625. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 November 1801 

625. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 November 1801 ⁠* 

Wednesday night. Nov. 11. 1801.

My dear friend

Amid the bustle & everlasting motion in which of late I have been engaged, I have neglected to apprize you of my goings on. partly indeed trusting that Henry would learn every thing worth knowing from his Mother.

Soon after my letter to him I joined my friends in Wales. we made what was designed to be our first journey, which terminated at Llangedwin, Wynns abode. there I found a letter inviting me to Ireland to become Corrys private Secretary for one year. the term prudently limited lest we should not suit each other. the proffered salary 400£ Irish. about 350 English, of which the half was specified as travelling expences. my circumstances neither required nor allowed hesitation. So after touching at Keswick twice, on my road to & from Dublin, here I am in my scribe capacity. My friend Rickmans acquaintance with Corry brought this about. he is Secretary to Abbot. [1]  & his residence in Dublin will render my Irish half year very endurable, as he is one of the most men whom I most esteem for his whole moral & intellectual character

I have been a week in town, & in that time have learnt something. the civilities which already have been shown me discover how much I have been abhorred for all that is valuable in my nature. such civilities excite more contempt than anger – but they make me think more despicably of the world than I would wish to do. As if this were a baptism that purified me of all Jacobinical sins – a regeneration – & the one congratulates me, & the other visits me, as if the author of Joan of Arc & of Thalaba [2]  were made a great man by scribing for the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer! –

I suppose my situation by all these symptoms to be a good one. for a more ambitious man doubtless very desirable, tho the ladder is longer than I design to climb. my principles & habits are happily enough settled. My objects in life are leisure to do nothing but write, & competence to write at leisure, & my notions of competence do not exceed 300 a year. – Mr Corry is a man of gentle & reconciling manners. fitter men for his purpose he doubtless might have found in some respects – none more so in regularity & dispatch. the newspapers I hear are at me – I am used to flea bites, & never scratch a pimple to a sore.

Doubtless you have seen the British Critics Review of Thalaba. [3]  it is so perfect in its kind that I have no doubt in ascribing it to Sir Herbert Croft. the personality in the Monthly Review [4]  I cannot so easily account for: Dr Geddes [5]  has been whispered to me – but I hardly credit the whisper. for never having seen the man I cannot have offended him. – I recollect not whether or no I thanked you for your judgement of Thalaba, & acceded to its censure in great part. as far as I can judge by what reaches my own ears the poem has been succesful to its fair deserts; that is in the character it is gaining – of the sale I yet know nothing.

Burnett is at work for Phillips. [6]  the young warrior fights under a veterans shield, & his bantlings are to be fathered by no less a personage than Dr Mavor [7]  – head-journeyman to Edmund Curl the Second. [8]  For this trade – a miserable trade, George Burnett is noways qualified. he over rates his own powers, & every body else under-rates them. my advice to him has been – turn Usher or tutor. & give your leisure to asserting your literary character. to this he will not stoop – at present he has employment. but he neither calculates rightly on its precariousness nor on his own fitness & ability to discharge it. his knowledge is not at hand {ready} – like the Bank it has cash – but alas! not payable on demand.

I wait my books & papers before I can be comfortably industrious – to correct Madoc – & proceed with the Curse of Kehama [9]  – these are to be my leisure labours – both with the hope of long escaping the Press. for some half dozen reasons, of which the wisest is, that the longer they remain, the higher value they will acquire – not merely from the gradual correction – the ripening of crude fruit – but because my own character as a poet will strengthen, like a retired players. My time is sold at a better price than the booksellers would have given for it.

Do you come to London this winter? If I had the Wishing Cap [10]  I would see you at Norwich – a place of which all remembrance is pleasurable. – direct under cover to

Right Honble

Isaac Corry

&c &c &c

Duke Street – Westminster –


{there is much meaning in the and pussey ands. [11]  – Henry I hope will write – I wish to hear of him & from him.}

farewell.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: BRIDGE St./ Westminster
Postmark: [partial] NO/ 12/ 01
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4831
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. 377-380. BACK

[1] Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester (1757-1829; DNB), Chief Secretary for Ireland 1801-1802, The Speaker 1802-1817. BACK

[2] Joan of Arc (1796) and (1798); Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[3] British Critic, 18 (September 1801), pp. 309-310. The review was anonymous and a sustained attack on ‘this complete monument of vile and depraved taste’. BACK

[4] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was not reviewed in the Monthly Review until volume 39 (November 1802), pp. 240-251. The Monthly had already published a number of unfriendly reviews of Southey’s other work, e.g. of Poems (1799) in volume 31 (March 1800), pp. 261-267. BACK

[5] Alexander Geddes (1737-1802; DNB), Catholic priest and scholar. BACK

[6] Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840; DNB), publisher and magazine proprietor. BACK

[7] William Fordyce Mavor (1758-1837; DNB), clergyman, schoolmaster and writer. Burnett was working on his Universal History, Ancient and Modern (1802), which was published by Phillips. BACK

[8] Edmund Curll (d. 1747; DNB), prolific early 18th-century bookseller and publisher. BACK

[9] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. He was still drafting the first book of the Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[10] Southey is referring to Fortunatus, the hero of a series of tales widely published in 16th and 17th-century Europe. Fortunatus had a purse that always replenished itself and a cap that could carry the wearer wherever he wished. BACK

[11] A punning reference to the ‘&cs’ Southey used instead of Corry’s official titles. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011