915. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 22 March 1804 

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

915. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 22 March 1804 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 22. 1804

My dear friend

An unfinished Eclogue upon an Aldermans Funeral [1]  which I have been transcribing & designing to finish for the Iris, [2]  has lain for some weeks waiting till I should be in the humour of concluding it, – but I will wait no longer for the opportunity of sending a shorter letter upon a larger sheet. I am going to London this spring – about the middle or end of April – Rickman tells me you also are bound to the same part. now when do you set sail? for I will endeavour to make my journey suit yours that we may meet. A great domestic event will take place in my family next month – how soon God knows. [3]  & I can make my set out as soon, or as long after as is convenient – tho the sooner the better.

Do not think me incurious when you hear that I have not read the Critical Review. [4]  xx twice was it sent for, & twice by blundering did they disappoint me, & now there is no opportunity of receiving it. so patience per-force till April. Curious I am to see it – not that it will contain any opinion which you have not heretofore expressed in letters, but because from two or three quarters persons have spoken of the criticism itself – as I always wish to hear your writings spoken of. I wrote to you once respecting your style, somewhat petulantly perhaps – which you perceived & forgave, because you understood it. but I had been vexed at the time into an argument to defend it, & wrote in attack while the heat was on me. Cooly now & considerately let me xxx say that you should lower your language to the level of common comprehension. A little mannerism – a little oddity – is not merely allowable but it is useful, – these things individualize composition. they are to written – what the eye & the tone of the voice are to oral speech. But you too often (like your admirable old townsman Sir T. Browne [5] ) go to your Greek & Latin for words when plain English might serve as well. ‘I know Wm Taylors articles (says Tom to me in a letter speaking of the Annual Review) by jaw-breaking words which are not to be found in the dictionary, – & also by extensive erudition & profound knowledge – such as belong to nobody else.’ a true extract – but for the sake of poor Tom, & of others like him, do sometimes ask yourself the question whether the word you are about to xx to use be in the dictionary or not. – Harry asked me who wrote the Critical account of Thalaba – saying he should have thought it yours if there had been hard words enough in it. – I thank you for the Iris – & will pay you in kind.

Longman has sent me the first Annual, which till now I have had no opportunity to examine. my own articles [6]  would be decent for what they are – if they were decently printed. Mrs B.s are below her usual tide-mark – & that review of poor Lambs poor Tragedy is very unjust & very impertinent. [7]  the Tragedy is a very bad Tragedy full of very fine passages – & her account is all presbyterian sneer from one end to another. Remember I have been church-bred – & that presbyterian is a simple adjective of orthodox import, brimfull of meaning. The anonymous articles are good for little – Sole prop & pillar you! In the second volume I shall perhaps be the other King of Brentford [8]  – but in this you are acknowledged Sovereign – & in plain, honest, truth, more sound sense heapd together in more rememberable language upon statistic subjects I have never seen. nor do I believe that it is elsewhere to be found. Now & then I wished what lay before me had been manuscript – that I might have protested against an alien-word.

Letters from Lisbon authorize me to enquire into my Uncles affairs & make provision for Harry. My enquiries have been answered by procrastinations – however in the course of the summer we shall be clear of any money-debt to you – & his allowance regulated. He will be hear in the summer – & nothing would give me so much pleasure as that you should be here too.

Coleridge is going for Malta – he leaves London tomorrow to embark at Portsmouth – in sad & most anomalous health. perfectly well, when under no paroxysm, & yet never secure from one hour to another. it is unfortunate that you have never met. there is no man whom he so much desires to see as you.

You may have seen Madoc advertised as in the press – which is a publishers licence – the use of the present for the future tense. [9]  In fact it is not half corrected – but I have promised it to the printer by Midsummer day, & if no illness or mishap interrupt me my promises are like the Laws of the Medes & Persians. [10]  Your objections to the story as being connected with a particular system are done away. Yet I have doubts & misgivings about the poem which I never felt for Thalaba, [11]  & am convinced that it is no advantage to work upon an old plan & be years in recasting & correcting it. the old leaven will remain. what at first one deemed a beauty is weeded out, but it is not so easy to detect the faults of what only past originally for tolerable – & after all there will be a patchwork of style. In short I am more encouraged by the effect it produces upon other than by my own consciousness, & should therefore be disposed to condemn it were not Coleridge decidedly & loudly in its praise. There is however this of consolation [MS ends here]


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 27 March
MS: Huntington Library, HM 48423
Previously published: John Warden Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 487–490. BACK

[1] ‘The Alderman’s Funeral; An English Eclogue’ originated in a funeral witnessed in Bristol in 1803. The poem was not published until 1810, in The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808; see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), V, pp. 427–432. BACK

[2] The Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser was the Norwich newspaper edited by Taylor, from 1803–1804. BACK

[3] The Southeys second child, Edith May, was born on 30 April 1804. BACK

[4] Taylor reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

[5] Thomas Browne (1605–1682; DNB): of Norwich, physician and author of Religio Medici (1635–1636). BACK

[6] Southey reviewed the following in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803): Martin Sauer (dates unknown), An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern Parts of Russia Performed by Joseph Billings in the Years 1785–1796 (1802), 7–17; Alexander MacKenzie (1763/4–1820; DNB), Voyages from Montreal, on the River St Laurence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in the Years 1789 and 1793 (1802), 18–30; Frederick Augustus Fischer (1771–1829), Travels in Spain in 1797 and 1798 (1802), 35–43; Giuseppi Acerbi (1773–1846), Travels through Sweden, Finland and Lapland, to the North Cape, in the Years 1798 and 1799 (1802), 45–56; Maria Guthrie (dates unknown), A Tour Performed in the Years 1795–6, through the Taurida, or Crimea (1802), 62–66; Peter Simon Pallas (1741–1811), Travels through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, in the Years 1793 and 1794 (1802), 66–73; Guillaume Antoine Olivier (1756–1814), Travels in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Persia (1801), 89–101; Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (1800–1801), 207–218; Augustin Louis Josse (1763–1841; DNB), El Tesoro Espanol o Biblioteca Portatil Espanola (1802), 557–566; Henry Kett (1761–1825; DNB), Elements of General Knowledge, Introductory to Useful Books in the Principal Branches of Literature and Science (1802), 579–584; Henri Louis Cain (1728–1778), Memoires de Henri Louis Le Kain (1801), 595–599; William Coxe (1748–1828; DNB), Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole (1802), 599–601; Francis Wrangham (1769–1842; DNB), Poems (1802), 655–657; Walter Savage Landor, Poetry by the Author of Gebir (1802), 663–666; Pierre Lambinet (1742–1813), Recherche Historiques, Litteraires et Critiques sur l’Origine de l’Imprimerie (1799), 704–711. BACK

[7] According to Coleridge’s letter to Southey of 25 January 1804, Barbauld was responsible for a bad review of Charles Lamb’s play John Woodvil; A Tragedy (1802) in the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 688–692. Coleridge vowed revenge, saying: ‘if I do not cut her to the Heart, and openly & with my name, never believe me again’, The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs, 6 vols (Oxford, 1966), II, p. 1039. BACK

[8] The story of the two kings of Brentford, ‘united yet divided, twain at once / So sit two kings of Brentford on one throne’ (William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Task, Book I, lines 77–78) originates in George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628–1687; DNB), The Rehearsal (1672), a satire on heroic tragedy. BACK

[9] Madoc was published in 1805. BACK

[10] Meaning immutable laws. BACK

[11] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013