2855. Robert Southey to Herbert Knowles, 27 October 1816

2855. Robert Southey to Herbert Knowles, 27 October 1816⁠* 

Keswick 27 Octr. 1816

Your poem [1]  arrived this morning & I have just finished the perusal of it. -

When I tell you that I never saw clearer proofs of feeling & power in the verses of a young Poet, you will not suppose that I wish to discourage you from the pursuit of poetry, when I disuade you from publishing. Far from it; genius like yours cannot fail of success if it be wisely directed; but premature publication would inevitably bring with it every disappointment, nor could it possibly accomplish the purpose for which it is designed. In what manner then can that purpose be effected? This is what I am desirous to find out. –

The university <will> obviously be the place in which you might have the fairest & surest means of establishing yourself, if means could be found for placing you there; – but if you have been only 18 months acquiring Latin & Greek, it seems scarcely possible that you should have made such progress as would enable you to get on there, if the first great difficulty were removed. – Why the intention of your friends upon the first were frustrated you have not explained; and I should be most unwilling to hurt your feelings by enquiring more than you may be disposed to avow. But if you think it might be of service to you were I to write to the Dean of Canterbury, [2]  or any other of those friends, and consult with them concerning the manner in which your interests might best be promoted – I will readily do so.–

With regard to your own plan – would Mr. Tate like you to remain with him as long as you propose, and at what expence could this be accomplished? And have you looked fairly at the prospect which would then be before you, supposing you could obtain ordination? Have you any other probability of preferment than what you found upon your own talents and deserving? I would not undervalue this, – but you must not place too much dependence upon it, and a curacy would afford but a bare maintenance. –

Yet on the whole if there be no prospect of establishing yourself at the University, this seems the most feasable plan; – for if you were only secure of a maintenance, you would live in hope of distinguishing yourself and certainly would do so, if the fruit should bear any proportion to the Blossom. You speak of Mr. Tate as if you loved and respected him. I should like to know what he most recommends for you. Shall I write to him? [3]  Believe me I am truly solicitous to see you relieved from your present anxiety, and placed in a situation which would hold out hope equal to your desert. –

But you will ask me why do I advise you not to publish the poem, if it contain indisputable marks of genius? Because there is not the smallest likelihood of emolument from it; – full of genius it certainly is, and its faults are only Exuberancies which evince the vigour of the root from whence they have sprung; – in a very few years you will perceive these faults and perceive also the crudity of the plan; – no poet ever published in his youth, without wishing in his maturer life that it was possible to recall the premature publication. – It is less likely that you would make friends by this publication than that they may be made for you without it, by a fair representation of what may be expected from you. – And you would certainly make enemies by the attack upon the inhabitants of Richmond.

farewell & believe me your sincere well wisher

Robert Southey

In sending the poem must I direct it to be xxxxed at Catterick or at Greta Bridge?


* MS: West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, C 23/112, undated copy in an unidentified hand, with the heading: ‘Copy of a letter from R. Southey Esqre/ to Herbert Knowles’. The original letter seems not to have survived. TR; 2p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] ‘The Three Tabernacles’. Knowles was hoping to publish it and had written to Southey asking permission to dedicate it to him. Following Knowles’s early death, Southey himself published the poem as ‘Lines Written in the Churchyard of Richmond, Yorkshire’ in his article ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’, Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 359–398 (396–398). BACK

[2] Gerrard Andrewes (1750–1825; DNB), Dean of Canterbury 1809–1825. Andrewes had been one of three benefactors who financed Knowles’s education at Richmond Grammar School by providing £20 per year; Knowles’s relations had provided a further £30 per year; and James Tate, the headmaster, had offered help in kind. The plan had been to, eventually, send Knowles to St John’s, Cambridge, as a Sizar. However, his relations had had to withdraw from their part of the arrangement, possibly through financial constraints; see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 November 1816, Letter 2866. BACK

[3] See Robert Southey to James Tate, 3 November 1816, Letter 2858. BACK

People mentioned

Tate, James (1771–1843) (mentioned 2 times)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)