350. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 1 October 1798

350. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 1 October 1798 ⁠* 

I have written to Burnett & urged to him the first & more immediate difficulties that oppose his plan, [1]  as a reason for at least delaying it. these reasons strike me more forcibly than they can do you from what I know of his connections in this part of the country. his father is a wealthy farmer, just retired from business, but already dissatisfied with George for rejecting the profession tha he intended for him. Burnett has a brother in law who has done him no kind offices, & his own brothers & sisters were I have heard, somewhat jealous of him who was to be the gentleman of the family. he has never mentioned it to me, but from many circumstances I know he has not been treated quite kindly at home. from that quarter I see little to hope. Estlin is a good man, but he has many claims upon his xxx purse, & then he will be sadly grieved & perhaps angry. he has the sectarian spirit stronger than any man I ever knew. certainly Burnett will meet with no assistance from him. & for Lloyd, he has so many idle habits of expence that he is himself always in want. he is one of a very large family, & his father complains of his thoughtlessness in money matters. all this is very hopeless. I have besought him to think again, & have urged him to set about some literary employment, to try his strength; half his discontent arises from mere indolence. it may amuse the present, & he will find it well to have something ready for the future. the period after his graduation does not alarm me so much, I look forward to an improved situation x myself, & the means of assisting him. but I do not see how the first difficulties can be surmounted, & yet fear his resolution is irrevocable.

Lloyd has promised me his tragedy [2]  & I have been for some time vainly expecting it. you have well charactered him. a long acquaintance would enable you to add to what you have said, not to alter it. Lloyd is precipitate in all his feelings, & ready to be the dupe of any one who will profess attachment. I never knew a man so delighted with the exteriors of friendship. he was once dissatisfied with me for a coldness & freedom of manner, it soon wore off, & I believe he now sincerely regards me, tho the only person who has ever upon all occasions advised & at times reproved him, in unpalliated terms. certainly he is a powerful reasoner, but he has an unhappy propensity to find out a reason for every thing he does, & whether he drinks wine or water it is always metaphysically right. his feelings are always good, but he has not activity enough for beneficence. I look at his talents with admiration but almost fear that they will leave no adequate testimony behind them. I love him, but cannot esteem him, & so I told him. he thinks nothing but what is good, but then he only thinks. I fear he will never be useful to others, or happy in himself.

I cannot like the eclogue I sent you, [3]  & yet cannot tell how to mend it. it wants something, & tho in parts it may affect, I fear it is feeble & uninteresting in the whole. the following ballad is better of its kind. the story is in Matthew of Westminster, [4]  & in Olaus Magnus [5]  – but it was the mere mustard seed, that has grown up into what you see.

A Ballad

Shewing how an Old Woman rode double, & who rode before her. [6] 


The Raven croakd as she sat at her meal,
And the old Woman knew what he said,
And she grew pale at the ravens tale,
And sickened & went to her bed.

Now fetch me my children, & fetch them with speed
The Old Woman of Berkley said,
The Monk my son & my daughter the Nun,
Bid them hasten or I shall be dead.

The Monk her son & her daughter the Nun
They way to Berkley went,
And they have brought with pious thought
The holy sacrament

The Old Woman shriekd as they enterd her door,
Twas fearful her shrieks to hear,
Now take the Sacrament away
For mercy – my children dear!

Her lip it trembled with agony,
The sweat ran down her brow,
I have tortures in stores for evermore,
Oh spare me my children now!

Away they sent the sacrament,
The fit it left her weak,
She lookd at her children with ghastly eyes
And faintly struggled to speak.

All kind of sin have I rioted in,
And the judgement now must be!
But I secured my childrens souls –
Oh pray my children for me!

I have suckd the breath of sleeping babes,
The fiends have been my slaves,
I have ’nointed myself with infants fat,
And feasted on rifled graves.

And the fiend will fetch me now in fire
My witchcrafts to atone,
And I who have rifled the dead mans grave
Shall never have rest in my own.

Bless I intreat my winding sheet
My children I pray of you,
And with holy water sprinkle my shroud,
And sprinkle my coffin too.

And let me be chained in my coffin of stone,
And fasten it strong I implore
With iron bars. & let it be chaind
With three chains to the church floor.

And bless the chains & sprinkle them,
And let fifty priests stand round,
Who night & day the mass may say
Where I lie on the ground.

And let fifty choristers be there
The funeral dirge to sing,
Who day & night by the tapers light
Their aid to me may bring.

And let the church bells all, both great & small
Be tolld by night & day
To drive from hence the fiends who come
To bear my corpse away.

And ever have the church door barrd
After the evensong,
And I beseech you children dear
Let the bars & bolts be strong.

And let this be three days & nights
My wretched corpse to save,
Preserve me so long, from the fiendish throng
And then I may rest in my grave.

The Old Woman of Berkley laid her down,
Her eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came her breath, & the struggle of death
Distorted every limb.

They blessd the Old Womans winding sheet
With rites & prayers due,
With holy water they sprinkled her shroud
And they sprinkled her coffin too.

And they chaind her in her coffin of stone
And with iron barrd it down,
And in the church with three strong chains
They chaind it to the ground.

And they blest the chains & sprinkled them,
And fifty priests stood round,
By night & day the mass to say
Where she lay on the ground.

And fifty choristers were there
To sing the funeral song,
And a hallowed taper blazed in the hand
Of all the sacred throng.

To see the priests & choristers
It was a goodly sight,
Each holding, as it were a staff,
A taper burning bright.

And the church bells all both great & small
Did toll so loud & long –
And they have barrd the church door firm,
After the even song.

And the first night the tapers light
Burnt steadily & clear,
But they without a hideous rout
Of angry fiends could hear,

A hideous roar at the church door
Like a long thunder peal,
And the priests they prayd & the choristers sung
Louder in fearful zeal.

Loud tolld the bell, the priests prayd well,
The tapers they burnt bright,
The monk her son & her daughter the nun
They told their beads all night.

The cock he crew away they flew
The fiends from the herald of day,
And undisturbd the choristers sing
And the fifty priests they pray.

The second night the tapers light
Burnt dismally & blue
And every one saw his neighbours face
Like a dead mans face to view.

And yells & cries without arise
That the stoutest heart might shock,
And a deafening roaring, like a cataract pouring
Over a mountain rock.

The Monk & Nun they told their beads
As fast as they could tell,
And aye as louder grew the noise,
The faster went the bell.

Louder & louder the choristers sung
As they trembled more & more,
And the fifty priests prayed to heaven for aid
They never had prayed so before.

The cock he crew, away they flew
The fiends from the herald of day,
And undisturbd the choristers sing
And the fifty priests they pray.

The third night came, & the tapers flame
A hideous stench did make,
And they burnt as tho they had been dipt
In the burning brimstone lake.

And the loud commotion, like the rushing of ocean
Grew momently more & more,
And strokes as of a battering ram
Did shake the strong chu[MS torn]

The bell men they for very fear
Could toll the bell no longer,
And still as louder grew the strokes
Their terror grew the stronger.

The monk & nun forgot their beads,
They fell on the ground dismayd,
There was not a single saint in Heaven
Whom they did not call to aid.

And the choristers song their fear was so strong
Falterd with trepidation,
For the church did rock as an earthquake shock
Uplifted its foundation

And a sound was heard like the trumpets blast
That shall one day wake the dead,
The strong church door could bear no more
And the bars & the bolts they fled.

And the tapers light was extinguished quite,
And the choristers faintly sung,
And the priests dismayd panted & prayd
Till Terror froze every tongue

And in he came with eyes of flame
The fiend to fetch the dead,
And all the church with his presence glowd
Like a fiery furnace red.

He laid his hand on the iron chains
And like flax they moulderd asunder,
And the coffin lid that was barrd so firm
He burst with his voice of thunder.

And he bade the Old Woman of Berkley arise
And come with her master away,
And the sweat did stand on the dead corpse
At the voice she was forced to obey.

She rose on her feet in her winding sheet,
Her cold flesh quivered with fear
And a groan like that which the Old Woman gave
Never did mortal hear.

She followed the fiend to the church door,
There stood a black horse there,
His breath was red like furnace smoke,
His eyes like a meteors glare.

The fiend with force flung her on the horse
And he leapt up before,
And away like the lightnings speed they went,
And she was seen no more.

They saw her no more but her cries & shrieks
For four miles round they could hear,
And children at rest at their mothers breast,
Started & screamd with fear.  [7] 

I thank you for your diabolic idyll, [8]  it is admirable; the idea delights me – it might be made the vehicle of some good satire. Ben Jonsons Witches [9]  tell what they have been doing & a conf meeting of Devils might make fine confessions of whom they had been visiting. I will send you the plan of the Domdaniel, [10]  which I think promises to be a magnificent structure.

God bless you.

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

Bristol. October 1. 98.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surrey Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] B/ 98
Endorsement: Ansd 23 December
MS: Huntington Library, HM 2728. 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), I, pp. 230–233 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] Burnett’s scheme to leave his post as a unitarian minister and train as a doctor. BACK

[2] Probably an early version of Lloyd’s The Duke D’Ormond, a Tragedy (1822). BACK

[3] ‘The Wedding’, published in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 119-126, sent to Taylor on 5 September 1798 (Letter 347). BACK

[4] Matthew of Westminster was the alleged author of the Flores Historiarum, the name given to a number of different manuscript chronicles of English history in Latin, from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; see C. D. Yonge, The Flowers of History, 2 vols (1853), I, pp. 400–401. BACK

[5] Olaus Magnus (1490–1557), Swedish ecclesiastic and writer, Historia de Gentibus Septsentrionalibus (1555), Book III, chapter 20. BACK

[6] Published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. BACK

[7] The Raven ... with fear: Verses written in double columns. BACK

[8] Taylor’s translation of Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826), ‘The Devil in Ban: An Idyll’, Monthly Magazine, 7 (February 1799), 139–140. BACK

[9] Ben Jonson (1572–1637; DNB), The Masque of Queens (1609). BACK

[10] An early plan of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). See Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188 for Southey’s initial plan of the poem. BACK

People mentioned

Burnett, George (c. 1776–1811) (mentioned 4 times)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 3 times)