1861. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 31 January 1811

1861. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 31 January 1811 ⁠* 

I am brooding a poem upon Philips’ War with the New-Englanders which was the decisive struggle between the Red & White races in America. [1]  Nothing can xxxx be more anti-heroic than the stiff puritan manners, but these may be kept sufficiently out of sight, & the high puritan principles are fine elements to work with: One of my main characters is a Quaker, – an (ideal) son of Goffe the Regicide. [2]  A good deal of original conception is floating in my mind, & there is no subject in which my own favourite feelings & opinions could be so fully displayed. It has taken strong hold on me, & if my mind were but made up as to the fittest form of metre I should probably begin it forth with, & continue it & Pelayo [3]  together, – having the one to turn to when the way was not plain before me in the other. Hexameters would not be more difficult than any other metre, but they will not allow of the necessary transition from the narrative to the dramatic style, without too great a discrepance. The manner of Kehama [4]  would not do, – the narrative is pitched too high, – the dialogue too low, for a poem in which the action <circumstances> will be less elevated than the passion. For this very reason rhyme I fear is required.


You have done wonder with C Julian. [5]  1200 lines in a week was the largest run quickest run (in sailors phrase) that I ever made. But this is nothing to what you have accomplished, & your manner of x involves so much thought (excess of meaning being its fault) that the same number of lines must cost thrice as much expence of passion & of the reasoning faculty to you than they would to me. I am impatient to see this tragedy. As for the line of which I asked an explanation, – the meaning flashd upon me, as I thought it would, ten x minutes after the letter was gone, & I be-blockheaded myself according to my deserts. Of managers I have as great an abhorrence as you have – but if your play be fitted for representation, – which is supposing it to have certain vices that it is not likely to have, & to be without certain merits which are sure to be found there, – means b may be devised of putting it into their hands, in that sort of cavalier manner which is likely to have more effect with such fellows than any other conduct.

I hear nothing of Kehama [6]  except that 40 copies have been sold at Edinburgh, & that Scott has reviewed it for the next Quarterly. [7]  Burney [8]  is a man whose opinion has weight in the world. I met <him> once at a small dinner party, but there seemed to be too little in common between us, to lead to any conversation, & I was a listener for the afternoon. With his brother the Captain I am familiarly acquainted – We meet at Rickmans, laugh at each others puns, & rejoice as much in the discovery of any thing which is to improve my map of Brazil, or his Discoveries in the Pacific, [9]  – as the Dr can do in the happiest emendation his good genius ever suggested to him.

What is the meaning of the monogram in the title page of your Odes to Gustavus? [10]  – I never read your Latin without wishing it were English, – & regretting that you were ever taught a xxxxx language so much inferior to your own.

Your abhorrence of Spenser is a strange heresy. I admit that he is a x inferior to Chaucer, (who for variety of power has no competitor except Shakespere;) – but he is the great master of English versification, incomparably the greatest master in xxxx <our> language. Without being insensible to the defects of the Faery Queen, [11]  I can never weary of reading it. Surely Chaucer is as much a poet as it was possible for him to be when the language was in so rude a state. There seems to be this material point of difference between us, – you think we have little poetry which was good for any thing before Milton, – I that we have little since, – except in our own immediate days. I do not say that there was much before, but what there was, was sterling sense in sterling English. It had thought & feeling in it. – At present the surest way to become popular is to have as little of either ingredient as possible, – Campbells [12]  success is an a notable example.

Have you read Capt Pasleys book? I take it for my text in the next Quarterly, [13]  & would fain make it our political Bible.

God bless you


Keswick. Jany. 31. 1811.


* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 10. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 293–295 [in part; misdated 11 January 1811]. BACK

[1] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the native American inhabitants of New England. Southey’s poem was ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. BACK

[2] William Goffe (c. 1605–c. 1679; DNB), soldier and one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB). Condemned to death at the Restoration in 1660, he fled to New England and died there under an assumed name. In Southey’s poem, he was the father of Oliver Newman. BACK

[3] The early incarnation of what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[4] The Curse of Kehama (1810), which made use of unrhymed, irregular stanzas. BACK

[5] Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). BACK

[6] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[7] See Quarterly Review, 5 (February 1811), 40–61. BACK

[8] The schoolmaster, classical scholar and book collector Charles Burney (1757–1817; DNB). He had received a series of academic honours, including honorary doctorates in law from the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. BACK

[9] Burney’s A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, published in five volumes 1803–1817. BACK

[10] Latin alcaics written by Landor to Gustav IV Adolf (1778–1837; King of Sweden 1792–1809), who was deposed and exiled by an army coup in 1809. Only a few copies were privately printed. BACK

[11] Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[12] The successful and widely esteemed poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB). His most recent poem was Gertrude of Wyoming (1809). BACK

[13] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810). Southey’s review was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’. The version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was, therefore, much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

People mentioned

Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Burney, James (1750–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)