414. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 30 May 1799

414. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 30 May 1799 ⁠* 

Bristol. Thursday May 30. 99.

My dear friend

Thank God I am at home. in London I was perpetually employed & every day fatigued, yet doing nothing. Burnett left town soon after you. perhaps you know that he arrived to find his father dying. [1]  As soon as he can with propriety leave home I expect him here. I am anxious to know in what circumstances he is left. his father was considered as a wealthy man, & Burnetts share ought to be enough to float him into his new profession. but he had enemies at home; perhaps the poor old mans property consisted chiefly in land & he may have made no will x. I daily expect to hear of George or to see him. he loved his father – & the suddenness of his loss must have affected him much.

I thank you for the Noachide. [2]  my grammar & dictionary are now at hand, & give me a very dark-lanthorn sort of glimmer to guide me. however patience & curiosity will help me thro the book. it is nine years since a schoolfellows account made me desirous of reading it, & luckily the translation has never fallen in my way. the subject is certainly a noble one, as you say the noblest the Xtian system affords, or perhaps any system. if I had leisure my scattered ideas upon it would soon mould into a plan. I would take Burnetts philosophy [3]  & hunt the Talmuds for rabbinical positions tradition. [4]  interest enough might be excited among for some of the sufferers. you are yet hesitating how to employ yourself. does not this subject suit you? as for hexameters, to send scattered parties of 20 or 50 or 100 is useless, they will be cut off. but if we could march an army of five or six thousands into the country, ably drawn up, they would maintain their ground against all opposition.

Sir Iwayne [5]  is a stranger to me. but I should be better pleased to hear you were employed upon his story than in translating. translating in should be left to inferiour hands. the painter who can design should not waste his labour in copying. The metrical romance ought to be revived & Arthurs court furnishes variety of subject. I should like to see my prophecy of the Chiefs of Carduel [6]  accomplished; still more if it were fulfilled by you.

Lewis, the Monk man, is about to publish a compilation of ballads. a superb quarto I understand with prints. [7]  he has applied to me for some of mine – & to some wrongs person who had translated Lenora, & to whom your translation had been attributed, so that instead of yours he has hampered himself with a very inferiour one. [8]  I suppose he will get rid of it & request yours.

I am sorry you did not see the Milton Gallery. [9]  Fuseli raised no expectations in me, except of distortion & extravagance. there was something of this – but there was also a sublimity of which I could scarcely have supposed painting capable. he has doubled the pleasure I derive from Milton. Fuseli has even corrected his author. in the creation of Eve he has pictured a Demiourgos instead of the Deity, the countenance turned fixed upon the divine presence charactering the inferiour agent. the bridging the abyss; the encounter of Satan & Death are surpassingly fine. the Lazar-house a tremendous picture. I judge of pictures merely by the effect produced on me, without any knowledge of painting. these delighted me for two hours & I could have sat there all the day.

My Almanach [10]  must bear the date 1800. the printers have been waiting till this time in weekly expectation of new types.

I begin now to think seriously of the Dom Daniel. [11]  it should not be in blank verse, because there is danger of too much mannerism, after two long poems, [12]  & because stanzas are more adapted to luxury or magnificence of description. I would not confine myself to a regular stanza, because I see no advantage from it, & it would often be advantageous to vary the length of the line. in the more dramatic parts I should not scruple to use blank verse.

My brother is looking for the Brest fleet. [13]  promotion will probably follow him. at least he has the Admiraltys promise. [14] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

R Southey


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ MAY 31 99; B/ JU/ 1/ 99
Endorsement: Ansd 25 June
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4822. 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. 279–282. BACK

[1] John Burnett (d. 1799), a farmer at Huntspill, Somerset. BACK

[2] Johann Bodmer (1698–1783), Noachide (1752). Southey thought it was a ‘bad poem’; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 2, but based his planned poem on Noah and the Flood on it (Common-Place Book, IV, pp. 2–3). BACK

[3] Thomas Burnet (c. 1635–1715; DNB), whose Telluris Theoria Sacra (1681) had speculated about the early history of the Earth before and after the Flood. BACK

[4] A collection of writings relating to Jewish law, customs, ethics and history. BACK

[5] Chretien de Troyes (12th century), Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, was the first of a number of tales about Sir Ywain, a prominent Knight at the Court of King Arthur. BACK

[6] Carduel was one of the sites of Arthur’s Court. Southey desired that his contemporaries would make greater use of Arthur and of medieval romance. He had probably discussed this with Taylor when they met in London. BACK

[7] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), author of the controversial gothic novel The Monk (1796). Southey contributed to his Tales of Wonder (1801). BACK

[8] Taylor’s translation of ‘Lenora’, first published anonymously in the Monthly Magazine, 1 (March 1796), 135–137, was used by Lewis in Tales of Wonder, 2 vols (London, 1801), II, pp. 469–482. BACK

[9] An exhibition of 41 paintings by Henry Fuseli (1741–1825; DNB) drawn from the works of John Milton (1608–1674; DNB). BACK

[10] The second Annual Anthology, published in 1800. BACK

[11] The early working-title for Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). For Southey’s plan for the poem, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188. BACK

[12] i.e. Joan of Arc (1796) and Madoc, completed in 1799 but only published in a heavily revised version in 1805. BACK

[13] The French fleet had broken out of the British blockade of the port of Brest in April 1799 under cover of fog. The British Channel Fleet were unsure of their destination and were unable to bring the French fleet to battle. BACK

[14] In 1799 Tom Southey was promoted to lieutenant for his bravery in the battle with L’Hercule on 21 April 1798, but he did not become a captain until 1811. BACK

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