2033. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 9 February 1812

2033. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 9 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 9. 1812.

Last night I received Count Julian, [1]  – a work sui generis, [2]  no drama to which it can be compared has ever yet been written, – & none ever will be – except it be by the same hand. You are the only poet whom it has whom it seems to me impossible to imitate. The structure & language of Milton, & the phraseology of Shakespere may be tho attempted by men immeasurably inferior, may yet be so resembled as infallibly to remind you us of the prototype, – but in Gebir [3]  & still more in this tragedy you can no more seperate the manner from the matter than you can colour from the rainbow, – the form seems incapable of subsisting without the spirit.

Some of the finest passages were new to me. – After that exquisite picture of the Spaniards p 4. there come two lines which I have not yet comprehended –

And scatter to the broad bleak blasts of day
The ruins & the phantoms that replied [4] 

Julians speech – All men with human feelings & [5]  – is above all praise – so too is that burst Mountains & seas – ye are not separation [6]  – In that scene which is full of beauty throughout I feel how of what importance it is for a poet to have seen his own scenery. But I must not go thro the volume in this way – I will only mention the picture description of Julian by Hernando – & the image of the Eagle, – which is to my feeling xx xxxxxx sublimity xxx xx in <is> the highest degree of sublimity. [7]  The concluding scenes are greatly improved.

What will be the reception of this drama? I could tell you if the Athenians were to decide: being what we are, & living in an age when public criticism is upon works of fine literature is at the very point of pessimism, I can only guess that it will pass silently, that a few persons will admire it with all their heart & all their soul & all their strength, but that Envy & her companions in the Litany [8]  will not hear enough of it to induce them to blow their trum trumpets; & abuse it into notoriety.

Except the lost books of the Faery Queen [9]  I never regretted any thing so much as the play which you destroyed, [10]  – & for them I never grieved so much, because the evil was too long past to be a vexation as well as a loss.

I sent you a book of Pelayo [11]  some ten days ago. It is well that my conception of all the historical personages of the poem is so entirely unlike yours, – or I should inevitably be deterred from proceeding. – This last book tho a necessary scene is a heavy one, & ought perhaps to be compressed – the next will open xx xxxx be busier.

Your tenant Charles Betham is of an excellent stock. [12]  I have a great respect for one of his sisters both for her genius & her goodness both of which are soon discoverable thro a most unprepossessing exterior, & a nervousness of manner which gives at first an appearance of silliness. She happened to say in writing to me that her brother wanted a farm, as little expecting that I should direct him where to find one, as I was of such an enquiry from her. He has probably to learn farming, & in this respect is not so desirable a tenant as Mr Hutchinson [13]  would have been; in others he is more so.

Our army is acquiring a spirit of enterprize at last, which if it be but cherished by the Government & answered by the nation will prepare them for a more splendid career of triumph than that of Marlborough. [14]  Keep up the heart of England, & let the Spaniards submit to have their armies trained by English officers, & Buonapartes lease will not last seven years longer. I verily believe that if the new Regency [15]  consent to this, which it has been absolute infatuation to refuse so long, – we shall live to see a peace dictated under the walls of Paris. Blake [16]  wa[MS torn]at obstacle to this. He seems to have been a man upon whom a[MS torn] was thrown away, & his capitulation which never [MS torn] been considered honourable, becomes more especially disgraceful, when we remember what Palafox [17]  & Alvarez [18]  have done, – & what al[MS torn] at the same time was doing at Tarifa. [19]  – Zayas [20]  is a great loss to Spain, – he was one of their best regular bred soldiers. It is a good thing that the D. of Infantado [21]  has been in England & acquired a personal knowledge of the views & dispositions of this Government. – After all is it not humiliating to remember that, two centuries ago Spain should produce half a dozen men resolute enough in a mistaken cause to sacrifice their own lives in an attempt upon the Prince of Orange, [22]  & that she has not now produced sent <found> one to aim a dagger at the heart of Buonaparte!

Remember me to Mrs L.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 21. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 252–254. BACK

[1] Landor’s tragedy Count Julian, published by Murray in 1812. BACK

[2] ‘Of its own kind’. BACK

[3] Landor’s Gebir (1798). BACK

[4] Landor adds note: ‘I had written between these lines Spectres of bliss and avenues of hope’. The lines are from Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), p. 4. BACK

[5] Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), p. 16. BACK

[6] Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), p. 35. BACK

[7] Count Julian: A Tragedy (London, 1812), pp. 96–97. BACK

[8] The Litany is a prayer or petition which the congregation repeats after the priest. In the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer (1662) the Litany asks for deliverance from ‘envy, hatred and malice; and from all uncharitable ways’. BACK

[9] The Faerie Queene (1590–1596) is unfinished. Southey alludes to the apocryphal story that Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB) had completed the poem and that part of it had been lost by a careless servant before publication. BACK

[10] ‘Ferranti and Giulio’, which Landor destroyed in 1811; see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 19 July 1811, Letter 1940. BACK

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

[12] Charles Betham (b. 1779), brother of Mary Matilda. Southey had been responsible for introducing Betham and Landor, see his letter to Mary Matilda Betham, 30 October 1811, Letter 1974. Charles had rented one of Landor’s largest farms at Llanthony. Unfortunately, Landor was not to share Southey’s opinion of his new tenant. Betham and Landor were soon in dispute over the rent and the use of the land. The final straw was when Betham’s brother, Frederick (b. 1789/1790), dug up trees Landor had planted. Landor denounced Frederick in a handbill that he personally posted up in Monmouth during the assizes. Betham sued for libel, Landor lost and had to pay £100 in damages. For Betham’s version of events, see Ernest Betham, A House of Letters (London, 1905), pp. 262–277. BACK

[13] Wordsworth’s brother-in-law Thomas Hutchinson (1773–1849), who farmed in Radnorshire. Southey had previously recommended him as a possible tenant, see his letter to Landor, 10 October 1811 (Letter 1962). BACK

[14] The British hero of the War of the Spanish Succcession, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722; DNB). BACK

[15] The supreme authority in Spain since October 1810 was a five-man Council of Regency, whose membership was changed on 22 January 1812. BACK

[16] Joaquin Blake y Joyes (1759–1827), Spanish general. He had attempted to create a General Staff for the scattered Spanish armies, but on 8 January 1812 he had surrendered when trapped in Valencia. BACK

[17] Jose Rebolledo de Palafox (1780–1847), Spanish general in charge of the defence of Zaragoza during two protracted and bloody sieges in 1808–1809. BACK

[18] Mariano Alvarez de Castro (1749–1810), Spanish general, in charge of the defence of Gerona May-December 1809. BACK

[19] A town near Cadiz that was besieged by the French in 1810 and 1811. BACK

[20] Jose Pascual de Zayas y Chacon (1772–1827), Spanish general, captured by the French when the city of Valencia surrendered in January 1812. BACK

[21] Pedro de Alcantara Alvarez de Toledo, 13th Duke of the Infantado (1768–1841), Spanish general and grandee, who headed a mission to Britain in 1811–1812 and was a member of the Council of Regency. BACK

[22] William I, Prince of Orange (1533–1584), leader of the revolt against Spanish rule in the Netherlands. He was assassinated after the Spanish declared him an outlaw and offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to his killer. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)