1031. Robert Southey to John King, 5 February 1805

1031. Robert Southey to John King, 5 February 1805 ⁠* 

Feby 5. 1805. Keswick.

Dear King

I was very glad to see your hand writing, tho it was such a hand writing as tasked my eyes somewhat severely, – a twelve o clock at night sort of hand writing, when the lamp wanted trimming & the pen wanted mending.

The lines exordial are printed, [1]  It is the imitation which to the vulgar will excuse the vanity: classical critics whom I hold in utter & unutterable contempt, – think that Virgil can do nothing wrong. [2]  I hold that Spenser did every thing right, & wrote with reference in my own heart to his ‘Lo I the man’, [3]  combining it with the form almost always used by the Romancers ‘Listen Lordings &c’ [4]  – so that the two together form a tertium quid, [5]  sufficiently different from either. It was not my intention to have written any exordium, but it was suggested to me that as the story of a poem must be new to every body & even the name of the hero to most, it was expedient to give some intimation what it was all about, & not begin abruptly as if I were writing upon a well known history. The reference to my former poems is nothing more as to the boastfulness of the thing, than if I had said ‘Author of Joan of Arc &c’ – in the title page. The Scotch Reviewers [6]  will be civil to me, at least Harry, my Mr-President-brother, [7]  tells me that they are all disposed to be upon good terms with me. There are sundry reasons for this. Something is owing to what they know of me from my friend Elmsley who is intimate with some of them. Harry associates with them – they like him, & know that thro him I should be likely to ascertain who reviewed me, & wasps as they are, they may not like to provoke a hornet. Most of all – Walter Scott is now occasionally concerned in it (he reviewed Amadis, [8] ) now he & I have some common friends. we are both equally fond of romances & chronicles, & have each a very sincere respect for the others talents. So that I look upon myself as safe in that quarter. Mrs Barbauld will in all likelihood be very stupid & very civil in the Annual [9]  – at any rate I am sure of civility there, & in the Critical I shall be well reviewed by William Taylor. [10]  In the other Reviews having no friends I shall most probably find enemies – for nobody is neutral in literature.

I am xxx sorry that any difference should have happened between you & Tobin, sorry that his brother is dead, & sorry that his projected marriage she is broken off. An excellent good husband he would have made, & I should think the Ladys loss more irreparable than his. Of the merits of the case I know nothing – nor desire to know. Marry he must, because he is dependant for all his pleasures by reason of his blindness, & if he can be content to take a life without fortune, he will have little difficulty in finding a good one. His opinions are very often wrong, but his feelings always right; I xxx scarcely know any man who has so much practical philosophy. I wish Miss Savary [11]  well enough to hope that she may never have reason to regret him. he is not a man for her to have loved readily, but he is one whom she would have loved more & more till the latest hour of existence. – Poor John Tobin! if his family had taken the alarm for him when I did, he might have been saved. Another victim to London chambers & professional application! [12] 

What you say respecting prints in a poem precisely agrees with my own opinion & with Wordsworths. they should only be used for illustration. I am obliged to you for what you have been doing with the waterspout [13]  – It is of course too late for the present edition – but if the poem succeeds in sale will probably be useful hereafter. I have only now a groupe of arms &c in the title page, – an emblematic vignette over the exordium, & two vignettes in the half titles to the two parts of the poem – the one Madocs ship in full sail – the other the Great Snake to whom you have not had the pleasure of being introduced [14]  – & this puts me in mind that my brother Tom has eaten some land crabs, is very fond of them, & means to bring me home a couple alive, whom I mean to keep in a cage as singing birds. [15] 

Our winter has been the most delightful I ever recollect – frost without snow & thaw without rain. As yet we have had no snow in the vale – what little fell, melted as it touched the ground – which has never been white – the hills are beautifully whitened. Danvers will be delighted with this country.

[MS missing]

Pococks design of the waterspout is not very striking – the prints in Nicholson [16]  are what delighted me, & Tom recognised their resemblance to the actual appearance, but by all means look at that edition of the Shipwreck if it falls in your way. [17]  It is more appropriately & beautifully embellished than any book which I ever saw. the artist was as good a seaman as the poet, & the prints are as illustrative as they are ornamental.

Thank you for the trouble you have taken with my poor books. I live in hope to gather them together ere long. – you will receive Madoc early in March. the last proofs are on their way to Edinburgh. [18]  – the titles have the very finest Gothic letters you ever saw – drawn by Tomkins, [19]  who is perfect in the art. My share in the next Annual will not be so conspicuous as in the last. [20]  It is done – thank Heaven – all but one article which falls in the last chapter – & I am once totis viribus [21]  engaged in wars with Sumatra & the Indian Isles. [22]  – the Edithling thrives bravely – she is forward on her feet, standing half her time at a chair, & walking along the window-seat, & she says ‘take care’ – almost as distinctly as I can – but except ‘Papa’ – this is the whole of her vocabulary as yet. The cowpock produced not the slightest fever, or indisposition. [23]  I still dread the teething she cut the two first ten weeks ago – & there is no sign of any more. Your little one had a marvellous recovery – & should be shown as a sample of successful skill. – I continue in sound health & spirits – almost wondering how the climate should have agreed so well with me, & my eyes have not for a long time troubled me – if all continues well I expect to get thro a world of writing this next year. Edith is grown fat – So we have neither of us any reason to complain of the North. Remember me to Mrs King – & to any body who may enquire for me – no very laborious commission – for except yourself & Danvers I have no friend in Bristol – & very few acquaintance –

God bless you.

RS. –

NB – I have set up a jackass [24]  – being determined to ride like a gentleman, & not walk in the dirt.


* Address: To/ J[MS missing]tol/ Single
Stamped: [MS missing]ICK/ [MS missing]8
Postmark: E / FEB 8/ 1805
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey refers to the exordial lines for Madoc (1805), which were published as:

Come, listen to a tale of times of old!
Come, for ye know me! I am he who sung
The Maid of Arc; I am he who framed
Of Thalaba the wild & wonderous song.
Come, listen to my lay, & ye shall hear
How Madoc from the shores of Britain spread
The adventurous sail, explored the ocean ways,
And quelled Barbarian power, & overthrew
The bloody altars of idolatry,
And planted in its fanes triumphantly
The Cross of Christ. Come, listen to my lay.
See Robert Southey. Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, p. 8. BACK

[2] In the Aeneid (29–19 BC), Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro; 70–19 BC) begins not with a separate formal exordium, but with an announcement of his intentions and the poem’s subject-matter:

Arms and the man I sing, who first made way,
predestined exile, from the Trojan shore
to Italy, the blest Lavinian strand.
Smitten of storms he was on land and sea
by violence of Heaven, to satisfy
stern Juno’s sleepless wrath; and much in war
he suffered, seeking at the last to found
the city, and bring o’er his fathers’ gods
to safe abode in Latium; whence arose
the Latin race, old Alba’s reverend lords,
and from her hills wide-walled, imperial Rome.
O Muse, the causes tell! What sacrilege,
or vengeful sorrow, moved the heavenly Queen
to thrust on dangers dark and endless toil
a man whose largest honor in men’s eyes
was serving Heaven? Can gods such anger feel?

[3] Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB) begins The Faerie Queene (1590–1596) with exordial lines that echo the Aeneid:

Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses having slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.

(Book 1, stanza 1)


[4] Medieval romances conventionally began with this phrase, followed by a description of the main character and plot. Geoffrey Chaucer’s (1343–1400; DNB) Tale of Sir Thopas in The Canterbury Tales (first printed 1478) is typical:

Listen, lordings, in good intent,
And I will tell you verrament
Of mirth and of solas,
All of a knight was fair and gent,
In battle and in tournament,
His name was Sir Thopas.

[5] Meaning ‘a third thing’. BACK

[6] The authors who worked for the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[7] Harry was elected as one of the four annual presidents of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh in December 1804. BACK

[8] Scott reviewed Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 600–603, and in the Edinburgh Review, 5 (October 1803), 109–136. BACK

[9] Madoc received a complimentary review in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613, but the author was William Taylor, not Barbauld. BACK

[10] Madoc was negatively reviewed in the Critical Review, ns 7 (1806), 72–83. The author was Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773–1858), not Taylor. BACK

[11] Untraced; possibly the daughter of John Savary (d. 1831), a banker based in Bristol. BACK

[12] John Tobin (1770–1804; DNB), brother of James Webbe Tobin, was a London solicitor and playwright, who died in 1804. BACK

[13] Southey had been hoping that King would provide a drawing of a waterspout for engraving and publication in Madoc. BACK

[14] Madoc (1805), has only three illustrations: the engraved titlepage with Wynn’s shield upon a trophée; the palm and cross upon the rock (after the Table of Contents); and the snake before the cave, intended for the titlepage for the second part, ‘Madoc in Aztlan’ but placed incorrectly (after page 320 instead of after page 184). It is probable that the image of the ship by Nicholas Pocock (1740–1821; DNB) was omitted because Southey was displeased with the vessel’s anachronistic modernity (see letter 1098 of this edition). BACK

[15] Southey had previously written to King on this topic; see Southey to John King, [1]–5 March 1804, Letter 904. BACK

[16] Prints of waterspouts appeared in William Nicholson’s (1753–1815; DNB) Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, 1 (1797), plates 24 & 25, facing pages 578 and 580. BACK

[17] Nicholas Pocock’s illustrations first appeared in the 1804 edition of William Falconer’s (1732–1769) The Shipwreck, edited by James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), which Southey reviewed in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 577–580. BACK

[18] Madoc was printed by James Ballantyne, in Edinburgh. BACK

[19] Thomas Tomkins (1743–1816; DNB): writing-master and calligrapher, who carried out commissions for decorative book titles of luxury publications. BACK

[20] Southey reviewed, in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805): John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa, in the years 1797 and 1798, including Observations on the Geology & Geography, the Natural History ... and Sketches of the Various Tribes Surrounding the Cape of Good Hope, Vol. II (1804), 22–33; Robert Percival (1765–1826), An Account of the Cape of Good Hope (1804), 34–41; Daniel Mackinnen (1767–1830), A Tour Through the British West Indies, in the years 1802 and 1803 giving a Particular Account of the Bahama Islands (1804), 50–56; John Barrow, Travels in China: Containing Descriptions, Observations and Comparisons Made and Collected in the Course of a Short Residence at the Imperial Palace of Yuen-min-yuen, and on a Subsequent Journey from Pekin to Canton (1804), 69–83; Sir John Froissart’s Chronicles of England, France, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II to the Coronation of Henry IV, trans. Thomas Johnes (1748–1816; DNB) (1804), 189–194; George Heriot (1766–1844), The History of Canada, From its First Discovery: Comprehending an Account of the Original Establishment of the Colony of Louisiana 194–197; Part the First of An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Vice, Instituted, in London, 1802, Setting Forth, with a List of the Members, the Utility and Necessity of such an Institution, and its Claim to Public Support (1803), 225–231; Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804), 398–413; Original Correspondence of Jean Jacques Rousseau, with Mad. La Tour de Franqueville and M. Du Peyrou (1804), 485–488; Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin, ... with Anecdotes of his Friends and Criticisms on his Writings (1804), 488–93; David Irving (1778–1850), The Lives of the Scotish Poets; with Preliminary Dissertations on the Literary History of Scotland and the Early Scotish Drama (1804), 493–499; Walter Scott, Sir Tristram: A Metrical Romance by Thomas of Ercildoune (1804), 555–563; Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853), Poems (1804), 564–565; William Day (dates unknown), The Shepherd’s Boy: being Pastoral Tales (1804), 567–568; E. Warren (dates unknown), The Poet’s Day, or, Imagination’s Ramble (1804), 568; Cupid turned Volunteer: in a Series of Prints, Designed by her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth; and Engraved by W. N. Gardiner, B.A., with Poetical Illustrations by T. P [Thomas Park (1758/9–1834; DNB)] (1804), 568–580; Thomas Green Fessenden (1771–1837), Original Poems (1804), 571; John Blair Linn (1777–1805), The Powers of Genius (1801), 571; Thomas Clio Rickman (1761–1834; DNB), An Ode in Celebration of the Emancipation of the Blacks of Saint Domingo, November 29, 1803 (1804), 572; Robert Bloomfield, Good Tidings (1804), 574; William Robert Spencer (1770–1834; DNB), The Year of Sorrow (1804), 574–575; British Purity: or, the World we Live in. A Poetic Tale, of Two Centuries…By Lory Lucian and Jerry Juvenal, … Assisted by S. Scriblerus, etc. [pseud.] (1804), 575; William Falconer (1732–1769), The Shipwreck (1804), ed., James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB), 577–580; William Tooke (1777–1863), ed., The Poetical Works of Charles Churchill: with Explanatory Notes and an Authentic Account of his Life (1804), 580–585; J. Amphlett (dates unknown), Invasion: a Descriptive and Satirical Poem (1804), 585; Joseph Jefferson (1766–1824), Horae Poeticæ. Poems, Sacred, Moral and Descriptive (1804), 586–587; Alexander Campbell (1764–1824; DNB), The Grampians Desolate, a Poem in Six Books (1804), 587–591; William Crowe (bap. 1745, d. 1829; DNB), Lewesdon Hill (1804), 593–594; John Finlay (1782–1810), Wallace, or, The Vale of Ellerslie, and other Poems (1804), 594–596; Jessie Stewart (dates unknown), Ode to Dr. Thomas Percy (1804), 597; John Belfour (1768–1842), Fables on Subjects Connected with Literature. Imitated from the Spanish of Don Tomas de Yriarte (1804), 597–598; Transactions of the Missionary Society (1804), 621–634; Edward Davies (1756–1831; DNB), Celtic Researches, on the Origin, Traditions, & Language, of the Ancient Britons; with some Introductory Sketches, on Primitive Society (1804), 634–644; [Anon.] No Slaves - No Sugar: Containing New and Irresistible Arguments in Favour of the African Trade by a Liverpool Merchant (1804), 644–648; William Tennant (1758–1813), Indian Recreations, Consisting Chiefly of Strictures on the Domestic and Rural Economy of the Mahommedans and Hindoos (1803), 658–670; John Gardiner (fl. 1758–1792), Essays Literary, Political and Economical (1804), 670–674; Richard Duppa, Heads from the Fresco Pictures of Raffaele in the Vatican (1802), 918–923. BACK

[21] Meaning ‘with all one’s might’. BACK

[22] For Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, never completed. BACK

[23] She had been inoculated with cowpox serum to prevent smallpox, as recommended by Edward Jenner (1749–1823; DNB) in An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ (1798). BACK

[24] Southey’s treasured ass John. BACK

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