900. Robert Southey to Richard Heber, 20 February 1804

900. Robert Southey to Richard Heber, 20 February 1804 ⁠* 

My dear Sir

You have had so much to do with Ellis’s Specimens, [1]  that there would be some propriety in my writing to you upon this subject – even if I were not disposed to do so from other motives. I think of publishing Specimens of Modern English Poetry [2]  as a companion work to his, beginning where he leaves off & including all Poets who are dead down to the present day, that is literally dead, for those gentlemen who are only dead in the literary sense of the word must wait till they are buried before such Resurrection Men [3]  as you & I do them the honour to look after them. of course I shall follow his plan as closely as possible, & copy the size & mode of printing. In the Preface only I must trespass over his frontier by investigating the effects produced upon our literature by the Restoration.

There will be more trouble in collecting materials than may appear at first. For notwithstanding Anderson [4]  has let in such a rabble in his Edition, where one has been lucky enough to get in, half a score have been excluded. & the worst part of the business is that these volumes are not old enough for the Collectors. The Reviews & Magazines will help me for the last fifty or sixty years, & Stationers Hall [5]  will probably be well stocked. Has any Sale-hunter taken compassion upon the heroes of the Dunciad? [6] 

After having workd here as far as my materials go I shall travel to London towards the close of spring on this account. My stock here is but scanty – only Anderson, with a few stragglers, & the Biographical Dictionary & Cyclopædia. [7]  Winstanley [8]  & Gildons edition of Langbaine which I have will be of some little use. [9]  the Theatrum Poetarum [10]  & Ritsons Bibliographia [11]  of none. but I shall direct Longman to procure for me Isaac Reids edition of Baker, [12]  & Cibber. [13]  From there I shall be able to lay the foundation of the short biographies necesary.

Your shelves are not likely to be loaded with much of the lumber which I must now hunt out. I will however make out a list of desiderata, with your leave, & send it to you to know what are in your possession. – taking it for granted that you will take some interest in a plan to which you yourself stand in some degree of relationship, & the book will be very useful, as connected with Ellis’s it will exhibit arranged specimens of every English poet down to our own generation.

And now that I am writing to you allow me to trouble you with a commission – will you procure for me the Leges Wallicæ [14]  – & the collection of Saxon Laws by Wilkins. [15]  I have of late been very unfortunate in my books having lost two cargoes on their way from Lisbon. the one went with the diamonds, the other had been landed from the same packet on its last arrival, but the Captain received his mortal wound in the action & I have not been able to trace them. some were very costly books – others very scarce – & all very necessary for my immediate & main pursuit.

believe me

yours very truly

Robert Southey.

Feby. 20. 1804.

Keswick. Cumberland.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Richard Heber Esqr-/ Mrs Hebers/ Green’s Brewery/ Buckingham Gate Hodnet Hall/ Near Fern Hill/ Shropshire Salop/ Richard Heber Esqr
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; SHREWSBURY/ 165
Postmarks: E/ FEB 23/ 1804; C.F.E./ 23/ 1804
Watermark: [partial, obscured by MS binding] shield
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 215. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Richard Hugh Cholmondley (ed.), The Heber Letters: 1783–1832 (London, 1950), pp. 194–195. BACK

[1] George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790; 2nd edn 1801; 3rd edn 1803). BACK

[2] A reference to the project that Southey undertook with Grosvenor Charles Bedford and published with Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[3] Slang for grave-robbers. BACK

[4] Robert Anderson (1749–1830; DNB), The Works of the British Poets (1792–1795), which included biographical and critical articles. The work consisted originally of thirteen volumes, to which a fourteenth was added in 1807. BACK

[5] Near Ludgate Hill, in the City of London: a repository for old books because the Stationers’ Company, whose headquarters it is, had a royal monopoly on book production in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. BACK

[6] Alexander Pope’s (1688–1744; DNB) mock-epic The Dunciad (1728–1743) satirised the pretensions of a number of the poets of the early eighteenth century, including Colley Cibber (1671–1757) and Lewis Theobald (1688–1744). BACK

[7] John Aikin, General Biography; or Lives, Critical and Historical, of the Most Eminent Persons of all Ages, Countries, Conditions, and Professions (1799–1815); Ephraim Chambers’ (1680?–1740; DNB) Cyclopedia, or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences was first published in 1728 and reprinted many times in the eighteenth century. An expanded edition, updated by Abraham Rees (1743–1825; DNB), was published from 1778–1788. BACK

[8] William Winstanley (d. 1698; DNB), Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687). BACK

[9] Gerard Langbaine (1656–1692; DNB), The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets. Also an ... Account of all the Plays Ever Yet Printed in the English Tongue ... First Begun by Mr. Langbain, Improv’d and Continued Down to This Time, by a Careful Hand [Charles Gildon (c.1665–1724)] (1699). BACK

[10] Edward Phillips (1630–c. 1696), Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum, or the Names and Character of English Poets from Henry III to the Close of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; ... Enlarged by Additions to Every Article from Subsequent Biographers and Critics [Samuel Edgerton Brydges (1762–1837; DNB)], 1 (1800). This edition of Phillips’ work was no. 2232 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library after his death. BACK

[11] Joseph Ritson (1752–1803; DNB), Bibliographia Poetica, a Catalogue of Engleish Poets, of the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth, Centurys, with a Short Account of their Works (1802). BACK

[12] In 1764, the theatre historian, David Lionel Erskine Baker (1730–1767?), published The Companion to the Play House in two volumes, containing notices on plays, authors, and actors. A revised version, edited by Isaac Reed (1742–1807; DNB) appeared as Biographia Dramatica, or, a Companion to the Playhouse. A New Edition: Carefully Corrected; Greatly Enlarged; and Continued from 1764 to 1782 (1782). BACK

[13] No. 592 of the sale catalogue of Southey’s library was Colley Cibber (1671–1757; DNB), The Lives of the Poets (1753). BACK

[14] William Wotton (1666–1727; DNB), Cyfreithjeu Hywel Dda ac Eraill, seu Leges Wallicæ Ecclesiasticæ et Civiles Hoeli Boni et Aliorum Walliæ Principum (1730). BACK

[15] David Wilkins (1685–1745; DNB), The Laws of William the Conqueror . . . in the Norman Language, in Robert Kelham (1717–1808; DNB), A Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language (1779). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)