1094. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 August [1805]

1094. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 August [1805] ⁠* 

August 20. Keswick

My dear friend

You have rescued me from Mr Norgate, whose criticasterisms have long annoyed me in the Monthly Magazine, & in the Annual. [1]  I thank you as much for what he has left undone, as for what you have done. [2] 

I assent to about half of what you say, – to the sink of interest where there ought to have been a swell, – & to the want of ornamental patches. I dissent from the charge of levelness of manner, which seems to be less applicable to Madoc than to any poem long poem that ever was written. In my judgement the manner always accommodates itself to the matter, rising & falling with the subject.

The alterations which I feel disposed to make are these. to give all the odes in lyrical measures. to make Erillyab put Amalahta to death with her own hand, & so get rid of that the last part of that attack upon the women which is very bad [3]  – & to invent a new catastrophe in place of the two last sections which shall throw the interest still upon Madoc instead of transferring it to Yuhidthiton [4]  – this will not be easy but it must be done. lastly if it be possible I will give up the Lake, because it too forcibly reminds the reader of Mexico & Cortes. [5]  The subject will always be a bad one, but still the poem is worth any pains that I can bestow upon it.

I must write another, upon some subject chosen more maturely. England affords no story – I go therefore to Spain or Portugal, if possible. At present Pelayo is my favourite personage. I hesitate between his history (which offers admirable characters ready made in Florinda, Count Julian, the renegade Archbishop & Rodrigo in his hermit state –) [6]  between the Deluge which might be very rabbinical & jacobinical, – & lastly Mohammed – him I should regard philosophically, & take Ali for the hero, but against this it seems an insuperable objection that no wish for the successful event can be raised, or attempted to be raised. [7]  Con over these stories & tell me your thoughts.

You & I continue to be the Gog & Magog [8]  of the Annual Review – & a pretty rabble they are who come in our train. take <away> our articles & the scientific ones (which upon the maxim of omne ignotum &c [9]  I suppose to be good) & nothing remains but dullness & meanness – praise which is water-gruel, & censure which is sour small beer. Wordsworth who admires & reverences the intellectual power & the knowledge which you every where & always display, – & who wishes to see you here as much as I do, – frets over your barbarisms of language, which I labour to excuse – because there is no cure for them.

Burnett is coming back from Poland, & will make his way immediately to me. I have a long letter from which it appears, that he leaves the Count for some unexplained reasons – possibly he has been looking out for a Polish wife, at least something of this kind may very reasonably be inferred. he talks of his complaint & suspects adhesion of the diaphragm or schirrous liver – from no other symptoms than because he loves drinking & d[MS torn] not love employment. he will bring home with him some German, & we will try to get out of him a book about Poland to get him some money, but I fear sadly that there will be very little found in him for the purpose, & that he will be just as hopeless as ever. He means to put himself under my care, & I will labour to teach him reviewing & to keep him in good spirits.

I look with a poachers eye at your account of Lessing & want its conclusion – because Nathan lies on my Annual shelf. [10]  Harry is dancing at Carlisle. he talks of writing. – I want a stir made about the sailors. Government is indemnifying the merchants whose property suffered in Spain by giving them all the Spanish prizes taken before a certain day. by this xxxx Tom loses 2000 £. I am trying to get xxxx Stuart to take up the matter in the Courier – if he be not sold body & soul he will do this to oblige me, & if the newspapers can be set well to work it seems a thing plan out of which the ministry might be shamed or persuaded [11] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 26 Aug
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4874. 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. 87–90. BACK

[1] Thomas Starling Norgate (1772–1859; DNB), who reviewed for the Analytical Review, the Monthly Magazine and the Annual Review. BACK

[2] Norgate contributed reviews of literature for the Monthly Magazine from 1797–1806, but there were a few exceptions written by Taylor, which included a review of Southey’s Madoc (1805). This appeared in the Monthly Magazine, 19 (July 1805), 656–658. See David Chandler, ‘“A Sort of Bird’s Eye View of the British Land of Letters”: “The Monthly Magazine” and Its Reviewers, 1796–1811’, Studies in Bibliography, 52 (1999), 169–179. BACK

[3] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 16. Erillyab, Queen of the Hoaman tribe in Madoc; Amalahta, her son, disloyal to her. BACK

[4] Yuhidthiton is the Aztec ruler in Madoc (1805). On the history of the poem’s drafting and revision, see the editor’s introduction to volume II of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[5] In Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 25, the lake battle that takes place between Madoc’s men and the Aztec tribe has its precedent in accounts of the attack by Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley (1485–1547) on Mexico-Tenochtitlán (New Mexico) during the Spanish conquest of America. Southey’s proposed alterations to the poem were not carried out. BACK

[6] This would become the subject-matter of Southey’s poem Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). On the history, and its development into the plot of the poem, see the editor’s introduction to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1811–1838, gen. eds Tim Fulford and Lynda Pratt, 4 vols (London, 2012), II. BACK

[7] The last two publishing projects never materialised. BACK

[8] Menacing and remote lands, enemies of Israel and God’s people, in Revelation 20. 7–10. In British legend, giants. BACK

[9] The complete maxim is ‘Omne Ignotum Pro Magnifico Est’. The Latin translates as ‘All that is unknown seems magnificent’. BACK

[10] William Taylor’s translation of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), Nathan der Weise (1779), was published as Nathan the Wise; a Dramatic Poem in Five Acts in 1805. Southey reviewed it in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 634–639. BACK

[11] In December 1804, the naval ship HMS Amelia, of which Thomas Southey was a lieutenant, had captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. It was customary for naval officers to be allotted a share of the value of ships and cargo captured in armed conflict, but in this case the prize money was withheld because the ships were captured before war was officially declared. Southey took up his brother’s cause to have his share reinstated. It was presumably Southey’s influence that caused The Courier to publish a paragraph supporting the sailors’ claim to the prize-money on Saturday 24 August 1805. This was followed by a longer defence of their position in The Courier on 31 August 1805 under the title ‘Indemnification to the Spanish Merchants’. BACK


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