2514. Robert Southey to John King, 12 December 1814

2514. Robert Southey to John King, 12 December 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 12 Dec. 1814.

My dear King

I had a letter from Mr Butcher [1]  some time ago desiring that I would appoint some person in Bristol to sign a receipt for a payment which had to make me as Executor to our dear Danvers. In my reply [2]  I desired that what I then wrote may be considered as giving full powers to you for that purpose: – if that be not sufficient, I hope this will.

Never was I more astounded than by your apparition at Keswick, & never more tantalized.

My motive for writing now is to enquire whether you have received Roderick, [3]  – that if you have not I may repeat my direction to the publisher. It is doing as well in the world as there could be any reason to expect, & the first edition will be gone before the second is ready. – I still hesitate what to write next, not for want of a subject, but from not making up my mind which subject (of many before me) to prefer, & in what metre to clothe it. The New-England story [4]  bids fairest at present, & the Thalaban verse. [5] 

A curious manuscript has been sent for my inspection by the booksellers. The travels of Eulia Effendi a Turk of some consequence who in the middle of the 17th century went over the whole of the Ottoman Empire, & great part of Persia. A German at Vienna has translated it into English, – England I suppose being the only market. [6]  It extends to four volumes (the translation) of about 280 folio pages each, & he asks for it 500£, which tho not more than his labours deserve – is I apprehend more than can be given for them. For tho the work is exceedingly curious, it is not likely to bear the expence of publication in the ordinary form. The old Turk, for he was between 80 & 90 years of age when he finished his work, is very orthodox, very inquisitive, indefatigable in his enquiries, & as credulous as need be, but by no means wanting in sagacity: – a very extraordinary Turk. He gives a compleat view of the system & strength of the Ottoman Empire at that time, & much of its history, the author having been attached to one of the Grand Viziers – & borne a part in many of the great transactions of his day. I have only seen the last two volumes, the first two not having reached England. – It is a mournful thing that England is the only country where there is a chance of encouragement for literary labours of this kind. – God knows there is little enough of it here! a Spaniard [7]  who has been travelling as a qualified Mussleman in Africa & made his pilgrimage to Mecca, & attained to the honour of sweeping the Caaba (the highest which can be conferred upon a pilgrim) – is printing his travels in London. He brings intelligence (not from his own knowledge) of a mediterranean in Africa, or more properly a huge fresh water lake, into which I suppose the Niger runs, & from which probably perhaps the larger & remoter branch of the Nile proceeds. [8] 

I have just read Lucien Bonapartes poem, [9]  which has very much lowered the author in my estimation. There is considerable merit in the structure <of the stanza> for of this a foreigner may be able to judge upon principles which must be common to every modern European language. And he has not imitated the thread bare incidents of Homer, Virgil & Tasso. [10]  But there is no conception of character, no grandeur of thought, no elevation of mind, – no passion xx xxxx very little of the cloak & embroideries of poetry, less of its body, – nothing of its life & soul. The story is put together with some skill, but it is without interest – A multiplicity of characters are introduced, for none of whom do you feel any concern, (one perhaps excepted which is Laurence the widow of Carloman [11] ) – & the philosophy of the poem is precisely what you would expect from a Poet who kisses the Popes toe in his dedication. [12]  I am to review it, [13]  – with the advantages of being well read in this particular branch of French poetry – having long since read the Charlemagne of Courtin, [14]  – the Alarique, [15]  the Clovis, [16]  the St Louis [17]  &c &c – many of which indeed are on my shelves. [18] 

Madame Staël means to write a heroic poem in prose, of which our Coeur de Lion is to be the hero. [19]  And she talks of going into the Levant in order to see the scene of action herself. She told me this, so you have it upon good authority.

I talk of a long journey next year, to Paris by way of Die[MS torn] Caen & Roan, – then down the Loire to Tou[MS torn] & Orleans, across the country to the Pyrenees & from there – casting a lingering eye towards Spain, to Switzerland (if the state of things will allow [20] ) & down the Rhine to the land of the Frows & the cheeses & herrings & trachschuyts. [21]  Were I a single man I should be in Spain, – but being what I am my life is of much consequence to be put in the way of my old Guerilla friends, who would neither know nor care whom they were shooting at for the sake of his portmanteau. Europe is left in a dismal state, & I am afraid that France by getting a reasonably good government will improve our natural ascendancy in the course of a very few years to the imminent danger of the rest of the disjointed continent. Oh what an opportunity has been lost! Shame it is that English statesmen are the very worst in the world.

We know nothing of Coleridge save that the letters in the Courier signed An Irish Protestant are his. [22]  I have written to his brothers [23]  & by their help & that of some other friends Hartley is going to Oxford in the spring – a good thing called by the odd name of a Postmastership [24]  has been promised him at Merton, which will materially lighten the expence. I cannot conceive how C. keeps out of a jail: sooner or later he must come to some deplorable end.

The concluding vol: of my history of Brazil is in the press. [25]  It will contain much curious matter respecting savage life, & a full & fair account of the rise progress & fall of the Jesuit establishments in Paraguay & in the heart of S America. – I should have had much to show you both within doors & without if you could have staid here a few days. God knows when we shall meet again! I look southward, & frequently think that in many respects Bath would be the best residence for me –

God bless you

Yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John King Esqre/ Mall/ Clifton/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Possibly Edmund Butcher (1757–1822; DNB), eminent Unitarian and minister to a congregation in Sidmouth. BACK

[2] This does not appear to have survived. BACK

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

[4] ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. A fragment was published posthumously in 1845 by Southey’s son-in-law Herbert Hill. BACK

[5] Southey wanted to experiment again with the metre used in Thalaba, the Destroyer (1801). His plan was to use it in a romance on Robin Hood, a project which eventually turned into a collaboration with Caroline Bowles. It was left unfinished at Southey’s death, and a fragment published posthumously in 1847. BACK

[6] Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682) whose Seyahatname described his travels through the Ottoman empire. An English version of part of this was published as Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa (1834) by the Austrian orientalist Ritter Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856). He had published a German version in 1814 and was probably the author of the MS sent to Southey. BACK

[7] Domingo Badia y Leblich (1766–1818), whom Rickman had met in London; see Southey to John Rickman, [c. 17 November 1814], Letter 2502. He was a Spaniard who had travelled extensively in North Africa and the Middle East under the pseudonym ‘Ali Bey al-Abbasi’ and published Travels of Ali Bey: in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, between the years 1803 and 1807 (1816). BACK

[8] Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, Between the Years 1803 and 1807, 2 vols (London, 1816), I, p. 230. Reviewed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 299–345. BACK

[9] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), brother of Napoleon and author of Charlemagne, ou l’Eglise Délivrée (1814). Southey had been asked to translate it into English and had refused. BACK

[10] Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), Italian poet and author of La Gerusalemme Liberata (1580). BACK

[11] Carloman I (751–771; King of the Franks 768–771), brother of Charlemagne and co-ruler. BACK

[12] Charlemagne was dedicated to the Pope, Pius VII (1742–1823; Pope 1800–1823), by his ‘très-dévoué fils en JC/ L.B.’ BACK

[13] Southey did not review Bonaparte’s poem but did insert a swipe at it in his review of accounts of Wellington and Waterloo, Quarterly Review, 13 (July 1815), 448–526: ‘The publication of Charlemagne, so ostentatiously announced, was fatal to his literary character … his poem … proved him to be a sorry Homer’ (489). BACK

[14] Nicolas Courtin (fl 1666–1687) wrote two poems on Charlemagne, Charlemagne ou le Retablissement de l’Empire Romain (1666) and Charlemagne Penitent (1687). BACK

[15] Georges de Scudéry (1601–1667), Alaric ou Rome Vaincue (1654). BACK

[16] Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin (1596–1676), Clovis ou la France Chrestienne (1657); no. 822 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[17] Pierre Le Moyne (1602–1672), St Louis (1653); Southey’s copy was in an edition of Le Moyne’s Les Oeuvres Poetiques (1671), no. 1921 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[18] Southey had collected copies of heroic and epic poems because he was himself a writer of epic and because he had planned (but had not produced) a humorous book composed of summaries of bad epics. BACK

[19] Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766–1817), the writer and salonnière. She did not write about Richard I (1157–1199; DNB), King of England 1189–1199, and participant in the Third Crusade, 1189–1192. BACK

[20] The future of Switzerland was still in some doubt as the Long Diet, which had been meeting since April 1814, was still deadlocked on the future constitution and status of Switzerland. BACK

[21] i.e. the Netherlands. BACK

[22] The letters ‘To Mr. Justice Fletcher’ appeared in the Courier between 20 September and 10 December 1814. They were written in response to The Charge of Judge Fletcher to the Grand Jury of the County of Wexford, at the Summer Assizes, August 5, 1814 (1814), by William Fletcher (d. 1823), Fourth Justice of Common Pleas in Ireland. Fletcher had strongly criticised the Courier’s account of affairs in Ireland and in particular accused them of inventing an attack on him by a mob. BACK

[23] See, for example, Southey to George Coleridge, 12 October 1814, Letter 2485. BACK

[24] The name given to a Scholarship at Merton College, Oxford. BACK

[25] Two further volumes of the History of Brazil appeared, in 1817 and 1819 respectively. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)