LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 9 February 1810

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. 9. 1810.

“The objections which have been made to the style of Madoc are ill-founded. It has no other peculiarity than that of being pure English, which, unhappily, in these times renders it peculiar. My rule of writing, whether for prose or verse, is the same, and may very shortly be stated. It is, to express myself, 1st, as perspicuously as possible; 2nd, as concisely as possible; 3rd, as impressively as possible. This is the way to be understood, and felt, and remembered. But there is an obtuseness of heart and understanding, which it is impossible to reach; and if you have seen the reviewals of Madoc, after having read the poem, you will perceive that almost in every part or passage which they have selected for censure, they have missed the meaning. For instance, the
Edinburgh sneers at the beginning of the 3d section, part II.*, and the words ‘my own dear mother’s child,’ as inane.

“Now, as for the speech itself. If —— had not good feeling enough in his nature to feel its dramatic truth and fitness in that place, it is his misfortune; but that particular expression would, to any person who reflected upon its meaning with a moment’s due attention, give it peculiar force; for in that state of society, most of the king’s children were by different mothers. Of course, when Madoc addressed his sister as his mother’s child, more affecting remembrances and more love were implied in that single expression, than a whole speech could convey with equal expressiveness. The Eclectic ridicules ‘Wilt thou come hither, prince, and let me feel thy face?’† I am utterly ignorant of the nature and essence of poetry, if that be not one of the finest scenes that I have ever been able to produce.

“The metre has been criticised with equal incapacity on the port of the critics. Milton and Shakspeare are the standards of blank verse: in these writers every variety of it is to be found, and by this standard I desire to be measured. The redundant verses (when the redundant syllable is anywhere but “

* “‘Not yet at rest, my sister!’ quoth the prince,
As at her dwelling door he saw the maid
Sit gazing on that lovely moonlight scene;
‘To bed, Goervyl! Dearest, what hast thou
To keep thee wakeful here at this late hour,
When even I shall bid a truce to thought,
And lay me down in peace? Good night, Goervyl,
Dear sister mine, my own dear mother’s child!’”

Madoc, Part I. Section 3. This passage is too long for extraction here.

Ætat. 36. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 277
at the end of a line) are formed upon the admitted principle, that two short syllables are equal in time to one long one. The truth is, that though the knack of versifying is a gift, the art is an acquirement. I versified more rapidly at the age of sixteen, than now at six-and-thirty. But it requires a knowledge of that art to criticise upon the structure of verse; nor is it sufficient to understand the regular turn of the metre: a parrot might be taught that. In the sweep of blank verse, the whole paragraph must be taken into consideration before the merit or demerit of a single line, or sometimes of a single word, can be understood. Yet these critics are everlastingly picking out single lines, and condemning their cadence as bad. This might be true if the line could possibly stand alone. But were I to cut off one of the critic’s fingers, and tell him it was only fit for a tobacco-stopper, that would be true also, because the act of amputation made it so.

“You appreciate the story with true judgment, and have laid your finger upon the faulty parts. This it is to have the inborn feeling of a poet. Of the language you are not so good a judge, because you have not mastered the art, and are not well read in the poets of Shakspeare’s age. You cannot read Shakspeare, Spenser, Milton, and the Elizabethan dramatists too much. There is no danger of catching their faults.

Yours very truly,
R. Southey.”