1102. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 2 September 1805

1102. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 2 September 1805 ⁠* 

Harry & the women are at a ball. I have swallowed a solitary supper meal & am writing after supper – a thing which I never did half a <dozen> times in my life.

You seem to have mistaken my meaning – do not suppose that I am not quite satisfied with the quantum [1]  & quite gratified with the quomodo [2]  of your praise, – that I like mere praise – or that I dislike any <all> censure. All I wish is that you & I should not differ about what the faults are. [3]  I perceive a want of jewelry, – which is remediable; – a bad story which is incurable. clumsy butchery in the Section Goervyl, [4]  – & a catastrophe which transfers the readers interest from the hero to the enemy, [5]  both faults which I will eradicate. I do not perceive the levelness of manner. On the contrary I think the diversity greater than in any other such poem: that 1. many parts are in a loose dramatic verse, 2. some in a high declamatory tone, 3. some of a steady sober elevation, 4. others mere verse without poetry, aiming at nothing more than to carry on the tale with as little loss of time as possible, & others 5. the fewest of course & the best, where either the personage or the poet are under the influence of passion. I have figured them to specify instances. – 1. the book about Bangor. the scene with Goagan. the first introduction of Neolin. 2. the festival of the dead. 3. The opening of the Gorsedd: the opening of the second part after the first paragraph. 4. Cadwallons narrative & most of the narrated narrations – i.e. when any body tells a story. the last class need not be enumerated – for they lie in single sentences chiefly. xxxx – the scene with Llewellyn is the finest passage in the whole. [6] 

Now loveliness of manner I think the characteristic of Leonidas [7]  & Virgil, [8]  the one never rising, the xxxx other never dismounting from his stilts. I do not think the language or habit of thought & expression any ways Spenserian, tho I love Spenser above all other poets & have him in my heart of hearts –

Having said this much, you will perceive what my animadversions would be on your critique – which I should like to see & animadvert upon. If you will desire King Arthur (I have a wicked way of giving nicknames) – to send it by twopenny post to Rickman – St Stephens Court – New Palace Yard – he will frank it here, & I will thro him frank it back. – Could you suppose that I should send interpolate any thing for insertion?

The next thing in your letter is that I could thro Mr May get into the Monthly, [9]  – by what means? for this is dark as Erebus [10]  or as Maurices Indian Antiquities [11]  to me. Explain this to me & I will write to John May quam citissimé [12]  – or if you be assured of it write to him to save time, & Wordsworth will gladly do the thing & find fault as honestly as possible.

Joan of Arc is almost out of the press – else I should have been very glad of your book. [13]  perhaps I am not sorry that you did not offer a temptation to my conscience, which at the expence of my time.

For Noah [14]  you will see how acceptable your advice is when I tell you that the book of Enoch has been for this very purpose a desideratum with me for five years, & that I mean at Edinburgh if possible to get a sight of the fragment which Bruce translated. [15] 

I never saw Ohtheres voyage [16]  – but will as soon as I can. there is a good story in Saxo Grammaticus of the voyage of Thorkill, [17]  wherein much of the Odyssey is parodied, & some of the romances forestalled.

When Coleridge returns he shall read Lessings Letter to me. [18]  When I have learned German I will read every thing in the language relative to Portugal myself. [19]  It is my plan when peace comes to go for a year into Holland to learn Dutch & buy books &c – & there, to make a book of memorandums to pay the extra expence which I cannot afford. German will then be easily added by an easy removal of residence. I shall eat herrings, drink Rhenish, & be very happy.

Did I ever send you my dreams about the Deluge [20]  – for I dreamt much about it when on my voyage home from Lisbon. The subject has been long my favourite, – because I believe it quite enough to touch it reverently. I disbelieve just so much as to rationalize it, & the very foundation of the event being the xx corruption of mankind I could xx make it jacobinical to my very hearts wish. Enoch & the Talmuds would furnish glorious notes & help a grand machinery, & my philosophy should be Burnetts with the help of Whistons Comet. [21]  – Where is your paper on Jude? [22]  Whether this Deluge-scheme ever ripen or not, I design to get as much Rabbinical learning as can be got without learning Hebrew – a language of which I have totally forgotten the very little I ever knew. I have a notion that the Oriental tongue of our early romances came to us from the Jews – not the Arabians. this hint was thrown out in the review of Ledwich last year, [23]  & it pleased me to see that Ellis  [24]  has had the same thought concerning the intercourse between Europe & the East kept up by European Moors & Jews I have some facts to adduce in my history –

God bless you –

R Southey.

Sept 2. 1805.


* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr. Esqr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 14 October
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4851. 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. 93–97. BACK

[1] Meaning ‘amount’. BACK

[2] Meaning ‘manner’. BACK

[3] Southey is referring to his poem Madoc (1805), which Taylor reviewed for the Monthly Magazine, 19 (July 1805), 656–658. BACK

[4] Madoc (1805), Part 2, Book 16. BACK

[5] The poem ends with Yuhidthiton, the remaining leader of the defeated and chastened Aztecas, leading his people into exile, rather than with Madoc, the Welsh colonist, presiding over a new American civilisation. These alterations were not incorporated. For an account of the publication history of Madoc, see the editor’s introduction to Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), II. BACK

[6] Llewelyn ‘the Great’ (c. 1173–1240), Prince of Gwynedd and effective ruler of Wales in his later years. The scene Southey refers to, Madoc’s meeting with Llewelyn on Bardsey, occurs in Part 1, Book 13 of Madoc (1805). For the full text of the poem see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt (London, 2004), II. BACK

[7] Richard Glover (1712–1785; DNB), Leonidas, A Poem (1737). BACK

[8] Southey had previously compared Madoc favourably with the revered Latin epic, the Aeneid (19 BC) by Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 BC). See letters 1032 and 1057 of this edition. BACK

[9] Taylor had suggested in a letter to Southey (dated 26 August 1805, in J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 90–93) that his friend John May could be influential in publicising Madoc in the Monthly Review. A review of Madoc was published in this periodical, by John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), but it was a hostile one. See Monthly Review, n. s. 48 (October 1805), 113–122. BACK

[10] The Greek god of darkness who dwelt in the underworld. BACK

[11] Thomas Maurice (1754–1824; DNB), assistant keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum, who produced large works on Indian religion, including Indian Antiquities (1793–1800). BACK

[12] Meaning ‘at the soonest’. BACK

[13] The third edition of Southey’s poem Joan of Arc was published in 1806. BACK

[14] Southey’s plan to write a poem on the subject of ‘The Deluge’, which never materialised. BACK

[15] In 1773, the Scottish explorer, James Bruce (1730–1794; DNB) had reported discovering the Book of Enoch on his travels in Africa: ‘Amongst the articles I consigned to the library at Paris was a very beautiful and magnificent copy of the prophecies of Enoch, in large Quarto; another is amongst the books of scripture that I brought home, standing immediately before the book of Job, which is it’s proper place in the Abyssinian Cannon: and a third copy I presented to the Bodleian Library at Oxford’, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–73, 2 vols (2nd edn, 1804), II, p. 422. Southey reviewed this work in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 2–16. BACK

[16] Ohthere [Óttarr] (fl. 871–899; DNB) was a Norwegian explorer who visited the royal court of Wessex during the reign of Alfred the Great (848/9–899). The information he provided on Scandinavia was included in the late ninth-century Old English translation of ‘History Against the Pagans’. This work, originally by the late fourth-, and early fifth-century historian and theologian Paulus Orosius, provides the only source of knowledge about Ohthere and his voyages. BACK

[17] The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150–1220), recounts the voyages of Thorkill in his Gesta Danorum (or ‘Deeds of the Danes’). BACK

[18] Taylor had recommended Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729–1781), Briefe, die Neueste Litteratur Betreffend (or Letters on Modern Literature) (1759–1763) to Southey because one of them mentions a German history of Portugal (Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, II, p. 92). BACK

[19] For Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’, which was never completed. BACK

[20] Southey’s plan to write on this subject never materialised. BACK

[21] William Whiston (1667–1752; DNB) was a natural philosopher and theologian who posited the theory that the biblical flood had been caused by the activity of a divinely guided comet, which had caused the deluge through the condensation of vapours from its tail. In his New Theory of the Earth (1696), he also identified sedimentary rock and marine fossils found in continental areas as vestiges of the flood. His work drew on, and corrected, the work of the natural philosopher Thomas Burnet (c.1635–1715; DNB), in his Theory of the Earth (1684–1690). BACK

[22] Taylor had published a theological article, ‘On the Readings and Writings of Jude’ in the Monthly Magazine, 11 (February 1801), 18–23. BACK

[23] Southey reviewed Edward Ledwich (1738–1823), The Antiquities of Ireland (1804) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 398–413. BACK

[24] George Ellis, Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances (1805) which Southey reviewed in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 536–544. BACK

People mentioned

May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 2 times)
Aikin, Arthur (1773–1854) (mentioned 1 time)
Ellis, George (1753–1815) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)