1708. Robert Southey to T W Smith, 13 November 1809

1708. Robert Southey to T W Smith, 13 November 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

I value poetry as silversmiths do old plate, – by the materials & not the fashion thereof. Upon that principle I may say these verses are worth something, – for the silver is yours & nothing but the workmanship mine, which as it adds nothing to the intrinsic value, so I hope it takes nothing from it. [1]  From the time that Madoc [2]  was finished till my return from the South last year I did not write a single line of poetry. since that time I have written about 3500, [3]  – every line before breakfast, – & it was <some> satisfaction to find that my hand had not forgotten its cunning. [4]  – If I could have earned 200 £ a year xxx <by> doing it I would have written yearly a narrative poem of from three to six thousand lines, – plans having long been formed, & materials unremittingly collected for many, xxx <during> ten years past. But whether it be that the world supposes us poor Poets to be of the same nature as the Cameleon & that the breath of fame is sufficient food for us, [5]  or if I have misunderstood the trading part of the business, (I know not which) – so however it is, that if I had not borrowed hours from sleep for this new Poem of mine it would never have been written at all. It will be mortifying enough if that which has kept me waking should set other persons to sleep. – I will wish them no other punishment if this be the case than such dreams as some parts of it are likely enough to occasion, & which will not need the help of a Night Mare to make my revenge compleat. It is not yet in the press, nor indeed have I yet determined in what form to print it.

Did you receive the second edition of Thalaba which I directed to be sent you some six months ago, because it is a more beautiful book than the first, & contains some improvements. [6] 

Our friend Duppa informed me that you were going to Tunbridge Wells. – I fear from the post-mark of your letter that you have returned without benefit.

An epidemic cold is making the tour of my household, happily however thus far with less severity than some of our neighbours have experienced. A six weeks or two months catarrh in the summer seems to serve me as a composition for the rest of the year, – & such are the changes of the human constitution that I who went to Lisbon for my health, [7]  & love warmth as xxx instinctively as a hot house plant, of late years catch cold only from exposure to the sunshine, & defy the worst weather of winter.

The Printer comes on slowly with my history, & the winter will be nearly over before he gets thro his work. [8]  I must try to spur him forward, being a little impatient to see the title page for a new title page xxx <is> one of the pleasures of an authors life. – The Friend seems likely to proceed regularly, [9]  & will become more generally interesting as soon as the groundwork of principles is laid.

believe me my dear Sir

yours very truly & respectfully

R Southey.

Ego et Rex meus. [10] 

suggested by the Jubilee. Oct 25. 1809. [11] 

I & my King, said Wolsey [12]  in his hour
Of glory, & the boastful pride of power;
I & my King, I too have sometimes said
Calling to mind now <near> [13]  fifty years have flown,
How That in that year which placed him on the throne,
The ways of commerce I began to tread.

Now at this solemn hour when his command
Proclaims a Jubilee thro all the land
And general bounty sets the prisoner free;
I from the business of the world apart
Look back, & bless the Lord with grateful heart
For all the mercies he hath showered on me.

Wealth, even beyond the wish of youth, is mine,
Escapd from chance & care the will divine
Hath bid my day of life go down in peace,
Not having other hopes, nor other fears
Than solemn thoughts, which in our latter years
Befit the Christian, waiting his release.

This have I gaind, & Lord, by following still
For some degree With all my strength thy holy word & will,
From evil’s dire xxx <xxx> they And they from evil have preserv’d me <and> free.
Obedience to thine everlasting laws
Have blest us all alike, . . what other cause? . .
My Country & my King, as well as me.

And now when Time’s unsparing hand doth bring
An equal lot on me & on my King,
A kindred in our fates I seem to see;
And xxx with a natural feeling when I pray,
Be merciful & gracious God, (I say,)
Here & hereafter to my King & me!

Mercator. [14] 


* Address: To/ T W Smith Esqr/ Stockwell Park / near /London.
Stamped: KESWICK 298
Postmarks: 10 o’Clock/ NO 16// NOV/ 1809
MS: Mitchell Library, Glasgow. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Referring to the verses written by Smith and improved by Southey at the end of this letter. BACK

[2] Southey’s poem Madoc (1805). BACK

[3] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[4] A paraphrase of a passage from Psalm 137:5 ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning’. BACK

[5] The chameleon was supposed to live on air. BACK

[6] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in 1809, with the notes moved from the foot of the page to the end of the books, and with a section omitted at the end of the ninth book On the alterations, see the introduction and variants in volume 3 Thalaba the Destroyer of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[7] Southey made visits to Portugal in 1795–1796 and 1800–1801. BACK

[8] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810) was printed by William Pople. BACK

[9] Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was published in 26 numbers from 1 June 1809 to 15 March 1810. BACK

[10] Meaning ‘I and my King’. The poem was published in the Literary Panorama, 10 (December 1809), 591. BACK

[11] The Golden Jubilee of George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 1760–1820; DNB), took place with a national day of celebration on 25 October 1809. BACK

[12] Thomas Wolsey (1473–1530; DNB), cardinal and minister to King Henry VIII (1491–1547; DNB). BACK

[13] The emendations to the poem are in another hand. BACK

[14] ‘Merchant’: a signature referring to Smith’s profession. BACK

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