1046. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 9 March 1805

1046. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 9 March 1805 ⁠* 

Saturday night. March 9. 1805.

My dear friend

Thank you for what you say about Harry at the vacation, & thank you as truly as if your invitation were needful. We stay here the summer – & here he may come if he pleases – or if he does not please it must be his own fault if his finances do not allow him to ramble, or remain. but I suppose he likes Keswick well enough to repeat his visit. – He has a wish to write a History of the Crusades – which I encourage in him as a worthy & adequate object; & if the inclination continue in him shall set him to learn Arabic for the purpose, which he is young enough to do. he will not I think object to begin the language. The subject is happily chosen for his chivalrous feelings, – & for its own splendour & exceeding importance. [1] 

Pray you, do not mention Tom again by the title of Mr. I have Uncles of the name of Mister, – but no brother. & if ever Tom & you should meet under my roof, as by Gods blessing I hope you may, he would meet you with a very unMisterlike sort of feeling, as his brother Harrys best friend; & you would leave him with a great liking for a man who has all the good parts of a Sailor without the bad ones, & enough of the costume without the pedantry: I love Tom dearly. we are near enough of an age to have all brotherly recollections of boy hood, & to have had our first serious feelings in common, to have partaken family distress when Harry was too young to know any thing about it. So that as far as regards all my earliest life & remembrances Tom is to me the last of my family. I do not think that every human being had a more affectionate heart. If he lives he is now on the road to promotion.

Coleridge never began his life of Lessing. [2]  he made very ample collections for the Introduction, which would have been a History of German literature: very ample, for I have seen them. but concerning Lessing nothing was ever written, & in all probability never will. he has certainly given up the intention altogether.

Review Madoc in the Annual. I was in hopes you could have done it in the Critical also. [3]  We have talked here of the facility of writing satire defensively if need were, – only talked, & without the slightest intention of so doing. but if such retaliation were ever provoked from me, & Mr Hunt [4]  should be one of the aggressors – what a happy motto would the old song furnish – a hunting we will go. I hope by this time you have received Madoc. – if it does not get into your hands there I am afraid of being bedaubed with water-gruel by Mrs Barbauld, for whom in spite of reciprocal civilities in all the externals of life, & in spite of all the good that was once in her, I have a dislike personally from instinct, & literarily from reason & feeling & principle.

Would I could send you to another Review! for you like the work, & much as I dislike reviews for the mischief they inevitably do, yet as they will continue to exist, it is of consequence to occupy the posts. Are any of the new ones worth entering into? – for you need only offer & they will jump at such a prize.

Your anecdote of St Cuthbert & the Gout should be sent to my friend Kinglake, [5]  who I suspect will cure ninety nine patients by the practise, & kill the hundredth. [6]  he writes abominably ill, but is a man of sterling sense in all things.

I am historifying totis viribus, [7]  & should any circumstances bring or send my Uncle to England should in all likelihood put my first volume to press next winter. [8]  Me judice [9]  I am a good poet but a better historian, because tho I read other poets & am humbled, I read other historians with a very different feeling. They who have talents want industry or virtue, they who have industry want talents. One writes like a French sensualist, another like a Scotch scoundrel, calculating how to make the most per-sheet with the least expence of labour. one like a slave, another like a fool. Now I know myself to be free from these staminal defects, & feel that when the subject deserves it I write with a poets feeling, without the slightest affectation of style or ornament, going always straight forward to the meaning by the shortest road. My golden rule is to relate every thing, as briefly, as perspicuously, & as rememberably, as possible. – I begin however to feel my brain budding for poetry, having lain fallow since November, – & if I could afford to do it should willingly finish Kehama [10]  – but being like Shakesperes Apothecary lean, & obliged to do what I do not like, [11] ;my ways & means lead me another way, & I am prosing, not altogether against my will, & yet not with my will.

Poor Wordsworth is almost heart-broken by the loss of his brother in the Abergavenny – his best & favourite brother. [12]  I have been twice over with him, & never witnessed such affliction as his & his sisters. – Will you not come up to us before we quit the country that you may see him? – if for no other motive – for soberly & solemnly I do believe that of all the present generation he will leave behind him the most durable & valuable memorials – this I say knowingly of what he has written, hardly expecting credit even from you.

What proportion of your debt from Hamilton [13]  do you recover? I know not what my own is – probably <perhaps> as much more than I expected as yours has proved – & therefore ask to know whether it be worth while to make any xxxxxxx enquiry concerning it. – I love Milton too well to like Bishop Hall. [14]  his style is less pregnant than yours.

God bless you

R Southey.

I have just read Walter Scotts Poem [15]  – with great delight. His phraseology is sometime polluted with modern barbarisms, & xxx sometimes obscure from a sort of unnatural syntax which he seems to like. But it is a delightful poem, & I am ashamed to think that I should speak of its faults which are so infinitesimally little in comparison with its beauties. His conception of story is singularly happy in this as in his ballads. of character there is as much as such limits would admit. his images often good & sometimes, tho rarely, quite excellent. I half envy him one about the foam of a turbid torrent in the 1st canto. [16] 

Longman is instructed to send you Madoc. you cannot wish to see the book – more than I do to know how you like it, for I have many qualms of doubt about it.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 5 Apr
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4850. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 74–79. BACK

[1] This was never completed. BACK

[2] Coleridge’s intention to write the life of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), for which he travelled to Germany and attended the University of Göttingen in 1799, was never achieved. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805) was given a complimentary review by Taylor in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. The poem was negatively reviewed in the Critical Review, ns 7 (1806), 72–83, by Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773–1858). BACK

[4] John Higgs Hunt (1780–1859; DNB) was joint-editor of the Critical Review from 1805–1807, with Joseph Mawman (1763–1827). Southey had been called ‘an egregious poetical coxcomb’ in a review of his Metrical Tales for the Critical Review, 3rd series, 4 (February 1805), 118–121 (118). BACK

[5] Robert Kinglake (1765–1842; DNB), an expert on gout. BACK

[6] Stories of the miraculous cures effected by St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (c. 634–687), both in his lifetime and, after his death by virtue of his relics, abound. BACK

[7] Meaning ‘with all my strength’. BACK

[8] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’ was never completed. BACK

[9] Meaning ‘in my judgement’. BACK

[10] The Curse of Kehama, published 1810. BACK

[11] Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, scene 1, lines 39–56:

‘I do remember an apothecary, –
And hereabouts he dwells, – which late I noted
In tatter’d weeds, with overwhelming brows
… a needy man.’

[12] John Wordsworth (1772–1805), captain of the East Indiaman, the Earl of Abergavenny, went down with his ship on the Shambles rocks off Portland Bill, on 5 February 1805. BACK

[13] Samuel Hamilton (dates unknown), owner of the Critical Review 1799–1804. His departure from the Critical left Southey and Taylor unpaid for reviews they had written. BACK

[14] Joseph Hall (1574–1656; DNB), Bishop of Exeter, later of Norwich. Hall wrote satires in his youth, but after being ordained he turned to devotional and moralistic works, entering, like Milton, the religious controversies of the Commonwealth period. BACK

[15] Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel: A Poem (1805). BACK

[16] ‘Each wave was crested with tawny foam/ Like the mane of a chestnut steed’, Canto 1, stanza 28. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)