992. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 23 November 1804

992. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 23 November 1804 ⁠* 

My dear friend

A half written letter, begun immediately on the receipt of your last, is lying in my desk at home, (– for I am now visiting Charles Lloyd at Ambleside) – it is better to begin anew than to protract a delay which has already been too long continued. – Harry is gone back to Edinburgh. he has past a chearful summer, & if not a very profitable one in the way of study I readily excuse him, remembering what my own habits were when something younger. As you may suppose he left behind him a very favourable impression with every body; with me also tho I wish him more perseverance, & enough self-denial to secure his own permanent comfort & self-complacency. Advice usually excites dislike – I therefore never offered it. or xxxxx for xxxx xxx xxxxxx he knew what I thought right, & to have told him when I thought he was wrong would only have provoked him to a defence. Our time passed easily, & should we remain here next summer I shall be glad when the time for his return arrives, & he will not be sorry.

My letters, like Gibbons [1]  sentences, all go to one tune & would furnish as pretty specimens of egotism as the Memoirs of P.P. [2]  Twas a vile trick of Akenside to strip the personal pronoun of its honest importance, dwarfing & dotting it, as if I was not the most consequential word in the language. [3]  An Englishman does think himself somebody, & has good reason to think himself so: our great I is in character. – The news of my microcosm is not very important just at present. the best is that the last sheet of Madoc is on the table – that is of the poem. the notes will take up another month – & then without much delay it shall be delivered into your hands. [4]  I had prefaced it with a story of its birth & progress, thereby accounting for sundry faults, but on consultation & farther thought I was convinced that nobody likes his egotism in his neighbours – that the least said is the soonest mended. So my preface contains nothing more than what is necessary to state the historical foundation of the poem, said as briefly as possible in some twenty lines.

I have commenced my campaign against the Authors, [5]  with a resolution to censure for the future as gently as possible. in fact your remark has risen in my conscience, & I fairly confess that the pride of saying a good thing is but a bad motive for saying an ill natured one. You perhaps have sinned on the other side – Pinkerton & Maurice are instances. [6]  It is well that the last escaped my hands! he is the worst putter together of a book of all men living – except Vallancy [7]  – & moreover a very good for nothing & unprincipled fellow.

Dr Sayers Essay will interest me. we have however a school of poetry of our own, – & of the present race of poets & poetasters very many discover no traces of German taste. [8]  the Wordsworth who chuses to add one article more to the nine & thirty is brother to William W. [9]  has lately married Lloyds sister, [10]  & is settled on his living between Yarmouth & Norwich. I do not know him, but know that he is a good man, very studious, very sincere, thoroughly bigotted, & holding as thorough a in thorough contempt all persons who differ from his own orthodox standard. William Wordsworth is very desirous of seeing you. pray pray come up to us, if (as we have reason to hope) we should remain here next summer.

My plans are sadly unsettled by the great evils in the world. this piratical war with Spain may very probably occasion our expulsion from Lisbon – & that city is also perilously near this dreadful pestilence. [11]  my Uncle, who would willingly end his days there, feels himself very insecure, & thinks he may soon be driven here; – else I should certainly migrate in the next winter, & remain abroad as long as Edith would be contented to forego her own country. I must wait & see how things turn out. meantime life is running on – I have been married nine years – & it is time that I should have a settled resting place.

We are very uneasy about Tom. if there was a frigate lost in the hurricane at Dominica, it was the Galatea. & besides that ship has suffered dreadfully in attempting to cut out a sloop. [12]  no official accounts have arrived. the private letters do not mention Toms name – what most alarms me is that he has not written himself. I fear the fever worst of all these chances. My younger brother is turned vagabond again & must be left to his fate. few candidates for Tyburn [13]  have started with a better chance. my best hope for him is that he may turn strolling player – if not, if he only attains to transportation his destiny will be better than his deserts. happily he has no mother, & I know how to take <give> these evils no more their proper weight.

God bless you.


Nov. 23. 1804.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KENDAL/ 261
Endorsement: Ansd 3 Jan
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4848. 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. 520–523. BACK

[1] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB): the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[2] The Memoirs of P. P. Clerk of this Parish, a satire on the self-importance of autobiographers, was published in 1727 in the Miscellanies in Prose and Verse authored by Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB) and Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB). BACK

[3] Mark Akenside (1721–1770; DNB): poet, author of The Pleasures of the Imagination (1744). In his Odes on Several Subjects (2nd edn, 1760), Akenside had the pronoun ‘I’ printed in lower case as ‘i’, among other typographical innovations. BACK

[4] Southey was correcting proofs of Madoc (1805) even while still revising the sections of the manuscript not yet sent to the printer. BACK

[5] That is, his reviewing work for the Annual Review. BACK

[6] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB): Scottish antiquarian and cartographer whose many publications earned him a reputation for irreligious views, arrogant irritability and personal immorality. Thomas Maurice (1754–1824; DNB), Orientalist author of Indian Antiquities (1793–1800). Taylor reviewed Pinkerton’s Modern Geography, a Description of the Empires, States, and Colonies, with the Oceans, Seas and Islands in all Parts of the World (1802) in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 37 (March 1803), 265–273 and the Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 58–69. He reviewed Maurice’s Indian Antiquities in the Critical Review, 2nd series, 31 (March 1801), 295–300. BACK

[7] General Charles Vallancey (1731–1812; DNB), military surveyor and author of much-derided works on the history and antiquities of Ireland, including a Vindication of the Antient Kingdom of Ireland (1786) and the Antient History of Ireland proved from the Sanscrit Books (1797). BACK

[8] Frank Sayers traced the Scandinavian influence on English poetry and rejoiced that the recent fashion for German poetry was passing in a ‘Sketch of the rise and progress of English poetry’ in his Miscellanies, Antiquarian and Historical (Norwich, 1805), pp. 45–58. BACK

[9] Christopher Wordsworth had, in 1802, defended the argument of Granville Sharp (1735–1813; DNB) against Unitarians that the use of the definite article in the New Testament demonstrated Christ’s deity. BACK

[10] Christopher Wordsworth married Priscilla Lloyd (d. 1815) in 1804. BACK

[11] Yellow fever was epidemic in Iberia in 1804, and killed an estimated 60% of Gibraltar’s population. BACK

[12] HMS Galatea was not sunk in the hurricane. On 14 August 1804, the Galatea’s boats made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. Of the 90 men sent on the mission, 65 were killed or wounded, and Southey suspected that his brother Thomas was among the dead. BACK

[13] The place where criminals were executed in west London. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Ambleside (mentioned 1 time)