1177. Robert Southey to William Taylor [fragment], [c. 23–25 April 1806]

1177. Robert Southey to William Taylor [fragment], [c. 23–25 April 1806] ⁠* 


My dear friend

Had I begun to write to you sooner I could not have told you that your picture was begun this morning, that I had sate two hours in a very fine velvet chair, & that there I am my portrait is, looking, Mrs Opie says, quite alive; – & if it does, looking very unlike the original which is but half alive. [1]  London always affected my spirits, but it never before affected my health. I breathe with difficulty, & positively hunger & thirst for fresh air. To help this on I have so troublesome a cough, that for the last three days I have found it expedient to abstain from animal food, & drink nothing but water, & this regimen I must continue to observe.

To day I dine in the Row. Our Fathers [2]  complain heavily of King Arthur. that he undertook to bring out the book in weekly numbers & would even have commenced it a week earlier if they had not dissuaded him; at the end of the first week he stopt, – & only four numbers have been published now at the end of April, – the whole volume having been repeatedly promised for March. [3]  Thus whatever advantage might have been derived from weekly publication, if any it were, has been compleatly frustrated. Item that he the said King Arthur in contradiction to their calculations doth so miscalculate the extent of his matter that he hath extended the volume regularly to a size which cannot be afforded, exceeding their estimated & resolved number by full 200. Item that there is much matter which is too dull, he the said Arthur seeming to have an inclination for dullness. Item that he favoureth not sufficiently the publications of themselves, the said Fathers; which they humbly conceive ought to be done by sending such articles into safe hands. The sum total is that a great reduction will take place in medical & philosophical articles, & that our Well beloved brother in the Review must curtail his theology. [4] 


Nicholsons Review [5]  has set out badly, & unless his name be strong enough to support it till he gets a more certain supply of better articles, it must drop. – Rickman did receive your letter, & thought he had replied to it. If you saw how he is involved in business about Scotch Roads & Canals you would not wonder at such an omission. [6] 

I have seen only the Doctor, of all the Aikins, meeting him in the Row on Wednesday last. He pressed me much to go to Newington, which I cannot do except at the expence of a day, & a day is more than I could afford. [7]  You may perceive how little I am at rest by noticing that this, scramble as it is, was begun two days ago. You shall [sic] a fuller & quieter letter when I reach home.

Madoc is going doing well in all but its sale. If you do not know the current value of epic poetry at the present time I can help you to a pretty just estimate. My profits upon this poem in the course of twelvemonths amount precisely to three pounds, seventeen shillings, & one penny. In the same space of time Walter Scott has sold 4500 copies of his Lay, [8]  & netted of course above a thousand pounds. But my acorn will continue to grow when his Turkey bean shall have withered. – Your reviewal [9]  will do something for the sale, & I think it likely that a small edition may go off with tolerable rapidity.

I talked with the Pater Noster [10]  about a Magazine & they only want an Editor. Were you near enough you would be the only man. As for a foreign Review I did not touch upon it, as the string was not in tune. [11] 

Dinner is ready. Excuse me for writing so late & so little. Remember me as kindly as can be to your mother. If Portugal be compelled to drive us out, as I now fully expect, I may yet hope to see her again one of these days.

God bless you, my dear friend!

Robert Southey


* Endorsement: Ansd 27 April
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4872. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 122–124.
Dating note: The letter is annotated ‘23rd April’ in another hand; thus dated in Robberds. The letter was written over several days, dated ‘Wednesday’ (23 April in 1806) and ‘Friday’ (25 April in 1806). BACK

[1] Southey’s portrait was painted for William Taylor by John Opie (1761–1807; DNB), while he was in London. BACK

[2] Southey means Paternoster Row where Thomas Norton Longman had his publishing house with his partner Rees. Southey’s jokey reference to them as ‘Our Fathers’ is from the English translation of the Latin name of the street. BACK

[3] Referring to The Annual Review for 1805, which Aikin edited. BACK

[4] Charles Wellbeloved (1769–1858; DNB), Unitarian minister and theology tutor, who published Devotional Exercises for Young Persons in 1801, and had responsibility for reviewing religious and metaphysical works in the Annual Review. BACK

[5] William Nicholson (1753–1815; DNB) had set up, in 1797, the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, popularly known as ‘Nicholson’s journal’. The review he commenced in 1806 was the General Review of British and Foreign Literature. BACK

[6] Between 1803 and 1819 Rickman acted as secretary to the commissions on building roads and bridges in the Scottish highlands and the Caledonian Canal. BACK

[7] John Aikin lived at Stoke Newington, a district of Hackney, London. BACK

[8] The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). BACK

[9] William Taylor reviewed Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

[10] A further reference to Longman of Paternoster Row. BACK

[11] The remainder of this letter is supplied from the published source. BACK

People mentioned

Aikin, Arthur (1773–1854) (mentioned 2 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Rees, Owen (1770–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Opie, Amelia (1769–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Aikin, John (1747–1822) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Paternoster Row, London (mentioned 2 times)