1559. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 29 December 1808 *
You have here the first section of Kehama. It was written between seven & eight years ago in the metre of Thalaba,  & has since been thrown into rhyme, piece-meal, – in consequence of which I suspect that the language flows less naturally than it would have otherwise have done. I am a patient transcriber, & usually in transcribing make so many alterations that the time so bestowed is not unprofitably spent, & if you will find out the faults here half as keenly as you have found out the beauties of Madoc,  I will send section after section, as leisure & opportunity may serve.
Your letter would have been more welcome but for the intelligence with which it concluded. That mind of yours is so vigorous & that heart so young, – so beyond the reach of time & infirmity, that I would fain persuade myself the system is yet sound, notwithstanding the attacks which it has sustained. As for presentiments there are many facts which tend to prove that they act just contrary to the manner in which they are commonly supposed to do, – & that when persons fix the day or hour for their death, & are punctual to the engagement, they are kept alive to that moment by their faith that they shall not die before it, which otherwise would have been the case. I feared [MS torn] were ill, because a longer time than usual had elapsed without my hearing from you.
It would be in vain to argue with you about the Cid,  – you are as insensible to the beauties of that stile of history, as I am to the charms of music, & hundreds have the same want of faculty in both cases. To me that Chronicle  seems not only one of the most curious pieces of history in existence (that it is assuredly is,) but also one of the most delightful; & no employment ever gave me more pleasure than that of reducing it to the shape in which it now appears. But I am historian as well as poet, & you do not sympathize with me in the emotions that an old Chronicle excites.
Do not mistake me about peace. It is an abuse of words to talk of peace with Bonaparte. Such peace as Prussia has we might obtain, but that is submission. Such peace as Mr Addington made  we might make again, – the experiment has happily been made, & it proved to be only a truce, – but that gives him all he wanted, & we get only a breathing time by it, when blessed be God we are not out of breath. Is there any man in England fool enough to believe that the word or oath of Bonaparte is to be trusted? that he would make peace with us for a with any other intent than that of creating a navy to destroy us? – It is not my sentiments that have changed; – precisely the same principles which made me the loud enemy of war in 1793 make me now the loud enemy of peace; for the same reasons that I abominated then & ever shall abominate Pitt  & his cursed crew, precisely do I in like manner abominate the French Government now. What I love best on earth is liberty; – it xxx xxxx xxxxx Milton & Hutchinson  did not love it more religiously than I do. But if this country bends her knee to France, – & it is only on her knees that the deadly truce is to be had, – there will be no liberty left on earth. It is mere bigotry to call for peace now, because the war was unjust ten years ago.
You have well commented upon Hayleys senseless comparison of Cowper with Milton.  The success of his feeble piece of biography seems to have turned Hayleys head, as He has mistaken the liking of the public for admiration; Cowpers letters are easy & unaffected, sometimes sprightly, sometimes elegant, always natural. You like him the better, – that is the Public like him the better because they find an intellect quite level with their own, & their own imbecility is never made to feel his strength. The Yardley Oak  & the Task  would not be expected from those Letters, – & even there Cowper is not to be named, not to be thought of with Milton. Am I wrong in suspecting that Cowper, tho he has not more applause than he rightly deserves, is indebted for one half of his crazy superstition, & for good part of the other because he is more often footing than flying? – Both he & Churchill  were slovens in rhyme for fear of being coxcombs. I believe it possible to give to rhyme the who strength & manliness of blank verse, but this they never arrived at, & this must not be in the couplet. Our Miltonic Sonnets have effected it, – & I hope you will find something of this union in some of the Kehama, where the subject requires a slow movement.
If Carys  be not an hereditary affection it will probably pass away. In general genius is a preservative against madness, – it affords vent, scope & purpose to those feelings & passionate thoughts, which if pent up, undefined & undirected, overthrow the intellect mind of man. When the fit is over (I trust it is but a fit) the best advice that can be given him, is to suspend every study or pursuit as soon as he finds that he dreams about it. This is my receipt for keeping in sound health of nerves; – I have two or three things of nearly equal interest in hand at once, & pass from one to the other in the same day, quieting all at night with half an hours desultory reading. Experience taught me the necessity of the system, & my sleep is in consequence as sweet as an infants.
Dec. 29. 1808.
* Address: To/ Miss Seward/ Lichfield/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Mr Southey (Poet Laureat) to Miss Seward; [in another hand] From Mr. Southey to Miss Seward/ 1st Section of Kehama here also 1st specimen
MS: Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, Lichfield, MS 2001.71.59. ALS; 4p.
 Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808) was based on translations from the Crónica particular del Cid (published 1593), with additions from the Crónica de España of Alphonso the Wise (1541) and Romancero e Historia del Cid (1632). BACK
 The Peace of Amiens between Britain and France was made in March 1802 under Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), who had been Prime Minister since 1801. The Peace lasted until May 1803; Addington was forced from office in May 1804. BACK
 John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), republican polemicist as well as poet; Colonel John Hutchinson (1615–1664; DNB), a Puritan commander in the English civil war and a signatory of the death warrant of King Charles I, as revealed in a posthumously published memoir by his widow, Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681; DNB): Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806). In the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378, Southey extolled the conduct and morality of Hutchinson. BACK
 William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), author of The Poetical Works of John Milton with a Life of the Author (1794–1797), a Life of Milton (1796) and The Life and Posthumous Writings [chiefly Letters] of W. Cowper (1803). BACK