3262. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 11 March 1819

3262. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 11 March 1819 ⁠* 

My dear Scott

My conscience will not let me direct a letter to your care, [1]  without directing me to yourself by the same post.

A great event has happened to me within this fortnight, – the birth of a child, – after an interval of nearly seven years, [2]  – & that child a son. This was a chance to which I looked rather with dread than with hope, after the loss having seen the flower of my earthly hopes & happiness cut down. But it is well that these things our not in our own disposal. And without building upon so frail a tenure as an infants life, or indulging in any vain dreams of what may be; I am thankful for him, now that he is come.

You would have heard from me ere long, even if Mr Ticknor had not given a spur to my tardy intentions. I should soon have written to say that you will shortly receive the concluding volume of my History of Brazil, – for I am now drawing fast toward the close of that long labour. [3]  This volume has less of the kite & crow warfare than its predecessors, & is rich in information of various kinds which never has never till now come before the public in any shape. Indeed when I think of the materials from which is has been composed, & how compleatly during great part of my course I have been without either chart or pilot to direct me, I look back with wonder upon what I have accomplished. – I go to London in about seven weeks from this time, & as soon as I return the peninsular war will be sent to press.

In the course of the summer also I shall have to send you my Life of Wesley, – of which one volume is printed, & the other in the press. [4]  I am taking great pains & great pleasure also in this work, which is indeed a history of the Rise & Progress of Methodism, & contains oddities of all kinds, & facts from which a psychologist may learn more than from all the metaphysical treatises that ever spoilt white paper.

Our successors (for you & I are now old enough in authorship to use this term) are falling into the same faults as the Roman poets after the Augustan age, & the Italians after the golden season of their poetry. [5]  They are overlabouring their productions, & overloading them with ornament, so that all parts are equally prominent, every where glare & glitter, & no keeping, & no repose. Henry Milman has spoilt his Samor [6]  in this way. It is full of power & of beauty, – but too full of them. There is another striking example in a little volume called Night, [7]  where some of the most uncouth stories imaginable are told with in a strain of continued tip-toe effort, & you are vexed to see such uncommon talents so oddly applied, & such Herculean xx xxx strength wasted in preposterous exertions. The authors name is Elliott, a self-taught man, in business (the iron-trade I believe) at Rotherham. He sends play after play to the London theatres, & has always that sort of refusal, which gives him encouragement to try another. [8]  Sheridan said of one of them that it was “a comical tragedy’ [9]  – but he did not know any man who could have written such a one.’ I have given him good advice, which he takes as it is meant, – & something may come of him yet. [10] 

It was reported that you were about to bring forth a play, [11]  & I was greatly in hopes it might be true; – for I am verily persuaded that in this course you might <would> run as brilliant a career as you have already done in narrative both in prose & rhyme, – for as for believing that you have a double in the field, – not I! Those same powers would be equally certain of success in the drama, & were you to give them a dramatic direction, & reign for a third seven years upon the stage, you would stand alone in literary history. Indeed already I believe that no man ever afforded so much pleasure delight to so great a xxxxxxx number of his contemporaries, in this, or in any other country.

God bless you my dear Scott. Remember me to Mrs S. & your daughter, [12]  & believe me

ever yours affectionately

Robert Southey

Keswick. 11 March. 1819.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqre/ Abbotsford/ Melrose/ Scotland
Stamped: Keswick/ 298
Endorsement: Southey/ 11 March 1819
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 337–339. BACK

[1] Southey to George Ticknor, 11 March 1819, Letter 3263. BACK

[2] Isabel Southey was born on 2 November 1812 and Charles Cuthbert Southey on 24 February 1819. BACK

[3] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[4] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[5] Roman poets following the reign of Augustus (63 BC–AD 14; Emperor of Rome 27 BC–AD 14); and Italian poets after the time of Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321). BACK

[6] Milman’s epic Samor, Lord of the Bright City (1818). BACK

[7] Ebenezer Elliott’s Night, A Descriptive Poem (1818). BACK

[8] Elliott later claimed to have had five plays rejected: John Watkins, Life, Poetry, and Letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer: With an Abstract of His Politics (London, 1850), p. 232. BACK

[9] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), manager and owner of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Elliott had possibly quoted Sheridan’s observation in a letter to Southey. Elliott may have recalled this idea when in 1844 he described ‘Taurassdes’, one of his rejected plays, as ‘a comical joke for a tragedy’, John Watkins, Life, Poetry, and Letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer: With an Abstract of His Politics (London, 1850), p. 233. BACK

[10] Robert Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 30 January 1819, Letter 3238. BACK

[11] Scott had yielded to the entreaties of his friend, the actor Daniel Terry (1789–1829; DNB), and written a play, ‘The Doom of Devorgil’, in 1818. Though packed with action it required supernatural effects that could not be staged, and it remained unpublished until 1830. BACK

[12] Scott’s eldest daughter, Charlotte Sophia (1799–1837). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)