1455. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 2 May 1808

1455. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 2 May 1808 ⁠* 

I have sent you all that is written of the Curse of Kehama. [1]  You offered to print it for me, – if ever I finish the poem it will be because of that offer, tho without the slightest intention of accepting it. – Enough is written to open the story of the poem, & serve as a specimen of its manner tho much of what is to follow would be of <in> a wilder strain. Tell me if your ear is offended with the rhymes when they occur, or if it misses them when they fail. – I wish it had never been begun, because I like it too well to throw it behind the fire, & not well enough to compleat it without the ‘go-on’ of some one whose approbation is worth having.

My history as an author is not very honourable to the age in which we live. By giving up my whole time to worthless work in reviews magazines & newspapers I could thrive; – by giving up half my time to them I contrive to live. In the time thus employed every year I could certainly produce such a poem as Thalaba, [2]  & if I did I should starve. You have wakened in me prospects that had been laid asleep, & recalled hopes which I had dismissed, contentedly as I thought, for ever. If you think Kehama deserves to be published I will borrow hours from sleep & finish it, by rising two hours before my customary time. When it is finished I will try whether subscribers can be procured for five hundred copies, by which means I should secure the whole profits to myself. The booksellers share is too much like the Lions in the fable. – 30 or 33 per cent they first deduct as booksellers, & then halve the residue as publishers. I have no reason to complain of mine. They treat me with great respect & great liberality, – but I wish to be independent of them, & this, if it could be effected, would make me so.

The will & the power to produce any thing great are not often found together. I wish you would write in English, because it is a better language than Latin, – & because the disuse of English as a living, & literary language would be the greatest evil that could befall mankind. It would cost you little labour to write perspicuously, & thus get rid of your only fault. If you will not write English, – write Latin, & in God’s name get overcome that superstition about Robert Smith. [3]  When I consider what he is, it puts me out of all patience to think – that the ghost of what he might have has been should overlay you like a night mare.

Literary fame is the only fame of which a wise man ought to be ambitious, because it is the only lasting & living fame. Bonaparte will be forgotten before his term in purgatory is half over, – or but just remembered as <like> Nimrod [4]  & other cut throats of antiquity; who serve us for the common-places of declamation. If you made yourself King of Crete, [5]  you would differ from a hundred other adventurers only in chronology, & in the course of a millennium or two nothing more would be known of your conquest than what would be found in the stereotype Gebir, [6]  prefixed as an account of the author. Pour out your mind in a great poem, & you will exercise authority over the feelings & opinions of mankind as long as the language lasts in which you write. xxx

Your 2 £ has been paid to the subscription for the Grasmere orphans [7]  enough has been raised to provide for their well-being, & well-doing.

Farewell. I wish you had purchased Lowes-water instead of Llantony [8]  – I wish you were married, because the proverb about a rolling stone applies to a single heart, – & I wish you were as much a Quaker as I am. Christian Stoicism is wholesome for all amends. Were I your Confessor I should enjoin you to throw wide Rousseau & make Epictetus [9]  your manual. Probatum est. [10] 

Yrs truly

Robert Southey.

Keswick. Cumberland.

May 2. 1808.


* Address: [Deletion and re-address in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ 1. Albemarle Row/ Hotwells/ Bristol/ Sidney House/ Bath/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library Manuscripts, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 1. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 142–144. BACK

[1] The enclosed draft of a section of The Curse of Kehama (1810) has not survived. For the text, and for other manuscript drafts, see volume 4 of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[3] Robert Percy ‘Bobus’ Smith (1770–1845), former advocate-general of Bengal, in which office he amassed great wealth, an imitator of Lucretius whose Latin poetry Landor greatly admired. BACK

[4] Traditionally a great hunter and a rebel against the Lord. BACK

[5] Landor did not in 1808 attempt the liberation of Crete from Ottoman rule but did fight as a volunteer with the Spanish against occupying French forces. BACK

[6] That is, for a posthumous edition of Landor’s 1798 poem produced by the new method of obtaining facsimiles. BACK

[7] On 19 March 1808 George and Sarah Green of Grasmere went across the fells to an auction in the next valley; on their return they died in the snow, leaving six orphan children, one of whom was a servant of the Wordsworths, who set to raising money among their acquaintances for the family’s maintenance. BACK

[8] Landor sold a property he had inherited in Rugely and bought the romantic ruin of Llanthony Priory, near Abergavenny, Wales, in 1808. Loweswater is a lake near Keswick. BACK

[9] The egotistical sentimentalism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) for the stoic endurance of Epictetus (55–135). BACK

[10] Meaning, ‘it is proved’. BACK

Places mentioned

Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)