1338. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 30 June 1807
1338. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 30 June 1807 *
Keswick. June 30. 1807.
It is not without much pride as well as much pleasure that I have heard from many quarters Miss Sewards opinion of Madoc,  & now receive from Mr Charles Lloyd so very flattering a proof of it. No man can be more indifferent to the censure of his contemporaries, nor more sensible to their praise; – the one I set down to the score of ignorance is <or> malevolence, the other I take as earnest of what posterity will give me, & if this be not the most impartial way of considering the case, it is certainly the most convenient. But whenever they who censure & they who praise have been <are> known, – I have am justified in it, & in no instance more than in the present.
The applause which you give me is more than I deserve. – It was at one time my intention to have stated in the preface my own sense of the imperfections of the poems. I was xxxxxxxxx This was what I should have said, after relating how long the poem had been in hand, how often interrupted, & how often corrected. ‘Perhaps at a more advanced age I might have chosen a story which could have been carried on in one unbroken & continuous narrative; I might have framed a better & more coherent fable; I might have made my own country the theatre of action that the scenery might have been that which I understood, & the manners those to which my earliest studies had familiarized my imagination. Nor have the early choice of subject & predestination of story been the only disadvantages arising from the slow growth of the poem. Unsparingly as I have endeavoured to weed out the defects of early composition, many must inevitably have escaped. I fear I have yet to discover barbarisms of language, false ornaments, & passages feeble or superfluous, which have still deceived me by reviving the associations with which they were originally accompanied. Perhaps no author ever sent into the world a production with so humiliating a sense of its imperfection. When my first poem was published I had too much confidence, & too little knowledge, to feel any distrust or diffidence of its merit; & in Thalaba  all which had been promised to myself was certainly & satisfactorily performed. But I had ever considered both as only preludes to this greater work, – as exercises which were to strengthen & prepare me for this serious effort. I looked to this as the monument which was to perpetuate my memory; the proof that should justify the determination with which I had abandoned all common pursuits of fortune to devote myself to literature. – However I may disappoint the reader he may be assured that I have disappointed myself farx more. His expectations can have been raised only by what I have already done; but I compare what is executed with what was designed; remembering the hopes which have made many an hour of labour delightful; & feeling, imperfect as this poem is, there is little likelihood that I shall ever produce a better.’
Our world, Miss Seward, is so little accustomed to this sort of plain speaking & serious feeling, which I have acquired, or rather preserved, by living out of it, – that this would have been put down to the sense of affected humility. I send it you, as being precisely what I feel concerning Madoc, which I begun in 1789 at the age of fifteen. Since it was published I have written no poetry: disuse has now generated disinclination, & perhaps in a little time my hand may lose its cunning.
There are many causes for this. I have been long employed in historical composition, & think it so certain that I shall stand in the first rank of historians, that this hope goads me on. Half my Ways & Means must be raised from the Booksellers, & half my time is employed in raising them. I am far from complaining of this. Any other profession would have exacted from me the whole, – except that of divinity from which my religious opinions deterred me: & tho’ time employed in writing for money is unworthily employed, yet as man must live & that not by bread alone, there is no other way by which I could have lived so congruous to my own inclinations & pursuits. – I have therefore no leisure for poetry, for that is not a marketable article; – this mischief a reviewer can do me. My profits upon Madoc after a years sale amounted to 3. 17. 1. Mr Jeffray the Edinburgh Advocate, I a gentleman who is up to my elbow in stature, & in intellectual stature, as far as regards all matters of taste, up to my ancle, – Mr Jeffray had said in his Review ‘if Mr Southey will continue to write in this manner, really we cannot help it!’  – This was very true. But if it had so happened that I had been a friend of Mr Jeffrays, & it had pleased him to say I was a great poet, the book-buying world (who are a different world from the book-reading one) would have believed him, & I should have been enabled to have produced something better than Madoc, & more answerable to that power which I feel to be in me.
You would think me a renegado & a heretick were I to tell you that history is a worthier pursuit than poetry; – if however this sheet were not so nearly at an end, some reasons might be assigned in support of this heresy, which if they did not win your belief – might at least moderate your censure. Your letter to Lloyd has not been without some effect; – it roused me – as the cry of <the> hounds would do an old hunter, when turned over to be killed-up in the mail-coach-service, & standing in harness at the inn door; he thinks of the chase, – till crack goes the whip over him, & he shakes his neck at the lash & begins starts upon his humbler career. I have lying by me about the fourth part of a rhythmical romance, in the wild way of Thalaba (only that it has an occasional intermixture of rhymes) & founded built upon Hindoo, as that is upon Mohammedan ground.  It was once my intention to have gone <thro> all the great mythologies in this manner, – I had formed the plan of the Persian – that is the Magian one, the Runic & the classical, would have followed, & I should (far from irreverently) have complicated the series with a Rabbinical & a Roman-Catholick one. A great plan, but easily accomplishable, as a year for each would have been time sufficient. For a work of higher proof I am undeceived about the story: sometimes that of the Deluge  seems pleases me, sometimes Pelayo the restorer of the Spanish monarchy,  – more frequently the delivery of Portugal from the Spaniards under John 1.st  – You know now as much of my poetical dreams as I do xxxxxxx myself, & could I talk them over with you, it is very possible that your advice might determine me in favour of one subject or the other, & stimulate me to begin. Allow me when I travel southward to half a day at Lichfield & try the experiment –
yours with great respect
* Address: To/ Miss Seward/ Litchfield
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: June 1807
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, Misc MS. 3921. ALS; 4p.
 See Southey to Edith Southey, 5 April 1806, Letter 1172 on Seward’s opinion of his poem Madoc (1805). BACK
 Jeffrey reviewed Southey’s poem Madoc (1805) in the Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), 1–29. BACK