3661. Robert Southey to Sir William Knighton, 30 March 1821

3661. Robert Southey to Sir William Knighton, 30 March 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 30 March. 1821.

My dear Sir

I am greatly obliged to you for presenting my Vision of Judgement [1]  to the King, & for communicating to me the very gratifying manner in which his Majesty has been pleased to mention it. In writing upon public occasions it has been & will be my earnest desire to produce something which may inculcate & enforce right opinions, with the hope that it may prove of some immediate utility, & be not unworthy of being read hereafter. His Majestys approbation is the best proof which could be obtained that this desire will not be disappointed.

The opinions which have as yet reached me concerning the metre of the poem, [2]  are exactly what private trials had taught me to expect. Women are at first perplexed at the appearance of the verse; but upon reading it aloud, they presently perceive the rhythm, & then they like it. My friend Charles Wynn avowing that his prejudice against it is inveterate, acknowledges that he dislikes it less than he expected. [3]  Young poets [4]  admire it with enthusiasm, & endeavor to persuade me that it is a finer measure than blank verse. Their elders, whom I call my peers, [5]  appreciate fairly its merits & defects, & giving a decided verdict in its favour, pronounce it a legitimate & powerful metre, & think that our literature is enriched by its introduction.

Twenty years ago I planned a poem upon the Deluge, with the intention of writing it in this measure, meaning to show in what manner the wickedness of mankind was produced in the Old World by the two opposite extremes of political evil, – such a tyranny on the one hand as Buonaparte [6]  afterwards went far towards establishing, & such a spirit of Jacobinism <on the other,> as is at this day at work, here at home, as well as over the whole continent. [7]  The design has long been laid aside, but the course of events has tended to show that it was not ill conceived in this respect.

Believe me my Dear Sir

with many thanks

Yours faithfully

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Sir William Knighton Bart/ &c &c &c/ Hanover Square/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 2 AP 2/ 1821
Endorsements: Southey 1821; Southey
MS: Cornell University Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: Lady Knighton, Memoirs of Sir William Knighton, 2 vols (Paris, 1838), I, pp. 89–91; and L. N. Broughton, ‘Some Early Nineteenth Century Letters Hitherto Unpublished’, Nineteenth-Century Studies (Ithaca, NY, 1940), 79–81. BACK

[1] A Vision of Judgement (1821). Written in Southey’s capacity as Poet Laureate, it was dedicated to George IV. BACK

[2] A Vision of Judgement (1821) was written in hexameters. BACK

[3] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 23 March 1821, Letter 3657. BACK

[4] For example, John Heraud and Ebenezer Elliott; see Southey John Heraud, 15 March 1821, Letter 3653, and Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 25 March 1821, Letter 3658. BACK

[5] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 December 1820, Letter 3587, for his account of the approval of hexameters by Wordsworth; and Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 April 1821, Letter 3662 for Landor’s views. BACK

[6] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 184–1814, 1815). BACK

[7] Southey had a long history of metrical experimentation and in 1799 had the idea for a long poem in hexameters about the biblical flood. It had the working titles the ‘Deluge’ and ‘Noah’. For the ideas he sketched out, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 2–3. Southey’s thoughts, dated 29 June 1801, included: ‘The universal iniquity will be difficultly made conceivable. There must be an universal monarchy to account for it, and focus it./ How to heighten the crimes? to bring about the crisis of guilt? all must be bad, even those who see the evil must seek to remedy it by evil means; some United Irish violence.’ The poem was not brought to fruition. BACK

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