2345. Robert Southey to Neville White, 12 December 1813

2345. Robert Southey to Neville White, 12 December 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick, Dec. 12. 1813.

My Dear Neville,

I meant to have seen you in the morning before my departure from town, and also to have answered in person a note from Josiah Conder; but the day proved rainy, and prevented me. The day we met at New Inn [1]  I caught a violent cold, which lasted me during the remainder of my stay in London; and perhaps I should have thought any other person imprudent in setting out with such a companion for a two-nights’ journey in the mail. But I persuaded myself that five-and-forty hours’ travelling would shake it out of my system; and though the theory certainly was founded upon inclination, or rather made to suit it, it was confirmed by the result: for I reached home with little cold left, and with no other symptom of fatigue than that my ankles remained swollen for two or three days. All at home were well, and I was as happy and as thankful as it became me to be, at finding them so after so long an absence.

Since my return I have paid off some long epistolary arrears, and got through a good deal of miscellaneous preparatory work; but my chief employment has been that which has grown out of my new situation. You will see my New Year’s Ode announced for separate publication under the title of “Carmen Annuum.” [2]  I have given it this Latin name to avoid calling it an ode, partly because it is longer than such compositions usually are, and partly because the poem is of a peculiar character; I was glad to find a general name for it, rather than one which might convey an erroneous expectation of its manner. It is an oration in verse, rather than a poem: — but whether it be worth the trouble and the time which it has cost me, must be left to others to determine. Longman will send it you as soon as it is ready. It must appear on New Year’s Day; and an extract from it serves the purpose of the Ode in ordinary. [3] 

My intention was to have accompanied it with a sort of dedicatory epistle to the Prince; but I have not yet been able to strike off a beginning, and must therefore, I fear, delay this. [4]  It will not be very long before there will be another, and in some respects a better opportunity for it. I purpose to write a series of inscriptions, recording the achievements of our army in the Peninsula, — triumphal for the battles won and fortresses taken, and monumental for the more distinguished persons who have fallen. [5]  You see I am disposed to do all that is in my power to render the office honourable.

The burden of my poem is, “Glory to God, Deliverance for Mankind;” [6]  the concluding strain is “Down with the Tyrant.” [7]  And here you have my feelings as to the events which have taken place since we met, and the course which it becomes the victorious allies to pursue. It will be their own fault if they do not dictate peace at Paris; there and thus peace ought to be made, and no otherwise, unless this event be prevented, as it so easily may, by the recall of the Bourbons. Whether in my own individual mind I wish to see them re-established is a question which I am really unable to answer; for if on the one hand the immediate benefits would be great, on the other they are a bad race, and I never can forget, whatever have been the crimes of the French Revolution in its course, and the incalculable evils of its consequences, that the feelings which occasioned their expulsion were far nobler than those which would bring about their restoration.

To-morrow I send “Roderick” [8]  to the press. It will quite rejoice me to see a proof sheet again, after having been three months without one.

Madame de Stael’s book concerning Germany [9]  is highly interesting, and more than answers any expectation which I could have formed, highly as I thought of her acquirements and intellectual powers from conversing with her. I differ from her only in this, — that I go with Schlegel the whole length of reprobating French taste in its master-pieces, as false in its essential principles, and pernicious in its inevitable consequences. [10]  Germany she does not rank too high, nor English philosophy too low. It is a delightful book, written with manly force and female fancy. God bless you.



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 338-341. BACK

[1] A fifteenth-century Inn of Chancery attached to Middle Temple. The buildings were pulled down in 1902. BACK

[2] Southey’s first official Laureate poem was extremely controversial. Five stanzas were considered by Croker and Rickman to be particularly inflammatory. Southey bowed to pressure and deleted them from the version published as Carmen Triumphale in a quarto of 30 pages on 1 January 1814. He incorporated the deleted stanzas into an ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Bonaparte’, published in the Courier, 3 February 1814. BACK

[3] i.e. the annual New Year’s ode that was set to music by the Master of the King’s Music. BACK

[4] This ‘epistle’ was not written. BACK

[5] Only 18 of the proposed 30 inscriptions were written. The idea of publishing them as a separate volume did not materialise. BACK

[6] A repeated line in the first draft of Carmen Triumphale, often used to conclude verses. BACK

[7] ‘Down with the Tyrant’ was removed from Carmen Triumphale and was included in the last line of ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Buonaparte’. BACK

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

[9] Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817), De l’Allemagne (1813). Southey had met de Staël in London earlier in 1813 and she had presented him with a copy; no. 2731 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[10] August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845), who had been tutor to Madame de Staël’s sons. His views were expressed in Comparison entre la Phedre de Racine et celle d’Euripide (1807). BACK

People mentioned

George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 1 time)
Conder, Josiah (1789–1855) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)