3712. Robert Southey to William Westall, 12 August 1821

3712. Robert Southey to William Westall, 12 August 1821⁠* 

Netherhall. Maryport. 12 Aug. 1821

My dear Westall

Your letter followed me to this place, whereby one day was lost on the road, & a second in consequence of the hour at which the post arrives here.

Of the many things which I have to say, let me begin by thanking you for your new number; which is a very good one, & for the two marvellous proofs; marvellous they may rightly be called, because the effect in both is so perfectly produced. [1]  I should heartily wish that the Journal in which your prints are called catchpenny [2]  were prosecuted, if it was not for the vexation & expence which you would incur in the course of a prosecution: for law proceedings occasion almost as much evil to a plaintiff as to a defendant. There is however a sort of malice which defeats itself, & this stupid criticism is of that kind. I am very glad you find your account in having learnt to engrave, but indeed the first samples made your success sure. I do not doubt your succeeding with the coral reef, [3]  nor indeed in any thing, where what you aim at representing is within the reach of the art.

And now concerning the plates. Much as I should be gratified by seeing some illustrations of Roderick, from your hand & your brothers, yet when you tell me that the whole speculation rests upon yourself, I cannot but intreat you to weigh the risk well, before you venture so large a sum upon it. [4]  The fact that Longman would not venture upon such a speculation is some presumption against the probability of its success. Morever the poem no longer comes under the useful description of “something new”. About 6000 copies have been sold: [5]  & of the possessors of those copies, many who would have bought the prints with the book, or while the impression of the book was fresh, will not buy them now when the volumes are bound, & laid to repose upon the shelf. You see I am arguing like the Devils Advocate in a cause of Canonization, against my own desires. [6]  But indeed you must not rexly upon the reputation of the poem; the question is whether there are persons enough who collect your brothers works, to cover the expence of such an undertaking; for the main dependence must be upon such purchasers. If you continue in your purpose, I will propose any thing which you desire to Longman, & do what I can to promote the sale among my own friends, but this is not much. The French translation which has been sent me is in octavo. I do not know the size of the other. - [7]  The same post which brought your letter last night, brought one from my brother telling me that Alexander the Ventriloquist [8]  has been looking for me in London, with an introduction from a member of the Dutch Institute whose wife has translated Roderick into Dutch. [9] 

As soon as we return home which will be either on Saturday or Monday next, I will see if there be any armour of Rodericks age which Edith can trace: I think can find some among German monuments & great seals. <But that which was used in England at the same time, would be equally proper. I believe there was little or no difference.> I like the notion of landscape subjects, treated by your hand. With regard to other subjects, your brother is much better able to determine upon what situations are best suited to his art, than I can be: the error which I should be likely to commit is that of mistaking dramatic passion for scenic effect.

Thank you for the pains you have taken about Mrs Keenan. [10]  Her husband certainly was not a man to be respected, when he was known. [11] 

I am here with Edith, her mother & Cuthbert at the house of my friend & fellow traveller [12] Senhouse, for the double purpose of visiting [MS missing] him, & giving Edith & Cuthbert the advantage [MS missing] of sea bathing.

I want to send a proof set of your Lake Views [13]  to America. Will you have the goodness to send the four numbers (& the subsequent ones as they appear) to this direction, George Ticknor Esqre – to the care of Samuel Williams Esqre. 13. Finsbury Square: – they will then regularly find their way to Boston. [14]  And I will desire Bedford to turn his horses head some Exchequer holy day in your direction & pay for them, or to send the payment.

The two Ediths [15]  desire their kindest remembrances

God bless you

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

The Americans have made me a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, [16]  – the greatest literary honour that America has to bestow.


* Address: To/ William Westall Esqre/ 19. Mornington Place/ Hampstead Road
MS: Massachusetts Historical Society. ALS; 4p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] It is not clear which prints Westall had sent to Southey, but they might have been proof impressions from his Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick (1820) and his new publication, Four Views of Windermere (1821), advertised in Lancaster Gazette, 16 June 1821. BACK

[2] William Parry’s (1790–1855; DNB) Journal for the Voyage of Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific; Performed in the Years 1819–20 (1821) contained 20 plates derived from sketches by Westall. A notice of the book had described these plates as ‘paltry, catch-penny things’, The London Literary Gazette, and A Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. (19 May 1821), 314. BACK

[3] This reference is unclear. Westall had contributed plates to A Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), including ‘View of the Reef-Wreck Bank Taken at Low Water’. BACK

[4] The proposal was for Richard and William Westall to produce illustrations for Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814); these could then be inspected and purchased by readers and bound into their copies of the poem. The result was a set of engravings based on drawings by Richard Westall (1765–1836; DNB) and entitled Illustrations of Roderick, the Last of the Goths. A Poem, by Robert Southey, Esq. from the Drawings of R. Westall R.A. (1824). BACK

[5] This figure was based on all of the first four editions of Roderick, the Last of the Goths printed between 1814 and 1816 having sold out, but did not take any account of sales of the fifth edition of 1818. BACK

[6] In the canonisation process in the Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith is a canon lawyer, whose role is to argue against the canonisation of the candidate. BACK

[7] Pierre Hippolyte Amillet de Sagrie (1785–1830), Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (1821), no. 2700 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library; and Antoine André Brugière, Baron de Sorsum, Roderick, le Dernier des Goths (1820), no. 2697 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Both were in octavo. Southey had been sent the version by Sagrie. BACK

[8] Alexandre Vattemare (1796–1864), celebrated French ventriloquist who used the stage name ‘Monsieur Alexandre’. Trained as a surgeon, he was refused a diploma after making cadavers appear to speak. Between 1815 and 1835, he visited 550 cities with an act that involved him staging plays in which he voiced all the characters. In later life he developed the first system by which museums and libraries could loan items from their collections to each other. BACK

[9] Bilderdijk was a former President (1809–1811) of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Science, Letters and Arts (founded 1808), to which Southey had been elected an Associate of the Second Class in 1817. His wife was Katherina Bilderdijk, née Schweickhardt (1776–1830), whose translation Rodrigo de Goth, Koning van Spanje was published in 1823–1824, no. 2701 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] Frances Keenan (d. 1838), wife of John Keenan. Southey had first met her in Exeter in 1799. She and her daughter had recently stayed with the Southeys at Keswick. Westall had made enquiries about whether she was entitled to any payments from the Artists’ Benevolent Fund (founded in 1810); see Southey to William Westall, 7 July 1821, Letter 3701. BACK

[11] The Irish portrait painter John Keenan (d. 1819), who had painted Southey in 1802. BACK

[12] Senhouse had accompanied Southey on his May–August 1817 continental tour. BACK

[13] Either Westall’s Views of the Lake and of the Vale of Keswick (1820), for which Southey had written an introduction, or Westall’s Four Views of Windermere (1821). Subscribers could send for a proof and then sign up for some or all of the forthcoming set. By this means, artists and engravers reduced some of the risk entailed in the high upfront costs of printing high-quality engravings. BACK

[14] Samuel Williams (d. 1841), born in Salem, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard, had come to England in 1796 and established himself as a banker. He provided advice and support for American merchants and tourists, allowing the latter to collect mail at his London residence. After his firm, Williams & Welles, was forced into bankruptcy, Williams returned to America in 1828. He died a poor man in Boston in 1841. BACK

[16] The Massachusetts Historical Society (founded 1791) is the oldest historical society in the United States. It is based in Boston, and collects and preserves documents on American history. Southey had been elected a member. BACK

People mentioned

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Netherhall (mentioned 1 time)