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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1619. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 27 April [1809] ⁠* 

I shall send three Sections of Kehama [1]  to meet you in London, – three more will compleat it, & would have so done before this time had all things been going on well with me. I had a daughter born on the 27th of last month; a few days after the birth her mother was taken ill with an attack of dysentery, & for some time there was cause of serious alarm. This God be thanked is over. The night before last we had another alarm of the worst-kind, tho happily this also is passing away. My little boy went to bed with some slight indications of a trifling cold. His mother went up to look at him before supper, – she thought he coughed in a strange manner, – called me, – & I instantly recognized the sound of the croop. We have a good apothecary within three minutes walk & luckily he was at home. He immediately confirmed our fears, – the child was taken out of bed & bled in the jugular vein, – a blister placed on the throat next morning, & by these rigorous & timely remedies, we hope & trust the disease is subdued. But what a twelve-hours did we pass, knowing the nature of the disease & only hoping the efficacy of the remedy. – Even now I am far – very far from being at ease. There is a love which passeth the love of women, [2]  & which is more lightly alarmed than the wakefullest jealousy.

Landor I am not a Stoic at home. – I feel as you do about the fall of an old tree – but O Christ what a pang it is to look upon the young shoot & think it will be cut down! – And this is the thought which almost all at all times haunts me, – it comes upon me in moments when I know not whether the tears that start are of love or of bitterness. There is an evil too in seeing all things like a poet, – circumstances which would glide over a healthier mind, sink into mine, – every thing comes {to} me with its whole force, & xxx – the full meaning of a look – a gesture, a childs imperfect speech, I can perceive & cannot help perceiving, – & thus am I made to remember what I would give the world to forget.

Enough & too much of this. The xxx The leaven of anxiety is working in my whole system, – I will try to quieten it by forcing myself to some other subject.

What prevented Gebir [3]  from being read by the foolish? I believe the main reason was that it was too hard for them, more than that it was too good. That they should understand its merits was not be expected, – but that they did not find meaning enough upon the surface to make them fancy they understood it. Why should you not write xxx a poem as good & more intelligible, & display the same powers upon a happier subject? Yet certain it is that Gebir excited far more attention than you seem to be aware of. Two manifest imitations have appeared – Rough’s play of the Conspiracy of Gowrie, [4]  & the first part of Sothebys Saul. [5]  When Gifford published his Juvenal, [6]  one of the most base attacks that ever disgraced a literary journal was made upon it in the Critical Review by some one of the heroes of the his Baviad. [7]  Gifford who gives way to all sort of violence in his writings, wrote a desperate reply in which he brought forward all the offences of the Review for many years back, [8]  – & one of those offences was its praise of Gebir. I laughed when I heard this, guessing pretty well at the nature of Giffords feelings, – for I had been the reviewer of whose partiality he complained. [9]  Gebir came to me with a parcel of other poems which I was to kill off – I was young in the trade & reviewed it injudiciously, – so that every body supposed it to be done by some friend of the author. For I analysed the story, studded it with as many beautiful extracts as they would allow room for, praised its merit almost up to the height of my feeling, – & never thought of telling the reader that if he went to the book itself, he would find any more difficulty in comprehending it than he found in that abstract. Thus instead of serving the poem I in reality injured it. The world now-a-days never believes praise to be sincere – they are so accustomed to hunt for faults that they will not think any person can honestly express unmingled admiration.

I once past an evening with Professor Young [10]  at Davys. The conversation was wholly scientific, & of course I was a listener. But I have heard the history of Thomas Young as he is still called by those who knew him when he was a Quaker & believe him to be a very able man, but not of the best class. Generally speaking I have little liking for men of science, – their pursuits seem to deaden their imagination & harden their heart. – they are so accustomed to analyse & anatomize every thing, – to understand or fancy they understand whatever comes before them, that they fre most frequently become mere materialists, account for every thing by mechanism & motion, & would put out of the world all that makes the world endurable – I do not undervalue their knowledge nor the utility of their discoveries, – but I do not like the men. My own nature requires something more than they teach, – it pants after things unseen, it exists upon the hope of that better futurity which all its aspirations promise & seem to prove. God knows I do not begin to be aweary of the sun, [11]  – & yet the wish which I most frequently express is that the century were over, & that I & mine had all reached our havens of eternal rest.

God bless you

RS.

April 27.


Notes

* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade/ Bath/ No 7/ Grays Inn Coffee House/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: MA/ 4/ 1809
MS: Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library Manuscripts, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 6
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 228–231 [misdated 23 April]. BACK

[1] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[2] 2 Samuel 1:26. BACK

[3] Landor’s poem Gebir (1798). BACK

[4] The Conspiracy of Gowrie (1800). BACK

[5] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Saul (1807). BACK

[6] William Gifford, The Satires of Juvenal (1802). BACK

[7] In earlier life Gifford had been the author of two powerful verse satires The Baviad (1791) and The Mӕviad (1795). BACK

[8] An Examination of the Strictures of the Critical Reviewers on the Translation of Juvenal (1803). BACK

[9] Southey’s review appeared in the Critical Review, 27 (September 1799), 29–39. BACK

[10] Thomas Young (1773–1829; DNB), physician and natural philosopher. BACK

[11] Macbeth, Act IV, scene v, line 54. BACK

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August 2013