1806. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 17 September 1810

1806. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 17 September 1810 ⁠* 

Keswick. Sept. 17. 1810

My dear Scott

In the Courier of the 15th (which has this evening reached us) is an article pretending to exhibit imitations from your poems & signed S.T.C. [1]  At the first sight of this I was certain that S.T. Coleridge had nothing to do with it, & upon putting the paper into his hands, his astonishment was equal to mine. What may be <the> motive of this dirty trick Heaven knows, – I can only conjecture that the fellow who has practised it, designs in some other paper or magazine to build up a charge of jealousy & envy in Coleridge, – founded upon his own forgery. – Coleridge declares he will write to the Courier, disavowing the signature, – I know he means to do it, but his actions so little correspond to his intentions that I fear he will delay doing it, – very probably till it is too late. [2]  Therefore I lose no time in assuring you that he knows nothing of this petty & paltry attack, – which I have no doubt from whatever quarter it may have come, originates more in malice towards him than towards you.

I was not without hopes of seeing you in this land of la Lakes on your way from the Yorkshire Greta, [3]  but happening to see Jeffray about a fortnight ago he told me you were settled at Ashiestiel for the rest of the autumn. I say happening to see him, because his visit was to Coleridge, not to me, & he told C. that he had not called immediately on me, as he did not know what my feelings perhaps might be towards him, &c –

You have probably seen my labours in the Register, [4]  – upon almost all points of present politics I believe there is little difference of opinion between us, & every where I think you will give me credit for fair dealing as well as plain dealing. At present I am working very hard upon the second volume, [5]  – it is an employment which interests me very much, & I complain of nothing but the want sometimes of sufficient documents respecting the Spanish war. Particularly I regret the want of detailed accounts of the second siege of Zaragoza [6]  & the siege of Gerona, [7]  – that I might be enabled to present a full record of those glorious xxxxxx <events>. I suppose you know the whole secret history of the Register, otherwise I would tell you how liberally the Ballantynes have behaved to me. They will probably find their account in having engaged a man who writes with such perfect freedom; – for tho parts of the work may & xxx indeed will, offend all parties in turn, still there is a decided character of impartiality about it xxxxxxxxxx which will prove the surest recommendation.

Kehama [8]  has travelled so slowly thro the press, that instead of appearing at the end of one season, it will be ready about the beginning of the next. I expect every body to admire my new fashion of printing (tho unfortunately the printers did not fall into it for the first three or four sheets) – – if any thing else is admired, – ponamus lucro. [9]  My unknown Critic in the Register will think that I am going against wind & tide with a vengeance, instead of sailing, according to his advice, xx with the stream. [10]  But if he or any body else should imagine that I purposely set myself in opposition to public opinion, they are very much mistaken. I do not think enough about public opinion for this to be possible. In planning & executing a poem no other thought ever occurs to me than that of making it as good as I can. When they are <it is> finished, – the ostrich does not commit her eggs with more confidence to the sand & the sun, & to [MS torn] nature, than I ‘cast it upon the waters’ – sure if it be good that it will “be found after many days.” [11] 

It gratified me much to hear that you had been interested with my first volume of Brazil. [12]  The second [13]  will contain more stimulating matter, – but it is from the history of Portugal [14]  that I think you will derive most amusement, – so full will it be of high chivalrous matter, & beautiful costume. Pelayo [15]  comes on slow & sure, thoroughly to my own mind as far as it has advanced.

Things look well in the Peninsula. I have never in the worst times abated one jot of my hope respecting the Spaniards & my friends the Portugueze, & do now firmly believe that if we carried on the war with vigour & with sufficient personality against Buonaparte, it would inevitably end in is overthrow – God bless you –remember me to Mrs Scott &

believe me very truly yours

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Achiestiel/ Selkirk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Mr. Southey/ 17 Septr. 1810
MS: Nationa Library of Scotland, MS 3879. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 291–293 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Courier (15 September 1810) had published an article entitled ‘Some Imitations of Scott’. This compared extracts from The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion with ones from Dryden, Baillie, Home, Ossian, Pope, Spenser, and Southey (Madoc) in an attempt to prove that Scott had been ‘more particularly … guilty of imitation’. BACK

[2] On this occasion, he did not delay. A declaration, supplied by Coleridge, that the ‘S.T.C.’ who had signed the piece on Scott was not the same person as ‘Mr. S. T. Coleridge’ appeared in the Courier on 20 September 1810. BACK

[3] Scott had been visiting John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1771–1843; DNB) at Rokeby Park in Co. Durham. BACK

[4] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1810). BACK

[6] The Spanish city of Zaragoza was twice besieged by the French in 1808–1809. The death toll was over 54,000 before it finally fell on 20 February 1809. BACK

[7] The city of Gerona had fallen to the French on 11 December 1809 after a siege of nearly seven months. Southey finally did obtain a copy of Juan Andres Nieto Samaniego (fl. 1810), Memorial Historica de los Sucesos mas Notables de Armas y Estado de la Salud Publica Durante el Ultimo Sitio de la Plaza de Gerona (1810). BACK

[8] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[9] ‘We need the money’. BACK

[10] Southey refers to an article in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.2 (1810), 422: ‘We cannot stop to enquire whether Mr Southey may not, in many instances, be able to make a rational and reasonable apology for neglecting the prescriptive rules of art. It is sufficient to our present purpose, that no author, however undoubted his genius, can hope to stem the public opinion by swimming directly contrary to its current’. BACK

[11] A paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 11: 1. BACK

[12] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810). BACK

[13] Published in 1817. BACK

[14] Southey never finished his planned ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[15] The early incarnation of what became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Ashestiel (mentioned 1 time)