867. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 December 1803

867. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 11 December 1803 ⁠* 

My dear friend

I have delayed writing to you far overlong. & somewhat ungratefully after all the trouble you have taken, the services you have rendered & the kindnesses you have bestowed upon Harry. I was vexed at his removal [1]  – sadly vexed that his own conduct should have rendered inevitable a step which I knew would produce considerable uneasiness & embarrasment to my Uncle as well as myself. There is a want of feeling in his conduct which I cannot easily pardon, for he knew how difficultly I live, & how his Uncle has always been beggared by his family. but it was always in his nature – & I fear will never get out of it. he writes now as if he felt his situation & of course I say nothing to him of the past – nor shall I think of it except only as it does make me fearful for the future. – Meantime a far worse business has taken place with respect to my younger brother. I placed him in the navy, by his own choice & against my opinion & advice. his mad Aunt has persuaded him to leave him it, & he after most inexcusably taking this step has quarrelled with her, got into some gentlemans [2]  house at Exeter, & there is buying clothes, a fowling piece &c, & drawing upon me for payment – in short actually commencing swindler at fifteen. Bills to the amount of twenty pounds have been sent down to me here – which I have of course protested. that business he & his Aunt & his new friend may settle as they can. I am endeavouring to get him into the navy again if possible, − & if not to send him in some merchantship some long voyage – for if he do not take the sea, he will become a sharper unless he should happily turn strolling player – which would now be the best thing that could happen.

I am fitting Madoc [3]  for publication – hoping by its profit to clear off a debt which I owe May almost wholly on Harrys account. May is an excellent good man & has as sincere a respect for me as I have for him. I am disposed to try whether or no it be practicable to publish it on my own account by subscription, & thus have the whole profits myself – which the booksellers will else share – but I will try this without publishing my intention, <at first,> because a public failure would be lessen unpleasant & perhaps lessen the marketable value of the ware when I should be obliged to carry it to a chapman. If you can get me a few names I am sure you will. a quarto for a guinea – the money on delivery of the book. I shall print it next winter – & then having built my monument – if it were not for this history of mine [4]  – I should feel & think that my work was done.

We are fixed here for some time – indeed I trust till we fix decidedly. Will you be our guest in the summer? you will see Coleridge (who much desires to see you) & Wordsworth, − & if Harry should not come here to meet you, & you should like to advance to Edinburgh I will accompany you there. It is a long way truly – but the place deserves a second visit, & would reclaim you from some of your Netherlandish heresies.

The Iris [5]  is not only a very interesting paper, but is now the only interesting one. Your ballad of the Old Woman [6]  had some excellent parts in it. the conception has far more power of fancy than mine, mine [7]  indeed is the mere narration of the ‘true story.’ but your language wants ease & perspicuity, & there is a mixture of the ludicrous & the shocking, which instead of amalgamating into the grotesque has curdled – each remaining seperate & yet polluted. Still it is a fine poem, & most evidently the work of an extraordinary man. I regret that the poor Anthology [8]  is discontinued, for it would have given me great pleasure to have seen it in those types & on that paper.

Coleridge is going into Devonshire to winter for his health. I know not when any of his works will appear – & tremble lest an untimely death should leave me the task of putting together the fragments of his materials – which in sober truth I do believe would be a <more> serious loss to the world of literature than it ever sufferd from the wreck of antient science.

God bless you –

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.

Sunday. Dec 11. 1803.


* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 5
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4841. 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. 474-476 [in part]. BACK

[1] Henry Herbert Southey had enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in November 1803. BACK

[2] John Foster-Barham (1763-1822), a wealthy merchant in the West India trade and partner in Plummer, Barham & Co. How Edward Southey had made his acquaintance is unclear. BACK

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

[4] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[5] The Norwich newspaper which Taylor edited 1803-1804. BACK

[6] William Taylor’s ‘A Tale of Wonder’ (his version of the story of ‘The Old Woman of Berkeley’) appeared in The Iris, 29 October 1803. BACK

[7] ‘A Ballad, Shewing How An Old Woman Rode Double, and Who Rode Before Her’, Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]-160. BACK

[8] Annual Anthology (1799) and (1800). BACK

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