749. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 January 1803

749. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 January 1803 ⁠* 

Last night – dear William Taylor – I commissioned an Embassador to pay five pounds to Burnett. by this days post I learn that this was too late – & that the debt is transferrd to you. half will go in this letter – the other in course as soon as this is acknowledged – but do not you give me a mere line of acknowledgement. consider me as a lover of letter-reading, however deficient in letter writing from half a dozen causes.

About Burnett I had written you half a letter when a very absurd explanation took place, which rendered that half useless. he has thought proper to quarrel with me. he complains that I did not behave well to him in London – that my manners were always those of a superiour, always expressing a familiar contempt, that I had not visited him enough. All I could reply was that I had never felt or expressed myself as to him but with affection. familiar I was indeed, as became me with one of my oldest friends – that I did not visit him because, he being single, I made him visit me – that I saw no one friend so often in London – that I went to no public sight or amusement without him, − that he dined with me whenever I could persuade him, & that twice or thrice every week I did not remind him of. But this was only the effect of a growing dislike towards me – not the cause. this is evident. he tells me that I & Coleridge never treated him properly. mark you this word treated is in a physico-mental sense – “Every human being – & now William Taylor I quote his words – can influence the mind of another human being xxx whom he is placed– near, & upon this great truth all the principles of education defend.” Well! it seems Coleridge nor I had directed his mind to profitable studies & we had never advised him what to do. – upon this I reminded him of my constant cry – Burnett employ yourself! – the advice I had given him from the time of his going to Yarmouth & the specific plans which I had from time to time pointed out. But he was determined to quarrel with me, & replied that the advice had not been given properly. I had not treated him well. I could not avoid answering that I had ever regarded him as my friend – not my patient, & as for advice, if it had failed, it was not because the medicines were bad but because they were not taken. he desired not to see me while he was here. his mind he confessed was not in a state to judge deliberately – but his feelings could not be mistaken, if when he was well he found out that he was wrong in judging of me as he did – he would then let me know – I begged him to take care how he fostered this dislike, told him that by the time he had found it out, the habit of hatred would be confirmed – & besought him very earnestly not to estrange himself from his oldest friend than whom he had none who loved him better. you are come here George – said I – for your health. you say company, is necessary for it – & yet you will not come to that house where you would be always most welcome. You will excuse me – said he replied – if I tell you these are mere words. I bore this xx lie direct twice before I bade him remember I had some pride & some feeling as well as himself – then left him to his own ways.

Now indeed envy is at the bottom of all this. as for my own feelings upon the subject you will guess what they needs must be. not anger, for old habits of affections are not so soon worn out – I am merely passive in this quarrel – ready to excuse it upon any plea of diseased head or diseased digestion that he may make. but it has altered my mind towards him, & in spite of regret I am fully awake to the extraordinary folly of his language & actions. he is as completely driven mad by his studies as ever Quixote [1]  or Loyola [2]  was before him. a few worthless books of metaphysics are all he has ever read – these he has fed upon, & is now bringing them <up> by crude mouthfuls. he walks thro the streets with his head lifted & his eyes looking round to see who hears him, conversing that every body may hear him upon his “high moral xx views of things” & “principles of conduct different from common men.”

All this will give you pain. I tell it you as the friend of both. when you write to him – if you mention the subject at all, say of me that I am sorry he has done this – that I [MS illegible]rly deny any intentional disrespect (God knows I never felt it) – & that at any time I shall rejoice to shake him by the hand

I am still unsettled – disappointed of Maes Gwyn & looking out for some country dwelling within reach of Bristol. you are unhappily too far east – too far from all other friends – & from all chances of seeing them by the accidents of life. Else – with enough common opinions & mutual regard to form a fit base for intimacy – & with enough disparity always to keep conversation wakeful – you & I should be good neighbours, & in the best & sacredest sense of the word good friends. there is yet another bar to the possibility of this. I am but loosely attached to English ground & will strike as few roots into it as I can. here in the west the intercourse with Portugal is far easier, there I must go in about two years – & there if possible I would willingly fix my final abode, & spend my life too speaking Portugueze & writing English.

Weak eyes still annoy me & keep me idle. I can only write Poetry – which is hard when prose pleases me better. Madoc [3]  is on the anvil for the last time – probably I must publish it next winter; not for the love of Fame few consider but of a worse counsellor bad as she is – malesuada Fames. [4]  with an Odyssey fault of structure, it will be a good poem, of that I feel most prophetic assurance. I am correcting it with merciless vigilance, shortening & shortening. distilling vin[MS torn] into alcohol. The Edinburgh Review [5]  is well done: their principles of poetry thoroughly false, but ably pleaded. their account of the story of Thalaba very false. not so likely to be misrespresentd wilfully as from negligence, for they mistake the events so grossly that they cannot have read it with attention I am well pleased to be abused with Coleridge & Wordsworth. it is the best omen that I shall be remembered with them. yet it is odd enough that my fellow conspirator Wordsworth should be almost a stranger to me – a man with whom I have scarcely had any intercourse. not even of common acquaintanceship.

God bless you. in spite of Norfolk weather I am in good health. the spirits always stand at the same point. six months ago I thought I was as happy as man could be – but little Margaret shows me I was mistaken. my love to Harry.

Robert Southey.

Tuesday. Jany. 11. 1803.

My name has got into the papers as translator of Amadis. [6]  I am endeavour[MS torn] conceal the truth. John Southwell Esqr will claim the book & explain the mistak[MS torn]


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JAN 1803; B/ JAN 13/ 1803
Endorsement: Ansd 17 Jan
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4837. 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. 438-440 [in part]. BACK

[1] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), Don Quixote (1605-1615). BACK

[2] St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit Order. BACK

[3] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799. He was revising it for publication, but it did not appear until 1805. BACK

[4] Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 6, line 276. The Latin translates as ‘crime-provoking Hunger’. BACK

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

[6] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803); see, for example, Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803), 975. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Maes Gywn, Neath (mentioned 1 time)
Yarmouth (mentioned 1 time)