802. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 23 June 1803

802. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 23 June 1803 ⁠* 

I have very long been silent – not because you were so – but because I was bound to say something of reproof to Harry in my letter – & that was an unpleasant task. by one phrase in yours, I guess that his Uncle has enabled him to discharge his debts. I believe it is useless ever to preach frugality to one who has not the principle in his nature. but indeed if Harry involves himself he will find that his relations however much they may wish to relieve him, have not the power. his Uncle would be able if he had no other calls. I work like a negro & difficultly keep even with the world – indeed not even that. his brother Tom has not been fortunate as yet in his profession. he is very generous – but has those sailor-like habits – that let him get what fortune he will – he will never be rich <have to share.> Harry must be his own friend. Enough he shall have, but if he will not abstain from pleasures – he must not expect to draw upon his friends wants to pay for them. Now this is said too harshly – & do not you show it to him. To what you now say I scarcely know how to answer. [1]  he is not yet too old for college graduation – but there is an imprudence in the waste of an apprentice fee, & an unsteadiness in the change – & moreover when he says he has no conscientious scruples – that I take it – means he has no conscience at all about the matter. do not misunderstand me. I who am a believer, & that upon the Socinian – or low Arian ground – were I now at three & twenty with the opinions that I hold at nine & twenty – would chuse the church for my profession – but then I have a deep & silent & poet-feeling. connected with these things, that grows & with me & will grow. I do not think Harrys mind has any similarity with mine. That he should change I should never have advised – but now that he has written to his Uncle I shall feel no sorrow for the change – tho in truth I believe his Uncle will advise him to follow his first choice.

Dear William Taylor – your theology does nothing but mischief. [2]  it serves only to thin the miserable ranks of Unitarianism. The regular troops of Infidelity do little harm – & their trumpeters such as Voltaire & Paine, [3]  not much more – but it is such pioneers as Middleton [4]  – & you & your German friends, that work underground & sap the very citadel. that Monthly Magazine is read by all the Dissenters – I always call it the Dissenters Obituary – & here are you eternally mining, mining under the shallow faith of their half-learned, half-witted – half-paid – half-starved pastors. We must not give strong meats to weak stomachs. I have qualms of conscience about it myself. there is poor Burnett gone stark foolish because he has been made the friend of the wise – diseased at once with a plethora of vanity & an inanition of knowledge – with all the disposition to destroy himself – only that he cannot muster up courage – & that I suppose he will do at last – in the hope of being talkd of as an instance of neglected genius. Oh that proverb about the pearls & the swine has a great deal more in it than I once imagined! [5] 

It is you then who have delayed the Annual Review? [6]  my threshing was finished two months ago. I go to London on Sunday next & will ask Hamilton [7]  for that account of Broomholme Priory, [8]  which he has used me somewhat uncivilly in not inserting. his application to you – twelve months after I mentioned you to him – is almost six months after he applied to me for your direction is very much in character. if he has not lost the article I will turn it over to A Aikin. it cannot want abridgement – he xxx requested long articles from me because he was short of matter.

Why refashion Drayton? [9]  in the first place you could write a better poem than the old Michael. in the next place – instead of making the poets of Elizabeths [10]  day talk as they do now, you would do better to make the poets under his most gracious Majesty George 3 [11]  – talk as they did in Elizabeths day. tis an article in my creed that from the days of John Milton English Poetry has gone on from bad to worse – we have had froth & flummery imposed upon us – contortions of language that passed for poetry because they were not prose, & phrases that have been admired by faith, never being designed to be understood. Coleridge & I have often talked of making a great work upon English Literature – but Coleridge only lately – & poor fellow he will not do that long I fear – & then I shall begin in my turn xxxx <to feel> an old man – to talk of the age of little men & complain like old Ossian. [12]  by God it provokes me when I see a set of puppies yelping at him, <upon> whom he – a great good-natured mastiff, if he came up to them, would just lift up his leg & pass on. & it vexes & grieves me to the heart that when he is gone, as go he will nobody will believe what a mind goes with him, how infinitely & ten thousand thousand-fold – the mightiest of his generation!

My stay in London I xxxx will be short. I do not mean to be absent from home above a fortnight – & already wish that time was past. if transmigration be the true faith, & our aptitudes determine our destiny, if I be not exalted into my own old owl-eyed Simorgh [13]  – I shall certainly make my appearance in the next post-deluvian world in the shape of a Toad in a stone. [14]  My little girl is so fond of me that I am in a fair way of spoiling her, & young as she is I am sometimes showing her the pictures – when I ought to be reading the book. however I get on. you will like my history [15]  – & you will like my Madoc [16]  – & if you were to review them – why I should be half an edition the richer man. my poor books make their own fortune but not mine – they get me reputation & I want money – oh if I could find some kind gentleman who has an ambition to be a poet! & would pay me well for writing him up above all the Darwins & Rogers’s & Campbells [17]  of the day!

Among the odd revolutions of the world you may reckon this – that my politics come nearer Mr Wyndhams [18]  – than they do William Taylors!

God bless you –

R S.

Thursday afternoon. June 23. 1803.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JUN 24 1803; B/ JUN 25/ 1803
Endorsement: Ansd 3 July
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4839. 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. 459-463 [in part]. BACK

[1] Possibly Henry Herbert Southey’s intention to enrol at Edinburgh University in November 1803 to study medicine. BACK

[2] In a letter to Southey, 21 June 1803 (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 456-459), Taylor described how his ‘Who wrote the Wisdom of Solomon?’ attributed authorship to Jesus. The essay appeared in the Monthly Magazine, 16 (October 1803), 221-224. BACK

[3] Tom Paine (1737-1809; DNB), The Age of Reason (1794-1795). BACK

[4] Conyers Middleton (1683-1750; DNB), clergyman known for his unorthodox opinions, including denying the historical accuracy of the Old Testament and accounts of miracles by early Christian authors. BACK

[5] Matthew 7: 6. BACK

[6] Taylor had reviewed for Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[7] Samuel Hamilton (fl. 1790s-1810s), owner of the Critical Review 1799-1804. BACK

[8] Bromholm Priory, a Cluniac priory near Bacton in Norfolk. Southey’s account did not appear in the Critical Review. BACK

[9] Michael Drayton (1563-1631; DNB), poet, whose The Battle of Agincourt (1627) Taylor was modernising. BACK

[10] Elizabeth I (1533-1603; reigned 1558-1603; DNB). BACK

[11] George III (1738-1820, King of Great Britain 1760-1820; DNB). BACK

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

[13] The Simurgh was a fabulous bird in Persian mythology and appeared in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11 as the hero’s guide. BACK

[14] In popular belief, toads were thought to be able to live for prolonged periods encased in stone. BACK

[15] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[16] Southey had completed a version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication. It did not appear until 1805. BACK

[17] Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802; DNB), Samuel Rogers and Thomas Campbell (1777-1844; DNB) were all poets whose work sold very well. BACK

[18] William Windham (1750-1810; DNB), Secretary at War 1794-1801. He was against the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Windham was MP for Norwich 1784-1802 and Taylor was opposed to his influence in the borough. BACK