3337. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], [c. 28 July 1819]

3337. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], [c. 28 July 1819]⁠* 

Keswick, July 20. 1819.

My dear Chauncey,

. . . . . . . . . . I have not seen more of Don Juan than some extracts in a country paper, wherein my own name is coupled with a rhyme which I thought would never be used by any person but myself when kissing one of my own children in infancy, and talking nonsense to it, which, whatever you may think of it at present as an exercise for the intellect, I hope you will one day have occasion to practise, and you will then find out its many and various excellencies. [1]  I do not yet know whether the printed poem is introduced by a dedication to me, in a most hostile strain, which came over with it, or whether the person who has done Lord Byron the irreparable injury of sending into the world what his own publisher and his friends endeavoured, for his sake, to keep out of it, has suppressed it. [2]  This is to me a matter of perfect unconcern. Lord Byron attacked me when he ran amuck as a satirist; [3]  he found it convenient to express himself sorry for that satire, and to have such of the persons told so whom he had assailed in it as he was likely to fall in with in society; myself among the number. I met him three or four times on courteous terms, and saw enough of him to feel that he was rather to be shunned than sought. [4]  Attack me as he will, I shall not go out of my course to break a spear with him; but if it comes in my way to give him a passing touch, it will be one that will leave a scar.

The third and last volume of my Opus Majus will be published in two or three weeks; they are printing the index. [5]  What effect will it produce? It may tend to sober the anticipations of a young author to hear the faithful anticipations of an experienced one. None that will be heard of. It will move quietly from the publishers to a certain number of reading societies, and a certain number of private libraries; enough between them to pay the expenses of the publication. Some twenty persons in England, and some half dozen in Portugal and Brazil will peruse it with avidity and delight. Some fifty, perhaps, will buy the book because of the subject, and ask one another if they have had time to look into it. A few of those who know me and love me, will wish that I had employed the time which it has cost in writing poems; and some of those who do not know me, will marvel that in the ripe season of my mind, and in the summer of reputation, I should have bestowed so large a portion of life upon a work which could not possibly become either popular or profitable. And is this all? No, Chauncey Townshend, it is not all; and I should deal insincerely with you if I did not add, that ages hence it will be found among those works which are not destined to perish; and secure for me a remembrance in other countries as well as in my own; and that it will be read in the heart of S. America, and communicate to the Brazilians, when they shall have become a powerful nation, much of their own history which would otherwise have perished; and be to them what the work of Herodotus [6]  is to Europe. You will agree with me on one point at least, – that I am in no danger of feeling disappointment. But you will agree also that no man can deserve or obtain the applause of after ages, if he is too solicitous about that of his own.

God bless you!

R.S.


Notes

* 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. 352–354 [in part; misdated 20 July 1819].
Dating note: The letter survives only in the version published by Cuthbert Southey. However, the content makes it clear that he misdated it, mistaking the ‘28’ July for ‘20’; this is understandable given that Robert Southey’s ‘0s’ and ‘8s’ are very similar and thus easily confused. The content of the letter shows that it belongs to shortly after 24 July 1819, the date on which the quotations from Don Juan mentioned in the letter text appeared in the Carlisle Patriot. BACK

[1] The first two cantos of Byron’s Don Juan (1819–1824) had been published anonymously on 15 July 1819. The rhyme Southey dismisses is: ‘Thou shalt believe in Milton, Dryden, Pope;/ Thou shalt not set up Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey;/ Because the first is crazed beyond all hope,/ The second drunk, the third so quaint and mouthy:’ (Canto 1, stanza 205, lines 1–4). These lines were printed in the Carlisle Patriot, 24 July 1819. BACK

[2] John Murray published Don Juan, but without printing his firm’s name on the title page. The ‘Dedication’ to Southey was not included in 1819, but it soon became very well known. It was eventually published in 1833. BACK

[3] i.e. in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (London, 1809), pp. 9–10, which had advised Southey to ‘cease thy varied song!/ A bard may chaunt too often and too long’. BACK

[4] Byron had apologised for his satire on Southey through Richard Sharp, and Byron and Southey had met on friendly terms at Holland House on 26 September 1813; see Southey to Edith Southey, 28 September–[1 October] 1813, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2309. Byron had admired Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) and Southey told his friends ‘Lord Byrons commendations are repeated to me from all quarters’; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 December 1814, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2516. BACK

[5] History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819); the ‘Index’ covered the entire work (III, pp. [903]–950). BACK

[6] The classical historian Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), whose Histories were often seen as the first works of academic history. BACK

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