391. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 18 March 1799

391. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 18 March 1799 ⁠* 



The Argument


Ho! Anthony! what Anthony!
St Anthony. [1] 
Who’s he
That knocks so loudly & disturbs my prayers?

I. Satan. let me in.

St Anthony.
Back to thy hell
Son of perdition!

Fair words Anthony!
I come to have some sober talk. thou knowst
That if I pleasd, ere thou couldst cross thyself
I should be thro the door. lift up the latch
And let me enter with civility.

St Anthony.
Father of lies! what wouldst thou?

I have business,
A case of conscience. lift the latch I say.

St Anthony
But art thou in a decent shape, & fit
For a Monks eyes to view?

Just to his taste,
Horns, cloven feet, blue lips & brimstone breath.

St Anthony
Hast left thy whip behind thee?

What – old boy?
Does thy back smart then? aye aye I am come
On friendly terms; so keep me here no longer.
This night wind’s somewhat cold to one like me
Used to a hotter climate.

St Anthony.
May I trust thee?
Art thou indeed in thy own decent shape?
My honour – Anthony!

St Anthony.
And without the whip?

My honour – Anthony!

St Anthony. opening the door.
Then in Gods name
What is thy business Satan?

I conceive,
Under correction father, that you hold
Falshood & calumny two grievous sins.

St Anthony.
Father of Sins thou knowst it. thou hast sown
The seeds with liberal hand, & Hell has reapd
A harvest plentiful.

Father Anthony
I am most wickedly calumniated!

St Anthony –
Caluminiated! you!

Foully belied!

St Anthony –

There’s not a prayer put up to Heaven
But bears a curse on Satan! not a sin
Done in all Xtendom but Satan bears
The blame!

St Anthony.
And you complain?

Father I do.

St Anthony
You do!

Most seriously.

St Anthony.
Why thou old Serpent!
Thou spawner of all crimes! thou who hast fly-blown
The earth with thy corruptions, who canst breathe
Nothing but blasphemy, think nought but lies,
Speak nought but what is damnable to hear –

Father, forbearance is a Xtian virtue
I am but young in practising. I came
To argue; if you will have open war,
Speak, – & I fetch the whip.

St Anthony.
Why then I say
All wretchedness, all sin, proceed from thee.

One instance Anthony. bring home one charge,
One solitary crime.

St Anthony.
That dreadful battle
Last week whose hideous carnage has oerfeasted
The flesh-birds. whence but from thy agency
Arose that evil?

Father I heard the Monks
Singing the Te deum for the victory,
And they give God the glory.

St Anthony.
Rightly too.
The righteous cause has triumphd.

The other side
Humble themselves in fasting & in prayer
And own their sins deserved the wrath of heaven.

St Anthony.
Aye – twas a wholesome chastisement. but Satan
Twas for the Kings offence the people died,
His crime the cause & thou the cause of all.

I pray you father is he my vicegerent,
And my anointed?

St Anthony.
Thou wert in his councils.
Thou in his heart didst plant the love of blood,
The greediness of gain, the lust of power.
Look how the miserable people groan
Beneath his tyranny & pray to heaven
For mercy & relief!

Tis their own fault
To pray & pray & make no effort else!
The Pagans had a speedier remedy,
Harmodious, Father, & the Bruti [2]  used it.
You deem them damn’d?

St Anthony.
He must be damnd who doubts it.

The circumcised people of the Lord
They fought with carnal weapons. was not she
Honourd & hymnd who stole upon the sleep
Of Sisera? [3]  & she whose daring arm
Smote Holofornes on his drunken couch? [4] 
Is not her name among the people held
Holy? – when Ehud [5]  with his daggers help
Delivered Israel from her miseries,
Was it from Satan, father, that she bore
The message to the King?

St Anthony.
Jews – Satan, Jews!
It might be right in them. obedience – patience –
These are the Xtian virtues.

Therefore father,
If, as you say, I cause the Kings misdeeds,
These give occasion for the bright display
Of patience & long-suffering; so am I
The cause of Xtian virtue.

St Anthony.
Lying Spirit!

Ungrateful Anthony!

St Anthony.
Ungrateful! I!
I who by day & night have sufferd from thee
All fierce temptations! who have felt thy whip
Laid on so lustily that it has left me
Breechd [6]  in my own blood! who have had my cell
Filld with thy imps all breathing brimstone at me
Swarming around me thicker than the gnats
In the summer marsh, & buzzing blasphemy –
Ungrateful! I!

Satan –
Most thankless Anthony!

St Anthony.
Hast thou not stood all night before my eyes,
Yea, thro my close-squeezd eyelids made me see <thee>
In harlot nakedness?

Yes spotless father!
Right manfully thy skin & bone withstood
The flesh & blood temptations. thence arose
Thy virtue & thy glory, I the cause.

St Anthony.
Most impudent Devil!

This to thy best friend,
Me who have honourd thee among the people!

St Anthony
O thou old Dragon! twas thy motive too
To honour that most miserable Monk,
That father Ludovico who committed
The deadly sin, & with a Nun! - how now
Thou subtle one? wilt thou deny the fact?
Thinkest thou the bare idea of such guilt
Could spring from ought but thee?

Was it I who led
The Monk & Nun to make their vows? was it I
Who made him man? was it I who gave to her
Black eyes, & blooming cheeks, & ruddy lips,
Lips of such sweet temptation –

St Anthony.
Hold hold – Satan!

A shape –

St Anthony.
Hold Devil!

Then her neck so smooth!

St Anthony
Be gone!

Why Anthony!

St Anthony.
Satan avaunt!

But hear me Anthony!

St Anthony.
I’ll shower upon thee
Tempests of holy water –

Only hear me –

St Anthony.
Ill brain thee with the crucifix.

But hear me –

St Anthony.
I’ll touch thee with these relics into torture! –

The whip! the whip!

St Anthony –
Out out thou cursed one. [7] 


I have been copying your lake Keswic for the Press. [8]  it is one of those poems that the more it is read the more it must be liked. brimful of beauties like the scenery which it describes you immediately feel it to be fine, but the longer it is contemplated the more interesting it becomes. I never attempt the ode, except as a vehicle for sedition – like the 29th of May [9]  which you saw, & one on the death of Wallace [10]  which perhaps you saw also. it is the kind of poetry I like least – perhaps because it was the last I understood. I fed upon Spenser, [11]  years before Collins [12]  was intelligible to me – the consequence is that I approve only the one, & love the other.

I was called upon, on Saturday last, to make affidavit to those deeds which I & Burnett witnessd for you, as they were going to America. Of America we have sad accounts here. the English emigrants complain bitterly. that they should feel the want of cultivated society is not to be wondered at, but it is their own fault that they do not cluster together. there Priestley writes that he is to the full as obnoxious to the people there as ever he was in England. [13]  their sedition bill [14]  had for its first clause, that all persons who had fled their country on charges of treason or sedition & taken refuge in the United States should be delivered back to their respective governments. the clause was indeed thrown it, but what a spirit does it show when it could be proposed! England is certainly the best place now – it is the man with a growing stone in his bladder. Germany – Prussia &c have the stone very bad indeed – & the revolutionary countries have not yet recovered from being cut. On my <own> account I am sorry for the Monthly Review. [15]  the others are good for little, & that will sink to their level. they treat me in the Critical in the manner you complain of: but my review are written with so little expence of time & thought that I am indifferent. who corrects me & tames me & qualifies me into insipidity I know not. I give praise to a good book with as much pleasure as the Author will receive it: to a moderate one I am merciful, & that must be very bad indeed that provokes severity. On anything bad in its aristocracy as well as in its composition I have no mercy.

The Almanach [16]  will mostly be filld with my own pieces under as many aliases as Satan & his Majesty – (I once computed the titles of both those personages & the King out-titled the Devil.) the first volume will be good enough to attract contributions innumerable for the second. it will I think be best to exclude translations, & nothing else. I hate to recognize an old acquaintance in a new suit of cloathes that do’nt fit him; & this is the case with most translations.

God bless you.

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

March 18. 99.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ MAR 18 99; B/ MR/ 19/ 99
Watermark: [illegible]
Endorsement: Ansd 25
MS: McGill University Library. ALS; 4p. (c).
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. 265–266 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] St Anthony of Egypt (252–356), whose legend included his temptation by the devil. BACK

[2] Three leaders of revolts against tyrannical regimes: Harmodius (d. 514 BC); Lucius Junius Brutus, legendary founder of the Roman Republic; and Marcus Junius Brutus (85–42 BC). BACK

[3] Jael killed the sleeping Sisera, captain of Jabin’s army, with a tent-peg, Judges 5: 24. BACK

[4] Judith killed the Assyrian general, Holofernes, by beheading him when he was asleep, Book of Judith, 10–13. BACK

[5] Ehud killed King Eglon with a special two-edged dagger, having gained an audience on the pretext that he had a message for the King, Judges, 3: 20–21. BACK

[6] Breechd: Southey adds footnote ‘a fine phrase in the Moallakat.’ [Editorial note: His source is the ‘Poem of Hareth’, stanza 74, in The Works of Sir William Jones, 6 vols (London, 1799), IV, p. 334; see also Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 107.] BACK

[7] Satan./ Ho! ... cursed one: Poem written in double columns. BACK

[8] Published as ‘Topographical Ode’ in the Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 1–9. BACK

[9] Southey’s republican ‘May 29 – Ode’ appeared anonymously in the Morning Post, 29 May 1798. It lamented the anniversary of the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660. BACK

[10] Southey’s ‘Ode. The Death of Wallace’ appeared anonymously in the Morning Post, 7 September 1798. Its subject was the brutal execution of the Scottish patriot William Wallace (d. 1305; DNB) by the English king Edward I (1239–1307; reigned 1272–1307; DNB). BACK

[11] Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599; DNB), author of the Horatian odes ‘Epithalamion’ (1594) and ‘Prothalamion’ (1596). BACK

[12] William Collins (1721–1759; DNB), author of several odes. BACK

[13] Joseph Priestley (1733–1804; DNB), who had emigrated to America in 1794 and settled in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He defended himself against federalist attacks in Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland and its Neighbourhood, on Subjects Interesting to the Author, and to Them (1799). BACK

[14] The Sedition Act passed by Congress in July 1798. The Act made it an offence to bring the government into contempt. BACK

[15] In his letter to Southey of 4 March 1799, Taylor had intimated he was about to stop writing for the Monthly Review (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 259). BACK

[16] Southey’s Annual Anthology. The first volume appeared in 1799, the second and final one in 1800. BACK

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