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382. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 24 February 1799 ⁠* 

Thank you for the dirge, which I hope neither of us may ever deserve, & for Lake Keswic. [1]  I begin to know you now in prose & verse. there is a profusion of imagery a rapidity of combination which belong to nobody else. like the Eastern Mosques every part is beautiful, & all the parts blend into an impressive whole. I knew you in the Edda, with which every body is pleased, & I thank you for lenity there. [2]  I know you in that rascal Herbert Crofts book, [3]  (of whom I have something to say speedily in the Magazine [4]  –) & in the Abbe Barruel, [5]  whom I suspect of being a great scoundrel, for he cannot possibly believe all he attempts to prove. On your ode I offer a few remarks before the press closes on it. in the first line – would it not be better by an easy transposition to get rid of the superfluous syllable & write it O Keswic oer thy lake? for should not rhymeless odes be as harmonious as possible? in the second sail & gale rhyme. is not the second stanza incongruous? a cloud fathoming the sky seems to reverse the fact. stanzas 5 & 7. it would I think be better to continue the conditional tense. 15. streak & cheek. 16. I would rather time destroyed you than woe. 23. is not sear an inapplicable word? 30. the moon does not wind.

I do not think the ode too long. a bad poem cannot be too short, the reverse is not quite true – & yet I am always sorry to come to the end of what has delighted me. will you have the stanzas seperated in printing, or connected as they sometimes run into each other? & what signature do you chuse? I have a curious optical anecdote for the Magazine [6]  & shall send up the advertisement [7]  with it. it will be better perhaps to call it by the original name of the Almanach, as that title will be recognized on the continent, & I hope to equal the continental collections.

Judging by what I hear & feel, I do not think the Oberon will be popular in England, at least not in Sothebys translation. [8]  It only diverts. it does not kindle the imagination, it does not agitate & make the heart beat like the wonders of Ariosto & Tasso. [9]  Wielands opinion of the effect of story [10]  is contrary to all experience, witness the Thebaid – witness the Henriade. [11] 

Your Dr Smith [12]  is to treat us with Botanical Lectures, which I fear can hardly be so timed as to benefit me. Mrs Smith is hopelessly ill. so I am told & by those who best know. [13] 

I am vexed about Burnett & uneasy as to his future fortunes. there is not only the difficulty of subsisting during his medical studies – but the interval after they are compleated before he can get into practice. the Brentford scheme [14]  might have satisfied him by keeping him employed. in every way of life there is a crowd struggling to get on, & George is not calculated to make his way in a crowd. His Yarmouth situation, with nothing better in view, was surely not enough to content a young man, but is he likely to better himself by the alteration? if indeed his restlessness arises from unsettled opinions, one cannot wish him to have acted otherwise. the prospect appears to me a very gloomy one. he has been too long accustomed to do little; ever to accomplish much.

We have a very extraordinary young man lately settled here, who is to manage the Pneumatic Institution. [15]  Beddoes mentioned him in the M Magazine. [16]  he is not yet twenty one, nor has he applied to Chemistry more than eighteen months, but he has advanced with such seven-leagued strides as to overtake every body. his name is Davy, I have been labouring at his Essays on Light &c, [17]  but he is going to show me his poems, of which I hear much from tolerable judges {& wch I shall better understand.} Whatever his verses may be he is a great acquisition to this neighbourhood, & if his future progress be at all answerable to the success with which he has set out, he must rank with the first names of the century.

You mentioned young Parry [18]  in one of your letters. I hav[MS cut] him but seldom; & to little advantage. he displeased me by a forwardness & a desire of displaying himself, the effect I am told of being always shown off at home & having always been admired. this will probably wear away. I did not know that he ever wrote poetry his drawings are very fine indeed. whether his taste in painting be good or not, better judges than me must determine, he spoke with high praise of Barry, [19]  & therefore I suppose scientifically, for no common eye will ever look five minutes on any picture of Barrys – I was quite disappointed at find{ing} so little said of Voss’s Louisa in the Monthly Review. [20]  you have made me hunger & thirst after German poetry.

Your hexameters from Klopstock [21]  are very fine, one or two inversions of syntax might have been avoided, but these little corrections are always more obvious to a reader than a writer. they gave me pleasure too as by their situation rendering such metres not quite strange to an English ear.

My poems [22]  I hope will reach you in the course of the week. I am clearing off other things to begin the Dom Daniel. [23]  which will be in stanzas, the rhymes I believe irregularly arranged, & perhaps the lines long or short at pleasure.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Sunday night. 24 Feby. 99.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ FEB 25 99; [partial] FE/ 26/ 99
Endorsement: Ansd 4 March
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4819
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 252–256. BACK

[1] Taylor’s ‘Dirge: For him who shall deserve it’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 36–37; and ‘Lake Keswic’, published as ‘Topographical Ode’, in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 1–9. BACK

[2] Taylor’s review of Amos Simon Cottle, Icelandic Poetry, or the Edda of Saemund Translated into English Verse (1797), Monthly Review, 27 (December, 1798), 318–388. BACK

[3] Taylor’s review of Herbert Croft’s (1751–1816; DNB), A Letter, from Germany, to the Princess Royal of England; on the English and German Languages (1797), Monthly Review, 27 (December, 1798), ‘Appendix’, 494–498. BACK

[4] For Southey’s attack on Croft, see his letter to the editor of the Monthly Magazine, October [1799], Letter 439. BACK

[5] Taylor’s review of Augustin Barruel (1741–1820), Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1798), appeared in the Monthly Review, 27 (December, 1798), ‘Appendix’, 509–524. BACK

[6] See Southey’s letter to the editor of the Monthly Magazine, 21 February 1799, Letter 381. BACK

[7] The advertisement for the Annual Anthology; see Monthly Magazine, 8 (November 1799), 807. BACK

[8] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Oberon, a Poem; From the German of Wieland (1798). BACK

[9] Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1535) and Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), Italian epic poets. BACK

[10] In a letter to Southey of 28 January 1799, Taylor had cited Christoph Wieland’s (1733–1813) opinion that ‘The fable of a poem is ... of very inferior consequence to its beauties of detail’ (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 250). BACK

[11] Publius Papinius Statius (c. AD 45–c. 96), The Thebaid (1st century AD); François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694–1778), La Henriade (1728). BACK

[12] Taylor’s friend James Edward Smith (1759–1828; DNB), Unitarian, botanist, and founder and President of the Linnean Society. BACK

[13] Pleasance Smith (1773–1877; DNB), was healthier than she seemed, living until the age of 103. BACK

[14] Presumably a scheme to benefit George Burnett. BACK

[15] The Pneumatic Institute, Dowry Square, Bristol, had opened recently. It was first advertised in the Bristol Gazette and Public Advertiser, 21 March 1799. BACK

[16] Thomas Beddoes had announced Humphry Davy’s appointment as ‘superintendant’ at the Pneumatic Institute in a letter of 9 October, see Monthly Magazine, 6 (October 1798), 238. BACK

[17] Humphy Davy, ‘Experimental Essays on Heat, Light, and on the Combination of Light, with a New Theory of Respiration, and Observations on the Chemistry of Life’, in Thomas Beddoes, Contributions to Physical and Medical Knowledge, Principally from the West of England (Bristol, 1799), pp. 5–147. BACK

[18] Taylor’s letter to Southey, 26 September 1798 (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 229) mentioned Charles Henry Parry (1779–1860; DNB), the son of the eminent Bath physician Caleb Hillier Parry. Like his father, Charles Parry became a doctor, rather than a poet or painter. BACK

[19] The history painter James Barry (1741–1806; DNB). BACK

[20] Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826), Luise (1795). The article in the Monthly Review, 27 (December, 1798), ‘Appendix’, 564–565 was not by Taylor. BACK

[21] Unidentified; possibly a translation of a section of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), Der Messias (1748–1773). BACK

[22] Southey’s two-volume Poems (1799). BACK

[23] An early version of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

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August 2011