507. To Robert Southey Pub. Life and Corres. ii. 217. Keswick, July, 1803 My dear Southey, . . . I write now to propose a scheme, or rather a rude outline of a scheme, of your grand work. What harm can a proposal do? If it be no pain to you to reject it, it will be none to me to have it rejected. I would have the work entitled Bibliotheca Britannica, or an History of British Literature, bibliographical, biographical, and critical. 1 The two last volumes I would have to be a chronological catalogue of all noticeable or extant books; the others, be the number six or eight, to consist entirely of separate treatises, each giving a critical biblio-biographical history of some one subject. I will, with great pleasure, join you in learning Welsh and Erse: and you, I, Turner, and Owen, 2 might dedicate ourselves for the first half year to a complete history of all Welsh, Saxon, and Erse books that are not translations, that are the native growth of Britain. If the Spanish neutrality continues, I will go in October or November to Biscay, and throw light on the Basque. Let the next volume contain the history of English poetry and poets, in which I would include all prose truly poetical. The first half of the second volume should be dedicated to great single names, Chaucer and Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and Taylor, Dryden and Pope; the poetry of witty logic, -- Swift, Fielding, Richardson, Sterne: I write par hazard, but I mean to say all great names as have either formed epochs in our taste, or such, at least, as are representative; and the great object to be in each instance to determine, first, the true merits and demerits of the books; secondly, what of these belong to the age -- what to the author quasi peculium. The second half of the second volume should be a history of poetry and romances, everywhere interspersed with biography, but more flowing, more consecutive, more biblio- ____________________ 1 The idea for Southey's 'Bibliotheca Britannica' arose from conversations between Coleridge and Southey. Coleridge and I have often talked of making a great work upon English literature'. Southey wrote to Taylor on 28 June 1803. ( Memoir of William Taylor, i461.) Late in June, Southey set forth for London to make business arrangements for his venture, and he probably communicated his plans to Coleridge while there. Soon after his return to Bristol on 12 July he must have received this extraordinary letter from Coleridge. In Aug. 1808 Longman decided not to publish the work for the present, and it fell through, to be realized, perhaps, a century later in the Cambridge History of English Literature. 2 Sharon Turner ( 1768-1847), author of the History of England from the earliest period to the Norman Conquest, 4 vols., 1799-1805; and William Owen, later Pughe ( 1759-1835), Welsh antiquary and lexicographer. -955- graphical, chronological, and complete. The third volume I would have dedicated to English prose, considered as to style, as to eloquence, as to general impressiveness; a history of styles and manners, their causes, their birth-places and parentage, their analysis. . . . These three volumes would be so generally interesting, so exceedingly entertaining, that you might bid fair for a sale of the work at large. Then let the fourth volume take up the history of metaphysics, theology, medicine, alchemy, common, canon, and Roman law, from Alfred to Henry VII; in other words, a history of the dark ages in Great Britain. The fifth volume -- carry on metaphysics and ethics to the present day in the first half; the second half, comprise the theology of all the reformers. In the fourth volume there would be a grand article on the philosophy of the theology of the Roman Catholic religion. In this (fifth volume), under different names, -- Hooker, Baxter, Biddle, and Fox, -- the spirit of the theology of all the other parts of Christianity. The sixth and seventh volumes must comprise all the articles you can get, on all the separate arts and sciences that have been treated of in books since the Reformation; and, by this time, the book, if it answered at all, would have gained so high a reputation, that you need not fear having whom you liked to write the different articles -- medicine, surgery, chemistry, &c. &c., navigation, travellers, voyagers, &c. &c. If I go into Scotland, shall I engage Walter Scott to write the history of Scottish poets? Tell me, however, what you think of the plan. It would have one prodigious advantage: whatever accident stopped the work, would only prevent the future good, not mar the past; each volume would be a great and valuable work per se. Then each volume would awaken a new interest, a new set of readers, who would buy the past volumes of course; then it would allow you ample time and opportunities for the slavery of the catalogue volumes, which should be at the same time an index to the work, which would be, in very truth, a pandect of knowledge, alive and swarming with human life, feeling, incident. By the by, what a strange abuse has been made of the word encyclopaedia! It signifies, properly, grammar, logic, rhetoric, and ethics and metaphysics, which last, explaining the ultimate principles of grammar -- log., rhet., and eth. -- formed a circle of knowledge. . . . To call a huge unconnected miscellany of the omne scibile, in an arrangement determined by the accident of initial letters, an encyclopaedia, is the impudent ignorance of your Presbyterian bookmakers. Good night! God bless you! S. T. C. -956-