2183. Robert Southey to John Wilson Croker, 25 November 1812

2183. Robert Southey to John Wilson Croker, 25 November 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 25. 1812.

My dear Sir

It was but yesterday that I enquired of Murray whether I might avail myself of your name to frank up copy for the printer. Your friendly letter encourages me to do so now – without waiting for permission. [1] 

You would certainly have seen xx me had I been in London; but here I am, & here I shall be quill-driving till the end of April, [2]  when I hope to gain leisure for a five weeks run to the South. Twenty years ago I also could write one or two hundred lines a day, – & even at a later time (1799) 1200 of the best lines which I ever wrote were produced in one week. [3]  I am now comparatively a slow writer, – rejecting more of what occurs, less easily satisfied with what is not rejected, & less ardent in what was once my passionate pursuit. You need not be told that there is no intellectual exertion so delightful as that of composing a great poem: – but my mind has attained a sort of quietism from which it does not willingly permit itself to be roused, patient historical research is of all employments that which is <now> most delightful <congenial> to me, & if my own inclinations alone were to be consulted I should lay aside all other avocations & devote myself exclusively to the completion of my Portugueze histories. [4]  Yonder they lie unfinished upon the shelf, – half-a yards length of manuscripts, the work of many years. Time passes on, grey hairs begin to show themselves, every year brings with it less leisure than the last: I am of a short-lived race, & sometimes regret that any thing should compel me thus to leave undone that which, in all human probability, no other person will ever undertake with half the advantages that I have possessed.

The sole temptation which I have for proceeding with the poems which I am perpetually building in the air, is to gratify a few persons who love me, & a few (they are very few) of whose approbation I am ambitious. As for reputation hereafter, if what I have done will not secure me that, it were idle to hope it from any thing which I shall ever do. In other points, I hope, by Gods blessing to continue to learn as long as I live: but as a poet I be am full-grown xxx the quantity of my poems may be increased – doubled – quintupled – decupled, if there were a demand for the article, – but their value must be determined by assay – not by weight, & nothing that I can now produce will alter that.

The probable extent of my poem [5]  will be 5500 lines of which only 2400 are written. The two first books past thro your office under cover of the last packet which I addrest to Mr Gifford, & the third will probably take the same direction in the course of a few days. Without affecting any distrust of myself, or any remarkable facility of xxxxxx <submitting> my own opinions in such matters, I am yet very sincerely desirous of hearing criticism while it is possible to profit by it, & if you will do me the favour to look over these papers when you feel inclination & have leisure, with a fault-finding eye, – the poem will probably be the better for it. They are in the hands of Mr Bedford’s brother, & he will convey them to you at any time that you may signify such a wish.

I am much beholden to you for the plans. The book which they are to illustrate is Murray’s planning, not mine. The very nature of the subject prevents me from ever feeling myself upon terra firma. However I have done my best & hope it will answer his expectations. [6] 

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly & respectfully

Robert Southey.

I can wish nothing better for Scotts poem [7]  than that it may be as beautiful as the scene which he has chosen for it.


* Address: To/ John Wilson Croker Esqre/ &c &c &c
Endorsement: Read
MS: Morgan Library, MA 1005. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Myron F. Brightfield, John Wilson Croker (London, 1940), pp. 209–210 [in part]. BACK

[1] See Southey to John Murray, 25 November 1812, Letter 2184. BACK

[2] Southey devoted this time to the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[3] For Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[4] The History of Brazil (1810–1819) and the unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[6] Croker had supplied plans of Nelson’s major battles for Southey’s forthcoming Life of Nelson (1813). The biography, commissioned by Murray, was a development of an article in Quarterly Review, 3 (February 1810), 218–262. BACK

[7] Rokeby (1813), set in Yorkshire during the civil war of the seventeenth century. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)