1479. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 July 1808

1479. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 July 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick July 11. 1808

Dear Wm Taylor

Whether you or I be most to blame for a long chasm in a never-very close correspondence, is more than my memory can at present reach to decide, – but I suspect myself to be in fault.

I have received Dr Sayers’s Disquisitions, [1]  & placed the copy which he xxxx addrest to Coleridge among his books, where with Dr S.s poems [2]  it lies awaiting his return; which is rather more difficult to calculate than that of a comet. He is at present with Mrs Clarkson at Bury. Make my acknowledgements for the book. I was pleased to see it had grown bulkier in its new edition. – Had Middleton [3]  been now at Norwich it is possible that you might have seen Coleridge there, – for M. called upon him in London. it has been his humour for time past to think, or rather to call, the Trinity a philosophical & most important truth, & he is very much delighted with Middletons work upon the subject. Dr Sayers would not find him now the warm Hartleian that he has been. Hartley [4]  was ousted by Berkeley. [5]  Berkeley by Spinoza, [6]  & Spinoza by Plato. When last I saw him Jacob Behmen [7]  had some chance of coming in. The truth is that he plays with systems, & any nonsense will serve him for a text from which he can deduce something new & surprizing.

Mrs Martin [8]  has told me some ill news from Norwich, & I suppose by you have ere this lost a good man, who will long be regretted.

Of late I have I had some interruptions in my ordinary goings on, first by from a sickness among the children, & latterly by one of my obstinate catarrhs which effected a lodgement three weeks ago in my nose & eyes, & has not yet quitted its quarters, – tho it seems upon the move. You will receive the Cid [9]  in the course of a month. How nobly have his country men justified the opinion of them which I have so often expressed, & so generally to the astonishment of those who heard me! Spain will now be free. Buonaparte has but one favour more to confer upon them, – if he makes away with the royal family, his crimes, & their deliverance will then be compleat. It may perhaps be possible to prune down the rotten tree of their monarchy, & make it bear good fruit, – but I had rather, now that the Dynasty is, felo-de-se, see them bury the crown & sceptre where four roads meet, – & form themselves into a federal Republick, to which Portugal might accede, with no sa without any sacrifice of national pride, on equal terms.

I am planning a poem upon Pelayo, the Restorer of Spain, [10]  – a subject which has long been in contemplation. My poetical schemes indeed were never so extensive as they are at this time, when I literally cannot afford to write a verse at any time but what is fairly won for the purpose; by rising before my former time hour. The cause of this has been a conversation at Bristol with Walter Savage Landor, – the Gebir: [11]  a marvellous man. it made me feel somewhat ashamed that I should not as a poet do all which I am capable of doing. The plain reason I cannot afford to write poetry has a mercenary sound with it; unless it be explained that it is not the love of money but the necessity of subsisting which is implied: & tho I cannot prevent unjust criticisms from impeding the sale of my books, yet if they prevent me from writing altogether, & <so> cut off the palm-head of my future fame, that is my own fault. I will therefore go on strenuously. When a poem is compleated, if I can get a fair price for it, according to the ordinary trade-price of labour, well & good. If not, the MS. shall lie by & be left for my children, & I will accumulate something for them in this shape, which will produce its value when after my death. And while the present unjust laws of copy-right exist, I believe this will be the wisest plan which a man, who xxxx does not xxxx level himself down to the fashion of the times, can possibly pursue. I am now proceeding in these morning hours with Kehama, [12]  – rhyming it: & introducing modes of rhyme which give a new power in versification. This poem will be in all its parts original, – the offence of all others which the present generation are least willing to pardon.

My last accounts from Harry are of xxxx an old date, – but he was picking up a few fees, & his prospects seem good. My answer contained reasons why it was better to marry next year than this, – advice which would not be very welcome. The Annual [13]  has not yet reached me: I see however his articles in the new Medical Review, [14]  & they manifest considerable improvements & promise. By the by I was exceedingly pleased with Robert Gooch, of whom I saw much in a few meetings. – I have sent Harry some Portugueze to translate & abridge for Pinkertons collection. [15] 

What is become of your translations from Tressan? [16]  – a more important question is why do you not put together, systematize, & embody your speculations upon political economy? Of all things this is what I most wish to see from you.

Lady Bedingfield, [17]  of whom you probably know something, is painting a picture from one of my poems, which is designed for me. It will come thro Miss Betham, – the painter & poetess, who is the largest damsel I have ever seen that is not out of the race of the Giants, – but a clever & interesting woman, & likely to be the best Poetess of her age.

God bless you

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Endorsement: Ansd 26 July
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4858. 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, pp. 215–219. BACK

[1] Frank Sayers (1763–1817; DNB), a Norwich friend of Taylor’s – whose 1792 collection Poems, Containing Sketches of Northern Mythology had influenced Southey’s early work. His Disquisitions Metaphysical and Literary (1793) appeared in a new edition in 1808. BACK

[2] A new edition of Sayers’s Poems, Containing Sketches of Northern Mythology was published in 1807. BACK

[3] Thomas Fanshaw Middleton (1769–1822; DNB), a schoolmate of Coleridge’s at Christ’s Hospital and a fellow undergraduate at Cambridge, became a clergyman resident in Lincolnshire, and published The Doctrine of the Greek Article Applied to the Criticism and the Illustration of the New Testament in 1808. BACK

[4] David Hartley (1705–1757; DNB). BACK

[5] George Berkeley (1685–1753; DNB). BACK

[6] Baruch de/Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677). BACK

[7] Jakob Böhme (1575–1624). BACK

[8] Frances Julia Martin, née Smith (dates unknown) born in Norwich, sister of James Edward Smith (1759–1828; DNB) the botanist, who married in 1804 Thomas Martin (1769–1850), first a Unitarian minister in Yarmouth, then a Liverpool merchant and Secretary of the Liverpool Royal Institution. The Martins were members of William Roscoe circle; Southey met them on his visit to Liverpool in February 1808. BACK

[9] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[10] Pelagius/Pelayo (c. 685–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias. Through his victory at the Battle of Covadonga, he is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. The planned poem became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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

[12] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[13] The Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), in which Harry had reviewed, in Southey’s stead, Joseph Cooke (1775–1811), Methodism condemned by Methodist Preachers: or a Vindication of the Doctrines contained in Two Sermons on Justification by Faith, and the Witness of the Spirit; for Which the Author was expelled from the Methodist Connection (1807) (169). Southey later complained that Harry’s review of George Burnett’s View of the Present State of Poland (1807) was replaced by another, published on pages 110–113. BACK

[14] The London Medical Record. BACK

[15] Henry was to translate and abridge Francisco Álvares (c. 1465–1536/1541), Verdadera Informacāom das Terras do Preste Joam (1540), Joao Baptista Lavanha (mid 1550s-1625), Naufragia da Nao S. Alberto (1597) and other travels for John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), compiler of A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World (1808–1814). BACK

[16] Louis-Élisabeth de la Vergne, Comte de Tressan (1705–1783), translator of the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) into French. BACK

[17] Charlotte Jerningham, Lady Bedingfield (1771–1854; DNB), Betham’s friend since the 1790s. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)