3443. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 20 February 1820

3443. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 20 February 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 20 Feby. 1820.

Wordsworths “Peter Bell” [1]  has not been sent to you yet, because I have been waiting for other things to accompany it; – by itself it would neither be worth carriage, nor have any chance of reaching you, unless an opportunity had offered of sending it by a private hand. It will have in company now, as many other of his smaller pieces as suffice, with it, to form a third volume of his Poems. [2]  The last of these portions is now in the press, & my life of Wesley [3]  will be forthcoming nearly at the same time, – in the course of three or four weeks. He desires me to send the whole, – having as just a sense of your Genius powers as a poet, as you have of his. Wesley & the third vol. of Brazil [4]  will give form & weight to the parcel; – I do not however mean to undervalue them. You will find some very interesting matter in both. I hope also that I shall be able to send some verses of my own upon the Kings death. [5]  My taste for Ex Officio [6]  verses is not very unlike your own. But you will not be apprehensive that I shall debase myself by the matter, – & the manner will interest you as an experiment in versification.

Your poem has not found its way to me. [7]  It is either delayed, or mislaid at Longman. Oh that you would write in English! I can never think of your predilection for Latin verse but as a great loss to English literature.

The times make less impression upon me than upon men who live more in the political world. The present perhaps appears to you, at a distance, worse than it is. The future will be – what we may chuse to make it. There is an infernal spirit abroad, & crushed it must be. Crushed it will be beyond all doubt, – but the question is whether it will be cut short in its course, or suffered to spend itself like a fever. In the latter case our progress we shall go on thro a bloodier revolution than that of France to an iron military government, – the only possible termination of Jacobinism. It is a misery to see in what manner the press is employed to poison the minds of the people, & eradicate every thing that is virtuous, every thing that is honourable, every thing upon which the order & peace & happiness of society are founded. The recent laws have stopt the twopenny supply of blasphemy & treason; & a few of the lowest & vilest offenders are laid hold-of. [8]  But the mischief goes on in all the stages above them. And if we have any statesmen possessed of sufficient foresight to perceive the necessity of curbing the press, there is not one who has courage enough to avow it. The German Governments have taken a lesson from Kotzebues death. [9]  The French will probably do the same from the Duke de Berri’s. [10]  We shall probabl be <are> likely to wait for a severer lesson, & beyond all doubt, if we wait, we shall have it.

– Do you remember Elmsley at Oxford, – the fattest undergraduate in your time & mine. He is at Naples superintending the unrolling the Herculaneum manuscripts by Davys process, at the expence of the Prince Regent – I should say George IV. The intention is that Elmsley shall ascertain as soon as a beginning is made in one of the rolls, whether it shall be proceeded with, or laid aside in hope of finding something better, till the whole have been inspected. [11] 

You must have seen some exaggerated accounts of Artigas. [12]  He is merely one of the ruffians whom circumstances have brought forward in that miserable part of the world: those of Buenos Ayres [13]  being only not so bad as those of Venezuela, because they have not had an opportunity as yet of committing as many crimes. [14] 

A deluge that should sweep these countries clean, would be a merciful visitation; – such is the character of their present inhabitants, & such the atrocity with which they carry on an internecine warfare.

A fashion of poetry has been imported which has had a great run, & is in a fair way of being worn out. It is of Italian growth, – an adaptation of the manner of Pulci, Berni, & Ariosto [15]  in his sportive mood. Frere began it. [16]  What he produced was too good in itself, & too inoffensive to become popular. For it attacked nothing & nobody. And it had the fault of his Italian models, that the transition from what is serious to what is burlesque was capricious. Lord Byron immediately followed, – first with his Beppo, [17]  which implied the profligacy of the writer, – & lastly with his D. Juan, [18]  which is a foul blot in the literature of his country, – an act of high treason in English poetry, for which the author deserves damnation. The manner has had a host of imitators. The use of hudibrastic rhymes (the only thing in which it differs from the Italian) makes it very easy. [19] 

My poems hang on hand. [20]  I want no monitor to tell me that it is time that I should leave off. I shall force myself to finish what I have begun, & then – good night. Had circumstances favoured, I might have done more in this way, & better. But I have done enough to be remembered among poets; tho my proper place will be among the historians, if I live to compleat the works upon yonder shelves. [21] 

My little boy thrives at present; – but so well do I know the uncertainty of an infants life – that I cannot without fear & hesitation enquire concerning yours? I shall be in London in the months of April & May. Among other matters of business this curious one awaits me there. A suicide has left me his papers to xxx arrange & publish, I never saw him but once. It is a dismal story, & I am not sure that I shall be able to fulfil his desires without doing mischief, by sending abroad opinions which no antidote can prevent from infecting minds predisposed to the contagion receive the xxxxxxx morbid matter. [22] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Pisa./ Italy
Postmarks: F/ 288/ 20; 8 MARZO
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 33. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 20–22 [in part]. BACK

[1] Wordsworth’s Peter Bell, A Tale in Verse (1819). BACK

[2] Southey also planned to send two other volumes by Wordsworth: The Waggoner. A Poem. To Which are Added Sonnets (1819) and The River Duddon, A Series of Sonnets: Vaudracour and Julia: and Other Poems (1820); see Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 August 1820, Letter 3524. BACK

[3] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[4] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[5] A Vision of Judgement (1821), prompted by the death of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[6] i.e. poems written in Southey’s official capacity as Poet Laureate. BACK

[7] Landor’s Idyllia Heroica Decem Phaleuciorum Unum Partim jam Primo Partim Iterum atq Tertio Edit Savagius Landor (1820), no. 1598 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] A reference to the government’s ‘Six Acts’ of 1819, which included a new Criminal Libel Act (1819) and which extended stamp duty to publications like Cobbett’s Political Register (1802–1836) that had hitherto avoided it by only publishing opinion rather than news, so allowing them to sell for only 2d. per issue. The government had also made a determined effort to prosecute radical newspapers. BACK

[9] The murder of the writer August von Kotzebue (1761–1819) by the theology student Karl Ludwig Sand (1795–1820) had led to the issuing of the Carlsbad Decrees (1819) by the Federal Assembly of the German Confederation. The Decrees restricted press freedoms, rights of association and the autonomy of universities. BACK

[10] Charles Ferdinand d’Artoise, Duc de Berri (1778–1820), a nephew of Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), had been mortally wounded at the Paris Opera on 13 February 1820 by Louis Pierre Louvel (1783–1820), a Bonapartist. BACK

[11] In 1819, funded largely by the Prince Regent, Elmsley and Davy had been commissioned to try new means of unrolling and transcribing the carbonised papyri that had been discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum, the town destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79. Although Herculaneum had been rediscovered in 1709, the existence of the papyri had not been realised until 1752. By the 1810s their significance for classical scholarship was beginning to emerge. Although Davy and Elmsley applied their scientific and scholarly knowledge to the task, it was abandoned in early 1820. Davy’s findings appeared in his ‘Some Observations and Experiments on the Papyri Found in the Ruins of Herculaneum’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 111 (1821), 191–208. BACK

[12] José Gervasio Artigas (1764–1850) had fought to create a Uruguayan state independent of Argentina and Brazil in 1816–1820. BACK

[13] Argentina was in a constant state of warfare and tension between centralists, based in Buenos Aires, and federalists from outlying provinces. BACK

[14] Southey maintained an intense hostility to the Venezuelan revolutionaries; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 367–394, dealing with Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816), leading figure in the first Venezuelan Republic of 1811–1812. BACK

[15] Mock-heroic works, particularly those using ottava rima (eight iambic lines using an a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c rhyme scheme). Southey attributes the origins of this style to: Francesco Berni (1497/8–1535), famous for his lampoons and satires; Luigi Pulci (1432–1484), Morgante Maggiore (1483); and Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533), Orlando Furioso (1532). BACK

[16] John Hookham Frere, Prospectus and Specimen of an Intended National Work, by William and Robert Whistlecraft, of Stowmarket in Suffolk, Harness and Collar Makers (1817). BACK

[17] Byron’s Beppo, a Venetian Story (1818). BACK

[18] The first two cantos of Byron’s Don Juan (1819–1824) were published anonymously on 15 July 1819. The ‘Dedication’, which attacked Southey and others, was suppressed. It soon became very well known, though it was not published until 1833. BACK

[19] Samuel Butler (1613–1680; DNB), Hudibras (1663–1678) used surprising and humorous rhymes and inappropriate comparisons for comic effect. BACK

[20] Primarily ‘Oliver Newman’, Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. But Southey was also struggling with A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[21] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832) and his unfinished ‘History of Portugal’ in particular. BACK

[22] Southey decided against publishing Elton Hamond’s writings. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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