1865. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 5 February 1811

1865. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 5 February 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick, Feby. 5. 1811.

An examination of the Arte de Furtar, which I had not read since I was last at Lisbon, convinces me that it is not Vieyra’s. [1]  He speaks as an eyewitness of things in Algarve & in Castille, – now it does not appear either from his life or letters that he had been in either country. It has nothing of his character or manner, – I think too that I perceive a mode of expression <which> never occurring in any of his undisputed works. – The defence of the Inquisition would not have come from Vieyra. On the whole I have not a doubt upon the subject.

Ballantyne watches, with all the anxiety of a printer & publisher over the Register, & serves me as a safety-valve. Not that there can be any political danger, – the section opinions of the book are a sufficient security against that; – but he keeps a keen x eye upon any thing which might by possibility injure the sale. My second vol. [2]  makes vigorous war upon the Burdettites. I do not apprehend any possible inconvenience to myself from the freedom with which it is written, – that which so strenuously supports the Government both Church & State, may be allowed to censure the Administration, – & as for any personal offence which might be taken, if any man were fool enough to challenge me, I should turn over the correspondence to a Lawyer, – first taking the opportunity of delivering in a summary manner my opinions respecting duelling.

I urged Coleridge to double the intended number of Omniana [3]  volumes xxxxx merely for the sake of making him do something for his family, this requiring literally no other trouble than either cutting out of his commonplace books what has for years been accumulating there, – or marking the passages off for a transcriber. He promised to add two volumes, – & has contributed about one sheet, which I xxx dare say, unless he soon returns to Cumberland will be all.

Robinson is the man who introduced me to Abella & Gen. Caroll [4]  who writes to say that he will obtain for me an account of Romanas [5]  operations from R. himself. This portion of the years annals I hope will be far less imperfect than in the former volume. I have also satisfied myself in the Walcheren affair. [6]  Rickman is my right hand in supplying all parl. documents & much private information beside. Some also I obtain from Wynn, & I have access to the Admiralty thro Bedfords brother, – tho what I wanted was not to be found.

With regard to Kehama [7]  I was perfectly aware that I was planting acorns while my contemporaries were setting Turkey Beans. The oak will grow, & tho I may never sit under its shade my children will. Of the Lady of the Lake 25,000 copies have been printed, [8]  of Kehama 500. – & if they sell in seven years I shall be surprized. [9]  It is of no consequence. My annual & quarterly labours now support me & enable me to pay off <lessen> a debt to J May which I expect to pay off entirely in another year. [10]  Meantime my property in Longmans hands is clearing off its mortgages, – & the sale of all the current edition will leave a balance in my favour. So as I feel no want of the <any> profit from those works which are for futurity, I am compleatly indifferent concerning their immediate success. The only effect the total non-sale of Kehama could have would be to make me take measures against the iniquitous laws of literary property, & convert the other poems which I hope to write into so many post-obits. – The fault which you point out in Kehama arose in the way such faults are most likely to arise, – in correction, I had written

Whereon the wood nymphs lie,
Their languid limbs dispread
In summers sultry hours, –

And, having occasion to use the word dispread elsewhere in the same paragraph struck it out, – without perceiving that this omission made the use of the preceding verb improper. [11] 

I go on slowly with Pelayo, [12]  – only a few lines before breakfast. Xxxx Other subjects are floating in my head, particularly that upon Philips war, [13]  which was pointed out in the reviewal of Holmes’s American Annals. [14]  It has almost matured into a compleat fable, – & you will smile to hear that the principal personage is to be a primitive Quaker, – certainly a character new to heroic poetry. I am undetermined upon the metre, – it has long been a favourite project of mine to write one poem in hexameters written of course by accent, – & formed upon the model of the Greek or German. The thing is practicable, experto crede Roberto. [15]  I can write them with as much facility as any other metre; – but they will not suit a subject which requires to have some of its parts pitched in a high key, – for rapidity they are unequalled, they fail in solemnity, they are unfit for the dramatic parts of poetry, & yet will not, I think allow well of any transition to another mode of verse.

Tell my Aunt that, God willing, she will see me early in May. – Her god-daughter is not a thriving child, in fact the season has been unusually sickly, owing perhaps to the very variable weather we have had. One or other of the children has been ailing for the last two months, sometimes two, three, or even all four at once. – I long to see Don Duardos.

The Capitaneus need not be much puzzled in finding paper for his third volume, [16]  as he has to chuse whether it shall be of the size of the first or the second, – he having contrived not to match them by about half an inch.

I am going to send for Dulan’s [17]  & Cuthell’s [18]  Catalogues.

God bless you.



* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surry/ Single.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 8 FE 8/ 1811; [illegible]
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 211–214 [in part]. BACK

[1] Arte de Furtar (1652). Now attributed to the Jesuit Manuel de Costa (1601–1667), but at this time thought to be by the Jesuit missionary, diplomat and writer Antonio Vieira (1608–1697). Southey’s copy was no. 3772 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809 (1811). BACK

[3] Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores (1812), published in two volumes. BACK

[4] William Parker Carrol (1776–1842), liaison officer between the British and Spanish forces. Later promoted to Major-General and Field Marshal in the Spanish Army. BACK

[5] The Spanish general Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of la Romana (1761–1811). BACK

[6] The Walcheren Campaign, an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809. The plan had been to open another front in the war against Napoleon. Although there was little actual fighting, the British forces were severely depleted by a sickness quickly dubbed the ‘Walcheren Fever’. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 660–692. BACK

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

[8] Scott’s The Lady of the Lake (1810). It sold over 20,000 copies in the year of its publication. BACK

[9] Southey was being unduly pessimistic. Kehama went into three editions in two years. BACK

[10] The debt had been incurred in paying for Henry Herbert Southey’s education; see Southey to John May, 9 August 1810, Letter 1799. BACK

[11] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 16, lines 98–99. As published the lines read: ‘Whereon the Wood Nymphs lie/ Their languid limbs in summer’s sultry hours.’ BACK

[12] The early name for Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[13] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the native American inhabitants of New England. Southey’s poem was ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. BACK

[14] Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 (1808), for Southey’s appraisal see Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337 (esp. 323 which recommended Philip’s War as ‘peculiarly fitted for poetry’). BACK

[15] ‘Believe Robert who has had experience in the matter’. BACK

[16] Burney’s mammoth Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (1803–1817). BACK

[17] The London-based booksellers and publishers A. Dulan & Co., who specialised in books in French. BACK

[18] John Cuthell (d. 1818), a bookseller whose premises were in Middle Row, Holborn. BACK


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