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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to C. W. W. Wynn, 9 June 1803

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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“June 9. 1803.

“I have just gone through the Scottish Border Ballads. Walter Scott himself is a man of great talent and genius; but wherever he patches an old poem, it is always with new bricks. Of the modern ballads, his own fragment is the only good one, and that is very good. I am sorry to see Leyden’s good for so little. Sir Agrethorn is flat, foolish, Matthewish, Gregoryish, Lewisish. I have been obliged to coin vituperative adjectives on purpose, the language not having terms enough of adequate abuse. I suppose the word Flodden-Field entitles it to a place here, but the scene might as well have been laid in El-dorado, or Tothill Fields, or the country of Prester John, for anything like costume which it possesses. It is odd enough that almost every passage which Scott has quoted from Froissart should be among the extracts which I had made.

“In all these modern ballads there is a modernism
of thought and language-turns, to me very perceptible and very unpleasant, the more so for its mixture with antique words—polished steel and rusty iron! This is the case in all
Scott’s ballads. His Eve of St. John’s is a better ballad in story than any of mine, but it has this fault. Elmsley once asked me to versify that on the Glenfinlas—to try the difference of style; but I declined it, as waste labour and an invidious task. Matthew G. Lewis, Esq., M.P., sins more grievously in this way; he is not enough versed in old English to avoid it: Scott and Leyden are, and ought to have written more purely. I think if you will look at Q. Orraca you will perceive that, without being a canto from our old ballads, it has quite the ballad character of language.

Scott, it seems, adopts the same system of metre with me, and varies his tune in the same stanza from iambic to anapæstic ad libitum. In spite of all the trouble that has been taken to torture Chaucer into heroic metre, I have no doubt whatever that he wrote upon this system, common to all the ballad writers. Coleridge agrees with me upon this. The proof is, that, read him thus, and he becomes everywhere harmonious; but expletive syllables, en’s and y’s and e’s, only make him halt upon ten lame toes. I am now daily drinking at that pure well of English undefiled, to get historical manners, and to learn English and poetry.

“His volume of the Border Songs is more amusing for its prefaces and notes than its poetry: the ballads themselves were written in a very unfavourable age and country; the costume less picturesque than chi-
Ætat. 28. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 213
valry, the manners more barbarous. I shall be very glad to see the
Sir Tristram which Scott is editing: the old Cornish knight has been one of my favourite heroes for fifteen years. Those Romances that Ritson published are fine studies for a poet. This I am afraid will have more Scotch in it than will be pleasant; I never read Scotch poetry without rejoicing that we have not Welsh-English into the bargain, and a written brogue.

“. . . . . Rickman tells me there will be no army sent to Portugal; that it is understood the French may overrun it at pleasure, and that then we lay open Brazil and Spanish America. If, indeed, the Prince of Brazil could be persuaded to go over there, and fix the seat of his government in a colony fifty times as large, and five hundred fold more valuable, than the mother country, England would have a trade opened to it far more than equivalent to the loss of the Portuguese and Spanish ports. But if he remains under the protection of France, and is compelled to take a part against England, any expedition to Brazil must be for mere plunder. Conquest is quite impossible.

“Most likely I shall go up to town in about a week or ten days. God bless you!

R. S.”