2720. Robert Southey to William Gifford, 20 February 1816

2720. Robert Southey to William Gifford, 20 February 1816⁠* 

My dear Sir

In reviewing this translation of Alfieri you will perceive that I have let the extracts speak for themselves. [1]  The history of the book is a very melancholy one. Poor Lloyd is a man with whom I have been intimately acquainted for twenty years, – during all that time there has been a tendency to insanity about him, – of which for the last ten years he has been fully conscious, – & this translation was undertaken as an object which by employing his mind might direct its diseased activity from self-contemplation. It xxxx xxxx xxx time was during the first decided attack of the disorder that I suggested it to him, – his wife had sent for me, at his desire, he was sensible of his state, & conversed upon it with a degree of acuteness peculiar to himself. He desired me to recommend him some author whom he might translate, & I could recollect none but Alfieri. [2]  For a time this succeeded, – he performed the task with wonderful ardour, – but he is now in confinement, – one of the last things he said upon leaving his own house was to express a hope that I should sometimes remember <think of> him with respect. He said this in tears, – & I cannot repeat it without them. – God only knows whether he may ever be able to read what I have said of his Alfieri. His father & his wife (one of the most admirable women I have ever known) will have a melancholy pleasure in seeing it, – & I have m derive more satisfaction from knowing this, than any public applause could give me. – I think you would allow this to be an excuse for the article, if it needed one.

I am not satisfied with Lord Elgins defence: – it is a plea of the grossest carelessness, set up x is pleading gross carelessness, in reply to a charge of the worst nature. A man steals my watch, he is tried for the theft, & says he found it, – I send my watch by another to the watchmaker, – he sells it upon the way, & says he lost it. The losing in one case is as obvious an excuse as the finding in the other. – Perhaps I am not altogether unprejudiced upon the subject. Tho I know nothing of Tweddell personally I have lived much with xxxx <his> friends, & saw many of his letters to Losh as they arrived. [3]  And I have known of Lord Elgins misconduct (to give it the lightest appellation) from the beginning.

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly & respectfully

R Southey.

20 Feby. 1816


* Address: To/ Wm Gifford Esqr
MS: Beinecke Library, GEN MSS 298, Series I, Box 1, folder 11. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 134–135. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed in the Quarterly Review, 14 (January 1816), 333–368, Vita di Vittorio Alfieri, &c. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Victor Alfieri, Written by Himself (1815); and The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, Translated by Charles Lloyd (1815). This number of the Quarterly Review was published on 18 May 1816. BACK

[2] Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803), Italian playwright. BACK

[3] Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766–1841; DNB) had removed and brought to Britain marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. Finding himself in debt, he sought to sell them to the British Museum. Considerable controversy ensued about their worth, artistic and monetary, and a parliamentary committee decided in 1816 that they should be purchased for £35,000. The controversy was compounded when the Edinburgh Review, 25 (October 1815), 285–310, published accusations that Elgin had, when Ambassador Extraordinary in Constantinople in 1799, appropriated the papers and valuable artefacts of John Tweddell (1769–1799; DNB). The accusations were criticised in the Quarterly Review, 14 (October 1815), 257–273. Southey had moved in the same circles as Tweddell and Losh in Bath in the years 1796–1797. BACK

People mentioned

Pemberton, Sophia (d. 1830) (mentioned 2 times)
Losh, James (1763–1833) (mentioned 1 time)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 1 time)