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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1119. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 14 November 1805 ⁠* 

Thursday. Nov. 14. 1805

My dear friend

I have this day received your reviewal. [1]  There is nothing in it which I should wish you to alter – nothing but for what I feel sensible of friendship & xxx proud of such praise. What I have to say therefore is merely to explain.

Your objection to the introduction is just. I never thought of an imaginary conversation while writing the lines. the English of come listen to my lay [2]  was please to buy my book. the repetition at the end was to give it a rondeau form, which in a sonnet or any thing of like length has to my ear a very delightful effect.

Section 1. Madocs signals had not been perceived. ‘I could not see his banner, for the night Closed in so fast around her.’ [3]  Urien was only down on a forlorn hope. This is not worth correcting. I may have meant this & not made it evident.

– 2. The hymn is in strict costume. Always the first song was in praise of the Kings exploits, the second a hymn to Deity. [4] 

The faults of the voyage are confessed. there is too little for its importance – quite enough in every other point of view.

‘The finger of chance should never be employed in producing a catastrophe.’ [5]  True. I do not consider this victory as produced by the illness of Coanocotzin. All I wanted was to keep him out of this battle, as he was to make his appearance in another. [6]  Xx here also the intention is not sufficiently developed.

Welsh hospitality & endless relationships account enough for the friendship with Cyveilioc. [7]  the truth is he married Madocs sister Angharad. [8]  but I had too many brothers & sisters already.

Caradocs ode concludes with the wretched one, because tho an anti-climax it referred to himself, & lay deepest with him. ‘he who loves his country & who feels his countrys shames’ [9]  explains why the man who was proud of his country should emigrate.

The Welsh do not rescue Madoc – neither do they enter the city during the religious games of slaughter. they go to his rescue & he is [10]  – this may be as briefly expressed without any misapprehension of the fable, but it is of no consequence.

It is very well perhaps to say so, but if you really think that the tone of Madoc has been pitched in consequence of the criticisms on Thalaba, [11]  or that those criticisms have in any degree affected my opinions or practice, you are mistaken. The difference of style between the two poems is precisely what to my feelings, the difference of character required. The one I regarded as a work of imagination – the other as of a higher order: in which imagination was to be subordinate to thought & feeling. the one was meant to embody the best pa most poetical parts of Islam, – the other designed as a dramatic representation of human character. By the blessing of God you will see my Hippogryff [12]  touch at Hindostan – fly back to Scandinavia & then carry me among the Fire worshipers of Istakhar. You will see him take a peep at the Jews, a flight to Japan, & an excursion among the Saints & Martyrs of Catholicism. Only let me live long enough, & earn leisure enough, & I will do for each of these mythologies what I have done for the Mohammedan. [13]  But still such things are more easily produced than Madoc. A common Magician can make snow-people, but flesh & blood must be the work of a Demixurgos. [14] 

Wordsworth agrees with you in recommending lyrical measure for the Odes. on the other hand Wynn deprecates it. I do not allow so much to his opinion as to yours, but my own is doubtful at present, & laziness may squat herself down in his scale. [15] 

You might notice the attack upon the women as ill-managed, & worse written than any other part of the poem. [16]  you might blame the want of all similies – you might smile raise a smile at the uglyography of the names, & yet defend their euphony.


You have said something about your Tale of Wonder [17]  which if I thought any body else would say it would give me real concern. That my Old Woman [18]  is the best ballad of the two I never should never effect to doubt – but were there any legitimate ground for comparison I never should have wished to place them together. My wish was to show {how} very differently the same subject may be treated – how the same sand plant varies under different circumstances of climate & culture –. Mine is the ballad of a ballad-maker believing the whole superstition – & thereby making even the grotesque terrible; – yours that of a poet decorating a known fable – laughing behind a masque of fear. Mine has no invention – not an atom, yet wants none, – it is the legend in verse. yours a story of your own, & the thought of the bottomless grave of novel & excellent value. I will far rather forego the pleasure it really would give me to see it on good paper & in fair type, than suffer you to suspect me of something whereof I should be most deeply ashamed, were I capable of the feeling imputed.

The faults I find are precisely what you justly attribute to the Minstrels Lay. [19]  ‘Slow be your noiseless way’ [20]  – I would write ‘& slowly take your way.’ I love the natural flow of language always, particularly in story telling. – so I would have For squat upon the pall – There sits a fiend &c [21]  – the syntax is easier, & sooner comprehended, & two epithets of no value weeded out. – The stanza begi ‘Altho thy cross have sear’d me sore’ I would omit. [22]  would not make the Devil sleepy. Last but one – better thus? But none but heathen-souls shall you In your damnd den confine [23]  – – I would call it the Irish Witch or any thing but that xxxxx undistinguishing name of Matthew Lewis’s. [24] 

I regret the failure of the Anthology because it opened your stores. [25]  Has King Arthur put the Metrical Tales [26]  into your hands? they are fairly entitled to a place in the volume. The new Joan of Arc [27]  is so infamously misprinted that I shall desire Longman to put all my London printing for the future into Richard Taylors [28]  hands.

God bless you –



* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 18 March
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4853
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 108–113. BACK

[1] Taylor sent Southey the review of Madoc (1805) that he was writing, for his comments. It was published in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

[2] Madoc was published with the exordium:

Come, listen to a tale of times of old!
Come, for ye know me! I am he who sung
The Maid of Arc; I am he who framed
Of Thalaba the wild & wonderous song.
Come, listen to my lay, & ye shall hear
How Madoc from the shores of Britain spread
The adventurous sail, explored the ocean ways,
And quelled Barbarian power, & overthrew
The bloody altars of idolatry,
And planted in its fanes triumphantly
The Cross of Christ. Come, listen to my lay.

See Robert Southey:Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 8.


[3] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 1, lines 137–138. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 2, lines 143–168. BACK

[5] Southey is quoting from Taylor’s review of Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613 (606). BACK

[6] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 7. BACK

[7] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 10; Owain Cyveilioc (c. 1130–c. 1197), Prince of Powys and poet. BACK

[8] Angharad (dates unknown) was the daughter of Owen Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB). BACK

[9] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 11, lines 145–146. BACK

[10] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 14. BACK

[11] Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), of whom its severest critic was Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63–83. BACK

[12] A Hippogriff (or Hippogryph) is a legendary winged creature, supposedly the offspring of a griffin and a mare. BACK

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was the first of a series of epic romances that Southey intended to write illustrating different mythological and religious civilisations. BACK

[14] From ‘Demiurge’, meaning the maker or creator of the world in Platonic philosophy. BACK

[15] Southey was toying with the idea of revising the bardic odes that feature in Madoc. See Madoc (1805), Part 1, ‘Madoc in Wales’, Book 2, lines 142–167; Book 10, lines 42–110; Book 11, lines 98–160. The alterations were not made. BACK

[16] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 16. BACK

[17] In his letter to Southey of 23 December 1798 , Taylor revealed that he, like Southey, had written a poem on the theme of the ‘Old Woman of Berkeley’ (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 235). This poem, entitled ‘A Tale of Wonder’ was written about 1791, but remained unpublished for many years until its appearance in the Iris, the weekly Norwich newspaper edited by Taylor, on 29 October 1803. Southey wanted to republish the poem with his own ‘Old Woman of Berkeley’ but Taylor declined the offer and it was published in the Monthly Magazine 34 (1812), 234–236. See David Chandler, ‘Southey’s “German Sublimity” and Coleridge’s “Dutch Attempt”‘, in Romanticism on the Net, 32–33 (November 2003). BACK

[18] Southey’s ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’, (more familiarly known as ‘The Old Woman of Berkeley’) was published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. Taylor was now declining Southey’s request that the two poems might be published together in the new 1806 edition of his Poems (1799). BACK

[19] Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem (1805). BACK

[20] William Taylor, ‘Tale of Wonder’, line 17. For the text of the poem, see David Chandler, ‘Southey’s “German Sublimity” and Coleridge’s “Dutch Attempt”‘, in Romanticism on the Net, 32–33 (November 2003). BACK

[21] Southey is discussing lines 22–23 of Taylor’s poem. BACK


Although thy cross have sear’d me sore,
I shall not slink away
Read all thy spells, and I will hear,
And fold my claws, and sham a tear:
The body to the clay.

(Stanza 19, lines 90–95)


[23] Southey’s suggested changes to lines 171–172: ‘But in your own damn’d dwelling-place/ Heathens alone confine’ in the second to last stanza (number 35) of Taylor’s poem. BACK

[24] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), Tales of Wonder (1801). BACK

[25] Southey’s Annual Anthology, published in 1799 and 1800. A third projected volume did not materialise, partly because similar publications, like the Poetical Register, had appeared as competitors. BACK

[26] Southey’s Metrical Tales and Other Poems (1805). BACK

[27] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published in 1806. BACK

[28] Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB), printer and naturalist, who had a reputation for the careful printing of a wide range of texts, including poetry. BACK

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August 2013