3426. Robert Southey to Messrs Longman and Co. [fragment], 28 January 1820

3426. Robert Southey to Messrs Longman and Co. [fragment], 28 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick, Jan. 28, 1820.

Dear Sir

My tale of “Paraguay” will not be ready yet ... [1] 

With regard to the illustrations of my larger poems, I am glad you think of them, because such things are now become so customary that the poet who goes without them might seem to hold but a low place in public opinion; a point which I care for only as it may affect the sale of my works. Would it not be worth while, as an experiment, to print one of my poems with or without the notes, in a small cheap form, like those little editions of Walker’s, Suttaby’s, &c., which are found at every country bookseller’s, however small his stock? [2]  I do not think it would lessen the sale of the current editions, but that sufficient purchasers would be found to give 3s. 6d. or 4s. who would never give 14s. [3]  I should like to try this experiment with “Thalaba,” [4]  that being of all my poems the most likely to become popular, if it were in a popular form. It would thus be placed within reach of a whole class of customers, who never buy books till they are lowered in price to their means; but this class is numerous, and always on the increase, and is plainly worth printing for, because so many books are printed for it.

I should expect that the third volume of “Brazil” will get up with the second as soon as it is reviewed, and thereby brought to the notice of persons who may not see or not regard the advertisements. But as to the first volume, many copies must, by the death of the first possessors or other chances, have fallen into the possession of persons who care nothing about books, or have got into the hands of booksellers as odd volumes, – a necessary evil arising from the lapse of time between the first and last publication. [5]  I must not, however, regret that so long a time elapsed, because some of the most important materials for the last volume did not come to light till that volume was half through the press; so that, had the work appeared earlier, it must have been much more imperfect. Please to lay a set by for me while one is to be had, and I will choose a binding for it when I see you in March. [6]  The only copy which I have is the one in which I am making corrections and additions from such documents as have come to my hands too late. It is a great satisfaction to me to find, from these later documents, that in no one instance, where I have obtained subsequent information, have I found myself erroneous in the views which I had taken or the opinion which I had formed.

When the “History of Portugal” comes to be printed, I will take care that the volumes shall follow each other without delay. [7]  And for this reason I will not put it to press (though more than half the work is written in its first state) till the “History of the Peninsular War” is published. [8] 

Yours truly,



* 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), III, pp. 172–174 [in part]. BACK

[1] A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[2] Southey was seeking to increase his sales and diversify his audience and thus suggested that Longman publish cheaper, pocket editions of his poems, like those of other authors published in the ‘Walkers British Classics’ series (owned by Longman), and by William Suttaby (d. 1838), who was responsible for the ‘Cabinet Edition’ and ‘Miniature Library’ series. Although Longman did not act on this suggestion, such editions were being produced without Southey’s sanction on the continent. For example in 1820 a pocket edition of Southey’s Poems was printed in Zwickau, Saxony, for the Brothers Schumann, a firm run by August Schumann (1773–1826). BACK

[3] Southey’s longer poems were usually priced at this time at 16 shillings, for example, the fourth edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1818). BACK

[4] The Islamic romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). It was an interesting choice because, although it had been highly influential on contemporary writers such as Byron, Percy Shelley and Thomas Moore, Thalaba had not sold well, with a second edition appearing in 1809 and a third in 1814. BACK

[5] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). Longman called for a second edition of the first volume only, and this was published in 1822. BACK

[6] History of Brazil (1810–1819), no. 2625 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, described as ‘calf, extra, marbled leaves’. BACK

[7] Southey’s prose magnum opus, ‘The History of Portugal’, was neither completed nor published. BACK

[8] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)