2215. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 1 February 1813

2215. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 1 February 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick . Feby 1. 1813.

The Life of Nelson [1]  was compleated this morning. The printer began with it before it was half-written, but I have distanced him by ten sheets. Do not fear that I have been proceeding too fast, – it is he that who, after the manner of printers, has given me plenty of time, by taking his own. – This was a subject which I should never have dreamt of touching, if it had not been thrust upon me: – I have walked among sea terms as carefully as a cat does among crockery, – but if I have succeeded in making the narrative continuous & clear, – the very reverse of what it is in the lives before me, – the materials are in themselves so full of character, so picturesque & so sublime that it cannot fail of being a good book.

I am in bad hands with the bookseller Ballantyne, who is manifestly a shuffling fellow & a knave. Luckily however he & his brother (who is a man of character) have more dependant upon me than I have upon them. But I shall cast about to get clear of the connection, & emancipate myself as soon as possible from periodical labour. If my reputation does not already enable me to do this it soon will, for I can distinctly xxxxx <feel> its growth. I am very much inclined to attempt under some such title as the Age of George 3 [2]  a xxx sketch of the revolutions which, almost every where & in all things, have taken place within the last half-century. Any comparison which it might induce with Voltaire [3]  would rather invite than deter me. When I come to town I shall talk with Murray about this, – meantime I have enough upon my hands, tho there is room enough in my thoughts for as much more.

When you wrote there was no more of Roderick [4]  in Bedfords hands than what you saw at Streatham. He has now the 3d & 4th – books & will soon have two more which are nearly transcribed, & then I will desire xx 4th him to convey them to you. I am in the 11th, which is rather more than halfway, xx the remainder of the way will be like travelling down-hill. Scotts Pegasus gets on by help of the same spur as the mare in the proverb. [5]  Mine is not spurred & xxx goes on with a sure foot. From what I hear said of Rokeby [6]  it seems xx likely to be less succesful than its predecessors, – I think it of the same merit as well as the same character, – but the story is less pleasing & the story is that of which every reader can judge.

You wonder that I should submit to any expurgations in the Quarterly. The fact is that there must be a power expurgatory in the hands of the Editor, & the misfortune is that Editors frequently think it incumbent upon them to use it merely because they have it. I do not like to break with the Review, – because Gifford has been something more than merely civil to me, & offered me services which I had no reason to expect, & luckily no occasion to accept – because the review gives me (& shame it is that it should be so) more repute than any thing else which I could do, & it would not be prudent to kick away the ladder till I have got up; – & because there is no channel thro which so much effect can be given to what I may think it important to impress upon the opinion of the public. I could certainly transfer my communications to Weylands [7]  review (the British) where I should be more at liberty upon some subjects, but this review is merely supported by the Sidmouth [8]  party, & is likely soon to drop. it has a very limited circulation, & no great character, less indeed than it deserves. [9]  That it would be in my power to give it a lift I believe, but I refused to bear a part in it when it was first started, – because xx <as> it runs the same road with the Quarterly, it is like an opposition coach, – & the same reason would of course prevent me from sending any thing to it, unless I went to it wholly. – Another thing is that whatever credit the Quarterly may give xx me, tells directly with Murray, with whom I am more likely to make engagements than with any other publisher, – & with the readers of the Q. who set the fashion about books. My aim & hope is ere long, to support myself by the sale of half my time, – & have the other half for the completion of my Opus Majus. [10]  – When I can command 500£ for the same quantity that Scott gets 3000£ for, this will be accomplished, & this is likely soon to be the case. – Roderick [11]  is likely <will> to be too good to be popular, I have no objection however to say “Paulo minora,” [12]  & have plenty of plans which need only such encouragement as booksellers give to be put in course of execution. It is very likely that when my hands are clear I may contract for a poem & for the Life of George 3, on such terms as may enable me to kick away the ladder, & have done with registers & reviews.

My aunt I believe will see her god-daughters portrait in the Exhibition. Dawe [13]  has painted it, who will have a very striking picture there of a mother rescuing her child from an Eagles nest. You may see them both at his house in Newman Street.

Coleridges play [14]  was written at Sheridans [15]  desire in 1797, & rejected by him & Kemble [16]  at that time.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surry
Stamped: KESWICK / 298
Postmarks: [partial] 10o’Clock/ 5 / FNn.; E/ 5 FE 5/ 1813
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 17–18 [in part]. BACK

[1] Life of Nelson (1813). It was printed by James Moyes (d. 1839), of Greville St, Hatton Garden, London. BACK

[2] George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB). This project was not realised. BACK

[3] Voltaire’s Age of Louis XIV (1751). BACK

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

[5] Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, was often taken to be a symbol of poetic inspiration. In addition, Southey may be referring to the old proverb that ‘Money makes the mare go’, and inferring that Scott’s motive for writing so much so quickly was financial. BACK

[6] Walter Scott, Rokeby (1813). BACK

[7] John Weyland (1774–1854; DNB), owner of the British Review and London Critical Journal, 1811–1825. The periodical was Tory, Anglican and evangelical. BACK

[8] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), Prime Minister 1801–1804, Home Secretary 1812–1822. As Sidmouth’s small personal following had joined the government in 1812, there seemed little future in a periodical devoted to their specific approach. BACK

[9] Southey had been invited to contribute to the British Review; see Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 2 April 1811, Letter 1895. BACK

[10] Southey’s ‘Greater Work’. Probably a reference to his History of Brazil (1810–1819) and unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

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

[12] Southey adapts Virgil, Eclogue IV, line 1, ‘Paulo majora canamus’ (‘Let us sing of more exalted things’) to ‘Paulo minora’ (‘Let us sing of lesser things’). BACK

[13] George Dawe (1781–1829; DNB), Mother Rescuing her Child from an Eagle’s Nest. Kate Southey acted as a model for this picture. BACK

[14] The play ‘Osorio’, moderately successfully staged at Drury Lane, London, 23 January-12 February 1813 as Remorse. BACK

[15] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), politician, playwright and theatre-owner. BACK

[16] John Philip Kemble (1757–1823; DNB), actor. BACK

Places mentioned

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