1307. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 13 April 1807

1307. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 13 April 1807 ⁠* 

Keswick April 13. 1807

My dear friend

Just as your letter arrived I was about to begin a Keswick Extraordinary Gazette for you. Great news from my little world.

When the last Ministry saw that out they must go, Wynn thought of saving some thing for me out of the fire. He could only get an offer for a place in the Island of St Lucia, [1]  worth about 600 £ a year, – there was no time to divine my answer, [2]  but he divined it rightly, & refused. Instead, one of Lord G.s  [3]  last acts was to give me a pension of 200 £ to which the King “graciously assented” – – You cannot be more amused at finding me a pensioner than I am at finding myself so. – I am not however a richer man than before. Hitherto Wynn has given me an annuity of 160, – which I felt no pain in accepting from the oldest friend I have in the world, with whom my intimacy was formed before we were either of <us> old enough to think of differences of rank & fortune. But Wynn is not a rich man for his rank, – so little so that he could not marry till he got a place, – & of course I shall receive this no longer from him, now that it is no longer necessary. Of 200 £, the taxes have the modesty to deduct 56, & the Exchequer pays irregularly. he is in luck who xx <has> only one quarter arrears – so Bedford tells me – who has an office there. I therefore lose 16 £ per year during war, & gain 4 £ whenever the income tax is repealed; x having the discomfort always of uncertain remittances. – xxxx – it is but wearing a few more grey goose quills to the stump during in the course of the year: & in the course of one year I have better hope than I ever yet had of getting a head, as you will presently see.

The last copy of MSS. for Espriellas Letter sets out this night on its way to Richard Taylor, [4]  – & it is his fault that the book is not already published, but he has not given me one sheet a week. I have just a fortnights close work to compleat the revisal of Palmerin, – about which I was in fact taken in. Coleridge & Wordsworth spake to me with admiration of the language of Palmerin of England – as the most rhythmical prose they had ever seen. I knew what the original romance, & when Longman (during my last stay in London) said that Ellis had recommended him to reprint it, consented to preface & revise it, correcting the costume so as to give it in that respect its original value. [5]  Well the book was procured, & when I came to set about it – I found that the translator neither understood French, English, nor the story which he was murdering. [6]  In consequence I have had full three fourths to translate, – for having put my hand to the plough I would not turn back. By this additional labour I gain nothing, my original agreement having been, as for Madoc, to share the eventual profits. The cause of mistake seems to have been that Coleridge & Wordsworth had seen the third part, with which I have nothing to do. [7]  This heavy drudgery is nearly off my hands. – Lastly, I have been arranging for the press the remains of Henry White, [8]  – a truly admirable young man, of first rate powers as a poet, – who killed himself by incessant application, having brought on such a state of nerves by this & by Evangelicelism – that if he had not died he would have been probably deranged. He was at one time articled to Enfield of Nottingham whom I suppose you know. [9]  You will be affected by his letters, & will greatly admire some of his latter poems. I tell his story plainly, & then arrange extracts from his letters in such a way as to make him his own biographer. Upon his religion I can do no more than simply enter a protest against the supposition that I assent to it, because I do not controvert it – for the book may probably get into an Evangelical circulation, & should that be the case the profits will be useful to his family, for whom he has taught me to take a very great interest. This is nearly done – a few days will compleat it; & when this & the Palmerin are off my hands, as they will both be in three weeks (God willing) I shall be at full leisure for things of more importance.

What I then devote myself to is that branch of the Portugueze history which will come under the title of Brazil & Paraguay, [10]  – & which, tho it would otherwise have appeared last in the series, I publish first, as having a temporary interest, & conveying more intelligence respecting that side of South America than can be communicated by any other person in Europe except perhaps one Frenchman [11]  who has duplicates of most of my materials, in many instances taken from them. My Uncle has for about five & twenty years collected materials concerning Brazil, & at his desire, I offered the late administration such information as they contained. [12]  Will you believe that Lord G.s  [13]  answer was that it related to the wrong side of South America? –– Talleyrand [14]  would have sent me & my papers to Paris, & have learnt all their contents without a minutes delay. I offered specific information respecting Brazil, its mines &c from indisputable documents, – & it was not wanted – because it did not our buccaneering schemes are probably directed against the other side <of that continent>, & England has never, since I have in our days had a minister who looked beyond his nose. About a fourth part of the first volume is done, – & I shall perhaps print it volume by volume. [15]  Two quartos are the probable extent. I might doubtless obtain five hundred guineas for the copyright, but I will not sell the chance of greater eventual profit. – This work will supply a xxxx chasm in history.

This is not all. I cannot do one thing at a time. so sure as I attempt it my health suffers. the business of the day haunts me in the night, & tho a sound sleeper otherwise, my dreams partake so much of it as to harrass & disturb me. I must always therefore have one train of thought for the morning, another for the evening, & a book not relating to either for half an hour after supper, & xxxx thus neutralizing one set of associations by another, & having (God be thanked) a heart at ease, I contrive to keep in order a set of nerves as much disposed to be out of order as any mans can be. The Cid is therefore my other work in hand. [16]  I want only an importation of books from Lisbon to send this to the press, & shall have full time to the compleat the introduction & notes, while the body of the work is printing. It will supply the place of preliminaries to the Hist. of Portugal, [17]  & exhibit a compleat view of the heroic age of Spain. If I am not greatly deceived this will be one of the most interesting chivalrous pieces of history that has ever appeared. – I had almost forgot to say that the reason why you have not received a copy of my Specimens [18]  is that it is delayed for some cancels. Sad work has been made [MS torn] by Bedford, – he has (between ourselves) played the very Devil, Changed my selections, mutilated my sketches – interpolated them – superseded them with his own; – & to crown the whole ma omitted so many authors that I am obliged to make a supplementary volume. [19]  When it comes to you to be reviewed you can find enough matter in the preface for to serve you for a text. It is a xxxx an outline of our poetical history.

Lastly I have to tell you that (before this change of Ministry took away all my expectations) I was weary of them: & as some arrangements of Coleridges made it necessary that I should either decide upon removing from hence at a fixed time, or remaining with the house, had chosen the latter alternative. Here then I am settled – Am planting currant trees, – purchasing a little furniture – making the place decent as far as scanty means will go, & sending for by my books by sea, – perfectly well contented with my lot, & thankful that it has fallen in so goodly a land.

I will not ask you to visit me here till Harry passes his next summer here which will perhaps be next year, but come once I trust you will. – his direction is with the Revd Herbert Hill Lisbon, – xxxxxx – Of the Severembians I only know nothing having only often seen the title of the book in catalogues. [20] 

The change of ministry is abominable – tho I am an enemy to Catholic emancipation the last men had done something, & would have done more – they were redeeming the character which Fox had lost for them. [21]  Their successors are a set of xxx men of tried & convicted incapacity. The opinion of a friend of ours who knows much about St Stephens [22]  is Tantara-rara, [23]  – & from this opinion I am not disposed to differ. You will see that D Manuel [24]  gives reasons why there always be a want of talent in the English Government, & you may smile when you read them at thinking that it has pleased his most gracious majesty to give me a pension.

I pray you remember me very kindly to your mother. I am not without hope of seeing her again. if peace would let me I should go to Holland to look for books about the E Indies & Brazil –

God bless you


poor Opie! [25] 


* Address: To/ William Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Endorsement: Ansd 21 May
Stamped: KESWICK/298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4855. 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. 189–195. BACK

[1] The post of Register of the Vice-Admiralty Court of St. Lucia. BACK

[2] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [25 March 1807], Letter 1298. BACK

[3] William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1759–1834; DNB), Wynn’s maternal uncle, Prime Minister. His administration fell in March 1807. BACK

[4] Southey had been sending copy for Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) to the printer Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB). BACK

[5] Published as Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[6] The [First-] Seconde Part, of the ... Historie, of the ... Princes Palmerin of England, and Florian du Desart his brother ... Translated out of French, by A. M. [Anthony Munday (1560?-1633; DNB)] (1596). BACK

[7] The Third and Last Part of Palmerin of England ... Written in Spanish, Italian, and French and Translated into English by A. M [Anthony Munday] (1602). BACK

[8] The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807). BACK

[9] Henry Enfield (1775–1845); attorney and town clerk of Nottingham between 1816 and 1845. As a young man, Henry Kirke White had worked for a time in the law offices of Coldham and Enfield. Enfield’s partner, George Coldham (1766–1815), was William Taylor’s cousin. BACK

[10] This title was not adopted. The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[11] The identity of this French cleric is unclear. It is likely that he was Abbé Francois Garnier (1722–1804), the long-standing chaplain to the French factory in Lisbon. Abbé Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765–1848), was a French Catholic missionary in India, whose long sojourn in the southern districts brought him into contact with the legacy of Portuguese Catholic colonialism there. Dubois’s manuscript history of Indian religion was purchased by the East India Company and published in English as Description of the Character, Manners and Customs of the People of India, and of their Institutions, Religious and Civil (1816). BACK

[12] See Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [15 December 1806], Letter 1243. BACK

[13] Southey’s offer to prepare a report on South America for the benefit of government intelligence was politely declined by Grenville. BACK

[14] Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent, then prince de Talleyrand (1754–1838), French foreign minister. BACK

[15] Southey’s History of Brazil appeared in three volumes from 1810 to 1819. BACK

[16] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[17] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’ was never completed. BACK

[18] Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK

[19] Though planned, a supplementary volume did not appear. BACK

[20] Denis Vairasse d’Allais (?1630–1672), The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi, a Nation Inhabiting Part of the Third Continent called Terræ Australes Incognitæ: with An Account of their Admirable Government, Religion, Customs, and Language, Written by one Captain Siden (1675), published in an expanded edition in 1738. BACK

[21] Grenville’s ministry fell because the King would not accede to its intention to introduce a law removing civil restrictions against Catholics. Charles James Fox (1749–1806; DNB), a great opposition orator and leader but also a notorious gambler, drinker and womaniser, had been Foreign Secretary in the ministry, after many years of retirement from politics, and had introduced a bill to abolish the slave trade before dying in September 1806. BACK

[22] The chapel of St Stephen’s, where the House of Commons sat until the chapel was destroyed by fire in 1834. BACK

[23] Southey’s disparaging term for the noisy MPs in the House of Commons. Tantara-rara, Rogues All was the title of a 1786 play by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB); see The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), III, pp. 349–90. ‘Tantara-rara, Fools All Fools All’ was also a popular song from Henry Fielding’s (1707–1754; DNB) play The Lottery (1732). BACK

[24] The putative author of Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[25] John Opie (1761–1807; DNB), painter, was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral on 20 April. BACK

People mentioned

Ellis, George (1753–1815) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)