3629. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 8 February 1821

3629. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 8 February 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 8 Feby. 1821

I have this day received your Latin volume, & in cutting open the leaves (while the other contents of the parcel are left unexamined) I find my own name is mentioned in prose & verse in that manner which brings with it the greatest gratification at present, & will bear with it the greatest weight hereafter. [1]  – The copy which you de intended for my Uncle is sent to me, x but I shall soon have an opportunity of transmitting it to him; – & there is a packet of the same shape & size directed to Wordsworth, which I guess to have the same contents, & which will be despatched to him tomorrow.

I am printing my History of the Peninsular War. [2]  And I am endeavouring to find how to send you a poem which will be published in about a fortnight, the title is A Vision of Judgement: – the personage brought to judgement is the late King, & the verse is a metre constructed in imitation of the hexameter. [3]  The principle of adaption is that, as by the Germans, the trochee is used for the spondee, with the farther alteration of employing any foot of two or three syllables in the first place in the verse (for the sake of beginning with a short syllable) & occasionally, but with a rarer license, in the second, third or fourth place. I have satisfied my own ear, & that of every person, learned or unlearned upon whom the measure has as yet been tried. There is no one <of> whose opinion I stand so much in doubt, as of yours, who for you have made yourself “an antique Roman” [4]  in these things: – take however the opening of the poem.

Twas at that sober hour when the light of day is receding,
And from surrounding things the hues wherewith day had adornd them
Fade, like the hopes of youth, till the beauty of earth is departed.
Pensive, but <tho’> not in thought, I stood at the window, beholding
Mountain & lake & vale; the valley disrobed of its verdure,
Derwent retaining yet from eve a glassy reflection,
Where his expanded breast, then still & smooth as a mirror,
Under the woods reposed; the hills that calm & majestic,
Lifted their heads in the silent sky, from far Glaramara,
Bleacrag & Maidenmawr, to Grizedal & westermost Withop.
Dark & distinct they rose; the clouds had gatherd above them
High in the middle air, huge, purple, pillowy masses,
While in the west beyond was the last pale tint of the twilight; –
Green as a stream in the glen whose pure & chrysolite waters
Flow oer a schistous bed, & serene as the age of the righteous.
Earth was hushd & still; all motion & sound were suspended;
Neither man was heard, bird, beast, nor humming of insect
Only the voice of the Greta, heard only when all is silence.
Pensive I stood & alone, the hour & the scene had subdued me,
And as I gazed in the West, where infinity seemd to be open,
Yearnd to be free from time, & felt that this life is a thraldom.
Thus as I stood, the bell which awhile from its warning had rested
Sent forth its sound again, toll, toll thro the silence of evening.
Tis a deep dull tone that is heavy & mournful at all times,
For it tells of mortality always; but heavier this day
Fell on the conscious ear its deeper & mournfuller imports
Yea in the heart it sunk; for this was the day when the herald
Breaking his wand, should proclaim that George our King was departed
Thou art released, I cried; thy soul is deliverd from bondage!
Thou who hast lain so long in mental & visual darkness
Thou art in yonder Heaven; – thy soul is in light & in glory!
Come & behold! methought a startling voice from the twilight
Answerd. &c –  [5] 

You have here a sample of the measure; – the poem is long enough for any the reader to become accustomed to it, & lose the first sense of its strangeness It is something more than 600 lines. I expect a hurricane of abuse, – hurricane-like from all quarters: for among the Worthies of the late reign I have placed neither Pitt nor Fox. [6]  The spirits whom I have confronted with the King are Wilkes, Junius & Washington. [7]  If you can tolerate the measure, the rest will be sufficiently in accord with your feelings. I shall see if I can get a copy sent to you thro the Foreign Office.

My family thank God, are well, – but I have recently sustained a great shock in the death of my poor friend Nash, who was with me at Como, [8]  & who at home & abroad had spent more than one year out of the last four with me. – My little boy thrives, & is a fine creature. These are such precarious blessings that I hardly do not enquire concerning yours without some degree of fear? –

Your letter was inserted in the Times. [9]  Some parts of it you would have altered if you had seen fair statements of the case. [10]  The madness is now abating; [11]  still this is the time for the Catholics to attempt the reestablishment of their religion, [12]  for if the people of England chuse to have such a Queen, they cannot possibly object to the Whore of Babylon. [13]  Our ministers want decision & firmness, but I believe it is not possible for men to act with better intentions, nor more uprightly. The Whigs are acting as basely as they did in the days of Titus Oates. [14] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre_/ Pisa/ Italy
Postmarks: PAID/ 12 FE 12/ 1821; F/ 106/ 21; [partial] 28 FEBBRA
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 D.32 MS 36. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 470–471. BACK

[1] Landor’s Idyllia Heroica Decem Phaleuciorum Unum Partim jam Primo Partim Iterum atq Tertio Edit Savagius Landor (Pisa, 1820), no. 1598 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. It contained two poems addressed to Southey: ‘Ad Sutheium’ (p. 123), and ‘Ad Sutheium Quum Interciderant Epistolae’ (p. 157). The first poem concerned the death of Herbert Southey. Southey returned the compliment by quoting from Landor’s book (p. 197) in A Vision of Judgement (London, 1821), pp. xix–xx. BACK

[2] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

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

[4] Hamlet, Act 5, scene 2, line 374. Landor, in his reply of March 1821, announced that Southey’s Vision had made him ‘a convert to the measure’, John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, p. 471. BACK

[5] A Vision of Judgement (1821), Canto 1, lines 1–33. BACK

[6] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806, who along with Fox was excluded from the tenth canto of A Vision of Judgement (1821), ‘The Worthies of the Georgian Age’. BACK

[7] John Wilkes (1725–1797; DNB), radical journalist and politician, condemned in A Vision of Judgement (1821), Canto 5, lines 35–57; and the unknown author of the anti-government ‘Junius’ Letters, published in the Public Advertiser, 21 January 1769–21 January 1772, criticised in A Vision of Judgement (1821), Canto 5, lines 58–69. In contrast, A Vision of Judgement (1821), Canto 6, lines 17–22, flatteringly compared George Washington (1732–1799; President of the United States 1789–1797), to: Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator (c. 280–203 BC), defender of Rome against Carthage; Aristides (530–468 BC), Athenian statesman; Solon (c. 638–558 BC), lawgiver of Athens; and Epaminondas (418–362 BC), Theban general. BACK

[8] During his continental tour Southey had visited Landor at Como in Italy on 17–20 June 1817, in company with Nash and Senhouse. BACK

[9] See Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 29 October 1820, Letter 3546. Landor’s letter had appeared in The Times on 4 December 1820. It related to the conduct of Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, during the time she was living in Como. In it, Landor insisted, ‘whatever I may have heard relating to the Queen, I know nothing positive, and never made a single inquiry that either could inculpate or acquit her in the cause now pending’. The letter had reached The Times via Landor’s friend and mentor Samuel Parr (1747–1825; DNB), clergyman, schoolmaster, writer, Whig and supporter of Queen Caroline. BACK

[10] In November 1820 Landor had sent Southey a copy of his letter on Caroline of Brunswick, asking him to send it to the Courier, John Forster, Walter Savage Landor. A Biography, 2 vols (London, 1869), I, pp. 466–467. Southey, who disagreed with what it said and who took a stance that was violently opposed to Caroline, refused to do so and suppressed it; see Southey to Herbert Hill, 8 January 1821, Letter 3602. BACK

[11] i.e. the public agitation surrounding government attempts to deprive Caroline of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. The Bill of Pains and Penalties that would have accomplished this was withdrawn after its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 10 November 1820, when the government majority of only nine votes had made it very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. BACK

[12] Catholic Emancipation, to which Southey was violently opposed. BACK

[13] Revelation 17–18; the ‘Whore of Babylon’ was a commonplace way of referring to the Roman Catholic Church in Protestant polemics. BACK

[14] The Whigs had supported Titus Oates (1649–1705; DNB) in his fraudulent claims of a ‘Popish Plot’ (1678–1681) against Protestantism in order to discredit the Stuart monarchy. BACK

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