2151. Robert Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812

2151. Robert Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, Sept. 27. 1812.

My Dear Neville,

I remember with some shame that you asked me a question, which, because it was not answered at the time (our letters having crossed each other upon the road), was jostled out of remembrance, by the dissipation in which summer guests and summer visitors involve me, when I am not occupied by my too numerous and pressing engagements. Let me now endeavour to make amends. The best grammar of any language is the shortest. There is a Spanish one which professes to be of this description just advertised for the use of the army, published by Davies, who publishes the “Military Chronicle.” [1]  Procure a grammar, a dictionary, and a Spanish Testament (the Bible Society [2]  have printed one, so it may easily be got), and begin to read, without the irksome labour of learning a grammar. Commit to memory some of the dialogues in the grammar, and you will soon be fitted for mercantile conversation; translate some of the sentences which you will find in your grammar into Spanish, and compare them with the Spanish; do the same with some verses in the Testament: you will acquire practice enough to write it. The language is very easy; perhaps of all languages the easiest. Of course, I except its works of satire and low humour, which, in all languages, are exceedingly difficult to all foreigners.

I am very thankful to you for the two letters from Sicily; they are exceedingly interesting, and will be of great service to me. [3]  In the course of a month I shall have an opportunity of returning them by a private hand (Mr. Dawe, the painter [4] ), and with them the poem, [5]  which I have not yet been able to read.

Tell Josiah Conder that I have no control whatever over any part of the “Register” except my own department; and that the editors have not even shown me the due respect of informing me why they have not inserted his poem and some others which I solicited and procured for them. [6]  I am hurt at the omission; it is an act of incivility to me, and of injustice to him. Of all the verses in the volume there are none by any means so original as that piece of his which has been rejected. That sweet fragment by one of his minstrel friends is exquisite in itself, but has not the originality of his poem; [7]  for it is in Crabbe’s manner, [8]  though Crabbe has written nothing so free from faults. The “Inchcape Rock” is mine. [9]  Some unknown person found it in a newspaper, tinkered it to his own taste, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but to the destruction of the metre, and then inserted it in the “Register.”

Of the remaining gleanings from my manuscript, [10]  the longest poem is one entitled the “Hermit of the Pacific,” [11]  and of this I rather think you have a copy in another of Henry’s books. If this be the case I need not transcribe it; if it be not, let me know. Sooner or later I shall produce an inscription for the “Illustrations.” [12]  Ballantyne will do justice to the “Remains.” [13]  We had better make our alterations, and reserve all additional matter for the “Illustrations.”

I will soon write to James, and wish I had done it sooner: but I am behindhand with all my engagements. The bulk of the “ Register” [14]  will account for this; and my yearly task is no sooner completed than I am called upon to begin it again, to the lamentable delay of my own greater historical works. [15]  The “ Omniana” [16]  will soon be published, and my “Life of Nelson” [17]  is in the press; and I have made some progress this summer in my poem, much to my own satisfaction. It must be called “ Roderick, the last of the Goths,” not “ Pelayo,” as was originally intended. [18]  It is very unlike anything attempted yet in prose or rhyme. God bless you.



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 292–294. BACK

[1] J. Davis (fl. 1810s), publisher and bookseller. He published the Royal Military Chronicle; or British Officer’s Monthly Register and Mentor. The new Spanish grammar-book, emphasising ‘the omission of what is superfluous, and the fullest exposition of what is necessary’ was advertised in Ibid., (July 1812), [i]. BACK

[2] The British and Foreign Bible Society announced in 1806 that they had printed 2,000 New Testaments in Spanish to give to Spanish prisoners of war. BACK

[3] Southey included a chapter on Sicily in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 422–437. BACK

[4] The history and portrait painter George Dawe (1781–1829; DNB). Dawe’s residence at Greta Hall in autumn 1812 whilst he worked on the 9 foot by 8 foot canvas ‘Mother Rescuing her Child from an Eagle’s Nest’ was not without controversy, with some members of the household complaining about his habit of keeping windows open. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] Conder had given Southey a series of poems by himself and various friends for insertion in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812); see Southey to Josiah Conder, 5 May 1812, Letter 2088. His poem was not included in the Register. BACK

[7] Conder’s poem, ‘The Reverie’, was not included in the Edinburgh Annual Register. The ‘sweet fragment’ was ‘A Character, a Fragment’, signed ‘A.’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), ci–cii. The latter was written by Ann Tayor (1782–1866; DNB), a contributor to Conder’s The Associate Minstrels (1810), and hence one of his ‘minstrel friends’. BACK

[8] The poet and clergyman George Crabbe (1754–1832; DNB). BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.2 (1812), lxxxiv–lxxxvi. It has originally appeared unsigned in the Morning Post, 19 October 1803. BACK

[10] A MS by Henry Kirke White. Southey was transcribing materials from it, see his letter to Neville White, 20 September 1812, Letter 2147. BACK

[11] The ‘Hermit of the Pacific’ was first published in the 9th edition of Kirke White’s Remains, 3 vols (London, 1822), III, 76–79. BACK

[12] Southey’s inscription for a tablet in Wilford churchyard was intended as a tribute to a place commemorated by Henry Kirke White himself in ‘Lines Written in Wilford Church-Yard’; see Remains, 2 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. 38–40. Southey had offered the inscription (which was never written) for Neville White’s proposed volume of prints of places celebrated in his brother’s poems. This was intended to complement and capitalise on the popularity of the Remains; see Southey to Neville White, 18 March 1812 (Letter 2062) and 12 April 1812 (Letter 2076). BACK

[13] Ballantyne printed the sixth edition of the Remains of Henry Kirke White, published in 1813. BACK

[14] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[15] i.e. the two final volumes of The History of Brazil (1810–1819) and the unpublished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[16] Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores (1812). BACK

[17] The Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[18] ‘Pelayo’ was the original title for Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

People mentioned

Ballantyne, James (1772–1833) (mentioned 1 time)
White, James (1787–1885) (mentioned 1 time)
Conder, Josiah (1789–1855) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)