879. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 7 January 1804

879. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 7 January 1804 ⁠* 

Keswick Cumberland. Jany 7. 1804.

My dear friend

I am desired by Wilkinson [1]  (the Reverend Joseph, x Ormathwaite near Keswick) to order the Iris [2]  for him. he is my neighbour at present & a very excellent one I find him – but will in the summer remove to Thetford, having lately got the living. I will desire May to pay up my subscription in London. You cannot conceive the comfort of seeing the Rainbow once a week among these silent snows.

Having discharged the commission I may take out the knot in my pocket handkerchief & blow my nose in comfort. I feel always a propensity to answer a letter as soon as it is received – a conversational loquacity buds out then which it would be necessary to force when the season is past. For what you say of family losses I am sorry, & should be still more were they of such extent as to necessitate on your part the sacrifice of that leisure so well employed. So well – tho not in the best way possible, for I want from you a work of magnitude proportioned to your powers.

The new situation which Burnett has obtained will end in simply ousting him from one which suits him better. You who must know his utter & almost unaccountable ignorance of books must know also how utterly unfit he is for the office of librarian, particularly in a foreign country. His whole stock of bibliography is from Harwoods duodecimo upon the classics, [3]  or rather is to be, for my life upon it, he will look <to> that as his guide & not even suppose that there any other can be wanted. Burnett has no love of literature for its own sake – he only loves it for the distinction which it procures. poor fellow I was very anxious about him & very hopeless. this militia situation was the best he could have – it gave him his quotum of wine every day & practised him in a trade by which he might eventually have lived comfortably, even if he did not obtain some permanent army appointment. He will now yawn over a Slavonic grammar with his usual dilatoriness till the Polish nobleman [4]  finds himself unimproved & his books unarranged, & George will not have mastered the pronouns when the Professorship will be offered him as the civil way of breaking off the connection.

Your Review of Thalaba [5]  will be of service to the book which hangs sadly upon hand. half only of the thousand were sold in July last – that is in two years. If I could live upon fame, or if it did not discourage my booksellers more than it does me I should be very indifferent about this, but while they can employ me more to their own advantage in little underling works, of course they will do it & I must let things <alone> more commensurate to my strength & more suitable to my inclination. Non enim nobis, qui sub sole & pulvere indies laboramus, licet esse tam beatis, ut cœteris soluti curis, unico negotio opera atque animo incumbamus. Alio nos vocant quotidianæ vitæ curæ et sollicitudines, et frigidæ plerumque occupationes, que simul et avocant animum et comminuunt. [6]  There is a lamentable truth in the complaint of poor Cave [7]  whereof I have had lamentable experience. However my job of Annual slaughter [8]  is just brought to a conclusion & I will have a fair run of three months before another thought of ways & means shall take off my morning attention from Portugal [9]  & my evening from Madoc. [10]  I have now only Malthus’s book upon hand – thus long delayed in expectation that Coleridge would put his Sampson gripe upon that wretched Philistine. [11] 

Your advice about Madoc accords very much with my own opinion which I had yielded to friendly importunity. What you say about a novel does not please me so well – my moral stomach actually turns at the thought. In reviewing a History of the Methodists [12]  I have been led into such a train of reasoning & speculating, & worked up into such a good, honest, hearty, cursing & swearing passion that I have been half disposed to suppress the article & write a volume instead & dedicate it under some nom de guerre to the Archbishop of Canterbury, & if A. Aikin should find me too pamphleteering for his first volume this I shall assuredly do.

You will I am certain sure, be well pleased with my history [13]  whenever I shall have an opportunity of showing it you. There will be more industry put into it & more honest labour than has gone into any English book for the last century. I am almost as certain sure that you will be equally satisfied with Madoc – & if we should not meet before the publication is begun, I [MS torn] rather copy it book by book for your fault-finding eye, than suffer let it want that most useful correction. But I hope we shall tempt you here in the summer. Skiddaw is an excellent bait.

Something is doing about the Poor, under the management of Poole, by Rickmans influence – a man somewhat akin to Rickman in intellect, with far less learning, but perhaps with wider views, the fittest man in the world for his colleague. I have a hope to see Rickman one day in some active situation. this perpetual succession of wretched ministers makes one ashamed of ones Country. Is not Miltons word Duncery [14]  a fine name for the English government?

One thing more de me ipso [15]  & I have done. In the spring I have expect an increase of family – after with more fear than hope after a loss which has gone very deep. [16] 

God bless you.



* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 21 Mar
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4842. 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), I, pp. 479–483. BACK

[1] Joseph Wilkinson (1764–1831), Anglican priest, lived at Ormathwaite Hall and subsequently became Rector of East and West Wretham, Norfolk. Wilkinson was an amateur artist whose drawings of the Lake District were published, with an introduction by Wordsworth, as Select Views in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire (1810). BACK

[2] The Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser was the Norwich newspaper edited, from 1803 to 1804, by William Taylor. BACK

[3] Edward Harwood (1729–1794), A Bibliographical Dictionary; Containing a Chronological Account, Alphabetically Arranged, of the Most Curious, Scarce, Useful, and Important Books ... with Bibliographical Anecdotes of Authors, Printers and Publishers ... Including the Whole of the Fourth Edition of Dr. Harwood’s View of the Classics ... To Which Are Added, An Essay on Bibliography ... and an Account of the Best English Translation of Each Greek and Latin Classic was published in duodecimo in 1802. BACK

[4] Count Stanisław Kostka Zamoyski (1775–1856), a Polish nobleman, politician, and patron of arts. BACK

[5] Taylor reviewed Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

[6] The Latin translates as ‘We who toil in sun and dust day after day cannot have the bliss of concentrating single-mindedly on one task only, released from all other worries. The concerns and cares of daily life summon us elsewhere, as often do tedious chores which diminish one’s spirit as much as they distract it’. BACK

[7] The quotation is from William Cave (1637–1713), Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Historia Literaria, a Christo Nato usque ad Sæculum XIV, 2 vols (Oxford, 1740), I, p. ix. BACK

[8] Southey’s reviewing work for the Annual Review. BACK

[9] An early reference to the projected ‘History of Portugal’ that Southey was working on but never published. BACK

[10] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[11] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. The review incorporated suggestions and notes made by Coleridge in the margins of a copy of Malthus’s work (British Library C 44 g 2) that also contains marginal comments by Southey. BACK

[12] Southey reviewed William Myles (1756–1828), A Chronological History of the People Called Methodists ... With an Appendix, Containing Two Lists of the Itinerant Preachers ... With the Last Will and Testament of the Rev. J. Wesley (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 201–213. BACK

[13] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[14] An example of John Milton’s (1608–1674; DNB) use of this word is: ‘Prelaty, under whose inquisitorius and tyrannical duncery no free and splendid wit can flourish’ in The Reason of Church-governement Urg’d Against Prelaty, (London, 1641), p. 40. BACK

[15] The Latin translates as ‘from me myself’. BACK

[16] Edith May Southey was born on 30 April 1804; Margaret Edith Southey died in August 1803. BACK

People mentioned

Burnett, George (c. 1776–1811) (mentioned 3 times)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 2 times)
Aikin, Arthur (1773–1854) (mentioned 1 time)
Poole, Thomas (1766–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)