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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 20 May 1808

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“May 20. 1808.

“You have bound me to the completion of Kehama, and, if I have health and eye-sight, completed it will be within twelve months. Want of practice has not weakened me: I have ascertained this, and am proceeding.

“I will use such materials as have stood the test; those materials are the same in all languages, and we know what they are. With respect to metre it is otherwise: there we must look to English only, and in English we have no other great poem than the Paradise Lost. Blank verse has long appeared to me the noblest measure of which our language is capable, but it would not suit Kehama. There must be quicker, wilder movements; there must be a gorgeousness of ornament also,—eastern gem-work, and sometimes rhyme must be rattled upon rhyme, till the reader is half dizzy with the thundering echo. My motto must be,—
Ποιχίλον είδος έχων, οτι ποιχίλον άϕάσσω.
This is not from any ambition of novelty, but from the nature and necessity of the subject. I am well aware that novelty in such things is an obstacle to success;
Thalaba has proved it to be so. The mass of mankind hate innovation: they hate to unlearn what they have learnt wrong, and they hate to confess their ignorance by submitting to learn anything right. I would tread in the beaten road rather than get
among thorns by turning out of it; but the beaten road will not take me where I want to go. What seems best to be done is this, to write mostly in rhyme, to slip into it rather than out of it, and then generally into some metre so strongly marked, as to leave the ear fully satisfied.

“One inference I think must be drawn from the obscurity of Pindar’s metre,—that, be it what it may, the pleasure which it gave did not result from rhythm. Indeed, the whole system of classical metres seems to have been that of creating difficulty for the sake of overcoming it. We mis-read Sapphics without making them worse; we mis-read Pentameters and make them better; and the Hexameter remains the most perceptible of all measures, though in our pronunciation we generally distort four feet out of the six.

“A great deal more may be done with rhyme than has yet been done with it; there is a crypto-rhyme which may often be introduced with excellent effect; the eye has nothing to do with it, but the ear feels it without, perhaps, perceiving anything more than the general harmony, and not knowing how that harmony is produced. Sometimes the sparing intermixture of rhymes in a paragraph may be so managed as to satisfy the ear, and give greater effect to their after profusion. These are not things which one thinks of in composition, but they are thought of in correcting; they are the touches in finishing off, when a little alteration produces a great difference.

“Your dislike to the ballad metre is, perhaps, because you are sick of a tune which has been sung
Ætat. 34. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 147
so often and so badly. It is not incapable of dignity, but there is a sort of language that usually goes with it, and has the effect of making it so.
Kehama is pitched in too high a key for it; I shall weed out all uncouth lines, and leave the public nothing to abuse except the strangeness of the fable, which you may be sure will be plentifully abused. The mythology explains itself as it is introduced; yet because the names are not familiar, people will fancy there is a difficulty in understanding it. Sir William Jones has done nothing in introducing it so coldly and formally as he has done. They who read his poems do not remember them, and none but those who have read them can be expected to have even heard of my Divinities. But for popularity I care only as regards profit, and for profit only as regards subsistence. The praise of ten would have contented you; often have I said that you did not underrate the number of men whose praise was truly desirable. Ten thousand persons will read my book; if five hundred will promise to buy it, I shall be secure of all I want. You shall have it in large portions as fast it is written.

Robert Southey.”