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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1189. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 27 May 1806 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I sate five times in the velvet chair, & each time little less than three hours, tho the law is satisfied with one hour in the pillory & at the gallows. O.P.  [1]  will perhaps complain; if he does, put him in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Proverbs, as the fifth of those things which are never satisfied. [2]  You I hope will like the picture, as every person who has seen it is much pleased.

I cannot express to you how strongly I am displeased with Jeffrays conduct about Nathan. [3]  It was at his option to review it civilly or not, as the laws of courtesy & due decorum are not compulsory; – but it was not at his option to publish the name of the translator after the sort of language which he had thought proper to use. [4]  This was a breach of confidence. I am the more angry because it is a rascally hypocritical article; – when Scotch metaphysicians raise a cry for faggots they richly deserve the fire themselves. I knew the man wrote like a scoundrel as well as a coxcomb – but xxxx being a Scotchman that was to be expected; – still there was a sort of gentlemanly decorum from which I did not think he conceived himself exempted, & this he has broken thro.

You have heard of the rupture between Dr Aikin and Phillips, [5]  – the greatest piece of news since the Prussian war. It happens luckily for Longman, & I do not doubt that his Magazine will start under the Doctor with the next new year. [6]  Phillips will rue this, tho the Monthly is well established & must needs continue {to flourish}; but he will lose much of the dissenting sale among the dissenters. I shall lend a hand at the outset, &, I trust, have you for a fellow labourer.

I was exceedingly unwell in London; this however furnished me with a pretext for keeping within my own circle, so I saw more of my friends & less of my acquaintance than on any former visit to the metropolis. The most interesthingting thing which came in my way, was a Welsh Romance of the Round Table, a part of the Mabinogion, its title Peredur, its character as unquestionably savage as barbarous manners, & want of connection can make it. [7]  I am afraid the translation of these highly curious tales will be at a stand, for – sad to say – Owen thinks of x nothing now but Joanna Southcote, – of whom if you do not know much Espriella in good time will tell you all. [8]  He has mixed up her xxx roguery with his own Bardism & poor Turner is applying every sound reason to cure a complaint for which reason has rarely or never been found effectual. I want Turner to add a Welsh to his Saxon history, [9]  & have prest him so to do; urging as my main argument that that he possesses the requisite knowledge, which it never {will} be worth any persons while to acquire for that specific purpose, & that from born Welshmen we have never any thing but crude materials to hope. He has promised to think of the thing, [10]  waiting till he sees what new documents the Archæologia [11]  may supply in its progress. He tells me much of the difficulty of the poems, which seem like the Hebrew to be fairly without syntax – leading words to which you must supply the connecting particles at your discretion. Turner wants a little of the poets & a little of the philosophers feeling, – he does not understand the value of barbarous history.

George Ellis dined at Longmans to meet me – for the first time. I liked him less than I expected – & yet my expectation was not very high: – a little too much of the air of high life, a little too much of the conversationist, eyes too small, a face too long, & something in his manners which showed or seemed to show that it was a condescension in him to be a man of letters. This {opinion} may be uncharitably formed, & it is very likely that with my inside full of fog & phlegm as it then was, I may have seen him unfairly thro a misty atmosphere. But there is certainly that something about him which would always make me greet a man with a distant bend of the body, & a smile which {that} lay no deeper than the muscles which fashioned it, instead of a glad eye & a ready shake of the hand. – You are right in what you say about the preference of talents to integrity; but there {might} be a certain quantity of right thinking & good feeling about a man, & manifestly about him, to make his society desirable.

I saw Manning [12]  several times – particularly the last evening but one before his departure, & was much impressed with a sense of the probability that we might never meet again. He has not made himself acquainted with all that has been written about China as he ought to have done. I have mentioned several books, some of them in my own possession of which he had not heard. This is unlucky: he should have known what other people had communicated to save himself trouble, & direct his own inquiries profitably. His project is to learn the language at Canton, & then if he cannot enter at that quarter to try on the side of Tartary; but to have joined the Russian embassy till he had acquired the language he thought of little use. I have written to my Uncle to procure his recommendations to the Portugueze at Macao & to their Missionaries at Pekin [13]  – the letters are to follow him to Canton, & may be serviceable.

You had not read that ballad of little or no worth about St Michaels Chair, for some time before you criticised it, or you would have seen that Mrs Penlake was a shrew, that her vow was made with a reference to her favourite wish, & that her husband did not jest upon her death, but simply did not affect to grieve at it. [14]  Nothing in Bishop Hatto is meant to be ludicrous, his scoff at the people whom he had burnt is the hinge of the story, rats he called them, & {therefore} rats eat him. [15]  All those Ballads – indeed all the poems in the volume except the Eclogues [16]  & the Tale of Gualberto [17]  were written for the Morning Post, [18]  which was my grand apprenticeship to the craft & m[ystery] of verse-making, & the reason why that foolish story of Charlemagne is the worst written is that it was the first, before I knew how in what xxxx ballads ought to be written {cast}. [19]  I hit the tone accidentally in B. Bruno, & [MS torn] hit it knew it was the right one. [20]  Neither the Monodrama [21]  nor the American Songs [22]  had any other reference to Madoc than that the subjects were supplied by reading for it. One of those Songs I think a good one – the Old Chikkasah, – the best images are transplanted into Thalaba & Madoc, [23] that sort of but I like the rhythm & spirit of the whole well enough to let it stand. I wish you had drawn out for notice the Pig, [24]  the Filbert [25]  & the Dancing Bear, [26]  because there is a character of originality in them, – a sort of sportive seriousness which is one of my predominant moods of mind. That volume sells – between six & 700 hundred went within a year & I received 22£ profit. single small volumes are purchased for presents.

If I do not winter in England Kehama [27]  must supply my ways & means instead of the Annual Review. [28]  I shall send you the first part of it, interspersed with rhymes ad libitum, [29]  that you may tell me whether to rhyme on or not.

Pray remember me to your Mother. I do not think of you without thinking of her, & there are few persons whom I remember so often.

God bless you

You ask of Burnett. he is at his extracts & I have made a bargain for them with Longman which may keep him till the end of the year from starving. [30]  But whether he will compleat the book or prefer opening his mouth like a young Jackdaw, in expectation that food will be put into it Heaven knows. Pride will stand in the way of {his} return to Filby, [31]  & supply the place of principle. It is the only situation for which he is fit

May. 27. 18076.  Keswick

I open the letter to ask of you something which I do not like to ask, & yet cannot well help asking: You know I have certain Specimens in the press. that W. B. Stevens [32]  whose poems Dr Sayers comes in the series – & I could not find his volume in London to put into the hands of the transcriber. Will you transcribe for me any one of the Indian odes – whichever you like best – & then forgive me for asking so troublesome a task. when done direct it in a letter to G. C. Bedford Esq. Exchequer. Westminster.


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Endorsement: Ansd
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4854
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. 129–134. BACK

[1] Southey’s portrait was painted for William Taylor by John Opie (1761–1807; DNB) while he was in London in April. BACK

[2] Proverbs 30.15: ‘The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough’. BACK

[3] William Taylor published a translation of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729–1781), Nathan the Wise; a Dramatic Poem in Five Acts in 1805. BACK

[4] The anonymously translated Nathan the Wise was reviewed in the Edinburgh Review, 8 no. 15 (April 1806), 148–154. The review concludes by identifying Taylor as the translator. BACK

[5] Phillips established the Monthly Magazine in 1796. It was edited by John Aikin until they quarrelled in 1806, when the editorship was taken over by George Gregory (1754–1808; DNB) until his death in 1808. BACK

[6] Aikin became editor of the short-lived Athenaeum magazine (1807–1809), published by Longman. BACK

[7] Southey was reading a translation by William Owen Pughe of the Welsh romances dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, collected in fourteenth-century Welsh manuscripts and known as the Mabinogi. Some of these were published in the journal edited by Pughe, The Cambrian Register (1796, 1799), where they are entitled The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances. The tales preserving Arthurian lore are Culhwch ac Olwen (Culhwch and Olwen), Peredur son of Efrawg and Breuddwyd Rhonabwy (The Dream of Rhonabwy). BACK

[8] In about 1803 Owen Pughe became a follower of the self-styled prophet, Joanna Southcott. Southey discusses Southcott in Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (London, 1807), Letter 70. BACK

[9] Sharon Turner, History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805). BACK

[10] Turner wrote instead a History of England (1814–1829). BACK

[11] Archaeologia: or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, a series printing historical documents published for the Society of Antiquaries. The first series commenced in 1770; by 1806 fifteen volumes had been issued. BACK

[12] Thomas Manning (1772–1840; DNB), traveller and writer on China. In May 1806 he went to Canton (Guangzhou), living in the English factory as a doctor. He made several unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the interior of China, and with the exception of a visit to Cochin China in 1808, stayed in Canton until 1810. BACK

[13] This letter has not survived. BACK

[14] ‘St. Michael’s Chair, and Who Sat There’, was first published in the Morning Post, 27 April 1799, included in Metrical Tales and Other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 17–20, amended in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 342. BACK

[15] ‘God’s Judgement on a Bishop’, Morning Post, 27 November 1799; reprinted in the Annual Anthology, 2 (1800), pp. 258–263. The poem was again reprinted in Southey’s Metrical Tales and Other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 3–8, amended in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 392. BACK

[16] Southey’s ‘English Eclogues’ were published in Poems (1799) and also Poems (1800) of which Southey was now preparing a new edition. They were reprinted, revised, in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 306. BACK

[17] ‘St. Juan Gualberto’, first published in the Annual Anthology, 2 (1800), pp. 1–19, was published in Metrical Tales and other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 48–66. The poem was also included with minor amendments in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823). Retitled ‘St. Gualberto. Addressed to George Burnett’, it was revised for Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). BACK

[18] Southey contributed poetry to the Morning Post from mid-1798 to December 1799. BACK

[19] This poem was published under the signature ‘Walter’ (probably a version of ‘Wat Tyler’, a favourite pseudonym of Southey’s) in the Morning Post, 22 February 1798. It was later renamed ‘King Charlemain’ and was included in Metrical Tales and other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 26–31. BACK

[20] ‘Bishop Bruno’ was published in the Morning Post, 17 November 1798. It was included in Metrical Tales and other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 40–43, and in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 251. BACK

[21] Southey’s monodrama ‘Ximalpoca’ was included in Metrical Tales and other Poems (London, 1805), pp. 69–72. BACK

[22] The ‘Songs of the American Indians’ were first published in the Morning Post in August to September 1799; they were included in Metrical Tales and other Poems (London, 1805): ‘The Huron’s Address to the Dead’, pp. 83–85; ‘The Peruvian’s Dirge Over the Body of his Father’, pp. 86–88; ‘Song of the Araucans during a Thunder Storm’, pp. 89–91; ‘Song of the Chikkasah Widow’, pp. 92–94; ‘The Old Chikkasah to his Grandson’, pp. 95–97. The were reprinted, revised, in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), pp. 372–397. BACK

[23] Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and Madoc (1805). BACK

[24] ‘The Pig. A Colloquial Poem’ was first published in the Morning Post, 24 May 1799, and included in Metrical Tales and other Poems, pp. 132–134. It was reprinted in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 348. BACK

[25] ‘The Filbert’ was first published in the Morning Post, 28 February 1799, and included in Metrical Tales and other Poems, pp. 138–140. It was reprinted in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), p. 280. BACK

[26] ‘The Dancing Bear. Recommended to the Advocates for the Slave-Trade’ was first published in the Morning Post, 10 July 1799, and included in Metrical Tales and other Poems, pp. 135–137. It was reprinted in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works Collected by Himself (1837–1838). See volume 5 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), pp.361–363 BACK

[27] Southey’s The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[28] Southey continued working for the Annual Review until 1809. BACK

[29] Meaning ‘at one’s pleasure’. BACK

[30] Burnett’s Specimens of English Prose Writers, from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Seventeenth Century was published in three volumes with Longman in 1807. This compilation formed a companion work to George Ellis’s Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn. 1801; 3rd edn. 1803) and Southey’s own anthology, jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[31] Untraced. BACK

[32] William Bagshaw Stevens (1756–1800; DNB), poet and diarist, who published Poems, Consisting of Indian Odes and Miscellaneous Pieces in 1775, and a second volume of Poems in 1782. His poems are not included in Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

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August 2013