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'Pye's death was
announced a day or two before my departure from Keswick, and at
the time I thought it so probable that the not-very-desirable succession
might be offered to me, as to bestow a little serious thought upon
the subject, as well as a jest or two…'. So wrote Robert
Southey to his friend Charles Wynn. At this time, in 1813, Southey
was 39, an established man of letters with poetry, translations,
and prose works published. He was a friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth;
rising stars in the field of English literature. He was also struggling
economically, and the income (less the wine) was no doubt seen as
useful. Of Mary Wollstonecraft Southey said: 'she is a first-rate
woman, sensible of her own worth, but without arrogance or affectation.'
Here is an early poem dedicated to her.
Robert Southey, Poems. 2nd ed., Bristol: Printed by N. Biggs, for
Joseph Cottle, and sold in London by Messrs. Robinsons, 1797.
DeB. Eb 1797 S
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Southey's poem Madoc
(1805) confronts head on the problem of home and exile. Written
over a ten-year period, the poem reflected his early pantisocratic
preoccupations of moving to America (with Coleridge; Wales was the
second option) and establishing a utopian community there. Although
the publisher John Taylor claimed Madoc was the best English poem
since Paradise Lost, its first year sales realized only £3
17s 1d. This is the first edition.
'Robert Southey, Madoc. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst,
Rees, and Orme, and A. Constable and Co. Edinburgh, 1805.
DeB. Ec 1805 S
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No sooner had Southey taken
office, John Wilson Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty, wrote to
him: 'Go you and write your Ode for the New Year. You can
never have a better subject that the present state of war affords
you.' The first draft of Carmen Triumphale had five stanzas
denouncing Napoleon, 'the perfidious Corsican'. On submission,
these stanzas and 'all condemnatory references' to the
Emperor were omitted because it was thought that he might become
'a friendly power' in the future. In deference to his
betters, Southey stated: 'I spoilt my poem.' Like Whitehead
before him, Southey was a conscientious poet laureate and he did
much to raise the stature of the post. This later version contains
the omitted stanzas.
The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, v.3. London: Longman, 1847-51.
Leith Street, Bliss YH Sou YpL