1393. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 9 December 1807

1393. Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 9 December 1807 ⁠* 

Dec 9. 1807.

My dear Coleridge

Overtures have been made me thro Walter Scott to bear a part in the Edinburgh review ‘chusing my own books, & expressing my own opinions’. This is the answer which I have returned, – I send it only to you; – not to be shown & talked of. [1] 

‘I am very much obliged to you for the offer which you make concerning the E. Review & fully sensible of your friendship, & the advantage which it holds out. I bear as little ill-will to Jeffrey as he does to me; & attribute whatever civil things he has said of me to especial civility; & whatever pert ones, (a truer epithet than severe would be) to the habit he has acquired of taking it for granted that the Critic is, by virtue of his office, superior to every writer whom he chuses to summon before him. The reviewals of Thalaba & Madoc [2]  (Scott had alluded to them) do in no degree influence me. Setting all personal feelings aside the objections which weigh with me against bearing any part in the Journal are these. I have scarcely one opinion in common with it upon any subject. Jeffrey is for peace, & is endeavouring to frighten the people into it. I am for war as long as Bonaparte lives. He is for Catholick emancipation. I believe that its immediate consequence would be to introduce an Irish Priest into every ship in the navy. My feelings are still less in unison with him than my opinions. On subjects of moral or political importance no man is more apt to speak in the very gall of bitterness that I am; & this habit is likely to go with me to the grave. But that sort of bitterness in which he indulges, which tends directly & purposely to wound a man in his feelings, & injure him in his fame & fortune (Montgomery is a case in point [3] ) appears to me utterly inexcusable. Now tho there would be no necessity that I should follow this example, yet every seperate article in the review derives authority from the merit of all the others & in this way whatever of any merit I might insert there would aid & abet opinions hostile to my own, & thus make me art & part in a system which I thoroughly disapprove. This is not said hastily. the emolument to be derived from writing at ten guineas a sheet Scotch measure, instead of seven pounds annual, would be considerable; the pecuniary advantage resulting from the different manner in which my future works would be handled, xxxx probably still more so. But my moral character feelings must not be compromised. To Jeffrey as an individual I shall ever be ready to show every kind of individual courtesy: but to of Judge Jeffrey  [4]  of the E. review, I must ever think xxxx & speak, as of a bad politician, a worse moralist, & a critic in matters of taste equally incompetent & unjust.’

Now Coleridge tho xxxx <this> be plain English, it may not be quite understood in Scotland. Why have I transcribed it xxxx for you? – that you may chew the cud upon it. Perhaps the late reviewal of Wordsworth  [5]  may revive in you old resolutions of putting out your strength against this poor crab who goes on biting Morgante in the heel. [6]  – because Morgante will not tread upon him. Stuart abominates that review. If you are disposed to attack it in good earnest, the Courier would be the most efficacious engine, & I am ready to cooperate with you in any way you please.

Run down Wordsworth cannot be, – but he will be run hard. I think him injudicious in publishing many of these poems, – some few of them seem even to me, absolutely worthless. But I lose patience at the blindness of heart which dwells upon these & the greater the outcry is the more desirous I am of lifting up a louder voice in opposition to it. A man named Merrival abused him in the Critical [7]  – who he is I know not; – tho I have a dim sort of guess that he is the same person who puts portions of Greek tragedy into rhyme in the Athenaeum. [8] 

There are two ways in which Jeffrey should be attacked. by an exposure of all his errors, moral political &c &c & by a stinging satire – I think I have a sting in my tail long enough to run him thro. You may remember an old notion of mine that the Man in the Moon was dead? – I would go to the Moon express upon a Night Mare just when the election for his successor was to take place – & among other candidates bring up Jeffrey. – I have floating fancies enough to make this a poem of some length & plentiful oddity. [9] 

Longman will give you Espriella, & with it Palmerin & the small edition of Madoc if you think it worth asking for. [10]  Concerning Palmerin you need feel no ruth & compassion for my fingers; – it is a book which deserved to be tinkered into a decent translation for its reputation – not for its merit – & if you had any liking for Romance you would perceive that this, tho beyond all measurement below Amadis, [11]  deserved what labour I bestowed upon it. – Espriella sells, – they tell me that it will probably be expedient to send it again to press in about a month. [12]  The sale of a second edition would right me in Longmans books & leave me profits enough to expect from the xxxx duodecimo Madoc [13]  – Palmerin & the unborn Cid, [14] 

for the [MS torn] & means of the ensuing year. – during which I shall bring forward the first vol. of Brazil, & most likely my travels in Portugal. [15]  Stuart must have served the book much. I design to write two additional volumes, bringing D Manuel to England again.

I wish you to review Wordsworths Poems for two especial reasons – the first that you will do it more to my satisfaction <than I myself should>. – the second that you will do it more to his. For tho I should bestow praise upon him as high as his deserts – that is as high as I have language to convey, I should without scruple blame what I disapprove. This might be the best way of serving the book. but it would not be the best way of pleasing him, & tho I would not go an inch to the left hand to please any one <all the men in the world> I would go a yard to the right to avoid displeasing xxxx any one. If you are too busy – (– yet be you as busy as you may you must have more time than I have) write me a letter upon the subject & I will fill up any skeleton you may send. [16] 

Clarkson has probably talked to you about a new review. Were it possible that you could undertake the management (oh that I thought this were possible!) you might secure to yourself an income of 500 £ a year.  [17]  My cooperation might be drawn on to any extent. With my brother Harry I xxxx challenge all England at eating gooseberry pye. by myself I challenge all England for good spirits, & making a noise. with you I would xxxx <challenge> all the critics in England & make open war upon them. – Setting this aside as a thing not to be hoped for, my main object for obtruding a letter xxxx upon you, who neither like to receive nor to write xxxx one – was the business of the Edinburgh. If you will attack it in a series of letters, exploring all its falshood & ignorance, I will bear a full part in this good work: – & if you will join with me in my Man of the Moon I will xxxx be in earnest about it, & send you the plan for your attention. The Devils Thoughts [18]  is some little specimen of what we can do together. I am sure we should make as much noise as Two Men in the Moon could do, & that we should make teach better manners to a set of coxcombs who, because we have hitherto acted as if we were literary Quakers, think they may insult & injure us with impunity. – At all events do not talk about this; to threaten & not to strike would be to expose ourselves to deserved contempt. – all well

God bless you



* Address: To/ S.T. Coleridge Esqr/ Courier Office/ Strand/ London/ Single
Postmark: E/ Dec 12/ 1807
Endorsed: R. Southey Esqr
MS: Houghton Library, Harvard. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: in E. L. Griggs, ‘Robert Southey and the Edinburgh Review’, Modern Philology, 30 (August 1932), pp. 101–103. BACK

[1] For the original, see Southey to Walter Scott, 8 December 1807, Letter 1392. BACK

[2] Jeffrey reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer in the Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63–83; his review of Madoc appeared in volume 7 (October 1805), 1–29. BACK

[3] The Edinburgh belittled the third edition of James Montgomery’s 1806 poem The Wanderer of Switzerland in volume 9 (January 1807), 347–54. BACK

[4] Here Southey deliberately portrays Francis Jeffrey, severe critic, as George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem (1645–1689; DNB), known as ‘The Hanging Judge’ for the severity of the sentences he handed down after the Monmouth rebellion of 1685. BACK

[5] Jeffrey reviewed Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes in the Edinburgh Review, 11 (October 1807), 214–231. BACK

[6] In Morgante (1483), the epic poem by Luigi Pulci (1432–1484), the eponymous giant is killed by a crab bite. BACK

[7] John Herman Merivale (1779–1844), lawyer, translator of Italian, German and Greek poetry, contributor to many journals. A review of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes appeared in the Critical Review, ns 11 (August 1807), 399–403; which Southey had earlier attributed to Charles Le Grice – now it seems he had changed his mind. For the authorship of this review; see William Wordsworth: The Critical Heritage. Volume 1 1793–1820, ed. Robert Woof (London and New York, 2001), pp. 170–171. BACK

[8] Merivale’s translations from the Greek appeared as ‘Extracts from the Grecian Drama’, Athenæum, 1 (1807), 484–488, 591–594 and in volume 2 (1807), 37–40, 152–155, 266–269, 368–371, 483–490. BACK

[9] This satire was not written. BACK

[10] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807), Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807) and the second, duodecimo edition of Madoc (1807). BACK

[11] Southey’s translation of the Spanish romance Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[12] A second edition of Letters from England was published in 1808. BACK

[13] The 1807 small (and cheaper) edition of Madoc. BACK

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

[15] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. Southey did not produce this projected book; but his 1797 Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal were reprinted in an expanded form in 1808 as Letters Written During a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal. BACK

[16] Neither Coleridge nor Southey published a review of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes. Southey’s review, intended for The Annual Review, was rejected by the editor, Arthur Aikin; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 9 September 1808, Letter 1504. BACK

[17] Coleridge did not become editor of a new review. BACK

[18] ‘The Devil’s Thoughts’, the jointly-authored political ballad first published in the Morning Post, on 6 September 1799. For the complex later publication history of the poem, see The Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. J. C. C. Mays, 3 vols (London and Princeton, 2001), I.ii, pp. 726–750 and Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), V, Selected Shorter Poems, pp. 451–474. BACK

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