LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 12 February 1811

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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
“Keswick, Feb. 12. 1811.

“I am not disappointed in Count Julian; it is too Greek for representation in these times, but it is altogether worthy of you. The thought and feeling which you have frequently condensed in a single line, is unlike anything in modern composition. The conclusion too is Greek. I should have known this play to be yours had it fallen in my way without a name. There was one written ten years ago by Rough which aimed at being what this is; this has the profundity which was attempted there. I see nothing to be expunged, but I see many of what a school-boy would call hard passages. Sometimes they are like water, which however beautifully pellucid, may become dark by its very depth. Your own vase of tarnished gold is a better illustration; the very richness of the metal occasions its darkness. Sometimes they are like pictures,—unless you get them in precisely the right point of view, their expression is lost. I cannot tell how this is to be remedied if it is remediable; it is what makes the difference between difficult and easy authors. I will not yet specify what the passages are which are obscure, because, upon every fresh perusal, some of them will flash upon me.

“Never was a character more finely conceived than Julian. That image of his seizing the horses is in the very first rank of sublimity; it is the grandest image of power that ever poet produced.


“You could not have placed the story in a finer dramatic light; but it has made you elevate some vile renegadoes into respectability. In my plan Sisabert will die by Florinda’s hand, and Orpas will be cut down by Rodrigo’s own hand. I go on very slowly; what I have done is too good to be sacrificed; but it will make the poem as faulty in structure as Shakspeare’s Julius Cæsar; and I shall be a third of the way through it before Pelayo appears. My pace will soon be quickened; the way opens before me; hitherto there has been but one personage in view; to-morrow I introduce others, and shall soon get into the business of the poem. You wonder that I can think of two poems at once; it proceeds from weakness, not from strength. I could not stand the continuous excitement which you have gone through in your tragedy: in me it would not work itself off in tears; the tears would flow while in the act of composition, and would leave behind a throbbing head and a whole system in the highest state of nervous excitability, which would soon induce disease in one of its most fearful forms. From such a state I recovered in 1800 by going to Portugal, and suddenly changing climate, occupation, and all internal objects: and I have kept it off since by a good intellectual regimen.

“When I have read Count Julian again and again, I will then make out a list of the passages which appear so difficult that ordinary readers may be supposed incapable of understanding them. When you perceive that they may be difficult to others, it will be easy, in most instances, to make the meaning
Ætat. 36. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 301
more obvious. Then you must print the tragedy. It will not have many more admirers than
Gebir; but they will be of the same class and cast; and with Gebir it will be known hereafter, when all the rubbish of our generation shall have been swept away.

“What will you do next? Narrative is better than dramatic poetry, because it admits of the highest beauties of the drama; there are two characters in Roman history which are admirably fit for either; but in both cases their history suits the drama better than the epic—Sertorius and Spartacus. When I was a boy, the abortive attempt at restoring the republic by Caligula’s death was one of my dramatic attempts. Another was that impressive story in Tacitus of 300 slaves (I think that was the number) put to death for not preventing the murder of their master, whom one of them had killed. The Emperor Majorian is a fine character. I wish I could throw out a subject that would tempt you, but rather to a poem than a play; for though your powers for both are equal, and the play the more difficult work of the two, yet In my judgment the poem is the preferable species of composition.

“God bless you!

R. S.”