1452. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 29 April 1808

1452. Robert Southey to Anna Seward, 29 April 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 29. 1808.

I write in haste, respecting your packet. All letters or parcels which are left for me at Longmans are laid safely aside till a convenient season, – that is till they make up a parcel for me, which they have occasion to do every five or six weeks. There should be one upon the road at this time, I have xxx no doubt that your papers are contained therein, & will inform you of their safety as soon as the waggon brings them to hand.

Miss Ferns reading [1]  would show me the faults in my own poetry, because it is a touchstone which nothing but gold can bear. It brings every thing into so strong a light, that no blemish can escape unseen. To common hearers it would not have this effect, because common hearers know nothing about poetry, & would listen just as eagerly to the Revenge, or Grecian Daughter, [2]  as to Coriolanus or Othello. And I am ready to admit that there is a charm in such an enunciation which conveys a very high degree of pleasure, totally distinct from that which <what> the words themselves excite.

Of Gebir [3]  I will only say at present that as a whole it is bad but that it contains passages more truly Homeric, & others more truly original than can be found in any other poem since the Paradise Lost. It is the only poem to which I owe any material improvement: for from the repeated study of Gebir I certainly learnt to xxx xxx set all objects before me in a new light. Most of the book I can understand, – but not till after fifty perusals. He knows its obscurity, & now writes only in Latin, into which he has translated this poem. [4]  That language he wields with a masters power. Indeed I believe that they who made him a Latin poet by that very means spoilt him for an English one. Dr Vincent [5]  used his utmost endeavours to ruin me in the same manner, & never bore any good will towards me because I knew my xxxx path & would not be turned aside from it.

Your verses & your criticism will, beyond a doubt, assist the sale of Madoc. [6]  As soon as they arrive I will write upon the subject [7] 

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Miss Seward/ Lichfield
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: May 29.th 1808
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library, ZZ-41090. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Elizabeth Fern, Seward’s companion and housekeeper. Southey had previously written that he wished he could have heard her read Madoc aloud before it was published; see Southey to Anna Seward, 18 April 1808, Letter 1444. BACK

[2] Edward Young 1683–1765; DNB), The Revenge (1721); Arthur Murphy (1727–1805; DNB), The Grecian Daughter: a Tragedy (1772). BACK

[3] Landor’s oriental poem of 1798. BACK

[4] Walter Savage Landor, Gebirus Poema (1803). Southey requested Longman to send him a copy of this in August 1808; see Southey to Messrs Longman, 12 August 1808, Letter 1490. BACK

[5] William Vincent (1739–1815; DNB), Southey’s headmaster at Westminster School and later Dean of Westminster. BACK

[6] Seward’s poem ‘Verses Written in the Blank Leaves of Southey’s Madoc’ appeared in The Poetical Register, and Repository of Fugitive Poetry for 1808–9, 7 (1812), p. 235. ‘A Letter written by Anna Seward to one of her Literary friends, Feb. 15, 1806, on the subject of Mr. Southey’s “Madoc” and before she had any acquaintance, personal or by pen, with that gentleman’ appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine, 78.2 (1808), 577–581. BACK

[7] For this, see Southey to Anna Seward, 28 May 1808, Letter 1461. BACK

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