338. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 24 July [1798]

338. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 24 July [1798] ⁠* 

Tuesday night. July 24. Westbury.

My dear Sir

I should long ere this have written to acknowledge the hospitality I found at Norwich, but that I thought the mere formality of a letter of thanks would be as little agreable to you as to myself. I therefore copy for you an Eclogue just written; for two reasons, as a plea for writing – & because it was suggested by your conversation. What you told me of the German Eclogues revived some almost forgotten plans, & enabled me to correct them. I purpose writing some which may be called English, as sketching features peculiar to England: not like the one which you read to me of Goethe [1]  which would suit any country with Roman ruins. like the Germans I would aim at somewhat of dramatic interest. & some of my plans will allow me to introduce that quiet sedition which the Anti-Jacobine [2]  has denounced me for, in that which is already written there is nothing of this merit. it rather favours old prejudices. I like it myself – perhaps because it is newly written – perhaps because I drew from the recollection of such a scene. If I were near you I should profit by your opinions & your knowledge; – & I should be sorry if a two days journey should totally xxtx cut off my intercourse with one whom I highly respect, & whom if the age of our acquaintance justified me, I should gladly call friend.

The Old Mansion House.


There was a Traveller to the village came,
And as he past its ancient manor house
Upon whose scaffolded front the labourers stood
Urging their toil, he pausd & watchd their work;
And to an old grey-headed man, whose back
Already bent by age, was now bowd down
Breaking the high-way stones, a task that ill
Beseemd his years, “my friend” he cried “they have made
“Strange alterations here!
O. Man – Aye strange indeed!
And if my poor old Lady could rise up, –
God rest her soul! twould grieve her to behold
The wicked work is here!
Traveller. I saw it once
And thought it was a venerable place, –
Some six years gone. – were there not yew-trees stood
Here in the court?
O.M. – Aye Master. fine old trees!
My grandfather could just remember back
When they were planted there. it was my task
To keep them trimmd, & twas a pleasure to me, –
All straight & smooth & like a great green wall.
My poor old Lady many a time would come
And tell me where to shear, for she had playd
In childhood under them, & twas her pride
To keep them in her beauty. plague I say
On their new-fangled whimsies! we shall have
A modern shrubbery here stuck full of firs
And your pert poplar-trees. – I could as soon
Have ploughd my fathers grave as cut them down.
Traveller.           “And yonder windows –
O.Man. – They’re demolished too –
As if they could not see thro casement glass.
The very redbreasts that so regular
Come to my Lady for her morning crumbs
Wo’nt know the window now.
Tr. – Who owns the place?
He was not born here?
O.Man. – Oh no no! what tis
To have a stranger come to an old house!
If he had playd about here when a child
In that fore court, & eat the yewberries,
And sat in the porch threading the jessamine flowers
That fell so thick, he could’nt have had the heart
To mar all thus!
Traveller. – When last I went this way
Twas eve, & an old Lady sat in the porch
In the evening sun, she had her spectacles on,
Her knitting in her hand. I stopt to look.
Did not the jessamine tree grow in & line
The porch?
All over it: it did one good
To pass within ten yards when twas in flower.
There was a sweet brier too that grew beside – .
My Lady loved at evening to sit there
And knit; & her old dog lay at her feet
And slept in the sun. twas an old favourite dog –
She did not love him less that he was old
And feeble, & he always had a place
By the fire side, & when he died at last
She made me dig a grave in the garden for him.
Ah! she was good to all! a woful day
Twas for the poor when to her grave she went!
Traveller.           They lost a friend then?
O. Man. – You’re a stranger here
Or would not ask that question. were they sick?
She had rare cordial waters, & for herbs –
She could have taught the Doctors. then at winter
When weekly she distributed the bread
There where the poor old porch stood; – to have heard
The blessings on her! – & I warrant them
They were a comfort to her when her wealth
Had been no comfort else. At Xmas Sir!
It would have warmed your heart if you had seen
Her Xmas kitchen; – how the blazing fire
Made her fine pewter shine, – & holly boughs
So chearful red. – & then <as> for misseltoe!
The finest bush that grew in the country round
Was markd for Madam. then her old ale went
So bountiful about! a Xmas cask,
And twas a noble one. – God help me, Sir,
But I shall never see such days again.
Traveller. ––     Things may be better yet than you suppose –
Tis well to hope the best.
O. Man. – It do’nt look well
These alterations Sir! I’m an old man
And love the good old fashions. we don’t find
Old bounty in new houses. they’ve destroyd
All that my Lady lovd; – her favourite walk
Grubbd up, & they do say that the great row
Of elms behind the house that meet a-top,
They must fall too. well – well! I did not think
To live to see all this, & tis perhaps
A comfort I sha’nt live to see it long.
Traveller.           But sure all changes are not needs for the worse
My friend.
O. Man. – May-hap they maynt Sir. for all that,
I like what I’ve been usd too. I remember
All this from a child up, & now to lose it, –
Tis losing an old friend. theres nothing left
As twas; I go abroad & only meet
With men whose fathers I remember boys.
The brook that used to run before my door,
That’s gone to the great pond. the trees I learnt
To climb are down; & I see nothing now
That tells me of old times except the stones
In the churchyard. you are young Sir & I trust
Have many years in store. but pray to God
You may’nt be left the last of all your friends! [3] 


My others will be better than this as they will be sprinkled with seditionizing feelings. I know not enough of the German Eclogues to say that this is in the same stile, for, except what I learnt from you, I only remember one of Gessners [4]  in a Devon & Cornwall collection of poems, & I have forgotten every thing of that except that it is there. [5]  remember me thankfully to your mother & to all your friends whose civilities I experienced at Norwich. if you have leisure – & not disinclination, it will give me great pleasure to hear from you. my direction is at Mr Cottles. Bristol

My mother is now settled near that city & we are with her.

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: [twice] BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] J/ 26/ 98
Endorsement: Ans.d 10 August
MS: Beinecke Library, Chauncey Brewster Tinker MS Collection, GEN MSS 310, Box 13, folder 557. 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. 213–214 [in part; verse not reproduced]. BACK

[1] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). BACK

[2] Southey was downplaying his political reputation: the Anti-Jacobin; or, Weekly Examiner, 1 (20 November 1797), p. 7, had identified Southey as the leader of a ‘New School’ of highly seditious poets. BACK

[3] A revised version appeared in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 185–193. BACK

[4] Salomon Gessner (1730–1788), Swiss poet. BACK

[5] ‘Milon and Dametas, A Pastoral. From Gessner’, in Poems Chiefly by Gentlemen of Devon and Cornwall, 2 vols (Bath, 1792), II, pp. 85–90. BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Westbury (mentioned 1 time)
Norwich (mentioned 1 time)
Cottles (mentioned 1 time)