1444. Robert Southey to [Anna] Seward, 18 April 1808

1444. Robert Southey to [Anna] Seward, 18 April 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 18. 1808.

Inevitable delays in London & on the road, & business accumulating meantime at home – (for unlike the lilies of the world who neither toil nor spin, I inherit my full share of Adams curse, having no other inheritance) – prevented me from returning thro Lichfield. It cannot I hope be necessary to express how greatly to my disappointment. You were good enough not to wish me to write from London, & yet you cannot have foreseen the unremitting succession of business in which I was involved, from the hour of my arrival till that of my departure, strictly & literally speaking. Five & twenty cases of books I packed with my own hands & this was done in the intervals of other occupations. [1]  Whenever I found a spare half hour, this standing job of hard bodily labour served to fill it up. The fatigue of the day did not send me so soundly to sleep <at night>, but that the work of the morrow roused me up to an hours xxxxx<task> before an early breakfast, & I did not rest so quietly at any time during my absence, as on those nights which were past in stage coaches, when like a piece of live luggage all I had to do was to sit still, & be patient. Thank God I am now once more in my own chair, seated at my own desk, by my own fireside. The noise & motion of mail coaches are not yet out of my head, but the cold & cough which the poisonous air of London never fails to give me have taken flight, & I have no other symptom of fatigue remaining except that my sleep is as sound as a growing boys, or a hard working peasants.

The books which Mr White [2]  wan in his great good nature gave me, I found safely arrived before me, – but not the whole of them. A volume of Amadis, [3]  & that folio which had the Mexican pictures in its title page were missing, & have I fear been stolen on the road; for the parcel came in a very loose state. I beg to be remembered to Mr White; – old Wither [4]  proved as he had promised for him, an excellent companion in a stage coach, or at a inn. One has so much xxxxxxxxx patience at such times that xxxxx cost if it is <more than is current cannot by any possibility be> required; prolixity & dullness become recommendations to a book, when you want to consume time, & what is really beautiful, or of use, is received with tenfold gratitude & pleasure.

General Whitelock [5]  & Marmion [6]  divided the public attention while I was in London. The highest pleasure which fell to my lot was that of meeting with Savage Landor, the author of Gebir; [7] as a man whom I would have walked forty miles to see before I had seen him, & whom having seen I would at any time walk fourscore to see again. He is of an ungoverned, if not ungovernable mind, & I am in all essential points, almost a Quaker. Not notwithstanding this main difference I have scarcely ever seen that man with whom I had so many common sympathies.

Have you received a copy of Joan of Arc which should have been sent from London about three weeks ago? [8]  As you have only seen the quarto edition with all its imperfections on its head, great part of it as it now stands will be new to you. The beginning is, in my judgement, among the best things I have produced. – Why do you not write more poetry, has been the question every where, & my answer has everywhere been because I cannot afford it. Landor was talking to me about Thalaba, [9]  & I told him the design which I had formed of a whole series of such poems, & why that design had been abandoned. Finish them, said he, & I will pay for printing them, as many as you write, & as many copies of each as you please. This has excited in me a stinging desire to finish them, on other terms, if only to show him how highly I value the applause <opinion> of a man, to whose opinion I xxxx afraid who is authorized to pass an opinion upon me as one of my peers. I am a proud man & do not allow that authority to many. We poets have no envy in our composition, – & poetasters seem generally to have nothing else in theirs. Nine tenths of the malignant criticisms which injure our literature & disgrace our age come from disappointed authors; whose evidence would be rejected if their names were known. Jeffray himself writes verses, – what sort of verses may easily be guessed.

The worst news which I learnt on my journey was from the stationers. Paper is so enormously dear that nothing can without great xx imprudence be put to press till its price be materially reduced, & when that will be is beyond the reach of any calculation. The rags of the continent found their way to England; it is an article which will not pay for freight, & which came as ballast in all ships from Hamburgh. Every kind of trade with the continent is now at a stand, & there is not printing-paper enough in this country for six months consumption, nor any hopes of obtaining a supply of rags to manufacture more.

Will you remember me to Miss Fern. [10]  I frequently wish I could <have> heard her read Madoc [11]  before it was published, – because such reading would enable me to detect faults which escape the eye, & the ear also, unless they are put to such a test.

– The two stray books have just arrivd. Accept my best thanks for the pleasant hours past at the Palace – & believe me

yours very respectfully & sincerely

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Miss Seward/ Lichfield
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: April 18
MS: Columbia University, Jeanne d’Arc Ms. Coll, J6 So824. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 469–472. BACK

[1] Having decided to remain at Greta Hall the previous year, Southey had been steadily arranging for his books, which had been stored by friends in London and the West Country, to be collected together. BACK

[2] Rev. Henry White (dates unknown), sacristan of Lichfield cathedral, Seward’s cousin and supporter. BACK

[3] An edition of Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (1450–1504), Amadis of Gaul. BACK

[4] Southey had been given, for reading on the journey, a book by George Wither (1558–1667; DNB), perhaps his most popular work Wither’s Motto (1621). BACK

[5] Sir John Whitelocke (1757–1833; DNB), commander of the disastrous British attack on Buenos Aires in July 1807; in early 1808 he was court-martialled, found guilty of incompetence and a shameful surrender, and cashiered. BACK

[6] Scott’s new poem (1808). BACK

[7] Landor’s oriental poem of 1798. BACK

[8] Joan of Arc (1796; 2nd edn, 1798; 3rd edn, 1806). BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[10] Elizabeth Fern, Seward’s companion and housekeeper. BACK

[11] Southey’s poem Madoc (1805). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)