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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1138. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [31 December 1805–] 1 January 1806 ⁠* 

1 Jany 1806

Dear Grosvenor

I am exceedingly well pleased with all the European except just the conclusion which is rather too broad. [1]  if the Old Gentleman [2]  have any sort of vulgar notion that authors review themselves, he will shake his long head – for his head is a very long one – when he comes to the end. For Heavens sake don’t put any engines at work to get at him – he takes the Magazine himself.

You use Godwins name as if he had maliciously reviewed Madoc – which I do not by any means suspect or believe, tho he has all the will in the world to make me feel his power. The Monthly was rather more stupid than he would have made it. [3]  I should well like to know who the writer is – for by the Living Jingo – a deity whom D. Manuel conceives to have been worshipped by the Celts, [4]  – I would contrive to give him a most righteous clapper-clawing in return.

Thalaba [5]  is faulty in its language. Madoc is not – I am become what they call a puritan in Portugal, with respect to language, – & dare assert that there is not a single instance of illegitimate English in the whole poem. The faults are in the management of the story at the conclusion – where the interest is injudiciously transferred from Madoc to Yuhidthiton. it is also another fault, to have rendered accidents subservient to the catastrophe – you will see this very acutely stated in the Annual Review, [6]  the remark is new & of exceeding great value. I acknowledge no fault in the execution of any magnitude except the struggle of the women with Amalahta, which is all clumsily done & must be rewritten. [7]  Those faults which are inherent in, & inseparable from the story, as they could not be helped so are {they} to be considered rather as defects {or wants} than faults. xxxx I mean the division of the poem into two seperate stories & scenes, – & the inferior interest of the voyage, tho a thing of such consequence. – But as for unwarrantable liberties of language – there is not a solitary sin of the kind in the whole 9000 lines – let me be understood – I call it an unwarrantable liberty to use a verb deponent – for instance – actively –, – or to form any compound contrary to the strict analogy of the language – such as tameless in Thalaba applied to the Tigris. [8]  I do not recollect any coinage in Madoc except the word Deicide [9]  – & that such a word exists I have no doubt tho I cannot lay my finger upon an authority – but depend upon it the Jews have been called so a thousand times. That word is unobjectionable. It is in strict analogy – its meaning is immediately obvious, & no other word could have expressed the same meaning. – Archaisms are faulty if they are too obsolete. thewes  [10]  is the only one I recollect – that also has a peculiar meaning for which there is no equivalent word. But in short, so very laboriously was Madoc rewritten & corrected time after time, that I will pledge myself if you ask me in any instance why one word stands in the place of another which you perhaps may think the better one, to give you a reason – most probably euphoniæ gratiâ [11]  – which will convince you that I had previously weighed both in the balance. Sir the language and versification of that poem are as full of profound mysteries as the Butler, [12]  & he I take it was as full of profundity as the great deep itself.

I do not know any one who has understood the main merit of the xxxxxx {poem} so xx nearly as I wished it to be understood – as yourself, the true & intrinsic greatness of Madoc, the real talents of his enemies, & – (which I consider as the main work of skill) the feeling of respect for them, – of love even for the individuals, yet with an abhorrence of the national cruelty that perfectly reconciles you to their dreadful overthrow. You have very well exprest this.

Do not – I beseech {you} take any steps to send this to the West. [13]  It will get there regularly – which is the reason why I applied to you. any mark of contrivance would be incalculably mischievous – indeed decisively so. If you have any friends in that neighbourhood all I wish to be said of me is that I am well-connected, well-respected, doing-well & likely to rise in the world.

Write me nothing about Prince Ninnyhammer the Great – you may introduce him if you like to the Butler, but I want to hear of the Butler, & William, & of nobody & nothing else but William & the

B                     U                   T                       L                   E                         R  [14] 

Don’t bother me about my not comprehending him – I do not want to comprehend him. All I want is that you should bibliofy him, & I offer you stray jokes to incorporate as you go on. begin – begin – begin – as unmethodically as you please – only begin. [15] 

You do not mention the second importation of Espriellas Letters. the Sweddenborgian mythology is very amusing. [16]  In the third which will go as soon as Rickman is in town you will see Animal Magnetism explained [17] 

I have written this at two days many sittings – under the influence of Influenza & Antimony. [18]  I am mending – but very weak & sufficiently uncomfortable.


Jany 1. 1806

Multos & felices [19] 

Tell me how your father proceeds in his recovery – & say to him how I rejoice to hear he is recovering


* Address: To/ G.C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ JAN 4/ 1806
Endorsement: 1 Jany 1806
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 8–10 [in part].
Dating note: RS states that the letter was written at ‘two days many sittings’ before he dates it 1 January, so it was probably begun on 31 December 1805. BACK

[1] Bedford’s review appeared in The European Magazine, and London Review, 48 (October, 1805), 279–286. BACK

[2] Southey’s wealthy uncle, John Southey. Southey hoped that reading a favourable review of his poem Madoc (1805) in the European Magazine would influence his uncle in his favour. BACK

[3] The review of Madoc was not by Godwin, but John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), a Scottish physician who practised medicine in Manchester and often contributed articles to the Monthly Review. See Monthly Review (October 1805), n.s. 48, 113–122. BACK

[4] Southey’s fictional traveller in Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). His reference to the Jingo supposedly worshipped by the Celts appears in Letter 20. BACK

[5] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[6] William Taylor reviewed Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

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

[8] ‘And Tigris bore upon his tameless current bore / Armenian harvests to her multitudes’. Book 5, lines 95–96 of Thalaba the Destoyer (1801). See volume 3 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[9] In Madoc (1805), Book 7, line 233, Southey refers to the ‘mighty Deicide’. See volume 2 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[10] Book 18, line 165 of Madoc. BACK

[11] Meaning ‘for the sake of euphony’. BACK

[12] One of Southey’s and Bedford’s comic inventions from their Westminster School days. ‘Butlerisms’ is the word they coined for writings that are complicated or incomprehensible in their meaning. BACK

[13] John Southey lived near Taunton, Somerset in the West Country. BACK

[14] Written in large capitals spaced across one whole line of the page. BACK

[15] Southey often prompted Bedford to publish their humorous creations. Though they were never published by him, they provided the hint for Southey’s comic novel/miscellany The Doctor (1834–1847). BACK

[16] A religious movement that developed from the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Swedish scientist and theologian, who claimed to have received a new revelation from Jesus Christ. In 1788 his followers styled themselves ‘The New Church’. Southey’s account of Swedenborgianism is given in Letter 62 of Letters from England (1807). BACK

[17] Animal magnetism is described in Letter 51 of Letters from England (1807). BACK

[18] The metallic element, antimony, was a popular treatment for fevers. BACK

[19] An abbreviation of the New Year greeting in Latin: ‘Ad multos et felices annos’, meaning ‘Here’s to many and happy years’. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013