1585. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 21 February 1809

1585. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 21 February 1809 ⁠* 

Edith is recovering & my anxiety on that score is over. She has been very ill, & there was a great danger that the illness would bring on premature labour; – that danger however is past. In about six weeks I look to have another child. [1]  in opposition to ordinary notions & the purblind prudence of these selfish times I am persuaded that it is still a blessing to have a large family, notwithstanding modern policy contrives to unite an overcrowded state of society with a scanty population. Brothers & sisters help one another thro the world, – & die when I may it will be without any fears for the well doing of those whom I leave behind.

Your draft was put in circulation. – I believe Kehama would never have been resumed had it been not been for you. [2]  It had lain untouched for five years & so it probably would have remained. You stung me to the resolution of going on, & I am not sure whether the more pleasure which I have felt in proceeding has not been the anticipation of addressing it to you & saying so. – It is announced thro the customary channel of Magazines as in forwardness. I am going to Edinburgh in May for the purpose of hunting in the Advocates Library for any books which may relate to South America. While thus employed (a week or ten days at the utmost) I shall be Walter Scotts guest. Kehama will then (God willing) be compleated: & I think Scott will enable me to ascertain in what manner it may most advantageously be published. I sold the first edition of Thalaba to Longmans for 115 £. they printed 1000, – that edition is just now exhausted, & a second about to come forth [3]  – But this has been a slow sale, – & when seven years ago I offered them another poem on the same terms (meaning to have finished Kehama for the purpose) they demurred & offered only the 100. [4]  Just to the amount of defraying all expences my name commands a sale, every thing beyond that depends upon the caprice of a public, who have any better motive than caprice either for their censure or their approbation. Kehama however has cost me no expence of time, – I have fairly won it, as Lincolnshire speculators win estates from the sea; [5]  – my daily work has been done just as if no such composition was in my thoughts, without the slightest interruption. If therefore nothing be got by its sale, it has not made me the poorer, – I am so much the happier for having written it, – so much the richer as a Poet, & in fact have received from you half as much as the profits of an edition would be, when shared by a publisher. Its success (I speak solely of its market success) will only thus far influence me, that a good sale would make me afford more time for other such poems, which I should then publish as fast as they were written, – its still-birth (which I entirely expect) will merely make me write others as this is written, in the early morning hours, which I shall continue to do as long as the unabated power is in me, & leave them behind as post-obits for my children, in perfect confidence that such manuscripts will prove good & secure property hereafter. At Edinburgh I shall feel my way about the publication

When the obnoxious line was written I thought of better Painters than the Exhibitioners, – of those whose creative powers entitle them to be mentioned any where; – it is however an ugly word, – because it always reminds one of the house-painter. [6]  I set a black mark upon the line. Your remarks shall be well weighed, & every passage which I cannot [MS obscured]stify shall be altered. – Do not however be at the trouble of criticising the first portion which you received, – for that has been greatly altered since, by putting rhyming <most of> those parts whi[MS obscured] were rhymeless, – a task which is yet to be compleated.

Take your Letters to G Requelmi [7]  to Rickman, & he will get them franked for you. You will find a sound headed & sound hearted man, a sort of moral & intellectual Talus, fit to clear the way with his flail if we had a political Arthegal to regenerate us. [8] 

The first volume of my History of Brazil is in the press. [9]  After the manner of old history it will be plain, full & faithful. My last lucre-of-gain employment was a defence of the Baptist Mission in Bengal for the New Quarterly Review. [10]  I shall follow it with speculation upon the Missions in Polynesia & South Africa. [11]  I love to look search back into the past history of mankind, & to look on to their future destiny. The present is but a great drama where I feel rather as a spectator than one of the performers.

God bless you


Feby. 21. 1809.


* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr./ South Parade/ Bath/
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: [partial] S
MS: Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library Manuscripts, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 5. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Bertha Southey, born 27 March 1809. BACK

[2] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama was published in 1810. BACK

[3] Thalaba the Destroyer (1st edn 1801; 2nd edn 1809). BACK

[4] On the terms Southey was offered by Longman after the failure of Thalaba the Destroyer to make much profit, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II, Madoc, introduction. BACK

[5] That is, on the east coast, prone to erosion and deposition, a speculator would buy land hoping that the sea would slowly, bit by bit, augment it. BACK

[6] Landor had expressed his dissatisfaction with a line in Southey’s draft of Book 7 of The Curse of Kehama: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor painters hand pourtrayd’, which he said ‘not only displeased but disturbed me’. ‘I have an insuperable hatred to such words as ‘painter’ and ‘portray’ in grave heroic poetry’, Landor continued, ‘add to which, if ‘eye hath not seen’, it is superfluous to say the rest. The first few words are serious and solemn,—the last put one in mind of the Exhibition and the French’; quoted in John Forster, Walter Savage Landor: A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 248. The line was omitted from the published version of the poem. BACK

[7] In Three Letters written in Spain to Don Francisco Riquelme (1809), Landor gave his views on the war in the peninsula from the perspective of one involved in the fighting. BACK

[8] Talus and Artegal (or Arthegall) are characters in Edmund Spenser’s (1552?-1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[9] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[10] Southey reviewed the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807), in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[11] Southey reviewed the Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61, but there are no reviews by him on the South African missions. BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Bertha (1809–1877) (mentioned 1 time)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)