1369. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 4 October 1807

1369. Robert Southey to Walter Scott, 4 October 1807 ⁠* 

My dear Scott

Queen Orraca [1]  is on her way to you, but taking a very roundabout road for the sake of a frank. I thank you for spreading her fame, & marvel at your marvellous memory.

I thank you also for what you say concerning Constable. [2]  It is certain that no man who gets any credit at all by his writings can get less money by them than I do, but in this it must be the book-buying & not the bookselling animal that is in fault. It does not seem probable that Constable can have more means of pushing a book than Our Fathers which are in the Row have, & unless he could make more by me than they do, I could not make more by him. The truth is that all my books, except those early works of which the copy right is gone, sell badly. I sold to Longman the first edition of Thalaba [3]  (of 1000 copies) for 115 £. this was seven years ago, & ver between two & three hundred are still upon hand. I let him print Madoc [4]  upon terms no better than they grant to an untried author, that of sharing the eventual profits: in the course of two years my share has been five & twenty pounds. – Half my time is employed in writing reviewals for the Annual, [5]  translating romances & such sort of unworthy work to eke out a very scanty income. Assuredly I could in that por quantity of time which is thus employed every year, produce such a poem as Thalaba, but seven hundred copies would be seven years in selling. Were my income sufficient this would signify nothing, – I should do this <it> for pleasure, be perfectly satisfied with the fame I get, & care nothing for profit. – There is no hardship in this sacrifice of half my time, – any profession would require as much or more, & tho any profession would be far more lucrative, as long as I have enough I am contented, & more than contented.

You may see by this statement that Constable overrates the utility of a connection with me, – which must be of more consequence to Longman than it could be to him, because I bear so large a part in the Annual Review. – I have however about a thousand lines by me of a poem called The Curse of Kehama, of which Hindoo superstition is the basis, as the Mohammedan fault was the basis of Thalaba. It is written like Thalaba, with this difference that there is a frequent intermixture of rhymes, – my design beg being to buoy up by rhyme those parts in which there was least passion. If compleated it would extend to the same length, – that is about 6000 lines, with about the same proportion of notes. What would he give me for an edition of this poem were I to finish it, the form & number of the edition <being> of course at his option? If his offer tempted me to proceed, I would communicate it to Longman – (to whom I should consider myself so far bound,) & give him the refusal of it at that price. On his refusal it should be Constables. [6]  – I had formed an intention of going thro all the most remarkable mythologies, & building up a romance upon each; & had conceived the stories & collected materials for most of them.

If the romance you mention be the old Poema del Cid edited by Sanchez [7]  (as I suppose it to be) I have it, & have made great use of it. This you would perhaps have the goodness to enquire for me. There are two books which I should be very glad to meet with & which possibly Mr Frere [8]  may possess. the Libro de los quarenta cantos by Alonso de Fuentes, [9]  & a poem called los famosos hechos del Cid by Diego Ximenez de Aillon. [10]  I should much <like> to see his translation, of which both my brother & Lady Holland have said much to me. What I have done with the poem has been to weave into the chronicle all the additional circumstances of picture & costume which are to be found it in. This is perfectly justifiable, for the poem is unquestionably the elder, & is in great part the obvious source of the chronicle. – My ballads may fitly appear in the appendix at your suggestion [11] 

Wordsworth is at Grasmere & has been there for some months. The defects of his last volumes seen to be more felt than their beauties. I hear many persons speak of the few foolish pieces there <with dislike,> & scarcely any body with admiration of the sonnets, which are in the very highest strain of poetry. [12]  He is probably compleating his Recluse. [13]  – I am labouring upon the History of Brazil & Paraguay, which will be ready to go in to the press by the time the Cid comes out of it. [14]  Should the court of Portugal remove to that fine country as it is to be wished it may, this work will have <excite> a great temporary interest. My manuscript materials are very extensive & very valuable.

Henry is in Portugal. Mrs Southey joins me in respects to Mrs Scott.

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

October 4. 1807.



* Address: To/ Walter Scott Esqr/ Ashesteel/ near/ Selkirk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Watermark: shield/ 1803/ T BOTFIELD
Endorsement: Robert Southey/ November 1807/ 4th Octr
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 3876. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Wilfred Partington (ed.), The Private Letter-books of Sir Walter Scott: Selections from the Abbotsford Manuscripts (London, 1930), pp. 73–75. BACK

[1] ‘Queen Urraca and the Five Martyrs of Morocco’, published in in the Morning Post in early September 1803, in the Iris, 3 November 1804, in English Minstrelsy. Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors; with some Original Pieces hitherto unpublished (2 vols, Edinburgh, 1810), in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (Edinburgh, 1810), in Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). BACK

[2] Archibald Constable (1774–1827; DNB), the Edinburgh publisher of Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) and Marmion (1807). BACK

[3] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[4] Madoc (1805). BACK

[5] The Annual Review. BACK

[6] The Curse of Kehama was published by Longman in 1810. BACK

[7] Tomás Antonio Sánchez de Uribe (1723–1802) edited the Poema del Cid in his Colección de poesías castellanas anteriores al siglo XV (1779–1790). BACK

[8] J. H. Frere (1769–1846; DNB): poet, diplomat, Hispanist, Frere had parodied Southey’s radical ballads in ‘The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-grinder’ in the Antijacobin (1797). Three of Frere’s translations from the Poema del Cid were appended to Southey’s edition of the Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[9] Alonso de Fuentes (dates unknown) published the chivalric romances Libro de los quarenta cantos in 1550. BACK

[10] Diego Ximénez de Ayllón (1530–1590), author of Los famosos y heroicos hechos del invencible y esforzado caballero, honra y flor de las Españas, el Cid Ruy Díaz de Bivar (1568). BACK

[11] Southey’s ballads were not included in an appendix. BACK

[12] In Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes (1807). BACK

[13] Wordsworth’s never completed magnum opus. BACK

[14] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

Places mentioned

Grasmere (Dove Cottage) (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)