398. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 15 April 1799

398. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 15 April 1799 ⁠* 

My dear friend

Your allegory of the Seas [1]  is as ingenious as x any I remember to have seen. the negligence of the versification I do not perceive – perhaps from versifying myself with more negligence than should be allowed. if there be any inaccuracy in the allegory it is making Taste cast a dwelling eye where Inspiration first waved his seraph wings. The Rovers Apology [2]  scans – but would not be metr harmonious if read by one who did not understand the metre. now when the classical metres are adopted in a modern language the xxx accents should be so arranged as to produce the xx necessary cadence, tho read by one unlearned. I will try to mould your sapphics to this. with my own I never yet had patience – but I have a great desire to render the metre popular, not only as it is in itself beautiful, but as a step toward naturalizing hexameters. does not an English & still more a German hexameter take up a longer time in repetition than a Greek or Latin one on account of the greater number of letters in the syllables? xx the letters in a line must be nearly a fourth more. – & if could we retrench one of the first four feet? the metre would not be difficult after one had written a hundred lines.

My Dom Daniel [3]  I shall as you advised write in stanzas, partly to avoid a sameness of style which in blank verse would be almost inevitable. but I do not think it will be advisable to confine myself to a regular stanza. this license lessens the fetters of rhyme, & the ear will not be disappointed if the rhymes are not placed too distant from each other to be readily remembered. I think that writing in stanzas will correct the feebleness you observe, simplicity would be out of character – I must build a Saracenic mosque – not a Quaker meeting house.

Beddoes & his young assistant are doing wonders at the Pneumatic Institution – but not by the gasses. [4]  what they wanted for consumptions seems to be found in the fox glove tincture. [5]  another stimulant for the absorbents they have found in the gazeous oxyd of azote – at least such it appears to be from the feelings of the few who have yet breathed it. [6]  Davy has made a curious botanical discovery, he has detected a coating of flint on all canes & grasses. a boy playing with two canes struck fire from them, & this led to the discovery. [7]  If Burnett had enough previous knowledge of medicine he might profit more here than by any clinical lectures in Europe.

My brother Tom is with me on his way to London to pass for a Lieutenancy. he has been helping me to cut up Madocs ships & build xxx galleys with them. There is a marine on board the Mars who persuaded his father to murder his mother, & then turnd Kings evidence & brought his father to the gallows. [8]  by the help of the devil I think of working up this mans history with a ballad. by the by Ferriar of Manchester has abused you for using the word hurry-skurry [9]  – it struck me that you had possibly placed it for some German phrase of a like nature. is this the case? for I have his book to review. [10] 

Barker is painting a picture from Mary the Maid of the Inn, but from what part of the story I have not learnt. [11]  he might have found better subjects in my better pieces.

My St Anthony [12]  has no morality at all. sophistry may be expected from the Devil whose object in arguing is to puzzle his adversary. the Eclogue was written before Lloyds Lines on the Fast, & Letter to the Anti-Jacobine [13]  had reached me – but Satan defends himself exactly upon the same principle that Charles Lloyd defends existing establishments. Lloyd is wasting great talents in crude & hasty productions. he wants to print the play [14]  you saw – & in the incorrect state in which you saw it. I have attempted to dissuade & I hope with success.

I am looking with some impatience for your life of Burger. excepting the two Ballads which you translated his other productions that have been Englished are of no great excellence. [15]  the Lenora indeed is enough – it cannot be surpassed & will not probably be equalled – yet the Parsons Daughter struck me as the finer poem. the story of Lenore once conceived the execution was not difficult for a man of genius, but the excellence of the other ballad arises wholly from the mode of narration – & tho such a tale might have occurred to a thousand poets, it is a thousand to one that none of them had found out the best way of relating it. thanks to the number of translators I no longer hunger & thirst for the language as I did some time since.

prose plays I apprehend suffer little from translation. it is only Klopstock [16]  that I long to read – & Bodmers Noah [17]  on account of the subject – but the book is not xxxxxxxxx getatable, or I should ere this have poked my way thro it with a dictionary.

My Almanach [18]  stands still in deference to a book of Beddoes on consumption. [19]  a Clergyman, [20]  in consequence of the advertisement called on Cottle & promised to bring him from a friend some poems which would be “an ornament to the volume.” they have not yet arrived. from Davy I shall have some – the early productions of genius. [21]  he is a miraculous young man whose talents I can only wonder at. Lloyd among other things has sent me a ballad with unlimited liberty of alteration. [22]  it is so full of beauties that I must take employ much time in clearing away its faults. I shall throw in one of the unpublishd Eclogues you saw. [23]  I know not how those poems generally please. one of my friends [24]  wrote on a first reading to abuse them. he read them again & sent me the amende honorable. [25] 

Mr Maurice writes me a good account of Harry. he finds him sufficiently attentive & that being the case he must get on rapidly.

God bless you –

yrs truly.

Robert Southey.

I shall be in London on May day. if you do not write before that time direct under cover to C W Williams Wynn Esq. Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn. if I can find a companion between the terms I shall take a walk, round Kent, or to see the wonders of Derbyshire.

Monday. April 15. 99.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street./ Norwich/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ APR 15 99; B/ AP/ 16/ 99
Endorsement: Ansd 7 May
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4821. 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. 271–276. BACK

[1] Taylor’s ‘The Seas’, published in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 233–236 and sent to Southey on 25 March 1799 (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p, 270). BACK

[2] Taylor sent his ‘Rover’s Apology’ to Southey on 25 March 1799, but it was not included in the Annual Anthology (1799) (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 270). BACK

[3] The early working-title for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[4] The Pneumatic Institute, Dowry Square, Bristol, had opened earlier in 1799. It was dedicated to using gases to treat disease. BACK

[5] For Thomas Beddoes’s advocacy of the use of fox-glove see his Essay on the Causes, Early Signs, and Prevention of Pulmonary Consumption for the Use of Parents and Preceptors (Bristol, 1799), pp. 265–271. BACK

[6] For their experiments with nitrous oxide, see Thomas Beddoes, Notice of Some Observations Made at the Medical Pneumatic Institution (1799) and Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its Respiration (1800). BACK

[7] The ‘boy’ was a son of William Coates (dates unknown). The incident is described in Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 271. Davy’s findings were published in William Nicholson (1753–1815; DNB) (ed.), A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, 3 (May 1800), 56–59. BACK

[8] For Southey’s outline of the story see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 193. He did not work it up into a ballad. BACK

[9] The Manchester-based physician and writer John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), Illustrations of Sterne, with other Essays and Verses (London, 1798), p. 306. William Taylor had used the phrase ‘hurry-skurry’ in his translation of Gottfried August Bürger (1748–1794), ‘Lenora’ in the Monthly Magazine, 1 (March 1796), 135–137. BACK

[10] If Southey wrote this review, it was not published. BACK

[11] Thomas Barker (1767–1847; DNB). Barker was painting a picture based on ‘Mary’, first published in Southey’s Poems (Bristol, 1797), pp. [159]–182. BACK

[12] ‘The Devil & St Anthony’; see Southey to William Taylor, 18 March 1799, Letter 391. BACK

[13] Charles Lloyd’s Lines Suggested by the Fast, Appointed on Wednesday, February 27, 1799 (1799) and A Letter to the Anti-Jacobin Reviewers (1799). BACK

[14] Taylor had been shown an early version of Lloyd’s The Duke d’Ormond (1822); see William Taylor to Robert Southey, 26 September 1798, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 226–227. BACK

[15] William Taylor’s translations of Gottfried August Bürger (1748–1794), ‘Lenora’ and ‘The Lass of Fair Wone’ had been published in the Monthly Magazine, 1 (March 1796), 135–137 and Monthly Magazine, 1 (April 1796), 223–234. BACK

[16] Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803), whose plays include Der Tod Adams (1757), Salomo (1764), and Die Hermannsschlacht (1769). BACK

[17] Johann Bodmer (1698–1783), Noachide (1752). For Southey’s verdict, ‘a bad poem’, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 2. BACK

[18] The Annual Anthology, the first volume of which appeared in 1799. BACK

[19] Thomas Beddoes, Essay on the Causes, Early Signs, and Prevention of Pulmonary Consumption for the Use of Parents and Preceptors (1799). BACK

[20] Unidentified; possibly the Revd Christopher Hardy Sherive (d. 1800), Rector of Bridport, who contributed to the 1800 edition of the Annual Anthology. BACK

[21] Davy’s only signed contribution to Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799) was ‘Extract from an unfinished Poem on Mounts-Bay’, pp. 281–286. But the following poems, signed ‘D.’ were also by him: ‘The Sons of Genius’, pp. 93–99, ‘The Song of Pleasure’, pp. 120–125, ‘Ode to St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall’, pp. 172–176, ‘The Tempest’, pp. 179–180. BACK

[22] This ballad was not printed in either Annual Anthology (1799) or (1800). BACK

[23] Southey’s ‘The Last of the Family’, published in the Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 165–171. BACK

[24] Possibly a reference to Wynn’s criticism; see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 9 April 1799 (Letter 397). BACK

[25] i.e. a satisfactory apology. BACK