368. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 4 January 1799

368. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 4 January 1799 ⁠* 

I thank you my dear friend for the trouble you have taken in settling Henry & the interest you discover for his welfare. Maurices letter is a very handsome one, I wish I could answer it to my own satisfaction, but it is a difficult task to express obligation that one cannot repay. Perhaps at Midsummer I may be near enough to house him, as I am xxxxxxxxx xxxxx have some thoughts of passing a few weeks at Cambridge when our time is expired here, for the sake of the Libraries.

I am anxious to know what prospect of success Burnett has at Brentford. the plan is so far better than his former ones as it does not leave him at once to his own resources. reviewing too is a good way of breaking him in to work; the subject is given & the task required, no time need be lost in beating about the bushes to start something to pursue. Yet this new prospect offers little or nothing more to ambition than his present situation. however it will employ him, & employment is what he wants.

I should ascribe the review of Amos Cottles Edda, [1]  & the version of Vafthrudnismal in the M Magazine to you [2]  if I thought you understood the Icelandic language. is that the case? he was in a hurry, & he wanted northern learning, but seemed to have no idea of knowing how or where to look for it. the Edda fell into his hands & delighted him – his brother who knows no language but English wanted to read it, & he had begun a prose translation when I advised him to versify it. in the course of six weeks he had the book half printed. all this was not as it should have been, however his book will make the Runic tales more familiar, & may perhaps give a good direction to the genius of some young man into whose hands it may fall. It would be my intention if I could speculate upon what leisure some three years hence, to build up a Runic song, - but I must clear the ground first. my head has at present the materials for three great works in it, each deserving a whole & undivided attention. The Kalendar, of which I hope this year to publish one volume. [3]  Madoc [4]  which I expect to finish this summer, for nine books are done, & The Dom Danael. [5]  Of this last I will sketch you the outline.

You know the Mohammedan tradition of the Garden of Irem. A female Arab & her son, a boy of about twelve years old, have escaped the destruction of their tribe & are wandering at night in the deserts. they find themselves in the Garden, & one Adite still existing in it, who when his nation were destroyed, had for some deed of goodness been saved from their damnation, & left to live in that utter solitude till he thought himself prepared to die. at times Azrael appeard to him & enquired if he was ready, but tho tortured by lonely existence still he dared not meet his judgement. As he concludes his tale the Angel of Death stands before them & offers death xx to the woman & the Adite. She is a devout Mussel-woman I suppose it must be. & encourages the Adite. Azrael raises his sword & the drops of bitterness fall on them. the design of this is to impress strongly with devotion the boy, reserved for a great exploit, the destruction of the Dom Danael.

A wandering tribe find him. he grows up among them, & forgetful that he has been marked out for the especial service of the prophet, attaches himself to Oneiza. some miracle summons him – he is sent to learn preparatory knowledge for his journey from Harut & Marut at Babel – & from the Simorg.

The Magicians lay snares for him. he is entrapped by Aladeules, the account of whose Paradise Purchas gives from Marco Polo. [6]  this he destroys – but he finds Oneiza in his harem, & dwells with her in the delightful regions of Cashmeer. her death by the judgement of God rouses him. he arrives at a place like the Port des Francais of which Perouse discovered. [7]  a bay surrounded by glaciers, profoundly silent, & where no wind ever ruffled the waters. a vessel receives him, [MS cut] the Spirits of all who had failed in the adventure navigate it, [MS cut] their punishment, to sail in those cold seas txxx <till> the adventure was accomplished.

I have a very vague idea of what passes under the roots of the sea. however when all is accomplished a voice from Heaven bids Thamama ask his reward. he resigns himself like the Argive brethren [8]  to God – the Sansar, the icy wind of death pervades him, & he is welcomed in Paradise by Oneizas houri form. you see a rude outline – but it may be made a glorious picture I hesitate whether to write in blank verse or in stanzas. there is but too much time to consider.

God bless you.

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.                                                           Jany. 4. 99.

Pray make my respects to your mother. [9] 


* Address: To/ Mr William Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] B/ JA/ 4/ 9
Endorsement: Ansd 28 Jan. 1799
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4818. 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. 245–248. BACK

[1] Amos Simon Cottle’s Icelandic Poetry, or the Edda of Saemund Translated into English Verse (1797), reviewed by Taylor in the Monthly Review, 27 (December 1798), 381–388. BACK

[2] Taylor’s translation of ‘The Meal of Vathruthni’, Monthly Magazine, 6 (December 1798), 451–455. BACK

[3] The ‘Kalendar’, a sequence modelled on Ovid’s (43 BC–AD 17) Fasti, was never completed. BACK

[4] The 15-book version written in 1797–1799. BACK

[5] An early plan for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[6] Samuel Purchas (1577–1626; DNB), Purchas his Pilgrimage, 2nd edn (London, 1614), p. 237, deriving his account from Marco Polo (1254–1324), Travels of Marco Polo, Book 1. BACK

[7] Jean-Francois de Galeup, Comte de La Perouse (1741–1788). On his voyage to the Pacific he discovered in 1786 a bay in Alaska, which he named Port des Francais (now Lituya Bay). BACK

[8] Catillus and Corus, two brothers who rushed into the forefront of battle against Aeneas, Aeneid, book 7, line 672. BACK

[9] Sarah Taylor, née Wright (d. 1811). BACK

People mentioned