347. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 5 September 1798

347. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 5 September 1798 ⁠* 

I thank you for your remarks on the Eclogue, [1]  & shall profit by them. I am partial to “There was” because it is a nursery tale beginning, but in this case it will be better to preserve a dramatic form throughout. the traveller shall be made modern in his taste – but whether it be well to have any thing like discovery in these short pieces I am doubtful. The following eclogue does not please me so much as the first, but it is seditious & true to nature. it wants something. I had introduced <it> by some descriptive lines but they were useless & now it seems to want description. again I have a traveller, & as I am afraid I shall want another of these peripatetics, this is a reason for making the first the owner of the mansion.

I pray you wherefore are the village bells
Ringing so merrily?
A wedding Sir, −
Two of the village folk; & they are right
To make a merry time o’nt while they may;
Come twelvemonths hence I warrant them they’d go
To church again, more willingly than now
If all might be undone.
An ill-matchd pair,
So I conceive you. youth perhaps & age?
No – both are young enough.
Perhaps the man
Is idle then, & one who better likes
The alehouse than his work.
Why Sir for that –
He always was a well-conditioned lad,
One who’d work hard & well, & as for drink,
Save now & then mayhap at Xmas time,
Sober as wife could wish.
Then is the girl
A shrew, or else untidy; one who’d welcome
Her husband with a most unruly tongue,
Or drive him from a foul & wretched home
To look elsewhere for comfort. is it so?
She’s notable enough; & as for temper
The best good-humourd girl! – dye see that house
There by the willow trees whose grey leaves shine
In the wind? She lives a servant at the farm;
And often as I came to weeding here
I’ve heard her singing as she milkd her cows
So chearfully, – I did not like to hear her,
Because it made me think upon the time
When I had got as little on my mind
And was as chearful too. – but she would marry
And folks must reap as they have sowd. God help her!
Why Mistress. if they both are well inclin’d
Why should not both be happy?
They’ve no money.
But both can work, & sure as chearfully
She’d labour for herself as at the farm.
And he won’t work the worse because he knows
That she will make his fireside ready for him
And watch for his return.
All very well.
A little while.
And what if they are poor
Riches can’t always purchase happiness,
And much we know will be expected there,
Where much was given.
All this I’ve heard at church
And when I walk in the churchyard or have been
By a death-bed, tis mighty comforting.
But when I hear my children cry for hunger
And see them shiver in their rags – God help me!
I pity those for whom these bells ring up
So merrily upon their wedding day,
Because I think of mine.
You have known xxxxxx trouble,
These haply may be happier.
Why for that
I’ve had my share, some sickness & some sorrow,
Well will it be for these to know no worse.
Yet would I rather hear a daughters knell
Than her wedding peal Sir, if I thought her fate
Promised no better things.
Sure sure good woman
You look upon the world with jaundiced eyes.
All have their cares, they who are poor want wealth
They who have wealth want more; so are we all
Dissatisfied, yet all live on, & each
Has his own comforts.
Sir d’ye see that horse
Turnd out to common here by the wayside?
He’s high in bone, you may tell every rib
Even at this distance. mind him – how he turns
His head to drive away the flies that feed
On his galld shoulder! – theres just grass enough
To disappoint his whetted appetite.
You see his comforts Sir!
A wretched beast!
Hard labour & worse usage he endures
From a bad master, but the lot of the poor
Is not like his.
In truth it is not Sir!
For when the horse lies down at night, no cares
About tomorrow vex him in his dreams.
He knows no quarter day, & when he gets
Some musty hay, or patch of hedge row grass
He has no hungry children to claim part
Of the half meal.
Tis idleness makes want,
And idle habits. if the man will go
And spend his wages by the alehouse fire
Whom can he blame if there is want at home?
Aye – idleness! the rich folks never fail
To find some reason why the poor deserve
Their sufferings. is it idleness I pray you
That brings the fever or the ague fit?
Is it idleness that makes small wages fail
For pressing wants? tis six years since these bells
Rung on my wedding day, & I was told
What I might look for, – but I did not heed
Good counsel. I had lived in service Sir,
Knew never what it was to want a meal,
Laid down without one thought to keep me sleepless
Or trouble me in sleep, had for a Sunday
My linen gown, & when the pedlar came
Could buy me a new ribbon. & my husband
A towardly young man & well to do,
He had his silver buckles & his watch,
There was not in the village one who lookd
Sprucer on holydays. we married Sir
And we had children, but as wants increasd
Wages did not. the silver buckles went,
So went the watch, & when the holyday coat
Was worn to work, no new one in its place.
For me – you see my rags! – but I deserve them,
For wilfully – like this new married pair.
I went to my undoing.
You have taught me
To give sad meaning to the village bell
Whose music sounded late so merrily
Across the vale!
Look at that little child
With the sun burnt hair. those ragged cloaths of his
Let comfortably in the summer wind,
But when the winter comes, it pinches me
To see the little wretch. I’ve three besides –
And – God forgive me! – but I often wish
To see them in their coffins. you don’t know
How hard it is after a long days work
To come to such a wretched home as this,
And have ones hungry children welcome one!
Give them at least this evening a good meal
With this, good woman! hope for better times.
And if you have but poor comfort in this world
Think of the world to come – a now fare you well. [2] 

Perhaps you will find many of the expressions provincialisms which are familiar to my ears. I am apprehensive of this fault. for the rest it is I think dramatic, & certainly seasoned as it should be. but something is wanting.

I thank you for your ode. [3]  you have taught me enough of Klopstock [4]  to see that you have caught his manner, your metre is too regular to admit of irregularity I think, & it appears to me improper in blank verse stanzas to break a line. is not the conclusion too Spartan for a modern mother? this Irish business has been almost a counterpart to the death of the Girondists. [5]  ‘yet who would not be content so to die, in order so to have lived?” [6]  am I not quoting you?

Benyowskys adventures were published in two quarto volumes some ten years ago. [7]  I read them at that time with great delight & have never seen them since. he was a compleat adventurer, & the authenticity of his discoveries is I believe questionable. [8]  poor Athanasia met with a harder fate than Kotzebue [9]  has assigned her. the Governor was killed in the insurrection, she accompanied Benyowsky, & died of a broken heart. the attempt to colonize Madagascar was a good one. there was a strange kind of imposture practised on the natives – but it ended, as is supposed in the death of all the settlers. the book will amuse you. poor Benyowsky was lived twenty years too soon. he would have made an admirable revolutionist.

Burnett has given me no hint of his medical mania, nor has Lloyd I believe had any intimation of it, who was at Yarmouth with him. this makes me hope that they are only passing thoughts. some short time after I left him, he told me his intention of taking a small farm near Yarmouth, a plan which if he proceed[MS torn] cautiously in xx, I thought a very good one, & encouraged him in it. this would employ him, & allow him no leisure for his scruples which arise more from indolence than any thing else; & should he at last give up the ministry he would not be thrown upon the world. I do not think it possible that he could succeed as[MS torn] physician, & he is totally unfit to struggle with the world.

I shall look for Fellowes’ book when I reach home. [10]  we have been visiting her[MS torn] for three weeks & in the course of another shall return. your chronological researches I can only wonder at, my studies have never been directed that way. have you seen a volume of Lyrical Ballads &c? [11]  they are by Coleridge & Wordsworth but their names are not affixd. Coleridges ballad of the Auncient Marinere is I think the clumsiest attempt at German sublimity I ever saw. many of the others are very fine, & some I shall re-read, upon the same principle that led me thro Trissino, [12]  whenever I am afraid of writing like a child or an old woman.

I get on with Madoc. the sixth book will soon be finished, & I have the whole plan ready. I have also another plan for an Arabian poem upon <of> the wildest nature. [13]  the title The Destruction of the Dõm Danyel; which, if you ha[MS torn] read the continuation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, [14]  you will recollect [MS torn] be a seminary for evil magicians under the roots of the sea. it will have [MS torn] all the pomp of Mohammedan fable, relieved by scenes of Arabian life, & the[MS torn] contrasted again by the voluptuousness of Persian scenery & manners. there is not room left to send you the outline – I however shall like to have your remarks while it is yet easy to profit by them.

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

pray remember me to your mother. & to all who may enquire for me I should particularize your Madame Roland. [15] 

Hereford. Sept. 5. 98.


* Address: To/ Mr William Taylor Jun.r/ Surrey Street/ Norwich/ Single
Postmark: G/ SE/ 7/ 98
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4817. 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. 221–224 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] ‘The Old Mansion House’, published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 185–193. BACK

[2] ‘The Wedding’, published in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 119-126. BACK

[3] ‘Ode on the death of Messrs. Shears of Dublin’, sent to Southey, 10 August 1798, J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 219–220. BACK

[4] Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803) German poet, translated by William Taylor. BACK

[5] Taylor’s ode commemorated the United Irishmen Henry Sheares (1753–1798) and John Sheares (1756–1798; DNB) who were executed in Dublin on 14 July 1798. The Sheares brothers had been inspired by the French Revolution, and during their visit to France in 1792–1793 had known the Girondin leaders well. In his ode, Taylor had compared their death to that of leading Girondins who were executed by the Jacobins in 1793. BACK

[6] William Taylor’s description of the execution of the Girondin leaders, from his anonymous review of Antoine-Étienne-Nicolas Fantin des Odoards (1738–1820), Histoire Philosophique de la Revolution de France (1797), Monthly Review, 23 (May–August 1797), Appendix, 563. BACK

[7] Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky; Magnate of the Kingdoms of Hungary and Poland, 2 vols (1790). BACK

[8] Maurice Benyowksy (1746–1786) was a Hungarian-born international adventurer. His exploits included an attempted conquest of Madagascar in 1774–1776. He was killed by French troops on his return to the island in 1786. In his Memoirs, Benyowsky claimed he was accompanied in his adventures by his lover, ‘Anastasia Nilova’, the daughter of the commander of the Russian prison-fort of Bol’sheretsk, from which Benyowsky escaped in 1771. In fact, ‘Anastasia Nilova’ was one of Benyowsky’s many inventions. BACK

[9] August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (1761–1819) German playwright, whose works included Graf von Benyowsky (1792), translated into English in 1798. BACK

[10] Robert Fellowes (1770–1847: DNB), A Picture of Christian Philanthropy (1798). BACK

[11] Lyrical Ballads, With a Few Other Poems (1798). BACK

[12] Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478–1550), Italia Liberata dai Goti (1547–1548). BACK

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188 for Southey’s initial plan of the poem. BACK

[14] Robert Heron’s (1764–1807; DNB) translation, Arabian Tales, or, A Continuation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1792), IV, pp. 133–134. BACK

[15] Southey was a great admirer of the Girondin writer Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platière (1754–1793), praising her in Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. 94–95; William Taylor had cited these lines in his own review of Antoine-Étienne-Nicolas Fantin des Odoards, Histoire Philosophique de la Revolution de France (1797), Monthly Review, 23 (May–August 1797), Appendix, 563–564. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Yarmouth (mentioned 2 times)