1931. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 5 June 1811

1931. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 5 June 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick June 5. 1811.

Print your tragedy [1]  in a volume, – that is, in whatever size it be, whether octavo or the more convenient pocket form, let it have boarded covers, that it may stand upon a shelf, & not be dog-leaved among pamphletts. That passage which describes Egilona [2]  is perfectly Landorean: – it has a character of sublimity wholly your own, & of that kind which has set the seal of immortality upon Gebir. [3] 

The concluding lines of the Tragedy are not yet what they should be, – if they had been you would not have asked my judgement of them. [4]  All bad poets admire their all that they write, – a true one never suspects a passage of his own to be imperfect without cause – his suspicions are of the nature of conscience.

Scott you see x is writing upon Rodrigo. [5]  If the old Goth ever gets any literary news from this world, it must surprize him to see hear what work he has made for the poets of the 19th century. I am anxious to see his poem, there will be a good deal of splendour in it no doubt, – but visions are difficult things to handle –

Have you seen Miss Sewards Letters? She had been “assured” that the author of Gebir reviewed it himself in the Critical Review, & that I was the editor of that Review, – facts of which the one is just as true as the other. [6]  That review, or rather that analysis of Gebir I wrote myself. [7]  After I knew Miss Seward I made her read the poem again, & but she never could get more than glimpses of its merits, glimpses however she did get, & this would have appeared if she had not been (in my opinion) ill used by the man to whom she left her letters for publication. [8]  By not printing the whole which she designed for publication, he has xxxxxx made her appear to be xx given some of her hastiest & most violent expressions which pass now for her settled judgement, because the letters in which they were qualified, or xxxxx or retracted do not appear. In another point she has been ill-used. It was her desire that they should be published in portions, at intervals of two years between each – the reason of this certainly was that by the time the latter portions were published, some persons there spoken of, would in the natural course of years have dropt off, – it is very evident to me that that strange part of her own history relating to Col. T. & his wife, was never meant to be made public while they lived, & they being of her own age, would in all likelihood have been dead, before that portion of the correspondence was publishable, according to her will. [9]  But she left the letters to a Scotch bookseller, who is man-midwife to Jeffray & to <bringing into light> all that that fellow spawns in the Ed. Review, & he, as might have <been> foreseen had no other thought than how to make the greatest immediate profit by the bequest, in utter contempt of the conditions which accompanied it – because they were stated as the wish of the testatrix, – & therefore were not binding in law.

Fellowes who speaks so cavalierly of Gebir in those letters published some poems himself, [10]  which were upon a level with Godwins Antonio [11]  for versification, – & for silliness below any thing which I can call to mind for a comparison. And yet Fellowes who judges so vilely of the poetry of others & writes such execrable verses himself, is on other points a sensible man, in as far as I could judge from dining once in company with him.

We set out for the South on Monday next, & shall be a week on the road. Direct to me at the Revd. Herbert Hill’s, Streatham, Surry, any time for the next month. – Sir Ed. Littleton I find has left Bath. Shall I find you there or at Llanthony about the end of July? or will any wind blow you to London?

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade./ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 14. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 225–27. BACK

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

[2] In Landor’s play, Egilona is the wife of Rodrigo, king of Spain. The identity of the passage is unclear, but could be that where Egilona describes her relationship with her husband: Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), pp. 43–44. BACK

[3] Gebir (1798), which Southey had admired since its publication. BACK

[4] In an earlier letter, Southey had been puzzled by the final one and a half lines of Count Julian; see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 12 March 1811, Letter 1883. BACK

[5] Scott’s Vision of Don Roderick (1811), which covered similar territory to that in Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) and Landor’s Count Julian. BACK

[6] A paraphrase of Seward to Henry John Todd (1763–1845; DNB), 11 June 1802, Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), VI, pp. 28–29. BACK

[7] Southey’s highly laudatory review of Gebir, Critical Review, 27 (September 1799), 29–39. BACK

[8] Archibald Constable (1774–1827; DNB), publisher of the Edinburgh Review and editor and publisher of Seward’s Letters. BACK

[9] Colonel Hugh Taylor (dates unknown) had once courted Seward, but their relationship collapsed in the face of her father’s disapproval. Letters exchanged between Taylor’s wife and Seward in 1796 revealed that the Colonel had remained infatuated with Seward. See, Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), IV, pp. 171–181, 214–220; also, Ibid., IV, pp, 271–275. BACK

[10] Revd Robert Fellowes (1770–1847; DNB). He had observed in a letter to Seward of 1803 that: ‘The author of Gebir … has lately made another attempt to convey the waters of Helicon by leaden pipes, and many dark subterranean ways … having trod the dark profound of Gebir, I feel no inclination to begin another journey, which promises so little pleasure, and probably where only a few occasional flashes will enlighten the road’, Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), V, p. 77 n. *. Fellowes’s Poems, Chiefly Descriptive of the Softer and More Delicate Sensations and Emotions of the Heart appeared in 1806. From 1804–1811, he was editor of the Critical Review. BACK

[11] Godwin’s tragedy Antonio, performed at Drury Lane, London, in December 1800. BACK

People mentioned

Seward, Anna (1742–1809) (mentioned 2 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Godwin, William (1756–1836) (mentioned 1 time)
Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Streatham (mentioned 1 time)
Llanthony (mentioned 1 time)