Friday, June 22, 2007

Southey and Sales


October 4, 1807.

My Dear Scott,--Queen Orraca is on her way to you, but taking a very roundabout road for the sake of a frank. I thank you for spreading her fame, and marvel at your marvelous memory.*

I thank you also for what you say concerning Constable. It is certain that no man who gets any credit at all by his writings can get less money by them than I do, but in this it must be the book-buying and not the book-selling animal that is in fault. It does not seem probable that Constable can have more means of pushing a book than our Fathers which are in the Row have, and unless he could make more by me than they do, I could not make more by him. The truth is that all my books, except those early works of which the copyright is gone, sell badly. I sold to Longman the first edition of Thalaba (of 1,000 copies) for 115 pounds. This was seven years ago, and between two and three hundred are still upon hand. I let him print Madoc upon terms no better than they grant to an untried author, that of sharing the eventual profits: in the course of two years my share has been five and twenty pounds. Half my time is employed in writing reviewals for the "Annual," translating romances, and such sort of unworthy work, to eke out a very scanty income. Assuredly I could in the quantity of time which is thus employed every year produce such a poem as Thalaba, but seven hundred copies would be seven years in selling. Were my income sufficient this would signify nothing. I should do it for pleasure, be perfectly satisfied with the fame I get, and care nothing for profit. There is no hardship in this sacrifice of half my time, any profession would require as much or more, and tho' any profession would be far more lucrative, as long as I have enough I am contented, and more than contented. . .

If the romance you mention be the old Poema del Cid edited by Sanchez (as I suppose it to be) I have it, and have made great use of it. This you would perhaps have the goodness to enquire for me. There are two books which I should be very glad to meet with, and which possibly Mr. Frere may possess; the Libro de los Quarenta Cantos by Alonso de Fuentes, and a poem called Los Famosos Nechos del Cid by Diego Ximenez de Aillon. I should much like to see his translation, of which both my brother and Lady Holland have said much to me. What I have done with the poem has been to weave into the Chronicle all the additional circumstances of picture and costume which are to be found in it. This is perfectly justifiable, for the poem is unquestionably the elder and is in great part the obvious source of the Chronicle. My ballads may fitly appear in the appendix at your suggestion.

Wordsworth is at Grasmere, and has been there for some months. The defects of his last volumes seem to be more felt than their beauties. I hear many persons speak of the few foolish pieces there with dislike, and scarcely any body with admiration of the sonnets, which are in the very highest strain of poetry. He is probably compleating his Recluse. I am labouring upon the History of Brazil and Paraguey, which will be ready to go into the press by the time The Cid comes out of it. Should the court of Portugal remove to that fine country, as it is to be wished it may, this work will excite a great temporary interest . . .

Henry is in Portugal. Mrs. Southey joins me in respects to Mrs. Scott.

Yours very truly,

*Scott quoted from Queen Orraca from memory for the Princess of Wales to secure her interest.
-from The Private Letter-Books of Sir Walter Scott edited by Wilfred Partington (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930) p. 73-75.

No comments: