it nothing would come but good,/ And nothing could call him off it./ Mr. Jeffrey said so, who must certainly know,/ For he was the Edinburgh Prophet./ They all of them knew Mr. Jeffrey’s Review,/ Which with Holy Writ ought to be reckon’d:/ It was through think and thin to its party true;/ Its back was buff, and its sides were blue/ Morbleu! Parbleu!/ It served them for Law and for Gospel too’; see Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), VI, pp. 218–219. BACK

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August 2013