1900. Robert Southey to Richard Heber, 9 April 1811

1900. Robert Southey to Richard Heber, 9 April 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 9. 1811

My dear Sir

Your books which have been in my possession since the spring of 1808 are on their way to London, by waggon, carefully packed & directed to Longman’s care. I am very much obliged to you for the pleasure which they have given me. Contrary to my expectation I thought Tristan below its fame, & Lancelot little better. [1]  Isaye le Triste [2]  exhausted my patience, for after proceeding some way it seemed to me so thoroughly worthless that I laid it aside. But Giron & Meliadus are both of a very superior character, these I have no doubt are the work of the same author. [3]  In the former Spenser seems to have found his Braggadochio, [4]  – for certainly there is a character there much more nearly resembling him than the one in Ariosto [5]  which has been said to be the prototype. Perhaps it may be more clearly made out in Alamannes poem. [6]  I have it at hand & when a little more at leisure will go thro it.

The Morte Arthur [7]  concerning which I have so long appeared to play the part of the dog in the manger towards Scott, is now fairly in his hands, & what few memoranda I have made will be consigned to him. [8] 

Can you supply me with the two Mathers’ books about New England? [9]  I have planned a poem founded upon Philips war with the New Englanders, which was the decisive struggle between the white & red races in N America, – & which also secured the preponderance of the English over the French settlements there. [10]  At first sight nothing can appear more anti-heroic, nor more anti-picturesque than stiff puritan manners, & you will not think I have diminished the difficulty by chusing a primitive Quaker for the hero. Yet my second sight is as hopeful, as any poet could desire. – I have sent to America for all the American books which can in any point illust illustrate the subject, – these earlier authors are more likely to be found on our side the water, – & you will serve me by looking out any which bear upon the early history of the English colonies.

I shall be in town in about two months & should have been there by this time had it not been for Mrs Clarke [11]  & the last Austrian War.  [12]  Between them they have swoln my annual labours to an extent very inconvenient for myself. You probably know that the historical part of the Edinb. An. Register is mine, for I am not in the habit of keeping things of this kind secret, tho all such things have the greater authority when the author is unknown, by a perversity which it would not be difficult to explain. I have taken great pains with these Annals in collecting information whenever it was possible from the best sources, & I have been very succesful in obtaining it, especially with regard to Spain.

Longmans new Review, [13]  so far as it succeeds, will interfere with the sale of the Quarterly, but I doubt whether there will be sufficient sea-room for two, sailing upon the same tack, & in that case the British will sink. I have mist an opportunity of tomahawk-ing Jeffray there is to be an essay on the state of criticism in the Register, Ballantyne thinking the person who had volunteered to xx write it was grown out of love with the task & desirous to relinquish <it> applied to me. – Before he could get my answer the finished essay was brought him. He speaks of it very highly but says that it is far far too gentle, – a fault which he would not have falted found with any production of mine upon that subject. [14]  I would have exposed the abominations of the Scotch Review in morals & politics, & their utter ignorance of the first principles of taste as clearly as Copplestone has done their lack of Greek, [15]  – & upon the score of honesty I would, as they deserve, have whipt them like common rogues.

believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

Your friend Mitford appears to me a man of very great promise. I judge so more especially from his sonnets. [16] 


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Richard Heber Esqr/ Elliots Brewery <Hodnet Hall>/ Westminster <Shrewsbury>
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: B/ AP 25 AP/ 1811
Watermark: [partial] 1809
MS: Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Eng. Lett. d. 215. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: R. H. Cholmondeley, The Heber Letters, 1783–1832 (London, 1950), pp. 239–240 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey had borrowed a series of ‘Round Table Romances’; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 16 October 1808, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1517. These included the romance cycles known as the Prose Tristan (c. 1230–after 1240), attributed to Luce de Gat and Helie de Boron, and the Lancelot-Grail (early 13th century). BACK

[2] Early fifteenth-century French medieval romance. BACK

[3] Two medieval French prose romances, they formed part of the romance cycle Palamades (13th century). Their putative, probably pseudonymous, author was Helie de Boron. BACK

[4] A braggart; a character in Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[5] Rodomonte, a vainglorious character in Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533), Orlando Furioso (1532). BACK

[6] The poetic romance Girono Il Cortese (1548), whose author was the Italian statesman and poet Luigi Alemanni (1495–1556). Southey owned an edition of 1761; no. 23 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[7] Sir Thomas Malory (1415/18–1471; DNB), Le Morte d’Arthur (1485). BACK

[8] Walter Scott’s interest in Arthurian romance was long-standing. He had edited Sir Tristrem (1804) and cited the Morte Arthur in the notes to Marmion (1808). Arthurian stories and romance motifs were central to his own The Lady of the Lake (1810) and ‘Lyulp’s Tale’, part of The Bridal of Triermain (1813). Southey was wrong: he, not Scott, went on to publish an edition of the Morte Arthur in 1817. BACK

[9] Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England from 1620 to 1698 (1702); no. 1904 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; and A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England (1676), by Increase Mather (1639–1723), the father of Cotton Mather. BACK

[10] 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

[11] Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB), a former mistress of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB). After the end of their affair in May 1806, she had threatened to publish intimate details of their relationship. More recently, both had been at the centre of a scandal over the alleged misuse of military patronage. After a lengthy investigation, the charges against the Duke, who was Commander-in-Chief of the army, were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that Mrs Clarke had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[12] The War of the Fifth Coalition of Austria and Britain against France. Austria’s participation ended with the Treaty of Schonbrunn, 14 October 1809. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 575–659. BACK

[13] The British Review and London Critical Journal ran from 1811–1825. BACK

[14] ‘On the Present State of Periodical Criticism’ appeared in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.2 (1811), 556–581. It concluded: ‘The tone of criticism … at the commencement of the nineteenth century may be characterized as harsh, severe, and affectedly contemptuous … it has unfortunately become more deeply involved in the toils of the political statesman’ (p. 581). BACK

[15] [Edward Copleston], A Reply to the Calumnies of the Edinburgh Review against Oxford (Oxford, 1810), reacting to an attack on ‘classical learning as currently taught in England’, Edinburgh Review, 15 (October 1809), 40–53. Copleston noted in response that no one would ‘apply to the Edinburgh Review for information about the Classics’ (Reply, p. 118). For the reviewers’ reaction see Edinburgh Review, 16 (April 1810), 158–187. Copleston followed up with A Second Reply to the Edinburgh Review (1810) and A Third Reply to the Edinburgh Review (1811). Southey was possibly under the misapprehension that Copleston was the author of ‘Replies to the Calumnies Against Oxford’, Quarterly Review, 5 (August 1810), 177–206. He was not. The review had been written by the Oxford theologian John Davison (1777–1834; DNB). BACK

[16] Published in John Mitford, Agnes, The Indian Captive: A Poem, In Four Cantos. With Other Poems (London, 1811), pp. [189]–200; see Southey to John Mitford, 20 March 1811, Letter 1886. BACK

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