806. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 13 July 1803

806. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 13 July 1803 ⁠* 

Bristol. Wednesday. July 13. 1803

My dear friend

You will see by the date above, that I have travelled westward from London. I had some thought of advancing to Norwich, but the plan which I am about to communicate has made me delay that till I be settled nearer.

I have projected, & negociated with Longman & Rees, & now actually undertaken the management of a Bibliotheca Britannica. [1]  upon a very extensive scale, to be arranged chronologically, & made a readable book by biography, criticism & connecting chapters. to be published like the Cyclopæda [2]  in parts. terms 150 £ to me for editing each volume, (the volume 800 quarto pages) & for authorship four guineas per sheet, five where the subject – author hath written in any language but English. the page 40 lines. the full & absolute choice of all associates & the distribution of the whole to be mine.

Now the first important point is to allot to every one that for which he is most fitted – & then to turn over the papers of one to another to collect as much as can be had upon the subject. I am thus stocked with certain associates, for Saxon & Welsh Sharon Turner who has found out that he writes badly. for early voyages & all Science thereunto appertaining Captain Burney. for old surgery Carlisle. for xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxx for Roger Bacon, [3]  Rickman. at present I do not look beyond the subjects of the first volume. the Schoolmen I hope Coleridge will take. there remain poets, romancers, <lawyers> theologians & historians. the latters down to the conquest fall under Turners knowledge. Will you help me? & bring your stock of northern knowledge & of theology to bear upon the history of English literature. What I would ask from you is to at write upon the progress of the language – upon the history of our popular superstitions – upon the English history of religion – a little more covertly this last than you do for the Magazine, [4]  for you go beyond heterodoxy there. the first volume may perhaps come down to Mary or Elizabeth. [5]  think upon English literature down to that period, & tell me what you should like to write – for that you will help me I have little doubt. I would have you examine what I & what Turner write, & add thereto, & annotate thereupon. you who have seen a Reviewers account know how lines are reckoned up into pages, & that the fragments being gathered up, nothing is lost.

We talk of getting a first part – that is a half volume, ready by Xmas 1804. I go to reside near London for this express purpose. xx there can be no difficulty in getting out a volume yearly, & as little of the success of the book if well managed. I calculate upon it for an income of from 200 to 250 £. & shall remove to Richmond, where John May has already obtained for me the refusal of a house.

The review of Mrs Lathoms Poem [6]  perished in what Hamilton [7]  calls “the late tremendous fire which destroyed the whole of my extensive premises”. it would be too late for A Aikin – for I was too late to notice a Greek Poem upon Bonaparte. [8]  but you can now send it again to the Critical.

My politics are that France calculated upon the weakness of our most miserable ministers, & was carrying on a system of insult & injury to which it would have been utter ruin to have submitted. that Bonaparte [9]  is drunk with success. that Malta was a bad ground for quarrel – the worst that could have been selected because of least general or national concern, but that there was cause enough for war. my belief is that invasion will be attempted – but that “the Christ of the Lord” [10]  oh curse his blasphemous soul! will not adventure himself. my hope is that he may. their landing is a chance – & the chances are against it. if they land they will perhaps reach London – but not a man of them returns to France, & we shall have such a monument as the Swiss reared to Charles of Burgundy. [11]  that our victory by sea or by land turns the scale & the Northern Powers, [12]  who have more reason to hate France than England will then join us. that then Holland will be free, & Switzerland & Italy be made independant of France, & the peace of Europe established for a century to come. but first Bonaparte must go to the Devil – & perhaps our national debt too. But I have not a fear for England. we have Jacobines enough in England to destroy Bonaparte, the country was never so united & therefore never so strong.

Let me hear from you soon.

God bless you –

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JUL 13 1803; B/ JUL 14/ 1803
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4840. 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. 465-468. BACK

[1] A plan for a chronological account of literature written in Britain, which was abandoned by Longman and Rees in August 1803. BACK

[2] The Cyclopaedia: or An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences was an encyclopaedia, first published in 1728, and much expanded and republished throughout the eighteenth century, especially by Abraham Rees (1743-1825; DNB), The New Cyclopaedia (1802-1820). BACK

[3] Roger Bacon (c. 1214-c. 1292; DNB), philosopher and Franciscan friar. BACK

[4] The Monthly Magazine, to which Taylor had contributed since its foundation in 1796. BACK

[5] Mary I (1516-1558, Queen of England 1553-1558; DNB); Elizabeth I (1533-1603; reigned 1558-1603; DNB). BACK

[6] Southey’s comment is obscure. Diana Lathom (dates unknown), née Ganning, was in 1803 the estranged wife of Francis Lathom (1774-1832; DNB). There is no evidence that Mrs Lathom wrote, let alone published, poetry. ‘Mrs Lathom’ could, then, be a joke. Francis Lathom was a habitué of Norwich literary circles and probably knew William Taylor. ‘Mrs’ could refer to Latham’s rumoured homosexuality. In which case, the ‘lost’ review was possibly of Orlando and Seraphina; or, the Funeral Pile, an Heroic Drama , published in 1800 but reviewed in 1803. BACK

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

[8] Unidentified. BACK

[9] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). War between Britain and France had resumed on 18 May 1803. One of the causes was that Britain had not evacuated Malta, as stipulated in the Treaty of Amiens, 1802. BACK

[10] i.e. Bonaparte; whose belief in himself as God’s representative on earth was eventually enshrined in the Imperial Catechism of 1806. BACK

[11] Charles ‘the Bold’ (1433-1477, Duke of Burgundy 1467-1477), killed in battle with Swiss troops at Nancy. The monument on the battlefield contains an image of the Duke. BACK

[12] Denmark, Sweden, Prussia and Russia, who formed the Northern League in 1800-1801. BACK

People mentioned

Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 3 times)
Rees, Owen (1770–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)
Burney, James (1750–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Aikin, Arthur (1773–1854) (mentioned 1 time)
Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)