2331. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 16 November 1813

2331. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 16 November 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 16. 1813

I reached home on Sunday afternoon after a twelve weeks absence. Your letter was awaiting my return, – a former one reached me just before my departure, & with many others remained unanswered, because amid the endless round of occupations & engagements in which I was involved, it was impossible to find time for answering them. Thank God I am once more by my own fire side. My ancles are still somewhat swolen, for I was five & forty hours upon the road; & the sound of the mail coach is not yet out of my ears; but I am safe, sound & at rest.

You would find it easier to write a new comedy than to introduce action & bustle into a plan which was constructed without them. [1]  This is like pulling a house to pieces for the purpose of making something which formed no part of the original design. There is in the dialogues of this play a peculiar character which it is easier to feel than to analize; – your prose is like your verse every where terse, condensed & full of thought, – & with flashes of which the thought & the expression, are so apt, so happy & so original that I know <not> where they are to be paralleled, or where any thing approaching them is to be found. – I was asked in London whether I were the author of C Julian. [2]  The question implied a great compliment to me, & little discernment in those who proposed it. Your notion of tragedy is perhaps too severe, yet I think you could more easily write one which would succeed in representation more easily than you could a comedy. – Once you talked of a selection of Modern Latin poems [3]  & sent me some specimens of the criticisms which were to accompany it. A Bookseller would find his account in publishing this, for it would have a sale at public schools & in the Universities.

On my arrival in town I found that Croker, having consulted with an old friend & schoolfellow of mine, had asked the Prince to make me Laureate. The Prince replied that he understood I had written well in defence of the Spanish cause, & therefore I should have the appointment. Presently Croker meets Lord Liverpool & tells him what had past. Lord L. expressed his regret that he had x not known it four & twenty hours earlier, for the M. of Hertford had consulted with him, & they, agreeing that W Scott was the fittest person upon whom to bestow the laurel, on the x maxim of detur digniori, [4]  – they had written & offered it to him. The Prince was angry at this: he ought to have been consulted, he said, it was his pleasure that I should have it, & have it he had given it to me, & have it I should. Croker then observed that he was Scotts friend as well as mine; that Scott & I were upon the best terms with each other, – that any thing which could be done upon the subject would be especially unpleasant to all three, & therefore for the sake of all three he requested that the matter might rest where it was. All this I learnt on the morning of my arrival.

As soon as the post could bring it, there came a letter from Scott, [5]  telling me that he declined the appointment, because he held two professional offices, & did not think it becoming to accept this which was almost the only thing that could be bestowed on one who was exclusively devoted to literature. He urged me to accept it, if as he hoped, & expected, & had requested it should be offered me, – & this was couched in terms so frank & ingenuous, that they really reflected more honour upon himself than he yielded to me. – In me it would have been rank cowardice & therefore rank folly to have refused the appointment, – which I could only have done for xx of xxxx because I disliked the Princes Government, or distrusted my own xxx power of making the office respectable, – or because I feared to give occasion to the jests of newspaper jokesmiths. The salary was originally 100 marks. It was raised for Ben Jonson [6]  to 100 pounds & a tierce of Spanish Canary Wine, since wickedly commuted for 26 £, which commutation pays income-tax – pension-tax, land tax, & the Lord know what taxes besides. The whole net income is about 90 £. By adding to it 12 £ a year, I insure my ow life for – 3000 £, & thus convert the income into a legacy for my family.

As soon as I can find leisure, I will transcribe another book of Roderic [7]  for you. Remember me to Mrs L.



* Address: [deletion and re-address in another hand] To / Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Lantony/ Abervgavenny/ Swansea
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; [partial] ABERGAVENNY
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 27. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 334-337. BACK

[1] Southey’s comments relate to Landor’s comedy ‘The Charitable Dowager’. It was never published or performed; see also Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 30 June 1813, Letter 2277. BACK

[2] Landor’s tragedy Count Julian (1812). BACK

[3] This project was not completed. BACK

[4] ‘Let it be given to the more worthy’. BACK

[5] See Scott’s letter of 1 September [1813], telling Southey that he had declined the Poet Laureateship and instead recommended him to Croker. He also cautioned ‘I am uncertain if you will like it, for the laurel has certainly been tarnished by some of its wearers, and as at present managed, its duties are inconvenient and somewhat liable to ridicule’, H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 335–336. Scott held two legal offices: he was Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire (since 1799); and Principal Clerk of the Court of Session (since 1806). These posts gave him a combined salary of £1600 p.a. BACK

[6] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), Poet Laureate 1616–1637. BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)