1050. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 March [1805]

1050. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 March [1805] ⁠* 

Dear Wynn,

You will perceive that this poem [1]  is much altered – & rhyme very frequently introduced. Of this arbitrary use or rejection of rhyme precedents are to be found in the old dramatic writers – particularly in a pastoral of Daniels. [2]  But I rather suspect that like the Old-man & his ass [3]  – I shall please nobody, & that you & every body else will say this is neither one thing nor the other.

Yet it should seem reasonable rejecting rhymes as a necessary to admit it as an occasional ornament. & if this were done in such parts as require ornament because the circumstances are less interesting – the xxxx feeling less empassioned & the language in consequence in a lower key, I think the mark would be hit. – as I would willingly admire those ornamental buildings &c at Stowe [4]  which would be abominations by the side of Derwentwater. [5]  That this is done in this specimen I cannot pretend – for xx in correcting the poem I have chiefly rhymed such parts xx <as> did not satisfy me before; tho perhaps this may not be altogether wide of what I ought to be done – if xxx the rhyme gives such passages the finish which they wanted.

I am disposed to go on thus – chiefly because I shall the more easily avoid any mannerism – any too frequent use of the same phraseology or turn of syntax. & because there are some parts of the story which rhyme would very much embellish & others which it would ruin. However your opinion of the experiment will weigh with me. Tell me if the rhyme surprizes you when you find it, or if you feel at a fault when you lose it.

There are about 600 lines more written but uncorrected. they do not require so much alteration as this first part because there is more of passion in them & dramatic character. If I get thro them to my liking they will set me off. & I may perhaps fall to in earnest & run thro the poem. You know my plan to exhibit all the fit mythologies in this form. After this there will remain the Runic the old Persian. The classical – which may be considered almost as new ground so little have its recondite parts been brought forward, & perhaps the Japanese, the Jewish as romanceified by the Rabbis, & the Catholic in all its glory. – It is however somewhat discouraging to think that xxx more is to be got for a Farce than I can hope for half a dozen such poems as Thalaba. [6] 

God bless you

R. S.

Sunday March 24


* Address: C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Wynnstay/ Wrexham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales MS 4812D. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 377–378. BACK

[1] The Curse of Kehama, of which Southey was sending a draft to Wynn. For the text and the drafts, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works of 1793–1810, gen ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), IV. BACK

[2] Samuel Daniel (1562–1619; DNB), whose poem, Hymens Trivmph. A Pastorall Tragicomædie (1623) employs a stanza in which a rhyming couplet is preceded and succeeded by unrhymed lines. BACK

[3] In the verse tale ‘The Old Man, his Son, and the Ass’, frequently collected in the eighteenth-century as one of Aesop’s (c. 620–564 BC) fables, a father, going to market, is criticised by passers-by whether he rides his donkey, lets his son ride it, or lets the donkey walk unridden. Eventually he and his son carry the donkey, only to lose their grip as they cross a river and the donkey is drowned. BACK

[4] Stowe House and Gardens near Buckingham were designed for Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1675–1749; DNB), and his descendants over the eighteenth century. Among the architects and landscape gardeners who worked there were Sir John Vanbrugh (1664–1726; DNB), William Kent (1685–1748; DNB), Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783; DNB), Robert Adam (1728–1792; DNB) and Sir John Soane (1753–1837; DNB). BACK

[5] The lake near Southey’s home of Keswick in the Lake District. BACK

[6] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was the first of a series of epic romances that Southey intended to write illustrating different mythological and religious civilisations. BACK