1764. Robert Southey to [John] Ballantyne, 25 March 1810

1764. Robert Southey to [John] Ballantyne, 25 March 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 25. 1801.

My dear Sir

I believe every State paper of importance will be referred to in the History of the year, & given all in the Appendix, unless its whole substance has been incorporated in the text. [1]  Even then where the ipsissima verba  [2]  (as in treaties) are of consequence, they are afterwards added. But my opinion decidedly is that if there be any such papers which are not noticed in the history, they ought nevertheless to be included in the Appendix, for by making the Register a full & faithful Repertory of these documents, you assure to it an undoubted & permanent value. All the periodical works which profess to record these papers are miserably, – most miserably – incomplete. – It would have been a great satisfaction to me could I have obtained the Spanish proclamations &c in the original, – some mistranslations I was able to detect by guessing at what the Spanish phrase must have been, – & most probably much of the force & passion of the language has been lost, which I perhaps might have been able to have transfused.

With respect to the list of books, [3]  it seems to be very desirable that it should be as complete as possible, – even to the most trivial pamphletts, – your Hist: of Literature [4]  for the year will preclude the necessity of any other criticism. The Catalogue should be classed, & may probably be comprized in a single sheet, – as it is of no consequence in how small a type it be printed.

Concerning the Biography, [5]  it appears to me that works of this kind wer have hitherto partaken too much of the nature of Magazines, – that is to say, that great part of their contents might with equal propriety have appeared in another place, – whereas it would be better if they confined themselves wholly to the affairs of the year, every year being now abundantly fertile in materials. Instead therefore of promiscuous or arbitrary biography I should recommend exclusively, the Necrology of the year, – persons enough who have made themselves remarkable are annually dropping off. I do not mean any attempt at a general Obituary (for in that the Gent: Magazine is likely to remain unrivalled, & one of the kind is enough) – but merely the lives of remarkable persons, – & if literary men, – a general review of their works may fitly form a part. – I have promised to write a life of Nelson [6]  for Murray. – Upon Fox [7]  I could not write with con amore, [8]  – & therefore must not attempt it.

The 17th Chapter is written, [9]  – but I detain it in expectation of obtaining the letter from the Admiralty, which I mentioned yesterday to your brother, & which in all probability will reach me on Wednesday or Thursday next. [10]  I explaind to your brother also why I postpone the 18th Chapter, [11]  & am getting on with a subsequent part of the history, in daily hopes that the expected document may arrive, – a hope that must not be abandoned till the latest moment. You will perceive of what advantage it will <would> be to <th> work that I should possess this document. Meantime the expectation occasions no delay on my part, – & I have no doubt of compleating my work by the end of April, at latest, probably a week or ten days ear sooner. I calculate upon 23 Chapters in all, [12]  & of the six which remain to be written have made some progress in three.

It would be saying to little to say that I have found this Registering less irksome in its heavy parts than I had anticipated, – it has interested me very much, & I have gone on with it with heartily & earnestly, with no other dissatisfaction than what occasionally & unavoidably arose from the want of sufficient documents. A man who delivers his opinions with conscientious sincerity cannot but be gratified when he has an opportunity of delivering them with effect. With these feelings I shall very willingly continue to perform execute the charge which you have entrusted to my hands.

believe me

Yours very truly

Robert Southey.

I hope you received King Ramiro. [13] 


* Address: To/ Mr Ballantyne/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: MR/ 27
MS: Huntington Library, HM 2962. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 531–532 [where the correspondent is identified as James Ballantyne]
Dating note: the letter is misdated 1801 by Southey. BACK

[1] Southey is discussing the arrangment of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). In Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810) 42 state papers were published as an ‘Appendix’ (xix–ciii). BACK

[2] ‘Very words’. BACK

[3] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), i–xxxii contained a list of publications for 1808. BACK

[4] ‘General Review of Literature’ in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 417–443. BACK

[5] There was no Biographical Section in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[6] Life of Nelson (1813), an expansion of Southey’s article in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. BACK

[7] The politician Charles James Fox (1749–1806; DNB). BACK

[8] ‘With love’. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 322–335. BACK

[10] For details of the letter, which related to the evacuation in 1808 of Spanish troops from Denmark by Admiral Sir Richard Goodwin Keats (1757–1834; DNB); see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 March 1810, Letter 1763. In the event, it either did not arrive in time or was not used in the account published in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 333–335. BACK

[11] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 336–356, this dealt with events in Portugal and in the Spanish colonies. BACK

[12] Southey was correct in this forecast. BACK

[13] Southey’s ballad, published in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), [v]–ix. The poem had originally been published in Morning Post, 9 September 1803. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)