2411. Robert Southey to Neville White, 29 April 1814

2411. Robert Southey to Neville White, 29 April 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, April 29. 1814.

My dear Neville,

My main employment at present is upon Roderick. [1]  The poem is drawing towards its completion; in fact, the difficulty may be considered as over, and yet a good deal of labour remains, for I write slowly and blot much. However, land is in sight, and I feel myself near enough the end of this voyage to find myself often considering upon what course I shall set sail for the next. Something of magnitude I must always have before me to occupy me in the intervals of other pursuits, and to think of when nothing else requires attention. But I am less determined respecting the subject of my next poem than I ever was before when a vacancy was so near. The New England Quaker story [2]  is in most forwardness, but I should prefer something which in its tone of feeling would differ more widely from that on which I am at present busied. As to looking for a popular subject, this I shall never do; for, in the first place, I believe it to be quite impossible to say what would be popular, and, secondly, I should not willingly acknowledge to myself, that I was influenced by any other motive than the fitness of my story to my powers of execution.

The Laureateship will certainly have this effect upon me, that it will make me produce more poetry than I otherwise should have done. For many years I had written little, and was permitting other studies to wean me from it more and more. But it would be unbecoming to accept the only public mark of honour which is attached to the pursuit, and at the same time withdraw from the profession. I am therefore reviving half-forgotten plans, forming new ones, and studying my old masters with almost as much ardour and assiduity as if I were young again. Some of Henry’s papers yonder strikingly resemble what I used to do twenty years ago, and what I am beginning to do again.

Thank you for Lord Byron’s Ode: [3]  there is in it, as in all his poems, great life, spirit, and originality, though the meaning is not always brought out with sufficient perspicuity. The last time I saw him [4]  he asked me if I did not think Bonaparte a great man in his villany. I told him, no, – that he was a mean-minded villain. And Lord Byron has now been brought to the same opinion. But of politics in my next. I shall speedily thank Josiah Conder for his review, and comment a little upon its contents. [5]  Some of his own articles please me exceedingly. I wish my coadjutors in the Quarterly had thought half as much upon poetry, and understood it half as well.

God bless you!

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 71–73. BACK

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

[2] An early idea for ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at Southey’s death. A fragment was published posthumously. BACK

[3] Byron’s Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte (1814). BACK

[4] Southey had met Byron in London in autumn 1813; see Southey to Edith Southey, 28 September[–1 October] 1813, Letter 2309. BACK

[5] Conder was proprietor of the Eclectic Review; see Southey to Josiah Conder, 4 May 1814, Letter 2415. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)