3290. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 7 May 1819

3290. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 7 May 1819⁠* 

Keswick. 7 May. 1819.

Your Ode has been put in the right course; – I found means of getting it delivered to the Swedish Ambassador, & he will transmit it to Sweden [1] . This I should have told you sooner, if I had been in spirits for writing. It is now ten weeks since a son was born to me, & it is only within the last three days, that I have been free from serious anxiety concerning his Mother. Now I begin to breathe & hope all will be well.

One of my brothers, a Sea-Captain with a wife & six children, [2]  is come to live within four miles of me, – in Newlands, – between this place & Buttermere. This adds much to my enjoyments, & gives me moreover a motive to wholesome exercise which I might otherwise not be sufficiently disposed to take. He has some cows there, upon poor land; & at the bottom of his fields runs a beck, in which there are <is> the most delicious bathing, – natural baths of all depths, & seats where you may act the river God, & let the stream flow under your arms, or over your shoulders; – no luxury is like it in a hot summers day, & such days are already beginning.

Wordsworth has just published a little poem to the tune of his Idiot Boy, & of the same pitch; – with fine things in it, & a prologue which you will be much pleased with. [3]  I told him what you said of his poems, & he desires to send you this, when an opportunity offers. It shall travel with my books when they are publi ready, but you must tell me how to direct them. I am printing the last chapter of Brazil, – containing a view of the state of the country at the time when the history concludes, – that is, when the Court removed thither. [4]  Of the new States which are rising in the world, I think Brazil is likely to be the greatest. It is less likely to fall asunder than Yankee-land, & tho the Brazilians are woefully behind the Yankees in every thing else, they have a sense of honour, generally prevailing among them, in which the Anglo Americans seem to have renounced. Besides the tendency of Brazil at this time is towards improvement in every thing; – the tendency in America is to level down every thing to the dead flat of vulgar ignorance: they wish to have no other Master of Arts than he who has the Ready Reckoner at his fingers end. [5] 

I have seen lately three young American travellers, [6]  all singularly accomplished men, from New England, – two of them indeed among the most accomplishd men in fine literature whom it was ever my fortune to meet. But such men who would do honour to Old England, (& for that reason regard the mother country with admiration & reverence) are as rare in America, as men of old Roman virtue are in the country wherein you are sojourning. Every thing tends to make the Americans merely ephemeral in their thoughts & feelings. They have no classical learning, – no ancestry, no antiquities, – Our French neighbours were of are fond of comparing us to the Carthaginians, – the parallel would suit the Americans better, – for their commercial, military, & naval skill, – their boundless ambition, – their dishonesty, & their total want of every thing that is truly great & glorious literature. New England is infinitely the best part of America, – there the people are becoming more English in their feelings, – & it is not a little curious that in that country the first attempts should be made for introducing an Established Ch religious Establishment. [7] 

I have made some progress in my New England poem, & like what I have done. [8]  The swarm of imitative poets in this age is really surprizing, & the success with which they imitate their models would be surprizing also, if it did not prove that there can be no great difficulty in producing what may be imitated so well. Morbid feelings, atrocious principles, exaggerated characters & incidents of monstrous & disgusting horror, make up the fashionable compound, – the more unEnglish, unchristian & immoral the better, provided it be in slavered over with a froth of philosophy. – I have fewer imitators than any other poet of any notoriety, – the reason is probably that I am less fashionable, – & perhaps also that I am less a mannerist. To make up for this I am favoured with more abuse than all the rest collectively, – Wordsworth comes in for a pretty large share, & very often we go together. If my name be found in such company hereafter, it will be enough.

You are mentioned in a newspaper essay this week (the Westmorland Gazette) as the English poet who most resembles Goethe, but as infinitely his superior. [9]  I do not know enough of Goethe to judge how far this assertion may be right, – but a writer who estimated you so justly seems must have been capable of estimating him. Oh that you had been as incapable of writing Latin verse as I am!

God bless you



* Address: To / Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Pistoia/ Italy
Postmarks: [partial] PAID/ 12/ 1819; F/ 7 9/ 19
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 32. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 133–135. BACK

[1] The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities (founded 1786) had offered a prize for an ode praising King Charles XIV John, the former French Marshal, Jean Bernadotte (1763–1844; King of Sweden 1818–1844). Landor had sent his entry, the Latin ode ‘Ad Gustavum Regem Suedorum’ (1819), to Southey, asking him to act as an intermediary. Southey had used Bedford and Herries to convey the poem to Gustaf Algernon Stierneld (1791–1868), Swedish Ambassador to the United Kingdom 1818–1828; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 March 1819, Letter 3269. Landor did not win, and his ode was unpublished until it appeared in Poemata et Inscriptiones (London, 1847), pp. 219–220. BACK

[2] Margaret Hill Southey (b. 1811); Mary Hill Southey (b. 1812); Robert Castle Southey (1813–1828); Herbert Castle Southey (1815–1864); Eleanor Thomasina Southey (1816–1835); Sarah Louise Southey (1818–1850). BACK

[3] Wordsworth’s Peter Bell, A Tale in Verse (1819), which was dedicated to Southey. The comparison is with ‘The Idiot Boy’, Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (London, 1798), pp. 149–179. The two poems were connected in another way. The first draft of ‘Peter Bell’ had been composed in 1798, but the poem remained unpublished until a revised version appeared in 1819. BACK

[4] Southey, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, pp. 696–879. The History went up to the removal of the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1807–1808. BACK

[5] Here Southey compares the knowledge of someone who has graduated from, for example, Cambridge University, most of whose degree course consisted of the study of mathematics, with that of someone who could make use of a ‘Ready Reckoner’, a table of numbers for simple calculations. BACK

[6] Edward Everett, George Ticknor, and Joseph Green Cogswell (1786–1871), bibliographer and educationist. BACK

[7] Southey is referring to Lyman Beecher (1775–1863), An Address of the Charitable Society for the Education of Indigent Pious Young Men for the Ministry of the Gospel (New Haven, Connecticut, 1814). This address was widely reported in Britain; see, for example, the Literary Panorama and National Register, 7 (June 1816), 468–471. Southey had subscribed to this publication since 1809; it was no. 1734 in the sale catalogue of his library. Southey later used this information in his article on ‘New Churches’, Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591 (at 550–551). BACK

[8] Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[9] A ‘Communication to the Readers of the Westmorland Gazette’, Westmorland Gazette, 8 May 1819, had argued that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749–1832) ‘closest English representative is perhaps Walter Savage Landor – a man of transce[n]dent genius’. The author was, of course, the paper’s editor, Thomas de Quincey. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Emerald Bank, Newlands (mentioned 1 time)