1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Jones

Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 June 1808; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 3:152-53.



Keswick, June 20. 1808.

My dear Neville,

The box arrived about an hour ago. Sir William Jones's works are placed opposite my usual seat, and on the most conspicuous shelf in the room.... I have retired to my library to thank you for the most splendid set of books it contains. I thank you for them, Neville, truly and heartily; but do not let it hurt you if I say, that so costly a present gives me some pain as well as pleasure. Were you a rich man, you could not give me more books than I would joyfully accept, for I delight in accumulating such treasures as much as a miser does in keeping together gold; but, as things are at present, no proof was needed of your generous spirit, and, from the little you have to spare, I cannot but feel you are giving me too much. You will not be offended at my expressing this feeling, nor will you impute it to any unjust pride, which, blessed be God, I am too poor a man, and too wise a one, to be guilty of in any, even the smallest degree. Be assured that I shall ever value the books far more than if they had come from a wealthier donor, and that I write the donor's name in them with true respect and esteem. You will be pleased to hear they are books of immediate use to me. Seven years ago I began a long poem which Sir William Jones, had he been living, would have liked to see, because it has the system of Hindoo mythology for its basis. I believe you heard me mention it at Mr. Hill's. I have been stimulated by the approbation of one of the few men living whose approbation could stimulate me, to go on with this poem, and am winning time for it by rising earlier than was my custom, because I will not allow any other part of the day to an employment less important than writing history, and far less profitable than that of writing any thing else, how humble or how worthless soever. In the hours thus fairly won for the purpose I get on steadily and well. Now, though I had long ago gone through those works of Sir William, and made from them such extracts as were necessary for my purpose, it was still very desirable that I should have them at hand. Lord Teignmouth's Life also is new to me....