1132. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 10 December 1805

1132. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 10 December 1805 ⁠* 

Dec. 10. 1805.

My dear friend

Your reviewal is gone back to King Arthur. there was nothing which I could feel any wish to interline. Something however Wordsworth thought might be added as instances of that impassioned character of sound & emphatic position of words, which cannot be displayed in its full beauty, without the help of metre. The instances he marked were these –

Uplifts the Snake his head retorted, – high
He lifts it over Madoc. P. 251. [1] 
On he came
Straight to the sound, & curled around the Priest
His mighty folds innocuous, overtopping
His human height – 237. [2] 
Their tapers gleamed
Upon his visage, as he wore his helm
Open. [3] 
Cyveilioc stood before them, in his pride
Stood up the Poet-Prince of Mathrafal,
His hands were on the harp, his eyes were closed.
His head, as if in reverence to receive
The inspiration, bent; anon he raised
His glowing countenance & brighter eye
And swept with passionate hand the ringing harp. [4] 

If you can inweave these instances in such way as may seem best – it will win the sort of praise that is useful. I know the versification to be elaborate, – & am very much deceived if it does not generally vary itself well to suit the subject.

In April I shall probably go to London. Is there any likelihood of meeting you there? – if not, I will certainly make Norwich in my way either going or returning, – & this is a pledged promise. – If the mountain will not come to Mahomet – you know what is the only alternative.

I have set Burnett to work & really believe upon something which he can do. To exhibit specimens of English Prose in chronological arrangement, which Longman will doubtless print for him at my recommendation. [5]  You need not be told how utterly ignorant he is of the subject, but enough can be done for him with little trouble, to teach him in the course of the task. So I have kept him here for this purpose, & he is now hard at work, extracting from such authors as can be mustered among mine & Coleridges books. Lamb will help him in London – Perhaps you will lend him a little assistance – tell him what to select from your favourite authors as you would direct mark extracts in a reviewal, – & throw out in a letter such sayings as he may graft into a brief biographical notice. I can give him specimens of about 20 writers – some of them scarce ones –, direct him to many others, & make out a tolerably compleat list of the whole – having got the book printed we can review it for him, [6]  – & get him a name with the booksellers & with the world. He is exceedingly well-pleased with the project, & with the prospect of acquiring some knowledge during the execution, – but the old yawniness comes on at times, & he is casting about if he can’t get some of the extracts copied for him ‘for nothing.’ Hobbes – Harrington – Sidney – Locke – Shaftesbury – Bolingbroke [7]  – can you set him copying from these – for these <who> are out of my beat –. He will make 2 – or 3 – volumes to go in company with Ellis & my supplement, – & may well get 100£ by the sale of our edition, which is a thing certain. Poor fellow – you can hardly conceive his utter helplessness.

Can you procure for me from Germany the Systema Bramanica of Joa Paolino de San Bartolomeo? [8]  – I have sent in vain for it to Leghorn. [9]  It is needful for my Curse of Kehama, [10]  & for the Asiatic Hist. of Portugal. [11] 

Reviewing hangs upon hand with me, & I toil on. [12]  Giffords Massinger [13]  is come in this channel, & I read it to much advantage. He is less a poet than B. & Fletcher, [14]  but far more a dramatist. I have been urged on all sides to write a play, which is not my natural call, – & must I suppose at last try at it. The perusal of Massinger has made me feel more kindly indications than ever I was ever visited with before. I think of taking up Llewelyn [15]  where Madoc leaves him. He – Rodri, [16]  David & Emma [17]  would be four characters sufficiently conceived in my own mind.

We have tidings that Coleridge left Malta in September to travel home by land from Naples. [18]  Of course we shall be under some anxiety till he reaches England. Which side will Prussia turn to? [19]  Will she take be content with Hanover from France alone, or chuse Hanover & Holland from England – or prefer Hanover alone for acting the Pacificator, & thus get it guaranteed by both powers? – It would not grieve me to see the Austrian dominions revolutionised & it would on the other hand delight me to hear of Bonapartes destruction – in either case the war would be to some purpose – a peace which shall do nothing but just keep the door of Janus’s temple ajar – is the worst of all. –

Harry is sadly teazed by this affair of his. [20]  I am not satisfied with the Lady’s conduct, it wants decidedness – & that is not fair.

God bless you

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 18 March
Watermark: T BOTFIELD
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, 113–117. BACK

[1] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 7, lines 194–195. BACK

[2] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 6, lines 208–211. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 15, lines 212–214. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 10, lines 42–48. BACK

[5] George Burnett, Specimens of English Prose Writers, from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Seventeenth Century was published in three volumes with Longmans in 1807. This compilation formed a companion work to George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790, 2nd edn 1801, 3rd edn 1803) and Southey’s own anthology, jointly edited with Bedford, Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[6] Southey reviewed Burnett’s Specimens of English Prose Writers, from the Earliest Times to the Close of the Seventeenth Century (1807) in the Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), 618–631. BACK

[7] The philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679 DNB); political theorist James Harrington (1611–1677; DNB); political writer Algernon Sidney [Sydney] (1623–1683; DNB); philosopher John Locke (1632–1704; DNB); the philosopher and author Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713; DNB); politician, diplomatist and author Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751). The last two were not included in Burnett’s work, presumably because it deals with prose-writers up to the end of the seventeenth century. BACK

[8] Johan Philipp Werdin (dates unknown), Systema Brahmanicum Liturgicum Mythologicum Civile ex Monumentis Indicis Musei Borgiani Velitris Dissertationibus Historice-criticis illustr. fr. Paullinus a s. Bartholomaeo (1791). BACK

[9] Livorno. on the coast of Tuscany, in Italy. BACK

[10] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama published in 1810. BACK

[11] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which he was drafting, but never completed. BACK

[12] For the Annual Review. BACK

[13] William Gifford produced several editions of the works of English dramatists, beginning with Philip Massinger’s (1583–1640; DNB) Plays, published in four volumes in 1805. BACK

[14] Francis Beaumont (1584/5–1616; DNB) and John Fletcher (1579–1625; DNB) were contemporary playwrights with whom Massinger collaborated. BACK

[15] Llewelyn ‘the Great’ (c. 1173–1240; DNB), Prince of Gwynedd and effective ruler of Wales in his later years, is a character in Southey’s Madoc (1805). Southey did not write a play about Llewelyn. BACK

[16] Rhodri (d. 1195; DNB), son of Owain Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB) and brother of Dafydd (d. 1203; DNB). BACK

[17] At Owain’s death, the territory of Gwynedd was divided between several of the brothers; Dafydd gradually brought it all under his rule. When the sons of Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) went to war against their father, Dafydd supported Henry, which was probably the reason for his marriage in 1174 to the English king’s illegitimate half-sister Emma of Anjou (b. c. 1138). Dafydd was imprisoned by Llewelyn in 1197 and then driven out by him in 1203, dying in the same year. BACK

[18] Coleridge had been acting as Public Secretary to the British Civil Commissioner in Malta. Though due to return home, he did not arrive back in England until August 1806, and never returned to live in Keswick. BACK

[19] In August 1806, the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm III (1770–1840, King of Prussia 1797–1840) decided to go to war with France independently of any other great power except Russia. BACK

[20] Henry Southey had met Emma Noel (d. 1873), while at the home of Charles Lloyd near Ambleside. She was the daughter of Gerard Noel Edwardes, of Exton Park, Rutland (1759–1838; DNB), who had adopted the surname Noel in 1798, and inherited a baronetcy in 1813 to become the 2nd Baronet Barham. When her family objected to the couple’s plans to marry, the relationship ended. BACK

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