1707. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 11 November 1809

1707. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 11 November 1809 ⁠* 

If I had written to my Aunt instead of you, & made no mention of Kehama, [1]  I should have deserved some displeasure, – but the fact is that to you I have always written upon more important subjects, & that I never supposed the they could be a secret having been announced in magazines twelve months ago, & advertised at the end of the last edition of Thalaba, [2]  – which by the bye I ordered to be sent you. It would have given me quite as much pleasure to send the poem to her – as it could possibly give her to hear it, (I am afraid more.) – & I would have transcribed it for her, were it not for want of leisure. But busy as I am, I make a copy for Tom, – which Percival franks to him, – & this gets on more slowly that it ou <ought to do>, – for a sailors life is a very dull one, & Tom has no greater pleasure than in receiving one of these little packets. You know how I am employed, & how much time it would require to transcribe between 4 & 5000 lines. The history of the poem is thus – I began it at Lisbon & brought with me to this place in 1803 about 900 lines which remained untouched from that time till my last journey to the South. I had there some talk with Landor, about my own poem & his. [3]  I told him of this fragment, as a thing laid aside, because I could not live upon praise without pudding, [4]  – & I told him the outline of the story, – which was wild enough to delight him. He said the to me, finish it – & I will print it for you, – this offer stung me to compleat it. I have as much contempt for ordinary praise as for ordinary censure, but you know in what respect I held Landors Gebir, notwithstanding all its obscurity. – & there is not that man living whose praise would gratify me so highly – upon such a subject. As I could not afford to write poetry I resolve to create time for it by rising earlier, – & that resolution I have kept, rising whenever my rest has not been disturbed by the children. time enough to write about twenty lines before breakfast, – & not a single line have I written at any other hours than these. It is not finished, but very nearly so, there will be 24 sections (about the average length of those in Madoc [5] ) & the 23d is begun. Longman is to have it on our usual terms, his advice is that it be printed like Thalaba, [6]  – I am not satisfied that his judgment is right in this case, & shall consult my friends the Scotchmen. [7]  The Poem itself will for some time get me less money than reputation, & less reputation than censure. but time sets all these things to rights. It will not be generally interesting, being of a far wilder character than any thing that has ever yet appeared in prose or rhyme, except such writings as are altogether mythological. But it is written me judice, [8]  with great power, & they who like it at all will admire it very much. The metre is altogether my own, – rhyme in lines of any length & in any arrangement, & with the rhythm of blank verse. The character of the versification has no other resemblance to Scotts than its irregularity, – mine is pitched in a higher key. If it were to be printed in London, where franks are to be had, I would send my Aunt the proofs, sheet by sheet, they would not be worth the postage from Edinburgh.

The journey of Nuno Vallo [9]  is in Harrys hands. I cut it out of the volume that it may be bound seperately, & meant him to translate it for Pinkertons Collection of V & Travels, [10]  – if Pinkerton had not made his Collection as injudiciously as his original work. The Naufragia [11]  certainly throws more light upon S. Africa than any book with which I am acquainted. – There are some books of Labats respecting W. Africa [12]  which I have repeatedly sent for from Cataloguens without success, – the Un. History [13]  refers to them as the main authorities respecting Angola & the adjoining countries – Marchais Voyages which Labat published I have.  [14]  There is the narrative of an Englishman, in Purchas, [15]  who was in captivity among the Gongas of Angola, [16]  – this narrative is often quoted in the Un. History. Purchas is luckily to be reprinted, & then I x Purchas will be to be purchased, – a pun which I dare say he made upon himself poor fellow, for he was a desperate lover of punning.

You may see Azaras maps [17]  (if there be a copy left) at Dulaus, in Soho Square [18]  where there is by far the best collection of foreign books in fxxxx xxx in <that is to be found in> London. One of the partners is an emigrant who was at Lisbon, & used to be a good deal at the Gonnes. I met him the last time I was at Champion Hill, [19]  but I forget his name. There are two good prints of the Tamandua in Azara, & the only view I have ever seen of Buenos Ayres. [20]  My distrust of translations is as great as your own: in this case there was no alternative.

Staunton is a better place than Streatham , which is near enough to London to have all its expences & is heightened, & far enough from it to be out of its advantages of society &c, – the very worst of all possible situations. Your parishioners Messrs Harris & Kemble ought to remember the New Price in their Easter dues. [21]  According to their present mode of proceeding I look every day to see that my old acquaintance MrsOpie has been served with a summons by them for her names-sake. [22]  – I shall be glad to hear that you have taken possession.

My book will not be ready before Xmas, [23]  – for Pople has loitered with it. I must print xx the notes in double columns & in as small a type as can correctly be used, for the sake of diminishing the bulk of the volume. Your sheets had better be compleated & stitched together as a copy in which you will make corrections & emendations. So much interest do I feel in this & the other histories, that if I could afford it, I would do nothing else till the whole series were compleated. The first vol. of the Hist of the Mother Country [24]  will be one of the most amusing books that has ever appeared, – so rich will it be in incident, characteristic anecdote, & matters of customs I believe there must be a supplementary volume concerning Portugueze Africa: [25]  – but of this I shall be better able to judge hereafter.

If you pass near New Cavendish Street, Miss Betham (No 14) will show you the pictures of my son & eldest daughter, as happily taken as possible. there is also a very good likeness of Edith, – my own is more penseroso [26]  than the original, – & does not look like a man who is not merely of a happy, but even of a joyous temperament.


Nov. 11. 1809.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ with Wm Burn Esqr/ 7. George Street/ Hanover Square/ London.
Stamped: [illegible]
Postmark: F/ NOV14/ 1809
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. BACK

[2] The second edition of Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in 1809. BACK

[3] Landor’s poem Gebir (1798), which Southey much admired. BACK

[4] Meaning without earning any money by it. BACK

[5] Southey’s poem Madoc (1805). BACK

[6] Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in the cheaper format of octavo. BACK

[7] The publishers John and James Ballantyne. BACK

[8] Meaning ‘in my own judgement’. BACK

[9] The account by Joao Baptista Lavanha (mid 1550s-1625) of the shipwreck in 1593 of the Santo Alberta off Southern Africa, and the subsequent trek of the survivors under their elected leader Nuno Velho Pereira was published in Naufragia da Nao S. Alberto (1597). BACK

[10] Henry was to translate and abridge travels including Lavanha’s Naufragia da Nao S. Alberto (1597) for John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), compiler of A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World (1808–1814). BACK

[11] See note 17. BACK

[12] Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663–1738), Nouvelle Relation de l’Afrique Occidentale (1728); Relation Historique de l’Ethiopie Occidentale (1732); nos 1578 and 1580 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] See for example The Modern Part of an Universal History, From the Earliest Account of Time, 42 vols (London, 1780–1784), XIII, pp. 150, 240, 265; XVI, pp. 312, 318, 340. BACK

[14] Chevalier Reynaud Des Marchais (dates unknown): French cartographer and navigator who travelled extensively along the west coast of Africa between 1704 and 1727, in the service of the King of France. His maps and manuscripts were published posthumously by Labat in 1730–1731. BACK

[15] Samuel Purchas (c. 1577–1626; DNB), His Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World (1625). BACK

[16] Andrew Battell (fl. 1589–1614), The Strange Adventures of Andrew Battell of Leigh, in Angola and the Adjoining Regions. Between 1590 and c. 1610 the English sailor Andrew Battell lived in Central Africa, first in Angola until 1606/7 and then in Loango. Information about his life there was included in Purchas His Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in all Ages and Places Discovered from the Creation unto the Present (1613), Book 7, chapters 9 and 10. BACK

[17] In Felix Manuel de Azara (1742–1821), Voyages dans l’Amerique Meridionale depuis 1781, jusqu’ en 1801 (1809). Southey eventually owned a copy of this work, no. 90 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[18] A. B. Dulau (dates unknown) and Co., 37 Soho Square. BACK

[19] The Portuguese residence of the Gonnes. BACK

[20] Azara, Voyages dans l’Amerique Meridionale Depuis 1781, Jusqu’ en 1801 (1809). Plate VII of the atlas volume of this work is ‘Le Tamandua noir, variété du Tamandua ordinaire’. Plate XVII is a view of Buenos Aires. BACK

[21] Southey is referring to the ‘Old Price Riots’ of 1809 which were caused by rising prices at the new Theatre at Covent Garden after the previous one had been destroyed by fire. The riots lasted three months, and ended when John Philip Kemble (1757–1823; DNB) the manager of the theatre – in partnership with Thomas Harris (d. 1820; DNB) – was forced to make a public apology and return to the former prices. BACK

[22] The protests were known as the ‘O.P. riots’. BACK

[23] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810). BACK

[24] Southey’s proposed ‘History of Portugal’ which he never completed. BACK

[25] This was never written. BACK

[26] Meaning ‘thoughtful’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Staunton on Wye (mentioned 1 time)
Streatham (mentioned 1 time)