670b. Robert Southey to John King, 15-16 April 1802 [translation] 

670b. Robert Southey to John King, 15-16 April 1802 [translation]⁠* 

April 15. 1802.

Yesterday my friend I was at the home of M. V_____ [1]  I have forgotten his name. He was not at home, I left him your letter saying that in a few days I will return. at present it would not be possible for me to learn French – I have so much to do every hour that it would not be difficult to find many more things to do that would be enough work for two [people]. – Ah – the particles [2]  – the ‘ens’. & the ‘ons’, & the ‘nes’ & the ‘ys’ – there are the little Devils who torment me – Oh well – hereafter with the assistance of your friend I will defeat the Devils – grammar is worth as much as a Breviary in this war – or even the perfect Exorcist. –

I am going to learn Welch. I have thought a lot about whether the knowledge is worth the trouble, as the language is not easy. here are the treasures that it contains – several chronicles, several centuries of very curious Triads [3]  in which are perhaps the most ancient traditions of all the histories of the world. a very large collection of Poems – of which several are from the same century as that of my hero Madoc, & were hymns of victory at his father’s court. [4]  There is another motive for me to learn this language. I believe it is the most ancient of all the European languages – I have a great desire to travel to Biscay, & perhaps knowledge of Welsh will add to my understanding of Basque, which is the foundation, the root, the source of Spanish and Portuguese. [5]  up till the present all the works of the Bards, & all the Triads [have] existed only in MS.S. But they are being printed [thanks to] a private individual, a patriotic man to whom all the savants should erect a monument. [6]  Two very large volumes have already appeared. he is going to print three or four more. the expense will be very great – he is a pretty rich merchant.

You ask me what I think of M. [MS obscured]  [7]  I knew him at school. I thought him a boy of genius – but today he has not a single friend of his youth, & I do not believe he has a heart worthy of esteem. He is a man of words – professions – smiles, I hate – I distrust that politeness he shows in every word, in every look. I have read his Tragedies – his poem on General Abercromby. they are worth nothing. they are exactly like himself – words – & nothing else. he writes as he spoke, without feeling. this portrait is not very pleasant. too bad! I feel it is true.

The review [8]  by my friend William Taylor. – it is an extraordinarily good piece of work. I do not know a man with a more brilliant genius or a more amiable heart. In all his work we see the same spark – the same scintillation – what is the word that is needed? – the same play of imagination – the same depth of knowledge – the same intellectual jewellery. but he has no taste in his work [of poetry]. <although,> I think (he has always praised me strongly & set me right nicely) for the works of others his judgement is almost Papal. Everything is flowers, and gold & precious stones – for me it’s a banquet – but for ordinary people, the puppies of critics, they cannot pass in the same sentence with him from England to China – from this world to the other – from clouds with the<a>Hippogrif or the Simorg to <the> caves of Dom Daniel. [9]  his associations are too lively, too rapid for most readers, & often there is something bizarre mixed in with [his] noble thoughts. You have described his review well. but why have you asked pardon for your praise of Wieland? [10]  I have never said nor imagined that the author is not a man of genius. I only say that his Oberon is not a poem to my taste. I see there a man of intellect, of imagination, and, believe that judgement to be general. the perfect master of poetical language. but he does not have that nobility that power of soul with which it is absolutely necessary to sympathize – softness – sensual pleasure – that is what he loves. His genius is Greek I swear – but he could not have been born in the beautiful age of Greece, neither Athens nor Lacedamenon could have been the place of his birth, nor Minerva nor Diana [11]  the Goddess of his vows. He must be <would be> Cypriot, the priest of the most beautiful, but not the best of the Goddesses. [12] 

The fate of Thalaba is very similar to that of his author, his reputation is made – but for his fortune – alas! – no matter! one does not feel, the other does not care, & both will live.

This morning, for the first time, an invitation from M. Edgeworth [13]  to his château has reached me, that is verbally, by a young Irishman [14]  a man of wit & what is better, a good democrat. I beg you to give my thanks to Madame Beddoes for her father. I feel myself truly obliged, & I hope to benefit from his courtesy in the future. perhaps my friend we will travel together in Ireland – the mountains, the rocks, the wild people – could there be more to make it A Picturesque Journey – better than that of your friend M. Bourrit [15]  who has written about your country.

John Rickman is not returning to Ireland. Here he does not have so good a salary, but it is worth more than a few 100 £ to live among civilised people. His house [16]  is charming – the garden is on the banks of the Thames – there is not a more pleasant dwelling-place in that great city. Davy was at my house last night. he is very well – this evening James Tobin is coming to supper here, he wishes to see the great Pagan Thomas Taylor, [17]  & I think we will have a very edifying discussion between a man who believes in a thousand gods & a man who does not believe in one. the great Pagan has translated all the works of Plato – the Duke of Norfolk [18]  is paying for the printing – the Duke, says his protege, ‘puts me in mind of a fine saying of Plato – in men of vice there is a respect for virtue by which they sometimes do virtuous things – that is an honest Pagan.’

I have begun preliminary Dealings with my Booksellers [19]  the Maecenès [20]  of English literature. I do not know if we will agree on the Terms. If they want me to sign my Name I will let you know, & perhaps beg – for your assistance. The disagreement is over <my> name that I do not want to give, because it may harm me like a statesman. But for the first <time> I have learnt that Robert Southey is worth 40 £.

I cannot make my compliments in this language – but I beg you to say for me English words of the greatest and truest affection & esteem to your friend Danvers and his good mother – he & she [are] the best & the most dear of all my friends. & believe me, notwithstanding your terrible name. M. the King I am truly in bad grammar your friend

R Southey.

April 16. 1802


* Address: To/ Mr King/ Dowry Square/ Hot Wells/ Bristol./ Single
Postmark: BRISTOL/ APR 19 1802
Seal: [illegible]
MS: British Library, Add MS 47891. ALS; 4p. The French version (original) is to be found in Letter 670a
Previously published John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 189-192 [dated April 1802; in French only]. BACK

[1] He could be connected to the J.A. Voullaire (first name and dates unknown), whose French translation of The Vicar of Wakefield was published in 1811. BACK

[2] In grammar these are function words, such as pronouns, articles and conjunctions. BACK

[3] Rhetorical forms in Welsh poetry that group objects together in threes. BACK

[4] The legendary Madoc was said to be the son of Owen Gwynedd (c. 1100-1170; DNB), Prince of Gwynedd 1137-1170. BACK

[5] Southey was incorrect: Basque is unrelated to Spanish or Portuguese. BACK

[6] The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (1801-1807), edited by William Owen Pughe, printed many Welsh medieval manuscripts for the first time. It was funded by Owen Jones (1741-1814), a wealthy, Welsh-born, London furrier. The three volumes cost Jones over £1,000. BACK

[7] William Rough, lawyer and poet. He had been a schoolboy at Westminster with Southey 1786-1792 and was the author of the tragedies Lorenzino de Medici (1797) and The Conspiracy of Gowrie (1800) and Lines on the Death of Sir Ralph Abercromby (1801). The latter referred to Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734-1801; DNB), who was killed commanding the invasion of Egypt in March 1801. BACK

[8] Taylor’s review of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) had appeared in Monthly Magazine, 12 (Supplement, 1801), 581-583. BACK

[9] The hippogryph was a legendary flying creature, the offspring of a griffin and a mare; the simorg was a bird in Persian mythology and guided the hero in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11. In Book 12 Thalaba destroyed the caverns of the Dom Daniel. BACK

[10] Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), German poet and author of the epic Oberon (1780). BACK

[11] Greek goddesses of wisdom and hunting, respectively. BACK

[12] Aphrodite, goddess of love, who was particularly associated with Cyprus. BACK

[13] Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817; DNB), educational writer and engineer, who lived on his family estate at Edgeworthstown, County Longford. BACK

[14] Unidentified. BACK

[15] Marc Theodore Bourrit (1739-1819), Swiss travel writer, especially about the Alps. BACK

[16] As Secretary to The Speaker, Rickman had an official residence in the corner of Palace Yard, Westminster, and adjoining The Speaker’s own house. BACK

[17] Thomas Taylor (1758-1835; DNB), philosopher and translator. He published the first English translation of the complete works of Plato in 1804. BACK

[18] Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1746-1815; DNB), Whig politician. BACK

[19] Longman and Rees. They wished Southey to put his name to his proposed translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[20] Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (70-8 BC), a famous patron of the arts. BACK

People mentioned

Danvers, Mrs. (d. 1803) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Davy, Humphry (1778–1829) (mentioned 1 time)
Rough, William (1772/3–1838) (mentioned 1 time)
Taylor, William (1765–1836) (mentioned 1 time)