2521. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, [17–] 22 December [1814]

2521. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, [17–] 22 December [1814] ⁠* 

My dear Tom

I want your help about the beginning of Oliver Newman. [1]  It must open with a funeral at sea. Do you put shot in the coffin (when there is one) or fasten the weights in any other manner? And in what manner, when the ceremony was to be perfomed with some respect, would you hoist it over? & from what part of the ship? Give me all the technicals.

My plan is pretty well made out, [2]  & I believe my mind is made up upon the choice of metre, which is always a perplexing choice. It will be that of Thalaba. [3]  Blank verse might lead me into repetitions, – & rhyme will not do for a poem much of which must be essentially dramatic.

Longman expects that the quarto Roderick will be gone before a small edition can be ready; – it is therefore in the press again. [4]  This was to be looked for, – but it will not have & cannot have a great sale. The passion for novelty is soon satisfied, & the Poem is of far too high a character to become popular, till time has made it so. It is like an acorn upon Latrigg now. The thistles & the fern will grow <shoot up> faster, & perhaps put it out of sight for a season; but the oak will strike root & grow.

Will you be glad or sorry to hear that I must write an Ode? [5]  I verily believed that the performance had been dropt last year, & thought it was an act of over-caution when I wrote last week to ask Croker whether or not it was so. [6]  He tells me last night that tho the custom ought to be abolished, it is not yet, & therefore I must write one: & he holds out a vague sort of prospect of its abolition, upon which very little dependance can be placed. You may be sure I care very little about this. An immediate & public abolition of so idle a custom would xxx reflect credit upon the Prince but as for me, it may very possibly be more to my credit that it should continue; for subjects can never be wanting to a man who looks at public events as I do, in their causes & consequences. So instead of pesting the ode (that French word is better than either our synonims in c or in d,) I set about it; formed the plan immediately, & have today written 37 lines; – which considering I had a headache in the morning, & took a humming dose of magnesia at two o clock to get rid of it, is pretty well. If you were a medical man you would think it a xxx curious fact that this dose should have performed its work in the course of two xxx hours: – it has carried away the head aches, – & I should have written xx another stanza of the ode, instead of taking up this letter for your lordship, if I had not xxx wished to get it as much out of my mind as possible before I go to bed.

We had yesterday the most remarkable storm that Mrs Wilson or any person in Keswick can remember. The wind was nearly due south; & it took up the water of the lake, literally like dust: we could see it beginning to rise far up under Brandelhow, white as smoke or as a morning mist, gathering & growing all the way to the bottom of the lake, & there dispersed as far as the tempest could carry it. The report from the town was that “slates were flying about there like crows.” – & in fact the long sort of pent house above the Queens Head is nearly unroofed. It still blows a heavy gale.

Xxxxx xxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx The West Indies [7]  you cannot compleat without going to London, & working at the public libraries there, & this it will be worth while to do when you have done all that can be done from the materials within your reach. We must overhaul them when I come to you.

22 Dec.r

My odeous job was finished yesterday, thirteen stanzas in the rhymeless measure of the Congratulatory Odes, which Milton, after the Greeks, calls Apolelymenon, – a good hard word for loose. [8]  I want a name for the Ode sadly – but to call it merely from the metre Carmen Apolelymenon would be such “a word on” – A Title Page as might well make the reader bless himself. so I suppose it xxx must simply be called an Ode. I dismiss the American war by a [MS missing] that it may soon be at an end, [9]  with a reference to the memory of Washington, [10]  – then turn to what are the labours which befit the county in peace launch out upon the two great subjects of General Education & Colonization. I will get it franked to you if I can.

Isabel has a frightful abscess below the ear. It began with a discharge from the inside & has lasted very long. I hope it is going on well at present, & think so. But it a most distressing thing to dress it twice a day. She has never thoroughly recovered from that dreadful bilious attack in October; – & I am afraid she is at this time threatened by another: – so that I am far from being easy in mind.

Love to Sarah

God bless you



* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N./ St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 8–10 [misdated 20 December 1815]
Dating note: This letter was begun on 17 December, the day after Southey received the letter from Croker he refers to here. BACK

[1] ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at Southey’s death. BACK

[2] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 December 1814, Letter 2516. BACK

[3] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[4] The second edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths was published in two duodecimo volumes in 1815. The first edition of 1814 had been in quarto format. BACK

[5] ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’. It was thought unsuitable by the authorities, and was not published until Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. It was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in the 1837–1838 edition of Southey’s poetical works. BACK

[6] See Southey to [John Wilson Croker], 6 December 1814, Letter 2512. BACK

[7] Tom Southey’s planned Chronological History of the West Indies (1827). BACK

[8] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Samson Agonistes (1671), ‘Of that sort of Dramatick Poem which is called Tragedy’: ‘The measure of verse used in the Chorus is of all sorts, called by the Greeks Monostrophick, or rather Apolelymenon, without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe, or Epode’. BACK

[9] The United Kingdom and United States were at war 1812–1814, but negotiations to end the conflict were underway and the Treaty of Ghent was signed 24 December 1814. BACK

[10] George Washington (1732–1799), first President of the United States of America, 1789–1797. BACK

People mentioned

George IV (1762–1830) (mentioned 1 time)
Wilson, Molly (?–1820) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Isabel (1812–1826) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)