595. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 27 July 1801

595. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 27 July 1801 ⁠* 

Dear William Taylor

Your letter in spite of Norfolk frosts & Norfolk flats would have excited in me some half desire to diet for life upon Norfolk puddings & turnips & turkies – if destiny did not invite me to a better country. I have the hope & prospect of visiting Italy in a prudent way – as Secretary to some legation there – an office of little trouble, with the prospect of advancement. [1]  you will not wonder that I joyfully look for to a residence in that country, & the prospect of a permanent income, without that eternal anxiety about ways & means which have so long harrassed me. This is for your own eye only. my destination will probably be Palermo – if peace comes, as likely to any of the other states – & as willingly. Ultimately I look to Lisbon – & certainly to a long absence from England – to me less an object of regret than it would be to most persons, not merely from my state of health, but from my peculiar circumstances. I have never been settled in England – never had a home there – my friends are scattered – nowhere two in a place. from my family (excepting Henrys prospects) I receive no comfort, & can communicate none to them. thus without anchor or cable it is but to hoist sail & away! –

To the other part of your letter – a visit to Norwich would promise much pleasure. but look at the map. – & there is a wretched distance between. besides my time is otherwise allotted. I am going to Keswick, to pass the Autumn with Coleridge – to work like a negro – & to arrange his future plans with my own. he is miserably ill, & must quit England for a warmer climate or perish. I found letters announcing his determination to ship himself & family for the Azores, the only spot his finances could reach. this I have stopt; & the probability is that he will accompany me abroad. thus Edith will have one sister with her to reconcile her to an abandonment of the rest – & I shall have with me the man, to whom, in all the ups & downs of six years, my heart has clung with most affection, despite even of its own efforts.

There I am to work – but on what Messrs Longman & Rees are now deciding. I have been compelled to propose to them – either Madoc [2]  – or a Hindoo Romance [3]  – to be ready for the press in six months. requesting a part of the purchase now – the rest on publication. Of the Hindoo Tale – as the plan is compleat & the materials ready I consider the hardest half done. Madoc in its crude state has been sleeping two whole years. I can do either, & am so equally inclined to either, that the power of choice is best in other hands. Of Portugal I could publish much – but dare not shut the door of the archives against my future researches. – I purpose metrical Romances upon the basis of Hindoo – Persian – & Runic mythology. the Persian seed is sown [4]  – give me four years life & I will compleat all.

The justice of your praise I of course believe – however ill qualified to judge. your censure:– there is a fault of story – a want of sufficient concatenation of events – perhaps inevitable from the subject. yet I have found no lack of interest in the readers – who have followed the story breathlessly – & nor do I see more motive – human motive for Huon [5]  – than Thalaba. – the poem compares more fairly with Vathek [6]  than with any existing work – & I think may stand by its side for invention. there are parts of the poetry which I cannot hope to surpass. yet I look with more pride to the truth & the soul that animates Joan of Arc. [7]  there is the individual Robert Southey there – & there is only his imagination in the enchanted fabric. for this also I build the hope – the confidence of my own immortality upon Madoc. because in a story diversified as that of Thalaba, human characters are well developed, human incidents well arranged – because it will be as new in the Epic as this is in the Romance, & assert a bolder claim to originality than has been asserted since the voice of Homer awoke its thousand echoes. – I expect with some wishfulness your remarks on the second volume. Book 8. the voyage in B. 11 [8]  – & the whole of the last book please me. – for power perhaps the incantation in B. 9 [9]  is of the strongest passages – it goes to the utmost bounds of metre. – I wish your judgement of the metre – for which thank Dr Sayers [10]  in my name. I had a dim boys perception of it before his book – which rectified some boys attempts.

I am so entirely satisfied with Henrys situation – that were I on the spot – eyes & ears would be useless, & only my tongue wanted to find out phras[MS torn] & approbation. soon he shall hear from me – when his shirts come which are making – & his Thalaba which is at the book-binders to be drest in my livery. it would be well, if he had my example before him, to stimulate an independant frugality – a difficult virtue – but of all the most necessary – to teach him that the pleasure of forbearance is ever greater than of indulgence. Madame Guyon [11]  affords an odd exemplification – self denial became to her so great an enjoyment – that she actually began at last to indulge – as a new way of penance.

Give me a letter soon. directing to Mr Danvers’s. Kingsdown. Bristol.

God bless you –

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Tuesday July 27. 1801.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JUL 28 1801; [illegible]
Endorsement: Ansd 1 August
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4829. 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. 369-372. BACK

[1] The proposal by Wynn that Southey should become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charge d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801, Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[2] Southey had written a complete version of Madoc in 1797-1799. Longman and his partner Owen Rees published Madoc in 1805 and The Curse of Kehama in 1810. BACK

[3] For Southey’s plan for the Curse of Kehama (1810), see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[4] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 12. BACK

[5] Huon was the central figure in Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), Oberon (1780). BACK

[6] William Beckford (1760-1844; DNB), An Arabian Tale, from an Unpublished Manuscript (1786). BACK

[7] Southey’s Joan of Arc (1796). BACK

[8] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11, lines 423-531. BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 9, lines 51-81. BACK

[10] Frank Sayers (1763-1817; DNB), a poet Southey had long admired. BACK

[11] Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (1648-1717), French mystical writer. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Danvers’s, Kingsdown, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)