2294. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 31 August 1813

2294. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 31 August 1813 ⁠* 

Streatham. Surry. Aug 31. 1813

My dear Scott

I do not know any way so likely to lead to an accommodation of the points in dispute between myself & Messrs Ballantyne, [1]  as by putting you in possession of the facts. You will I am sure forgive me for thus trespassing on your good nature, & at least give me your advice if you are not able to arbitrate between us. I will state the circumstances as briefly & clearly as possible.

Aug 11. 1810 John Ballantyne wrote to me in these words “Now that the book [2]  has succeeded & that so much of its success is attributable to you, I am empowered by the literary proprietors here (& heartily concur myself) to offer you 1/12th share, which will be vacated by the concern on your account. The outlay on each 12th has been 209£ the profit on these two volumes, £ 80; being about 40 p cent on the outlay. We sell the books of the literary sharers, & give them our bill at a year for their profit immediately. The outlay on the first volume, which is stock, goes on towards the conduct of the second; & when any proprietor would retire, his share is purchased by the remaining parties at the original £ 209.”

– Aug 20th. following, John Ballantyne wrote thus, “We have agreed to sell for them the shares of the other literary proprietors, & to grant them a bill for the profits arising, at twelve months after the date of the publication of each volume; the profits to be calculated on the difference arising betwixt the sum laid out for the volume, & the value at what is technically called Trade-price, with the deduction of 10 p cent for trouble & risk. The profits upon each twelfth so calculated of the Register for 1808 amounts to £80, for which sum, if it is agreable to you that we shall sell your proportion of the books, we shall presently grant you our bill.”

These were the terms upon <offers by> which I <was induced to> become a proprietor of the Register. – But in the terms which were after drawn up, an important alteration was introduced. It was there thus expressed: “on a proprietor signifying a wish to retire, his xxxx share must be offered to the other proprietors in the first instance, at the original cost price of £ 209.” – By not having adverted to this alteration at the times I perceive that I have xxx xxx lost all right of requiring that my share should be repurchased.

I committed a farther oversight in not calling upon Mr John Ballantyne for the stipulated Bill at 12 months date upon the publication of each volume. This neglect however in no degree invalidates my right. He now after repeated evasions & delays has avowed his intention of witholding from me monies due for the fourth history my contributions to the fourth volume, [3]  upon the plea that there has been a loss upon my twelfth share. But I maintain that my agreement involves no risk on my part whatever: that the share was proposed to me not as a speculation but as a bonus, or recompense: that it he told me not what the profits might be, but what they actually were; that he ought to have given me his bill for those profits at the times appointed by himself, – that if those bills had been given, payment could not have been resisted upon the plea of stock in hand, & that I am morally & legally entitled to £80 profits upon the first volume, as clearly as if I had his note for the sum, & that x tho I am content to look for no profit upon the second & third volumes owing to their increased bulk x I am not & cannot be liable to any loss upon them, consequent upon want of sale.

More than a week before I saw you were at Keswick I had written to John Ballantyne, & desired his answer might be directed here. [4]  He has not written, & I know not how much longer he intends to shuffle off the settlement: for I will xx not conceal from you that from every quarter I hear equally well of his brother, & ill of him. I have brought with me the conclusion of the fourth volume which has been finished many weeks, but which I shall not part with till the dispute be accommodated. – My share is plainly worth nothing, – this loss I must no doubt submit to, & it is quite sufficient. But as long as I hold that share I hold no myself not liable to any loss upon it; & shall require upon the publication of each volume a bill at twelve months date for the profits.

I earnestly hope you may be able to make Mr James Ballantyne see the propriety of coming to an amicable termination of this unpleasant business. Upon my first representation of the matter to him, he saw it just as I expected an honourable man would; & tho his brother has signed <for him & for himself> the last letter which I received, & in which he first explicitly states what he had for some months (or indeed years) xxxxxx off contrived to xx evade avowing. I verily believe that if he will but look into the affair, he will come to a very different conclusion from that to which his brother has come for him.

– A word or two of other things. – you took me by surprize at Keswick when my house had not recovered the disorganisation into which death had thrown it: [5]  – but it mortified me that you should be in xx a lodging. – & I shall not lose a certain feeling of discomfort upon that score till you & Mrs Scott & your daughter [6]  have given us some days <enough to> when we may show you every thing round us. – I was very desirous that you should hear my poem; [7]  – & yet ever since I have been angry with myself for having gratified that desire at the expence of so many hours conversation as were lost by it.

I trust you have accepted the Laureateship, [8]  concerning which I dare say you feel as I do, – that <tho> it xxxxxxx <may not be> desirable to have it xxx <it would not be> decorous to refuse it. I heartily wish it may bring you to town while I remain here, which will be not less than six or eight weeks. If Government would but always act upon the same principle in the distribution of offices as they have done in this, what a country could they make of G Britain.

yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ near/ Selkirk Melrose [deletion and readdress in another hand]
Stamped: [illegible]; Add!/ ½
Postmark: [partial] C 3/ 81
Endorsement: Southey/ Augt 31.
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3884. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 62-64. BACK

[1] John and James Ballantyne. The letter concerns Southey’s dealing with the brothers over the Edinburgh Annual Register 1810–1813. Scott replied on 19 October 1813; see H. C. Grierson (ed.), The Letters of Walter Scott, 1787–1832, 12, vols (London, 1932–1937), III, pp. 364–366. BACK

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

[3] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[4] Southey’s letter to Ballantyne seems not to have survived. For Scott’s visit to Keswick, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 August 1813, Letter 2290. BACK

[5] Southey’s brother-in-law George Fricker had died at Greta Hall on 24 June 1813. BACK

[6] Charlotte Sophia Scott (1799–1837). BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[8] This had been offered to Scott on the death on 11 August 1813 of the incumbent, the poet-politician Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Poet Laureate 1790–1813. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Streatham (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)