1529. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 6 November 1808

1529. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 6 November 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 6. 1808.

My dear friend

I guest that account of Jean de Lery’s book [1]  in the Magazine [2]  to be yours, – & sorry am I to say that what made me think so was the way in which the facts were misrepresented. Villegagnon was a scoundrel, [3]  – as you should have seen by the whole of his conduct towards Lery, & especially by his attempts to get him burnt for heresy in France. But you are blinded by your hatred of the Reformers, & even an Irish Papist is not more bigoted than you are. – I shall be very much obliged for this book, – the Latin version I have, but have xxxxwanted the French [4]  to elucidate passages that are not perfectly clear, – & to compare it with it throughout. for Lery was his own translator & the two books are not exactly the same. He is a writer of unblemished character, – there is only one better book about Brazil which is the contemporary one of Hans Stadt; [5]  & that is only better because poor Hans was a prisoner among the Tupinambas, & his narrative has all the charm of personal adventure. – You have confounded Caraibes with Caribees. The Caraibes were their jugglers, homebred, & not of foreign importation. And they were not sheer atheists. [6]  – My history [7]  will show you all this in its true light. – If you can convey the book to Longman, it will reach me in his next parcel.

I still want one book to satisfy my own xxxxconscience about the French expedition of to the Rio xxxxJaneiro, & that is a history of the Civil Wars in France which is attributed to Beza. [8]  Every other account I have examined.

For my own sake I shall be glad to hear you are reannexed to the Critical Review, – one who has so many enemies among the Journalists cannot afford to lose a good friend. – Fellowes [9]  I suspect is hampered with M. de Brusasque [10]  whom I saw at Thetford, & then apprehended that he would hurt his own character, – a thing much to be regretted. He is a very interesting man, & you <would> gain more by having him in society than you would lose by missing Houghton from the pulpit. [11]  What is become of Stone the ejected Clergyman? [12]  – It would become the Unitarians to offer him such a Bishoprick as that of the Octagon. [13] 

It would have vexed me if you had not rightly appreciated that Chronicle of the Cid, [14]  – the Spaniards themselves have not found out that it is one of the most curious & finest books in existence. – The morality of the Koran is surely beneath notice, – <Mohammed> enjoins xxxx mercantile honesty, & recommends hospitality to the Arabs: – this he could not help doing. – That introduction had it contained half of what I know upon its subject, or any thing like as much as I would have been well pleased to say, would have filled a volume. But much of the same matter will appear with equal fitness in the History of Portugal. [15] 

Walter Scott has abjured the Edinburgh Review. I believe my refusal to bear a part in it set the cock of his conscience crowing, upon the score of their base & cowardly peace-politicks, & possibly Marmion finished his conviction. [16]  That refusal of mine he had communicated in what phrase he pleased before the criticism upon his own poem appeared, – then & not till then, my letter was produced. I have seldom written a page so pointedly to the purpose, nor with such strength – – He too is longing to review the Cid, who had he but been a Scotchman, would have been the very David after his heart: but he knows not where to find a channel for it. – X

I should have retired in toto from the Annual had it continued in Arthur Aikins hands. Much xxxxwant of respect I had put up with, & much of what others had pointed out to me as detraction, – such as that introductory chapter to the poetry of the year which contained Madoc, [17]  – & that praise of Scott as our best narrative poet, – when there was none with whom he could be compared except myself. But then last year xxxx King Arthur had gone beyond my limits of endurance, by inserting Mrs Barbauld reviewal of Wordsworth instead of mine. [18]  For if mine had been no better than hers, or as bad as she might be pleased to think it, still the part I had borne in the Review entitled me to the privilege of reviewing a friends book, to the exclusion of any hostile article. In like manner he supprest a reviewal of Burnetts Poland by Harry, to make room for one which certainly has nothing but its gratuitous ill nature to recommend it. [19]  I have done with Burnett forever. No threshold of mine shall ever again be sullied by his xxxxentrance: – but this sort of service I will always do him.

We have been trying to get a County Meeting here about the cursed Convention, [20]  but in vain. Lord Lonsdale who is Omnipotent here ‘sees it in a very different light,’ & it is better not to stir at all than to be beaten. However as we cannot get our sentiments upon the subject embodied in the form there yet remains another xxxx whatich to my mind is a better, & Wordsworth is about to write a pamphlet [21]  upon the xxxx in which he will take up the business in its true light.

What you say in a former & unanswered letter respecting Kehama is very true, – I perfectly agree with you that the poem is in its nature out of the reach of human sympathies, & that its strangeness will prevent it from interesting nine tenths of its readers. [22]  And yet in spite of the conviction I am proceeding & shall proceed, God willing, to the end. This is not out of sheer pride & obstinacy, – but because I have learnt to take it an interest in it myself, & because I perceive that the few persons who like it at all, will like it with all their heart, & especially because unless my preconceptions greatly deceive me, the conclusion will infinitely exceed in grandeur any thing that I have ever yet produced, or conceived. It is now about half done. I have not begun upon Pelayo [23]  because I have not satisfied myself exactly how it should begin. Thalaba has at last reached a second edition & is now in Ballantynes hands – from whom this evening I have received the first proof. There is a long piece cut off from the end of the 9th book, – & some metrical & <other> minor improvements made: – the notes printed at the end of each book, – a great difference in appearance & no very material one in reality. [24] 

God bless you

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Endorsement: Ansd 27 Dec
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4859. 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. 225–229. BACK

[1] Jean de Léry (1536–1613), Historia Navigationis in Brasiliam, quae et America Dicitur (1578). BACK

[2] An account of the colonising expedition to Brazil undertaken by French (mainly Protestants but also including Catholics), in whose number was de Lery, is given in the Monthly Magazine, 26 (1808), 242. BACK

[3] Nicolas Durand, Sieur de Villegagnon (1510–1571) was a Commander of the Knights of Malta and later a French naval officer. Villegagnon directed the expedition but, disgusted by disputes between the Protestant and Catholic colonists, condemned some of the Calvinists to death, withdrew his support, and returned to France. BACK

[4] Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (1578). BACK

[5] Hans Staden (c. 1525-c. 1579) was a German adventurer shipwrecked off South America and captured by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. In his True History, first published in German and then, in Latin, in the collection of voyages edited by Johan Theodor and Johann Israel De Bry, Peregrinationes (1598–1613) (where Southey found it), he claimed to have witnessed cannibal feasts. BACK

[6] Taylor had declared that ‘The account of the manners of the savages is copious and curious. They are described as wholly without religion, sheer atheists; but certain priests of the Caribbees come occasionally among them and preach about bad spirits’: Monthly Magazine, 26 (1808), 242. BACK

[7] Southey’s History of Brazil was published in three volumes from 1810 to 1819. BACK

[8] Théodore de Bèze or de Besze (1519–1605), a French Protestant who played an important role in Calvin’s Geneva and wrote the Histoire ecclesiastique des Eglises reformes au Royaume de France (1580). BACK

[9] Robert Fellowes (1770–1847; DNB) took orders but never held a position with the Anglican Church, though he published several books on religious topics, such as A Picture of Christian Philosophy (1799) and Religion without Cant (1801). He was the editor of the Critical Review from 1804 to 1811. BACK

[10] M. de Brusasque (dates unknown), either the former husband or a relative by her first marriage of Elizabeth Annabella Fellowes, née Mackenzie (?-1814), author and translator. Elizabeth Annabella was praised, under her married name Mme. de Brusasque, in the Critical Review, 8 (1806), 493, as ‘a lady whom it would be more easy to commend too little than too much for her talents and her virtues’. She married the Critical’s editor, Robert Fellowes, in 1806. BACK

[11] Pendlebury Houghton (1758–1824), Presbyterian minister at Norwich from 1787 to November 1808, after which he moved to Westminster before again becoming minister at Norwich from 1811–1812. BACK

[12] The Revd. Francis Stone (1738?–1813), Anglican rector of Cold Norton from 1765, was deprived of this living in 1808 owing to his Unitarian theological views. According to the DNB, ‘thrown into debt by the loss of his living, worth £300 a year, Stone, as a debtor, was confined within the rules of the king’s bench prison from Michaelmas 1810. The Unitarian dissenters, who were just emerging as a denomination (on a largely Presbyterian base), had followed his trial in the consistory court with great interest, but disagreed about the morality of his remaining within the established church. Some noted that he had little choice, as he was by then over seventy years of age, had married for a second time, and had eight children, one of whom had been born after 1809. The Unitarians raised a subscription, from which he was paid £100 a year. He died within the rules of the king’s bench at 30 Garden Row, London Road, Southwark, on 1 November 1813’. BACK

[13] The Presbyterian chapel in Norwich. BACK

[14] Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid was based on Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (c. 1043–1099), Chronica de la Famoso Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez Campeador (1593). BACK

[15] This project was never completed. BACK

[16] Scott’s poem Marmion (1808) was negatively reviewed by Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review, 12 (April 1808), 1–13. For Southey’s refusal, see Southey to Walter Scott, 8 December 1807, Letter 1393. BACK

[17] In the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 535, Aikin wrote of modern poets’ excellence at ‘the mechanical and musical part of poetical composition. This, as far as it goes, is, no doubt, a very material improvement; but in numerous instances, that might be cited, it has been acquired at the expence of more valuable qualities; or, what is equally bad, has cheated the public into the opinion that harmony will atone for the absence of all the other qualifications for poetry, especially when seasoned with a little licentiousness, or conjoined with that nauseous whining sentimentality, the bane of every vigorous exertion and every high attainment in literature or morals’. BACK

[18] Southey had written a review of Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes (1807); that which replaced it and which Southey attributed to Barbauld (Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), 521–529), was less complimentary. BACK

[19] A review of George Burnett, A View of the Present State of Poland (1807) appeared in the Annual Review for 1807, 6 (1808), 110–113. BACK

[20] The Convention of Cintra, signed on 30 August, whereby the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple. Public outcry led to an inquiry, after which Burrard and Dalrymple never again took command. BACK

[21] Wordsworth’s pamphlet Concerning the Relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, to Each Other, and to the Common Enemy, at this Crisis; and Specifically as Affected by the Convention of Cintra was published in 1809. BACK

[22] Taylor had said: ‘Your plan of singing Pelayo appears to me a wiser enterprise than “Kehama”, of which the story cannot be made interesting however great the beauties of detail’; see William Taylor to Robert Southey, 26 July 1808, J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, p. 221. BACK

[23] An early name for the poem which became Roderick, Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[24] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1809. For the alterations that were made to this edition see volume three of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)