628. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 19 November 1801

628. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 19 November 1801 ⁠* 

My dear friend –

I have, perhaps & probably, enough interest in the Critical Review to insert any puff of decent praise & long brevity – but there my interest ends. once I attempted to introduce a friend there, [1]  who would have been a very Goliath or Samson [2]  – but no notice was taken of my application. at present Hamilton [3]  sends me no books – I conjecture because my account is far has been long promised to come with them, & unhandsomely delayed, to use the softest word.

Supposing a new Review were set on foot – would you like to amuse your leisure by assisting it? I could I think present such a list of names as would encourage any bookseller to the adventure – if there were but an approvable conductor – it is one of the schemes upon which Coleridge & I have speculated in conversation – & it made the distinguishing character of our scheme, that Authors should be allowed to give an account of their own works first, limited to a certain length, & produce extracts themselves. a little attention to decency would secure it an decided advantage over the existing Journals. Davy would be our Chemist – for financial – commercial & agricultural subjects – I think Rickman might be put down – a most original minded & strong headed man, who is quite my oracle. here too we might find a nitch for poor Burnett –. a manager seems the stumbling block – & it is one which I cannot remove. Phillips [4]  would at once start it – but that would involve it with the Aikin-family [5]  – & we are oil & vinegar. all the shaking possible could never amalgamate two particles. this scheme is not uppermost in my head – & yet I could take an interest in its success.

If reviewing were as it ought to be, merely analytical, or according to any fair & written Canons of Criticism – I should be glad to see Henry so employed. as it is I doubt his knowledge, & should scruple to introduce a boy of eighteen to such an employment – if it were in my power. a foolish scruple perhaps when the work is so foolishly done. I have ever apprehended a disposition to expence in Henry. he will be fortunate if it does not involve him hereafter in distress. Henry I think has talents – not genius. I have often felt a silent displeasure at his want of reserve – his forwardness, with his person, that fault will not generally offend – yet it is likely to make him many every-day common-place sort of friends, & to repel those whose friendship is valuable. – If he can make any thing by writing for hire, of course it would please me – I wish him to learn to write – & profit is perhaps the only adequate motive. He is reading Italian – could he criticise the authors he reads in that language decently enough for insertion in the Dissenters Obituary – alias, the Monthly Magazine? some two or three years back there <were> some Zoilan [6]  – but really able papers [7]  hewing down the laurels from the graves of Dante & Petrarch & Ariosto. [8]  it would exercise him well to see what could be said in defence of the Orlando. – I know his love for such books – to trace the history & progress of that noble story would amuse him & his notes would swell into a tolerable size. Turpin [9]  – Boyardo [10]  in his own dress & that of Berni [11]  – the scyons round the root of Ariosto – these books would induce a love of research – the Spanish part of the history the Ronscesvalles poems [12]  – he might look to me for – you have these hints as they arise, − & will know better than I can do how fara my scheme is fit for Henry & whether he be capable of it.

Thallaba – as you will have the double l – to please your ear – take it in spite of my eye – has not been monthly-reviewed. I alluded to the reviews of the Anthology [13]  & to the sprinklings of abuse in other articles – I learn from its publication that novelty is not always a source of pleasure. for if my ear be not as unsusceptible of poetry as it is of music – that metre is more perceptible than common blank verse – & more readable by common readers, because the pause is more made out for them.

I design soon to draw out the scheme of my Hindoo Romance [14]  & lay it upon your dissecting table. fault-finding with the story would be serviceable to it, & alteration would be attended with little trouble as the first book is not finished. you & I differ upon one great article of poetical belief – the use of machinery. in Milton & in Klopstock [15]  (God forgive me for yoking two such names together! sxxkxx Mxxxx Ulysses [16]  <did not> ploughed xxxxt with two more dissimilar beasts –) the Supernaturals are the agents – the figures – not the wires. thus also in <the> Romances of my future manufactory. Indra – Yamen & the Sorgon Spirits [17]  – the two families of Light & Darkness – the Gods & Heroes of Valhalla [18]  – these are to be the acting as well as aiding personages of the tale. For Madoc [19]  I assume a higher tone & demand a higher place.

You think me better situated than at Palermo. I do not feel the advantage. Southern climate is very much to me – it blends with all my comforts & makes no inconsiderable part of them. moreover the utmost probable hope now is [MS torn] decent income in Ireland – & surely Sicily is the more interesting & more lovely Island, in as much as an orange garden is better than a patch of potatoes in a bog. my wish would be to settle in Portugal of all other possible situations – but that is not possible – at least not now – so I take what I can get, & grumble at nothing but my compulsory residence in London which I do loathe & abhor with all my moral & physical feelings.



R Southey.

Thursday. Novr 19. 1801.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped [partial]: BRIDGE St/ Westmin
Postmark: [partial] N/ 180
Endorsement: Ansd 22 Nov
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4832. 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. 383-387. BACK

[1] Probably either John Rickman or Humphry Davy. BACK

[2] Two biblical figures: Goliath was a giant (1 Samuel 17), Samson a man of great strength (Judges 13-16). BACK

[3] Samuel Hamilton (fl. 1790s-1810s) owner of the Critical Review, 1799-1804. BACK

[4] Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840; DNB), publisher and proprietor of the Monthly Magazine. BACK

[5] John Aikin, editor of the Monthly Magazine, 1796-1807; his sister Anna Letitia Barbauld, poet, essayist and children’s author; and his son Arthur Aikin, scientist and writer. Later on, Arthur’s siblings joined the family industry. BACK

[6] Having the characteristics of Zoilus (c. 400-320 BC), Greek grammarian and Cynic philosopher who was believed to have criticised Homer. His name became a byword for critical severity. BACK

[7] See Monthly Magazine, 8 (August 1799), 440-442; 8 (December 1799), 870-872. The letters were signed ‘G.T.’. BACK

[8] Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321), Divine Comedy (1308-1321); Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), Il Canzoniere (1327-1368); Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), Orlando Furioso (1532). BACK

[9] Archbishop Turpin, 8th-century Archbishop of Reims, and reputed author of the 12th-century forgery, Historia de Vita Caroli Magni et Rolandi, an early source for the story of Orlando. BACK

[10] Matteo Boiardo (1441-1494), Italian poet, whose Orlando Innamorato (1495) provided the early history of the hero of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. BACK

[11] Francesco Berni (1497-1536), Italian poet whose revised version of Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato was published in 1541. BACK

[12] The battle of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees in 778 was a minor affair, in which part of the rearguard of Charlemagne’s (742-814; King of the Franks 768-814, Holy Roman Emperor 800-814) army was defeated by local Basque forces. In legend it became the site of the last stand of the hero, Roland, and the paladins of Charlemagne (of whom Orlando was one). There is an alternative Spanish tradition in which Roland was defeated by the legendary hero Bernardo del Carpio, whose deeds were most famously commemorated in Bernardo de Balbuena (1561-1627), El Bernardo (1624). BACK

[13] See Monthly Review, 33 (December 1800), 364-366. Further examples can be found in the Anti-Jacobin Review, 6 (June 1800), 215-216; and Critical Review, 30 (December 1800), 426-431. BACK

[14] For Southey’s plan for the Curse of Kehama (1810), see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[15] John Milton (1608-1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667); Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803), Der Messias (1748-1773). BACK

[16] In various post-Homeric writings, the Greek hero Ulysses was said to have yoked a donkey and an ox to his plough in order to prove he was mad and therefore unfit to take part in the Trojan wars. BACK

[17] In Southey’s interpretation of Hindu mythology, Indra is the King of the gods, Yamen is the god of death, and Sorgon is a paradise; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

[18] Abode of the gods in Norse mythology. BACK

[19] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

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