896. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 17 February 1804

896. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 17 February 1804 ⁠* 

Well Miss Michael Angelo – the prints for Madoc are to be vignettes, [1]  for sundry prudential reasons – & Longman will have them engraved in the very best style, some in copper others in wood as the subjects suit – but what are in wood must be without human figures. Now then I offer these subjects to your consideration.

The old blind man seated on a stone by the brook feeling Madocs face. [2] 

Madoc in the floating Island drawn by four canoes. [3] 

The dry body of Tepolomi holding a lamp. [4] 

Llewelyn in a coracle by moonlight. [5]  Madoc on the beach.  [6] 

What think you of the capabilities here? When you come here I will get some Cumberland views from my neighbours that will suit with little alteration my American landscapes, & will procure books of natural history that you may get the right trees. For tail pieces the natural history will suit admirably. I have a hermit-beaver in one part of the poem – & you may make a study for his nest in the river bank at Congreve – the great colts-foot on that bank & the reeds will suit admirably. I have a tame Elk for another – & for a third a huge snake, coil within coil, a fellow ten feet long, sitting at the entrance of a cavern temple sunning himself, & waiting for his breakfast – a young child – to be brought him. humming birds & fire flies are out of the engravers reach. for another I would have the Cross planted upon a rock [7]  – something as you remember it by the Cork Convent. [8]  & if you can devise any emblem of faith hope or truth to accompany it, so much the better. plant a Palm by it for victory. Oh I wish you were here! it is slow work to talk with the pen, & there is no explaining what is not clearly expressed. You must come as soon as our holloboloo is over, which will be in less than two months. – God willing – to a Christening – for you see I must be brought to bed of this poem at last after fifteen years labour! I shall feel strangely when it is done – & indeed if I could afford to lose the sale, would far rather leave it for publication after my death, than lose the pleasurable object of thoughts which it would always be to me so only as it remained my own & only my own.

You will be glad to hear me report progress. the first part (about 3600) lines is clean corrected & fit to be read to Spenser himself if he were upon earth, for whom between you & I, I have more veneration & love than for Milton. the Second commencing with Madocs return to America is to be begun tomorrow, & if no accident interrupt me I shall run a raging race before I am out of breath. for my Second sight is very delightful.

It is very possible & very likely that I may go to London this spring upon business – that is you know my own sort of business – to finish a book, which I have projected to make money, & of which you shall hear more if I & my Paternoster Row partners strike the bargain. [9]  In that case it may not be a bad scheme to go during Piggarels confinement [10]  & call for you at Congreve on my way back.

These Vignettes still run in my head & you must endure a letter full of nothing else. The wooden tail pieces had better be patches of natural history when they can. a few Cocas growing close to the sea will make one very beautifully. The Water Spout in Nicholsons Journal [11]  shall be copied for another. Some of the ugly Gods shall sit for their pictures – you see I want to give a broad hint to the readers of what they ought to see. So I will have Queen Emma in her Saxon dress copying that dress from Strutt, [12]  & a Welshman in his dress, & Madoc in complete armour fighting King Coanocotzin, & Coatel in her Mexican dress which you may find in Clavigero [13]  – but I have that book & I think what you had better do till we meet is to make your sketch for the Bever, leaving a place for the beast till you catch him. & the Cross on the rock, & the Great Serpent at the mouth of the Cavern. Make the length about that of your longest finger – if that seem a fit proportion for a quarto page. I am to have Wynns arms in the dedication, & am sure you will like my invention for introducing them. Owen, [14]  Madocs Father is the head of his family, & to show this, & give the dedication print a peculiar reference to the volume in which it is to be placed, I design to have shown the arms upon the shield have a monument of Owen invented, & show the arms upon the shield. [15] 

Farewell! It is time for the Post – & I must go to work & give Madoc a speedy passage over the Atlantic

Now go your way ye gallant company –

God & good Angels guard ye as ye go! [16]  I wish you were here!

God bless you.

R S.

Feby. 17. 1804


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ Congreve/ Penkridge/ Staffordshire
Postmark: KESWICK/ 298
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 86–89.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 259–262. BACK

[1] Southey’s poem Madoc, which he had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805, but with only two engravings. BACK

[2] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 3. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 6. BACK

[5] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 3. BACK

[6] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 1. BACK

[7] The ‘tailpiece’ designs were to have been taken from various scenes in Madoc (1805): the Beaver, Part 1, Book 12; the Snake, Part 2, Book 3; the Cross, Part 2, Book 8. The engraving of the snake, over the title page of Part 2, ‘Madoc in Aztlan’, was misplaced in the first edition. BACK

[8] Barker had seen the Cork Convent, so called from the cork which lined its walls, at Cintra in 1800. BACK

[9] Longman and Rees, the publishers of Madoc (1805). An early reference to the project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. It was intended as a companion work to George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803)]. BACK

[10] Edith May, the Southeys’ second child, was born 30 April 1804. BACK

[11] William Nicholson (1753–1815; DNB) began publishing his Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts in 1797. It was generally known as ‘Nicholson’s journal’ and was the earliest work of its kind in Britain, continuing to publish original research papers, reviews and summaries of other journals until 1814. Engravings of tornadoes, seen from Nice, feature in Volume 1, 583. BACK

[12] Emma of Anjou (b. c. 1138) was the illegitimate half-sister of Henry II (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) who married Dafydd (in English, David), King of Gwynedd, son of Owain Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB). She is described in Madoc, Part 1, Book 2 and her Saxon costume was probably to have been copied from Joseph Strutt, (1749–1802; DNB), A Complete View of the Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, etc. of the Inhabitants of England, from the Arrival of the Saxons till the Reign of Henry VIII (1775–1776). BACK

[13] Francisco Javier Clavigero (1731–1787), Storia Antica del Messico (1780–1781). Both the text and plates for this work provided Southey with details for Madoc. An uncut edition appears in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library after his death, no. 659. BACK

[14] Owain Gwynedd was the Welsh king of Gwynedd who fought Henry II of England (1133–1189; reigned 1154–1189) and fathered the legendary prince Madoc, hero of Southey’s poem, which begins with the strife that followed Owain’s death. BACK

[15] The titlepage does not show Owain’s monument but rather a trophée of Wynn’s shield, a harp and an unidentified stringed instrument, a sword, a bow with arrows, an Indian bonnet, and an opened book of music. BACK

[16] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 1, lines 1–2. BACK

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