2147. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 September 1812

2147. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 September 1812 ⁠* 

My dear Neville. You have here a sheet full of gleanings from the M.S.S. in my possession. I have so transcribed as that they mat be cut asunder, & arranged in such manner as may be thought best, when they are wanted for the press. [1]  You shall soon have the remainder. [2]  RS. Sept 20. 1812.

With slow still step along the desert sands [3] 
Where oer the parching plains broods red dismay,
The Arab chief leads on his ruthless bands.
And lo! a speck of dust is seen to play
On the remotest confines of the day.
Arouse! arouse! fierce does the Chieftain cry,
Death calls! the Caravan is on its way!
The warrior shouts. – The Siroc hurries by
Hushd is his stormy voice, & quenchd his murderous eye.

These lines appear by the metre to have been intended for a stanza of the Christiad, [4]  – perhaps to have introduced a simily. The conception is striking, but the composition far more incorrect than that of that fine fragment.


Behold the Shepherd boy who homeward tends, [5] 
Finished his daily labour. Oer the path
Deep overhung with herbage, does he stroll
With pace irregular; by fits he runs,
Then sudden stops with vacant countenance,
And picks the pungent herb, or on the style
Listlessly sits, & twines the reedy whip.
And carols blithe his short & simple song.
Thrice happy idler! thou hast never known
Refinements piercing pang; thy joys are small,
Yet are they malligned with bitter thought
And after misery. As I behold
Thy placid xxxx artless countenance, I feel
Strange envy of thy state, & fain would change
These short, uncommon hours of keener bliss
For the long day of equal happiness.

Heaven grant no after trials may imprint
Troubles deep wrinkle on thine open face,
And cloud thy generous features. Mayst thou tread
In the calm paths thro which thy fathers trod,
To their late graves of honourable rest:
So will thy lot be happy, so the hour
Of death come clad in loveliness & joy;
And as thou layest down thy blanched head
Beneath the narrow mound, Affections hand
Will bind the ozier oer thy peaceful grave,
And bid the lily blossom on thy turf.
But oh may Heaven avert from thee the curse
Of mad fanaticism! away! away
Let not the restless monster dare pollute
The calm abodes of rural innocence!
Oh if the wide contagion reach thy breast,
Unhappy peasant, peace will vanish thence,
And rag raging turbulence will rack thy heart
With feverish dismay; then discontent
Will prey upon thy vitals, then will doubt
And sad uncertainty in fierce array
With Superstitions monstrous train surround
Thy dreadful death-bed, & no soothing hand
Will smooth the painful pillow, for the bonds
Of tender amity are all consumed
By the prevailing fire, they all are lost
In one ungovernable selfish flame.

Whence<re> has the patience arisen? where
The Hydra multitude of sister ills
Of infidelity, & open sin
If disaffection & repining gall?
Oh ye revered venerable band
Who wear religious ephod, unto ye
Belongs with wakeful vigilance to check
The growing evil. In the vicious town
Fearless & fixd the monster stands secure:
But guard the rural shade! let honest peace
Yet hold her ancient seats, & still preserve
The village groups in their primeval bliss.

Such was, Placidio, thy divine employ,
Ere thou wert borne to some sublimer sphere
By Deaths mild angel


Psalm 22 [6] 

My God, my God, oh why dost thou forsake me?
Why art thou distant in the hour of fear?
To thee, my wonted help, I still betake me,
To thee I clamour, but thou dost not hear.

The beam of morning witnesses my sighing,
The lonely night hour views me weep in vain.
Yet thou art holy, & on thee relying
Our Fathers were releas’d from grief & pain.

To thee they cried & thou didst hear their wailing,
On thee they trusted, & their trust was sure.
But I, poor lost & wretched son of feeling,
I without hope must scorn & hate endure.

Me they revile, with many ills molested.
They bid me seek of thee, oh Lord, redress
Oh God, they say, his hope & trust he rested
Let God relieve him in his deep distress.

To me, Almighty! in thy mercy shining,
Lifes dark & dangerous portals thou didst ope;
And softly on my Mothers lap reclining
Breath’d thro my breast the lovely soul of Hope.

Even from the womb thou art my God, my Father,
Aid me now trouble weighs me to the ground!
Me heavy ills have worn, & faint & feeble
The Bulls of Bavan have beset me round.

My heart is melted & my soul is weary,
The wicked ones have pierced my hands & feet,
Lord let thy influence cheer my bosom dreary,
My help! my strength! let me thy presence greet.

Save me, oh save me from the sword dividing,
Give me my darling from the jaws of death,
Thee will I praise, & in thy name confiding
Proclaim thy mercies with my latest breath.

* * * * *

Mild Vesper, favourite of the Paphian Queen, [7] 
Whose lucid lamp on Evenings twilight zone,
Sheds a soft lustre oer the gloom serene,
Only by Cynthia’s silver beam outshone,
Thee I invoke to point my lonely way
Oer these wild wastes to where my lover bides,
For thou alone canst lend thy friendly ray
Now the bright moon toward the ocean glides –
No midnight murderer asks thy guilty aid,
Nor might robber * * *
I am alone by silly love betrayed
To woo the star of Venus * * *

* * * * * *

Ode to Liberty [8] 

Hence to thy darkest shades, dire Slavery, hence!
Thine icy touch can freeze,
Swift as the polar breeze
The proud defying port of human sense.
Hence to thine Indian cave
To where the tall canes whisper oer thy rest,
Like the murmuring wave
Swept by the dark wing of the rapid West;
And at the night’s still noon
The lash’d Angolan in his grated cell,
Mix’d with the Tygers yell
Howls to the dull ear of the silent moon

But come thou Goddess blithe & free
Thou mountain-maid sweet Liberty,
With buskined knee & bosom bare,
Thy tresses floating on the air:
Come, & treading on thy feet
Independence let me meet
Thy giant mate, whose awful form
Has often braved the bellowing storm,
And heard its angry Spirit shriek
Reard on some Promontory’s beak,
Seen by the lonely fisher far
By the glimpse of the flitting star,
His awful bulk, in dusky shroud
Commixing with the pitchy cloud,
While at his feet the lighnings play
And the deep thunders die away.
Goddess come & let us sail
On the fresh reviving gale,
Oer dewy lawns & forests lone,
Till lighting on some mountain stone
That scales the circumambient sky,
We see a thousand nations lie.
From Zemblas snows to Africs heat
Prostrate beneath our frolic feet.

From Italys luxurious plains
Where everlasting summer reigns,
Why Goddess dost thou turn away?
Didst thou never sojourn there?
Oh yes thou didst – but fallen is Rome, –
The pilgrim weeps her silent doom.
As at midnight murmuring low
Along the mouldering portico,
He hears the desolate wind career
While the rank ivy whispers near.

Ill-fated Gaul, ambitious grasp
Bids thee again in slavery gasp.
Again thy dungeon walls resound
The hopeless shriek, the groan profound.
But lo, in yonder happy skies
Helvetia’s airy mountains rise,
And oh on her tall cliffs reclin’d
Gay Fancy, whispering to my mind
As the wild Herdsmans call is heard,
Tells me that she, oer all preferred
In every clime, in every zone,
Is Libertys divinest throne.
Yet whence that sigh? . O Goddess, say
Has the Tyrants thirsty sway
Dared profane the sacred seat,
Thy long high-favourd, best retreat?
It has! it has! away away
To where the green Isles woo the day,
Where thou art still supreme, & where
Thy Pæans fill the floating air.

* * * * *

Oh that I were the fragrant flower that kisses [9] 
My Arabella’s breast that heaves on [? high] high.
Pleasd should I be to taste the transient blisses
And on the melting throne to faint & die.

Oh that I were the robe that loosely covers
Her taper limbs & Grecian form divine,
Or the entwisted zones, like melting lovers,
That clasp her waist in many an aëry twine

Oh that my soul might take its lasting station
In her waved hair, her perfumd breath to sip,
Or catch by chance her blue eyes fascination,
Or meet by stealth her soft vermillion lip.

But chaind to this dull being, I must ever
Lament the doom by which I’m hither placed.
Must pant for moments I must meet with never
And dream of beauties I must never taste.


In the dark coverts of the Forest shade, [10] 
By scathed oaks & haunted streamlets laid,
What time the moon uprose, her clouds among,
The muse unheeded pourd her lonely song.
Unheard she sung, save when to Fancy’s eye
Pale Vesper stooping from the spangled sky
Would listen still, or when with distant swell
Sequestered Echo answered from her cell.
When shrinking timid from the obtrusive gaze
She first explored the worlds tumultuous maze,
Who smiled benignant on her artless way?
Who opened first the patrons fostering ray?
Who bade her fears, her throbbing tremours flee
Who o revered Derby – who but thee?

* * * * * * *

Sonnet [11] 

Poor little one, must bitterly did pain
And lifes worst ills assail thine early age,
And quickly tird with this rough pilgrimage
Thy wearied spirit did its Heaven regain.
Moaning & sickly on the lap of life
Thou lay’dst thine aching head & thou didst sigh
A little while, ere to its kindred sky
Thy soul returned to taste no more of strife.
Thy lot was happy, little sojourner!
Thou hast no mother to direct thy ways
(Short as <And fortune>
And fortune frownd most darkly in thy days,
Short as they were: Now far from the low stir
Of this dim spot, in Heaven thou dost repose
And Look’st & smil’st on this Worlds transient woes.



* Address: To / Mr J. N. White / with Messrs Haynes / 8 Wood Street / Cheapside London. / Single Sheet.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ 23 SE 23/ 1812
Watermark: 1806 / John Dickinson & Co
MS: University of Nottingham, KW C 315. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] As Southey had promised in his letter to Neville White of 29 July 1812, Letter 2128. If Southey believed these poems were unpublished he was mistaken, as they had all appeared in the 1811 edition of the Remains of Henry Kirke White. BACK

[2] See Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812, Letter 2151. BACK

[3] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London,1811), II, p. 97. BACK

[4] Henry Kirke White’s fragmentary epic, Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1807), II, pp. 173–191. BACK

[5] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London,1811), II, pp. 91–93. BACK

[6] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, pp. 98–99. BACK

[7] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 110. BACK

[8] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, pp. 114–116. BACK

[9] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 71. BACK

[10] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, pp. 38–39. BACK

[11] Already published in Remains of Henry Kirke White, 2 vols (London, 1811), II, p. 112. BACK