431. Robert Southey to William Taylor, [started before and continued on] 1 September [1799]

431. Robert Southey to William Taylor, [started before and continued on] 1 September [1799] ⁠* 


My dear friend

Since the first of your unanswered letters [1]  reached me I have had the many employments of quitting one house – looking for another – & tramping over the country superadded to my ordinary round of business. what you said of Burnetts matrimonial attachment made me smile – but I knew what George thought of the Lady, & how manfully he had withstood all the first approaches & the battery of jellies, & blancmange when the axxxxlx sciatica had possession of his hip & she wanted possession of his heart.

By this you must have received the Annual Anthology [2]  – unless Cottle has been more remiss than usual. you will find all your pieces there except the Sapphics. [3]  these I meant to have returned you with some proffered smoothifications, but found no leisure – so they lie over. my own pieces you will probably discover under the anagrams Erthusyo & Theoderit, sundry alphabetical signatures & no signatures at all. [4]  the Volume has cork enough to float its lead. it wants a piece or two of more respectable length – & there is a lack of epigrams altogether. both these deficiencies will be guarded against in the next volume which I hope to have ready for publication in January. there is a want also of lyrical poems – your Topographical Ode [5]  stands alone. excepting that & The Seas [6]  & some of my own Inscriptions, [7]  x the serious pieces are very inferiour to those of a lighter cast. should you have recognized my hand in the amorous effusions of Abel Shufflebottom? [8] 

The Dom Daniel [9]  I have begun, & run the first heat of my course. a book & half are done & in the irregular blank verse which I have ever had a hankering after since I first fed upon Dr Sayers Sketches. [10]  I shall defend my choice with arguments unanswerable, to my conception. if I succeed in the remainder of the poem equally well, the metre will I think become popular, & involve me in the guilt of begetting numberless imitators.

Davy is an extraordinary young man & much may be expected from him. you will see by his poems (they are signed D.) [11]  germs of genius, & powers likely to lead their possessor to eminence however directed. they were written when he was very young – indeed he is now but just one & twenty. You have probably heard from Burnett an account of his most wonderful discovery, the wonder working gazeous oxyd of azote [12]  – for it is not yet christened & the old name must be used. I am affected by a smaller quantity than any person who has yet taken it. it produces first in me an involuntary & idiotic laughter, highly pleasurable & ridiculous. immediately a warmth & a fullness flows from my head thro every limb & my finger & toe-tips tingle & my teeth seemd to vibrate with delight. the last symptom is a feeling of strength & an impulse to exert every muscle. for the remainder of the day it left me with increased hilarity & with my hearing taste & smell certainly more acute. I conceive this gas to be the atmosphere of Mohammeds Paradise. [13] 

Sept. 1. Ottery St Mary. Devonshire.

This letter has lain unfinished while I have been rambling over this country. a country which appears to me to have received more encomiums than it deserves. after coming from the North of Somersetshire every thing appears flat & uninteresting. I am about to house myself at Exeter for a few weeks, till our habitation in Hampshire be vacant. there is a literary society at Exeter [14] D’Israeli – Hole – & Dr Downmans [15]  who writes sonnets in blank verse. but they are a sort of monsters in literature, all furiously ministerial, even to intolerance of those who think otherwise – so the door is shut upon me, & I have no inclination to knock – even tho it should then be opened. with my own employment & the vicinity of Coleridge the want of society is not to be felt. – I was to tell you from Coleridge that a statue to the memory of Burger has been lately erected in some tea-gardens at Gottingen – badly designed & executed & in a strange place, but it shows his popularity. [16]  if this be worth mentioning in your necrology & not too late I will get for <you> the description of the monument which has escaped my memory. Coleridge is about to produce the Life of Lessing [17]  a subject which will comprehend the Literary history of Germany.

I am sorry you have abdicated the office of literary Director, [18]  for the Republic has need of your services. a good Reviewer is the rarest of writers, for unless he have leisure & inclination the ablest hands scrawl thro it sadly. I have a sort of selfish sorrow too – for Coleridge & I mean to march an army of Hexameters into the country, & it will be unfortunate to have all the strong places in the hands of our enemies. we have chosen the story of Mohammed [19]  – N.B. no reflection on Klopstock. [20]  the subject is very fine & we have squeezed it into a sufficient oneness. but remember this is a Secret Expedition till the Manifesto accompany the troops. <we must bully like Generals – but argue somewhat better.>

Gather me at your leisure a few flowers for the Anthology. [21] 

God bless you –

yrs truly

Robert Southey.

direct at Mr Tuckers – Fore. Street Hill. Exeter. [22]  I shall remain here till Michaelmas. [23] 


* Address: To/ Mr William Taylor Junr./ Surry Street./ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: [partial] TER
Postmark: [partial] A/ SEP
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4823. 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. 291–294 [in part]. BACK

[1] This letter is in answer to Taylor’s two letters of 23 June and 16 August 1799; see J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 283–291. BACK

[2] Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[3] Taylor’s sapphics, ‘The Rovers Apology’ (sent to Southey on 25 March 1799; see J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 270) was omitted from Annual Anthology (1799). But ‘A Topographical Ode’, pp. 1–9; ‘Dirge for him who will deserve it’, pp. 36–37; ‘To the Burnie Bee’, pp. 64–66; ‘To the Rainbow’, p. 201; ‘Lines written in the 16th Century’, pp. 205–206; ‘Parodied in the 18th Century’, pp. 206–207; and ‘The Seas’, pp. 233–236 were all published, under a variety of pseudonyms. BACK

[4] ‘Erthusyo’ is ‘R Southey’ and ‘Theoderit’ is ‘The Editor’. Southey also used the initials ‘R.S.Y.’, ‘R.’, ‘R.S.’ and ‘S.’ to sign some of his contributions to the Annual Anthology (1799). Others were left unsigned. BACK

[5] ‘Topographical Ode’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 1–9. BACK

[6] ‘The Seas’, Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 233–236. BACK

[7] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 67–76 contained seven inscriptions by Southey. BACK

[8] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 218–226 contained four ‘Love Elegies’ ascribed to Abel Shufflebottom. BACK

[9] An early version of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801); see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188. BACK

[10] Frank Sayers, Dramatic Sketches of the Ancient Northern Mythology (1790). BACK

[11] Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), ‘The Sons of Genius’, pp. 93–99; ‘The Song of Pleasure’, pp. 120–125; ‘Ode to St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall’, pp. 172–176; ‘The Tempest’, pp. 179–180. In addition, Davy signed his own name to ‘Extract from an unfinished Poem on Mounts-Bay’, pp. 281–286. BACK

[12] Nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’. BACK

[13] According to Qu’ran 47: 15 the air of the Islamic Paradise is perfumed. BACK

[14] The Exeter Reading Society, or Society of Gentlemen at Exeter, founded in 1792. Its members published Essays by a Society of Gentlemen at Exeter (1796). BACK

[15] Richard Hole (1746–1803; DNB); and Hugh Downman (1740–1809; DNB). The latter’s Poems to Thespia (1781) contain examples of his sonnets. BACK

[16] Gottfried August Burger (1748–1794), German poet. Coleridge described in detail the statue in his memory, representing the ‘Genius of Germany weeping over an urn’, in a letter to Taylor of 25 January 1800 (E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), I, p. 565). BACK

[17] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781). Coleridge did not finish his ‘Life of Lessing’. BACK

[18] Taylor had finished writing reviews for the Monthly Review. BACK

[19] Coleridge and Southey’s plan for a jointly-written poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam, did not make much progress; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 18–20. A fragment by Southey was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (London, 1845), pp. 113–116; and 14 lines by Coleridge in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, 3 vols (London, 1834), II, p. 68. BACK

[20] Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724–1803) devoted 25 years to writing his epic poem, Messias (1773), about the life of Christ. BACK

[21] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[22] Possibly the retired stationer and bookseller Richard Tucker (fl. 1779–1784), whose business had occupied premises on Fore-Street, Exeter. BACK

[23] Southey could not take possession of his rented house at Burton until 29 September 1799. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Stowey (mentioned 1 time)
Burton (mentioned 1 time)