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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1677. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 7 September 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Wm Taylor

You will wonder at not having heard from me, – the fact is that I have heard nothing more concerning the Rhadamanthine project from Ballantyne: [1]  – his silence is to be attributed for the first part of the time to an expectation of seeing me at Edinburgh, & there talking over the matter with Walter Scott who is his Magnus Apollo, [2]  – & latterly I believe suspect to an abandonment of the scheme on his part, because he thinks he can employ me more advantageously for himself. I have undertaken the historical part of his Ed. Annual Register, for the first year (1808) – he wishes me to engage regularly for this department & offers for it 400 £ a year, which is certainly very liberal pay. I have however promised only for the first volume, – which will suffice to show him how far my view of things, & my manner of speaking of them may accord with his objects, & also how far it will be compatible with my better pursuits, to undertake so large a portion of trade work. He has applied to me upon very short notice, & I am by no means prepared for the task: it was indeed in other hands, but the sample sent was so thoroughly tame & worthless (I had it sent to me) that he has done wisely to pay for it & cancel it at once. – I am waiting for documents, which Longman is slow in sending, & mean time get on with a preliminary view of parties at home, so written as to be sure of pleasing no party, because it will speak bitter truths of all.

The death of the Athenæum [3]  rather surprized me because I thought the booksellers could force any thing in that shape down. Let any thing {motto} be written upon its ‘achment except Resurgam. [4]  The death of the Annual I expected, – if the Coroners inquest should sit upon the body they may find that it died of was starved to death. Peace be with it. I served a seven years apprenticeship to it at low wages, & must have struck had it continued longer. Our Well-beloved Cousin [5]  doubtless contributed to its death by overdosing it with his divinity. Had it continued it would have mended under Thomas Rees.

You will receive the first volume of Brazil late in autumn. [6]  54 sheets are printed, & I am transcribing the last chapter, – supplementary notes & a Bibliographical Appendix will extend the volume to something above 600 pages. It has cost me very great labour, & I do not think more could have been done with it. The second volume will be the more interesting of the two. [7] 

Harry being xxxx now fairly settled in practise & a married man has I believe fallen seriously to work upon what has long been a favourite project of his, & one in which I have always encouraged him, – a history of the Crusades. He is well situated for this, there being two libraries belonging to the Church at Durham, [8]  both at his command, & both abounding with old books – among which are the most important of his materials. Some I can help him to, & the rest I know where to borrow. I have instructed him in my method of historical book-keeping, – the result of nine years experience – which will save him much labour, – that is in preventing him from losing any.

Coleridge has sent out a fourth number to day.  [9]  I have always expected every number to be the last. He may however possibly go on in this intermitti[MS torn] way till subscribers enough withdraw their names (partly in anger at its irregularity, more because they find it heathen Greek) – to give him an ostensible reason for stopping short. Both – he & Wordsworth powerfully as they can write & profoundly as they usually think, have been betrayed with the same fault, – that of making things easy of comprehension in themselves, difficult to be comprehended by their way of stating them. – Instead of going to the natural spring for water, they seem to like the labour of digging wells. The tower-of-Babel character of your English offends them grievously, [10]  – the hardness of theirs appears to me a less excusable fault.

Your plan of a Quarterly Magazine could not fail to answer if it were well started & supported. [11]  I wish you could start one, – & if you should will do for it all I can. –

God bless you

RS.

Sept 7. 1809.

Keswick.


Notes

* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: It is related of Hermogenes that he lived 77 years & wrote 77 books/ Ansd 28 Mar
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4864
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. 282–285. BACK

[1] See Southey to William Taylor, 24 May 1809, Letter 1635. Southey had been approached by James Ballantyne concerning the possibility of his editing a new review, to be called the Rhadamanthus. In Greek mythology Rhadamanthus was a wise king who was one of the judges of the dead. Southey’s plans for this periodical were never fulfilled. BACK

[2] Meaning his mentor or luminary. BACK

[3] The Athenæum: a Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information was launched in 1807. Edited by John Aikin and published by Longmans, it included contributions from Southey. BACK

[4] ‘I shall rise again’. BACK

[5] Charles Wellbeloved (1769–1858; DNB), Unitarian minister and theology tutor, who reviewed religious and metaphysical works for the Annual Review. BACK

[6] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was not published until 1810. BACK

[7] The second volume of the History of Brazil was published in 1817. BACK

[8] The Bishop’s Library and the Chapter Library. BACK

[9] Southey refers to The Friend, a periodical written by Coleridge in 1809 and 1810, spanning twenty-eight issues and ending in March 1810. BACK

[10] Southey often took Taylor to task for the obscurity of his review articles in letters to him. BACK

[11] Taylor’s plans did not come to fruition. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013