745. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [21 December 1802]

745. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [21 December 1802] ⁠* 

Vidi [1]  the review of Edinburgh. [2]  The first part is designed evidently as an answer to Wordsworths Preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, [3]  & however relevant to me quoad [4]  Robert Southey is certainly utterly irrelevant to Thalaba. In their account of the story they make some blunders of negligence. they ask how Thalaba knew that he was to be the Destroyer forgetting that the Spirit told him so in the Tent. [5]  they say that the inscription on the Locusts forehead teaches him to read the ring which is not the case [6]  – & that Mohareb tries to kill him at last [7]  tho his own life would be destroyed at the same time – without noting that that very “tho” enters into the passage & the reason why is given. I added all my notes for the cause which they suspect. they would have accusd me of plagiarism where they could have remembered the original hint; but they affirm that all is thus borrowed without examining when all xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxxx that belongs to another is subtracted what quantity of capital remains. this is dishonest. for – for the best parts of the poem & the most striking incident of story no hint is to be found elsewhere.

The general question concerning my system & taste is xx <one> point at issue. the metre another. these Gentlemen who say the metre of the Greek choruses is difficult to understand at a first reading, have perhaps made it out at last. else I should plead these choruses as precedent – & the odes of Stolberg [8]  in German, & the Ossian of Cesarotti [9]  in Italian – but for this has been done in the M. Magazine review of Thalaba. [10]  for the question of taste I shall enter into it when I preface Madoc. [11]  I believe we are both classical in our taste – but mine is of the Greek theirs of the Latin school. I am for the plainness of Hesiod [12]  & of Homer, they for the richness & ornaments of Virgil. they want periwigs placed upon bald ideas. a narrative poem must have its connecting parts – it cannot be all interest & incident – no more than a picture all light – a tragedy all pathos.

It is ridiculous enough to be thus coupled with Wordsworth a man who probably despises my talents as much xxxx as the Reviewers despise his, & with whom perhaps I should hardly agree on any possible subject. for what they say of Coleridge, I only wish it were prudent for Coleridge to speak of them in return. ill as he employs his powers I am mistaken if his character for talents is not every day rising. talents must find their level. the moral world has its laws of gravitation.

The Review altogether is a good one & will be better than any London one because London Reviewers always know something of the Authors who appear before them. & this inevitably affects their judgement. I myself get the worthless poems of some good natured person whom I know. I am aware of what Review phrases go for & contrive to give that person no pain – & deal out such milk & water praise as will do no harm. to speak of smooth versification – & moral tendency &c &c – will take in some to buy the book – which it serves as an emollient mixture for the patient. I have rarely scratched without giving a plaister for it. except indeed where a fellow puts a string of titles by his name – or such a heinous offender as Pybus [13]  appears & then my Inquisitorship instead of xxxxxx actually burning him – only ties a few crackers to his tail. [14] 

But when any Scotchmans book shall come to be reviewed – then see what the Edinburgh Critics will say. the first number smells already of brimstone from their fingers. their philosophy appears in their belief of Hindu chronology!  [15]  God help them! – & when they abuse Parrs [16]  stile it is rather a kick at the dead lion old Johnson. [17]  A first number has great advantages – the Reviewers say their say upon all subjects – & lay down the law. that contains their Institutes – by & by they can only comment.

God bless you

R S.


I am disappointed of the Glamorganshire House – & very much disappointed for it was as lively a spot as heart could wish.

for a more comprehensive character of my Scotch Reviewer Vide [18]  a letter to Dapple  [19]  of this post.


* Address: [partial; deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr /  Lincolns Inn/ Lond Wynnstay/ Wrexham/ NW
Postmark: FREE/ DEC 22/ 1802
Endorsements: Dec 21 – 1802; [partial] ynne
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 196-198 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Latin translates as ‘I saw’. BACK

[2] Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63-83, carried Francis Jeffrey’s hostile review of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[3] William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 2 vols (London, 1800), I, ‘Preface’, pp. [v]-xlvi. BACK

[4] The Latin translates as ‘with respect to’. BACK

[5] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 1, lines 660-669. BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 3, lines 421-450. BACK

[7] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 12, lines 375-397. BACK

[8] Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg-Stolberg (1750-1819), prolific translator of Greek and Roman poetry. BACK

[9] Melchiore Cesarotti (1730-1808), Poesie di Ossian (1772), an Italian translation of James Macpherson (1736-1796; DNB), The Works of Ossian (1765). BACK

[10] Monthly Magazine, 12 (January 1802), 581-584. BACK

[11] Southey did not carry out this intention in the preface to Madoc (1805). BACK

[12] Hesiod (8th century BC), early Greek poet and author of Works and Days and Theogony. BACK

[13] Charles Small Pybus (1766-1810), MP for Dover 1790-1802. Author of The Sovereign: Addressed to His Imperial Highness, Paul, Emperour of All the Russias (1800). There is no evidence that Southey reviewed Pybus. BACK

[14] Southey did, when the occasion, merited, tie more than a ‘few crackers’ to the ‘tail’ of an author. See, for example, his ferocious appraisal of Peter Bayley Jr (c. 1778-1823; DNB), Poems (1803), Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), pp. 546- 552, which began ‘STOP thief!’. BACK

[15] Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 42-43, review of the sixth volume Asiatic Researches: or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for Inquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of Asia (1801). BACK

[16] Samuel Parr (1747-1825; DNB), whose Spital Sermon Preached at Christ-Church Upon Easter Tuesday, April 15, 1800 (1801) was described in Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 18- 24, as constructed after ‘the manner of his wig’ (18). BACK

[17] Samuel Johnson (1709-1784; DNB), writer and lexicographer. BACK

[18] The Latin translates as ‘see’. BACK

[19] Southey to Charles Grosvenor Bedford, 21 December 1802, Letter 744. BACK

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