2712. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 10 February 1816

2712. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend, 10 February 1816⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 10. 1816.

A natural but melancholy association reminds me of you. Between three and four years ago, a youth, as ardent in the study of poetry as yourself, but under less favourable circumstances of fortune, sent me some specimens of his poems, and consulted me concerning the course of life which he should pursue. [1]  He was the eldest of a very large family, and the father a half-pay officer. [2]  He wished to go to London, and study the law, and support himself while studying it by his pen. I pointed out to him the certain misery and ruin in which such an event would involve him, and recommended him to go to Cambridge, where, with his talents and acquirements, he could not fail of making his way, unless he was imprudent. I interested myself for him at Cambridge; he was placed at Emmanuel, won the good-will of his college, and was in the sure road both to independence and fame, when the fever of last year cut him off. I do not think there ever lived a youth of higher promise. His name was James Dusautoy. This evening I have been looking over his papers, with a view of arranging a selection of them for the press. In seeking to serve him, I have been the means of sending him prematurely to the grave. I will at least endeavour to preserve his memory. [3] 

Of the many poets, young and old, whom I have known only by letter, Kirke White, Dusautoy, and yourself have borne the fairest blossom. In the blossom they have been cut off. May you live to bring forth fruit! [4] 

I think you intimated an intention of going to Cambridge. [5]  The fever has broken out there again; physicians know not how to treat it; it has more the character of a pestilence than any disease which has for many years appeared in this island; and unless you have the strongest reasons for preferring Cambridge, the danger and the probability of the recurrence of this contagion are such, that you would do well to turn your thoughts towards Oxford on this account alone.

Your sonnets [6]  have gratified me and my family. Study our early poets, and avoid all imitation of your contemporaries. You cannot read the best writers of Elizabeth’s [7]  age too often. Do you love Spenser? [8]  I have him in my heart of hearts.

God bless you. Sir!



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 150–152. BACK

[1] Dusautoy had first written to Southey at the beginning of 1813, enclosing some of his poems and asking advice about publishing them. Southey replied (the letter does not survive) and Dusautoy in turn wrote back. For the reply to this second letter see Robert Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2220. BACK

[2] James Du Sautoy (1761–1859) had retired from his post as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines in 1798. He was barrack-master of the cavalry at Totnes 1803–1822. BACK

[3] Southey proposed an edition of Dusautoy to Longman in a letter of 8 March 1816, Letter 2733. However, this edition was abandoned because Southey felt the poems would not suit public taste. BACK

[4] Townshend’s Poems (London, 1821) was dedicated to Southey in ‘TOKEN OF GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION’ (p. [i]). BACK

[5] Townshend entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge on 23 June 1816, graduating with a B.A. in 1821. BACK

[6] Possibly drafts of some of the sonnets published in Townshend’s Poems (London, 1821), pp. 295–336. BACK

[7] Elizabeth I (1533–1603; Queen of England 1558–1603; DNB). BACK

[8] Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599; DNB), whose The Faerie Queene (1590–1596) was a particular influence on Southey. BACK

People mentioned

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)