609. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [29 September 1801]

609. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [29 September 1801] ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

Your letter directed to Llangedwin doubtless has been lost – nor indeed would that direction be known at the post offices. the two sheets of commendation reached me on my reaching Wynnstay – I call it commendation & not criticism. you are right censuring the effect produced by success on Thalaba. [1]  his character is sunk too low in that part – there is too much of the undisguised impatience of appetite than ought to appear, & than is consistent. the sixth & seventh book have a greater common-placeness of subject than any of the others. you are right too in wanting more struggle at this last – some idea I have for amending this – some Demon effort of defence – perhaps Eblis [2]  himself – & the spirit of Khawla [3]  shedding upon Thalaba its poisonous substance. the first book is faulty – that long episode is too loosely tacked on – in fact the poem grew from that story. [4]  one great, grievous & irremediable defect pervades the poem. there is no necessary connection of its parts – one event does not produce another – the sequence is accidental – & adventures so hitched together might have been extended to the folio volumes of Amadis [5]  – but this disease is in the very guts & vitals. another & as bad a one is the eternal magic – one “yearns after human intercourse” [6]  – the pantomime expectation is too continued, Thalaba is not enough an agent – he is too much the slave of Destiny. yet against this I took some pains to guard – I made him ever act humanly – & they who would think it blasphemy to suspect Abraham of absurdity in offering up Isaac [7]  – cannot but love the disobedience of Thalaba in a case not dissimilar – You abuse the woman in Book 8. yet to my feeling one of the most powerful conceptions proceeds from her – ‘I have awakened at night. With the dream of his ghastly eyes!’ [8]  – Do you conceive Thalaba to be actually mad? no such intimation was meant <meant>. he is only desperate – P.110 – the construction is – there are such cursed men. [9]  their impious meeting is the Domdaniel. – it ought to have been place of meeting probably – I never tried to construe it before. the incantation go thy way [10]  could not be left out. see you not its effect in the following book – Had Thalaba disarmed the evil race. thank you for the passage about Doric [11]  architecture. the Locust is not too minutely described [12]  – it was in looking narrowly at him that his message was discovered. Lobabas conversation [13]  is necessary. it tells the story of Haruth & Maruth – which I must have told else. & the defence of magic is preparatory to the temptation to use its aid. that said Lobaba is killed clumsily. how can you put your ear so out of all tune as to doubt this cadence

Ă stōny vāle bĕtwēen rĕcēdiňg heīghts

Ŏf stōne, then hĕ wēnt hĭs wāy. [14] 

pure Iamxbics as ever were written. writhe is a word of pain – & therefore bad – look me out a better. the coupling of quietly & quiet, lulled & lullabies – wretched & wretchedness – is to my feeling & reasoning in the best taste. if authority were good for any thing I might plead that it is Greek. The ounces gums were warm in his prey [15]  because his teeth were so deep in – & this I suppose must be the great pleasure in eating a live cat – & so I must stop for a story.

Fuseli [16]  was at Liverpool when the Cat eater [17]  was in his meridian of fame – the conversation at dinner turned upon his exploit – for he had that morning eaten a large Tom Cat alive (Damn his soul in a parenthesis for I dearly love cats) – oh Mr Fuseli said the Lady of the house – what a fine <charming> subject for your pencil – you are fond of horrors you know. “Terrors. Maam – growled out the savage painter – you mean terrors, Maam. – if you mean any thing. true by God, Bedford.

224. I like the scene shifting. the old man at the cavern. [18]  I would tell you who he is – only I have not the happiness of knowing myself. among the best parts of the poem I esteem the journey in the sledge – & more particularly the boat voyage [19] 


* MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 27. AL; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The rest of this letter contains Southey’s response to Grosvenor Bedford’s criticism of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[2] The principal evil spirit in Islam. BACK

[3] An evil sorceress in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[4] One of the origins of Thalaba the Destoyer (1801) was Southey’s idea for a poem on the Garden of Irem, a hidden paradise, see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 97-98. BACK

[5] The medieval romance Amadis of Gaul, which Southey translated in 1803. BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 10, line 102. BACK

[7] Genesis 22: 1-24, in which God asks the patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. BACK

[8] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 8, lines 15-16. BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 3, lines 30, 36-37. BACK

[10] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 2, line 273. BACK

[11] The Doric style was believed to be the earliest form of Greek architecture. BACK

[12] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 3, lines 421-450. BACK

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 4 largely consists of Thalaba’s encounter with Lobaba, the evil magician, who he finally shoots with an arrow. BACK

[14] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 6, lines 151-152. BACK

[15] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 9, line 284. BACK

[16] Henry Fuseli (1741-1825; DNB), Swiss-born painter. BACK

[17] There were a number of famous cat-eating exploits in 18th-century England. One of the most notorious occurred in January 1790, when the ‘Cat-eater of Windsor’ publicly ate a live, 9lb cat to fulfil a bet. BACK

[18] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 12, lines 122-136. The old man was Onatha, who had previously tried to destroy the Domdaniel, but had been detained by his lover, Miriam, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 189. BACK

[19] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11, lines 179-363, 423-531. BACK