Printer-friendly versionSend by email

449. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 22 October 1799 ⁠* 

It is one among the many disadvantages of being without a local habitation, to be without a direction. a rambler is half forgotten by his friends because they know not where to remember him. We are now revolutionizing two adjoining hovels, into a dwelling house one & indivisible, & in the course of another ten days I shall be settled with my books about me. my direction is Burton near Ringwood. Hampshire. our situation two miles from the verge of the New Forest & one & a half from the sea. the Needles & the Southern & Western rocks of the Isle of Wight rise opposite our shore at the distance of nine miles. I should like to show you the country, − & if Summer & Autumn are not dead, but only missing like half the poor soldiers in Holland, [1]  there is perhaps enough to repay you, in a better season, for the journey. we are just an hundred miles from London.

I am finishing the fourth book of my Dom-Daniel-romance [2]  – the plan of the remainder is matured, my head full of eastern scenery & I look to speedily conclude it. have you seen a poem called Gebir? [3]  It appears to me the miraculous work of a madman – it its intelligible passages are flashes of lightning at midnight – like a picture in whose obscure colouring no plan is discoverable, but in every distinct touch you see the Masters hand.

Tom is a prisoner. [4]  at least we hope so. it is eight or ten weeks since we have heard from him. on our arrival here we saw in the newspaper that a large Kings brig had been seen lying in Ferrol, & that she was supposed to be the Sylph. here our intelligence ends – but this is almost a certainty, & our chief uneasiness arises from not knowing whether there had been an action previous to the capture. I conclude not – because a Spanish brig would not attack & could not take an English one, & because a brig could not resist a ship of superiour force. It is most probable that the Sylph was picked up by the line of battle ships that have been dodging from Ferrol to Rochefort, from Rochefort to L’Orient & from L’Orient to Ferrol again. My mother is of course very uneasy.

We shall see Harry at Christmas. in six or twelve months more he will be able to begin anatomical or chemical studies. I think of placing him at a German University to graduate – because it is less expensive & because he will at least acquire a knowledge of the language.

There is a paper in one of the late Monthly Magazines [5]  which I half belief to be yours & half disbelieve its contradictory evidence – upon modern Jesuitism. I miss you in the Review. the Critical is so miserably bad, that indolently as I write myself I am almost ashamed to be in such company.

I am arranging my materials for the second Anthology. [6]  the first has crept into the world silently – perfectly still born. the home-sale at Bristol has been extensive & the book where it is known sufficiently popular. the Reviews may perhaps do something for it, & the second volume will do more. As yet I have no stranger-communication, but in the little world of poetry my acquaintance is by no means confined. I have one or two pieces of greater length than any in the first volume, − but nothing to equal your topographical ode. [7]  that stands & must stand alone. Did you receive the first volume?

I have {just} got the Zend-Avesta – but have not yet advanced thro the preliminaries. the merits of Anquetil du Perron [8]  I am told, have been underrated by Richardson & Sir William Jones. [9]  he is not answerable for the nonsense of the book. I procured the book with the remote view of making Mango Capac [10]  the hero of a poem, & bringing him from among the persecuted followers of Zoroaster flying from Mohammedan persecution. a more immediate motive was to gratify an old curiosity. some assistance I may perhaps derive for Thalaba – my Dom-Daniel-Destroyer. & among the many little pieces that I needs must write it is my intention to write skex sketches characteristic of the manners & mythologies of different nations. some of these relative to the American Indians you may possibly have seen in the Morning Post. [11] 

Brownes Travels [12]  disappointed me. that a man should go so far & see so little! & in the Critical [13]  there is the puff superlative upon his meagre narrative. Park [14]  interested me far more. these African adventurers seem to go foolishly to work. circumcision would save them half their dangers. [15]  after all the probability is that Africa will be chiefly explored from [MS torn] English Cape of Hope – & from French Egypt. Buonaparte!! [16]  [MS torn]

I directed a fortnight ago from Exeter a letter for Burnett to you [MS torn]ceiving that he would be with you when it arrived. it encloses the half [MS torn] ten pound bill & as he has not acknowledged it I fear it must have been lost.

A little practice has enabled me to hexametrize with facility. in my next I will send you a specimen. the people at Christ Church have been disappointed of an illumination. they were going to light up their houses for the capture of Alkmaar [17]  – but consented to wait till the allies had got to Amsterdam!

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Burton. Tuesday Oct. 22. 99.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Postmark: E/ OCT 24/ 99
Endorsement: Ansd 1 Nov
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4824
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. 299–301 [in part]. BACK

[1] An Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland on 27 August 1799 had led to a serious defeat at the Battle of Castricum on 6 October 1799. In the ensuing retreat, two field hospitals of wounded, 400 women and children and an unknown number of soldiers were left behind. BACK

[2] An early name for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[3] Walter Savage Landor, Gebir (1798), although the poem was published anonymously. BACK

[4] It was widely reported in the British Press in early October 1799, e.g. St James’s Chronicle, 5 October 1799, that the brig, Sylph, on which Tom Southey was serving, had been captured and was at the Spanish port of Ferrol. BACK

[5] Monthly Magazine, 8 (September 1799), 597–601. The article was by Taylor. BACK

[6] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[7] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 1–9. BACK

[8] Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), Zend-Avesta (1771), a French translation of the sacred writings of Zoroastrianism. The book was no. 3135 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[9] John Richardson (1740/1–1795; DNB) and Sir William Jones (1746–1794; DNB), Britain’s two foremost orientalists of the late eighteenth century. BACK

[10] Legendary founder of the Inca Empire in the 12th or 13th centuries. BACK

[11] ‘Song of the Araucans’, Morning Post, 10 August 1799; ‘The Dirge of the American Widow’, Morning Post, 11 September 1799; ‘The Old Chikkasah to his Grandson’, Morning Post, 21 September 1799. BACK

[12] William George Browne (1768–1813; DNB), Travels in Africa, Egypt, and Syria, from the Years 1792 to 1798 (1799). BACK

[13] Critical Review, 26 (August 1799), [361]–379. BACK

[14] Mungo Park (1771–1806; DNB), Travels in the Interior of Africa (1799). BACK

[15] Both Browne and Park endured periods of captivity at the hands of Muslim rulers. Southey is implying their journeys would have been more trouble-free if they had converted to Islam. BACK

[16] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821, First Consul 1799–1804, Emperor of the French 1804–1814). BACK

[17] Alkmaar in the Netherlands had been captured by Anglo-Russian allied forces on 2 October 1799. However, the French successfully halted the allies’ advance at the Battle of Castricum, 6 October 1799. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011