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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1330. Robert Southey to Longmans, 5 June 1807 ⁠* 

June 5. 1807.

Dear Sirs,

I will review the books as soon as they arrive, and as well as I can, but I cannot do them better for an Edinburgh Review than for an Annual one. There are many articles which are valued precisely in proportion to the time and labour bestowed upon them, and which therefore can be accurately fixed accordingly; these articles are not of that description. The worst reviewals you have ever had from me have cost me more time and labour than the best. When the subject is good, and I am acquainted with it, the pen flows freely; otherwise it is tilling an ungrateful soil. I can promise you a better review of Clavigero [1]  than any other person could furnish; upon the other books, I will do my best. All reviewals, however, which are not seasoned either with severity or impertinence, will seem flat to those whole palates have been accustomed to ——’s sauce-damnable.

Some time ago, the Bishop of Llandaff [2]  observed to me, that few things were more wanted than a regular collection of translations of the ancient historians, comprising the whole of them in their chronological order. It is worth thinking of; and if you should think of it, modern copyright need not stand in your way. Littlebury’s Herodotus is better than Beloe’s, [3]  and Gordon’s Tacitus far superior to Murphy’s. [4]  Such a collection, well annotated, &c., could not fail to sell, and might best be published volume by volume; if it were carried to the end of the Byzantine history, so much the better both for the public and the publishers. This is not a plan in which I could bear any part myself, but it is worth your consideration.

.             .              .              .              .              .              .              .               The Spanish Joinville, [5]  I fear, perished at Hafod. [6]  If, however, by good fortune, it should have been returned to you before the fire, have the goodness to enclose it in the next parcel. I wait the arrival of one, expected by every carrier, to make up a bundle for Dr. Aikin : the reason is this; one of the books which I sent for, implies by the title that I have been deceived in one of the Omniana articles, and I ordered the book for the sake of ascertaining the truth and correcting the error. [7] 

Is there not a new edition of Whitehead’s Life of Wesley? [8]  If you will send me it, and with it the life published by Dr. Coke for the conference, [9]  I will either review it for you, or make a life myself for the Athenæum, [10]  having Thompson’s [11]  here, and also a complete set of Wesley’s journals, [12]  which I have carefully read and marked for the purpose.

Yours truly,

R. Southey.

I hope you will accommodate matters with Jeffrey; for if there should be two Edinburgh Reviews, or if he should set up another under a new title, you would probably be the sufferer, even though yours should be manifestly the best, – such is the force of prejudice. [13] 


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 97–99 [in part]. BACK

[1] Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731–1787), Storia antica del Messico (1780–1781). BACK

[2] Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB). BACK

[3] The History of Herodotus Translated from the Greek by Isaac Littlebury (1709), Herodotus, Translated from the Greek, with Notes by William Beloe (1806). BACK

[4] The Works of Tacitus (1728–1731), translated by Thomas Gordon (d. 1750; DNB); The Works of Cornelius Tacitus (1793), translated by Arthur Murphy (1727–1805; DNB). BACK

[5] Jean de Joinville (1224–1317), Chronica y Vida del Rey Sant Luys de Francia ... Traduzida de Lengua Francera en Castellana ... por J. Lidel (1557). BACK

[6] On 13 March 1807, a fire broke out at Hafod, the estate near Aberystwyth belonging to Southey’s friend, the historian Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB). Johnes’s mansion, including the contents of the library, was destroyed. BACK

[7] In the Omniana, Southey’s contribution to The Athenæum, a Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, 1 (April 1807), p. 357, is the story of a son of Sultan Ibrahim and a Georgian slavewoman who was captured with his mother en route to Mecca by ship. Taken to Malta, he was brought up by the Dominicans after her death, and took the name Fr. Domenico Ottomano, becoming a skilled linguist and diplomat. Southey then saw in a bookseller’s catalogue a book that cast doubt on the story: John Evelyn (1620–1706; DNB), The History of the Three Late Famous Impostors, viz. Padre Ottomano, Mahomed Bei, and Sabatai Sevi. ... With a brief account of the ground, and occasion of the present war between the Turk and the Venetian. Together with the cause of the final extirpation ... of the Jews out of the Empire of Persia (1669). It was Evelyn’s book for which he was waiting. BACK

[8] John Whitehead (1740?-1804; DNB), The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A. (1805). BACK

[9] Thomas Coke (1747–1814; DNB), The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M. Including an Account of the Great Revival of Religion (1792). BACK

[10] The new journal published by Longmans: The Athenæum, A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information. Southey would fulfil this ambition of writing Wesley’s biography in 1820, when Longmans published his The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism. BACK

[11] Possibly George Thomson (1698–1782), vicar of St Gennys, Cornwall, an early Methodist convert who welcomed the Wesleys to his church. An account of Wesley’s life by him has not been traced, and there is no reference to a work by him in the Southey’s list of sources for The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, v-x. BACK

[12] The journals of John Wesley (1703–91; DNB) were first published in twenty parts (London, 1740–1789). BACK

[13] A dispute had arisen between Longman and Jeffrey regarding the Edinburgh Review; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 11 June 1807, Letter 1331. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013