491. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 February 1800

491. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 February 1800 ⁠* 

Your Epigrammatic Index [1]  I should much like to insert. for the most part it is very good – but some of the epigrams are obtuse – or else my comprehension is. As far as 29 all is fair satire & well executed. 33 I do not like. the bull contained in these lines & the flat conclusion do not characterize the poem – which inaccurate as it is in thought, is the work of no ordinary talents. 38. I do not well understand – unless it mean that you like & yet dislike the lines. 54 is a misrepresentation. it was the Acolhuan who would not fight. 67 is an excellent analysis of an inane poem. 69 would be better if only its conclusion were preserved. 77. I know not. Selene is too long. I wonder at your praise of the Song of Pleasure. the latter Stanzas of the Sons of Genius from Thus the pale moon – to scorn the lunar ray – appear to me worth a myriad of such poems. it has luxury of language – but nought else. I have burnt piles of such poetry. 102. merely an argument of the poem – no epigram. 115. What is Quernos laurel? ignoramus. [2]  the Sonnets are delectably catalogued. all good to 102. where I do not see the propriety of the poor quatrain. 210 Excellent. 224 – you xxxxxx would serve poetry as the philosopher would the world who wanted it squeezed into a nut shell. I do not quite like the compression in either case. 227 I cannot make any thing of. 249, Rare puns. 253. too coarse a translation of meaning! 281 flat! flat! – now to all that I have not specified you may apply as much praise as heart could wish. to sit down resolutely to write epigrams upon given subjects is no tas easy task – & you have well accomplished it.

Send me the Wortigerne. [3]  eighty pages are yet to be printed – & I shall be glad of the matter. preface it with what ambiguity you will – & if I can throw in as Editor any antiquarian notes as corroborations – I will do it.

Davy is proceeding in his chemical career with the same giant strides as at his outset. his book upon the nitrous oxyd [4]  will form an epoch in the science. I never witnessed such indefatigable activity in any other man – nor ardour so regulated by cool judgement. But chemistry I clearly see will possess him wholly & too exclusively. He allows himself no time for acquiring other knowledge. in poetry he will do nothing more – he talks of it, & that is all – nor can I in conscience urge him to perform promises which are perhaps better broken than kept. in his own science he will be the first – & the high places of poetry have long been occupied.

Your praise of Tasso [5]  gratified me. I deem him hitherto the best of epic poets – after the unequalable Homer. Of Virgil I cannot think highly except as a versifier. But in Tasso except the defect as to his prominent character, there is every thing to commend. if you should visit me at Hampshire in the summer, as I hope, you shall x see the first outline of Madoc, which if I live some half dozen years, shall be my monument. All else are the mere efforts of apprenticeship.

My departure will probably be delayed till the Autumn – & Lisbon the place of retreat. go I must – or the worst consequences may result. still I am ailing about the heart! & in spite of reasoning & probabilities cannot but suspect whenever its irregularities call my attention, that something is out of order about the main spring! connected with this at times, & at times recurring without it, are seizures in the head – like the terror that induces fainting – a rush thro all my limbs as if the stroke of annihilation were passing thro. I never feel this when I am interested in employment – but the mere recollection & fear will bring it on – this then seems decidedly nervous – but it must not be trifled with, for it threatens worse than the heart-pain. Should I go to Lisbon my intention is to write the History of Portugal [6]  – without some employment of this kind I cannot live – & this would fill my wishes & thoughts & time. & this I could & would well execute, with all ardour & with all industry of research. If I go to elsewhere it must be to Italy, & Trieste the road there – for a sea-voyage is to me a tremendous thing, & my intestines will all rise up in mutiny against it. Trieste is not a place to fix at – I am recommended by Duppa to Vicenza or Padua – if that part of Italy be safe – to Vicenza for its exquisite beauties of situation – to Padua for its society. Tuscany is perhaps safer. somewhere I must go, for removal from this climate is inevitable. & unless I go to the South of Europe – I may amuse myself with the idea of setting out on the tour of the Universe – a journey which I should rather delay.

When I send you the Anthology [7]  I will send with it some of the proposal papers for the Chatterton subscription, [8]  the which if you can promote you will be doing an act of charity.

Your hexameters have a quaint appearance, for as the lon[MS torn] of the line did not suit the latitude of the page – they are printed sideways. [9]  Is the Death of Abel written in hexameters? [10]  Macpherson [11]  seems to have practised at them for his Ossian is full of <their> fragments [MS torn] with the frequent occurrence of whole lines & pentameters. the applicability of this metre to our language is I think sufficiently proved. the practise of two days would enable me to wield them as easily as blank verse. Wordsworth made the best objection to them – the beginning of the line has not enough cadence to be like poetry, the end has too much. Mine is an easy, good natured ear, tickled with sounds that would jar any body else’s –, but I do not depend upon my own ears alone in approving English Hexameters. < I have no address for the embryo Doctor but Tiviot Row. Edinburgh.>

God bless you

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Kingsdown. Bristol. Feby 20. 1800


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Postmark: BRISTOL/ FEB 20 1800
Endorsement: Ansd 1 Mar
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4827. 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), I, pp. 334–338 [in part]. BACK

[1] Taylor had written humorous epigrams on all the poems in Annual Anthology (1799) (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 332–334). Southey mentions the following epigrams (page references are to Annual Anthology [Bristol, 1799]): ‘Musings on the Wig of a Scare-Crow’ by Southey, pp. 29–30; ‘To a Young Man, Who Considered the Perfection of Human Nature as Consisting in the Vigor and Indulgence of the More Boisterous passions’, by Charles Lloyd, pp. 33–35; ‘To Mr. Opie, On His Having Painted For Me the Picture of Mrs Twiss’ by Amelia Opie, p. 38; ‘Chimalpoca’ by Southey, pp. 54–57; ‘Inscription I, For the Banks of the Hampshire Avon’ by Southey, pp. 67–68; ‘Inscription II, For a Monument at Oxford, Opposite Balliol Gate-way’ by Southey, p. 69; ‘Stanzas, Written on the Sea-Shore, in 1792’ by Amelia Opie, pp. 77–78; ‘The Song of Pleasure’, pp. 120–125 and ‘The Sons of Genius’ by Humphry Davy, pp. 93–99; ‘Ellen’ by Joseph Cottle, pp. 102–104; ‘To a College Cat’ by Southey, pp. 115–117; ‘The Lover’s Rock’ by Southey, pp. 209–213; ‘Elegy IV. The Poet Relates How He Stole a Lock of Delia’s Hair, and Her Anger’ by Southey, pp. 224–226; ‘The Old Man’s Comforts’ by Southey, pp. 227–228; ‘On Reading Major Cartwright’s Appeal &c.’ by George Dyer, pp. 249–252; ‘The Traveller’s Return’ by Southey, pp. 253–254; ‘Extract From an unfinished Poem on Mounts-Bay’ by Humphry Davy, pp. 281–286. BACK

[2] Camillo Querno (fl. 1514), a notoriously bad poet from Apulia who was made Archpoet to Leo X (1475–1521; Pope 1513–1521). BACK

[3] William Taylor’s unfinished play ‘Wortigerne’, in the style of Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). It was not included in Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[4] Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its Respiration (1800). BACK

[5] Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), Jerusalem Delivered (1580). BACK

[6] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[7] Annual Anthology (1800). BACK

[8] Southey and Cottle’s The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[9] William Taylor’s ‘The Show, an English Eclogue, in Hexameters’ in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 200–210. BACK

[10] Salomon Gessner (1730–1788), The Death of Abel (1758). BACK

[11] James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB), The Works of Ossian (1765). BACK

People mentioned

Duppa, Richard (c. 1768–1831) (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Kingsdown Parade, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)