460. Robert Southey to William Taylor [fragment], 8 December 1799

460. Robert Southey to William Taylor [fragment], 8 December 1799 ⁠* 

Kingsdown Parade, Bristol,

Sunday, Dec. 8th, 1799.

My dear Friend,

Do not from my long silence suspect me of negligence. I have been ill–so reduced by a nervous fever as neither to read nor write. On recovery I repaired to Bristol, to seek relief for a worse complaint. My heart is affected, nervously I hope; but pain there, and frequent irregularity in pulsation, convinced me that I ought not to delay obtaining able advice.

My hexameters come to you in a ragged state. I meant to have corrected them with care; but as they are, they may serve as a specimen of what I can do in this way, and it would be foolish to wait till I have leisure for correcting. These liberties I have allowed myself– sometimes a superfluous short syllable at the beginning–sometimes the pyrrhic–sometimes the amphimacer. These licences must of course be sparing; and what you will meet with would probably have been altered in correction.

[Here follow 109 hexameter lines from the intended poem on Mohammed, [1]  mentioned in the letter of the 1st September.]

Remember, these are apprenticeship lines; but I think that now I can wield the metre, and that it makes a magnificent mouthful of sound.

Thank you for your offer to house Harry; we however wish once more to see him, and not quite to abandon him in a land of strangers. I wish he were old enough to be placed as pupil at the wonder-working Pneumatic Institution. [2]  You visited Bristol too soon, before our luminary had arisen. Davy is a miraculous young man, but his health is injured. Beddoes even apprehends consumption. At present he is in London, and when he returns I hope my residence here will draw him a little from perpetual experiments and the noisome fumes of the laboratory.

Don’t be daunted by the nonsense and unintelligibility of ‘Gebir’ [3]  from going through it; it looked to me like a Norwich-printed book, but that you would have known. Your townsman’s ‘Cupid and Psyche’ is well done. [4]  Where can I find a sketch of the idolatry of the Poles? I want to make an ode on the sacrifice of their Queen Venda. [5] 

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843)
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 309–310 [in part]. BACK

[1] Coleridge and Southey’s plan for a jointly-written poem in hexameters on Muhammad (570–632), the Prophet of Islam, did not make much progress; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 18–20. A fragment by Southey was published posthumously in Oliver Newman: a New-England Tale (London, 1845), pp. 113–116; and 14 lines by Coleridge in The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, 3 vols (London, 1834), II, p. 68. BACK

[2] The Pneumatic Institute opened in Bristol, under the direction of Beddoes, in early 1799. BACK

[3] Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864; DNB), Gebir (1798), although the poem was published anonymously. BACK

[4] Hudson Gurney (1775–1864; DNB), Cupid and Psyche, a Mythological Tale from The Golden Ass of Apuleius (1799). BACK

[5] Wanda, legendary Queen of Poland. According to different legends, she committed suicide to save Poland from invasion, was a pagan sacrifice, or lived a long and happy life. Southey did not write an ode on this subject. BACK

People mentioned

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Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)