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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

889. Robert Southey to Longman and Rees, 26 January 1804 ⁠* 

Jan. 26. 1804.

Dear Sirs,

If Mr._____’s [1]  little tale (which reached me last night) be long enough for publication, I should think it possesses sufficient interest to be saleable. The author is, in my judgment, a man of very considerable, and indeed extraordinary, talents. This _____ he has probably written hastily, and, I fear, upon the spur of want.

Having myself sought after information respecting the countries on the Mississippi, I can say that the descriptions and natural history are, as far as my knowledge goes, accurate, and therefore it is fair to presume that such circumstances as were new to me are equally true to nature.

I know nothing of _____ but from his Travels; from that he appears to be a self-taught man, who has all his life long been struggling with difficulties; and the book left upon me a melancholy impression, that however much adversity had quickened his talents, it had injured his moral feelings. Pride and vanity are only defensive vices in a poor and neglected man of talents; and being defensive, they cease to be vices. Something of the same palliation, may be pleaded for an evident libertinism of heart and thought which is everywhere too manifest in his book; in this he resembles Smollett and Defoe, [2]  which last truly great man he resembles also in better things.

Should you execute your design of the Collection of Voyages and Travels, [3]  which I hope and trust you will, this man might be made exceedingly useful to you. Being himself a sailor, and having seen and observed many countries, you will rarely find one so well qualified to digest many travels into one full account. I had begun a letter to you upon the subject of the Collection some months ago, but laid it aside when the alarm of invasion seemed to suspend all literary, and indeed all other, speculation. Should you resume the scheme, I will willingly send you an outline of what seems to me to be the most advisable plan.                   .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .                    .

It has occurred to me that I could make a good companion to Ellis’s very excellent book, [4]  under the title of Specimens of the Modern English Poetry, [5]  beginning exactly where he leaves off, and following exactly his plan; coming down to the present time, and making death the time where to stop. Two volumes would comprise it, perhaps. Let me know if you like the scheme; it would require more trouble and more search than you will be at first aware of, but, with Ellis’s work, it would form such a series of arranged selections as no other country can boast. I could do it well, and should do it willingly. If it should be taken by the public as a supplement, it would be a good speculation. Should you see Coleridge, show him this. I would, of course, affix my name.


* 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), II, pp. 252–254 [in part]. BACK

[1] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB): Scottish antiquarian and cartographer whose many publications earned him a reputation for irreligious views, arrogant irritability and personal immorality. BACK

[2] Tobias Smollett (1721–1771; DNB), novelist, and Daniel Defoe (c. 1659–1661–1731; DNB), miscellaneous writer and novelist. BACK

[3] Longman published the project from 1808–1814 as A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World. Pinkerton was the editor, or compiler, of the narratives included. BACK

[4] George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803). BACK

[5] An early reference to the project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

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August 2013