2879. Robert Southey to Samuel Rogers, 13 December 1816

2879. Robert Southey to Samuel Rogers, 13 December 1816 ⁠* 

Keswick. 13 Dec. 1816

My dear Sir

Without preface or apology, let me tell my story. Some little time ago I received a letter requesting me to peruse a manuscript poem, & allow the writer to dedicate it to me, if I thought it worthy of publication, [1]  – the writer stated himself to be very young, & that his reason for publishing was necessity. – I received the poem, it was brimfull of genius, with more of Lord Byron in it than of any other writer, – but no more than showed a proper & discriminating sense of Lord Byrons powers. It was crude, exuberant, & ill-planned, – had it not been so I should have thought it far less hopeful. Enquiring into the circumstances of the author I find that his name is Herbert Knowles, that he is an orphan, taken from a very low situation & placed at an excellent school at Richmond in Yorkshire [2]  by the contributions of some persons who had discovered his uncommon talents, the Dean of Canterbury [3]  giving ten pounds a year, two other clergymen [4]  five pounds each; his relations had promised among them thirty more, & it was intended when he was fit for college to place him upon this allowance as a sizar at St Johns. [5]  These times have pressed heavily upon his relations, & they could not fulfil their promise; so that his hopes were struck down at once, & he was advised to go as usher to some school. In abhorrence of such a situation he thought of authorship. Of course I pointed out the impracticability of this scheme. I wrote to his Master, [6]  & obtained the highest possible character of the youth, in every respect: my next thought was how to supply the thirty pounds annually for the next four years, – as it will be one year before he is ready for Cambridge. Ten I will give myself, I think you will not be displeased with me for having thought of you. And if Lord Byron had been in England I would have asked you to apply to him – amid all that storm & tumult of unhappy passions & more unhappy opinions there must be good & generous feelings, – it is wholesome for him that they should be exercised, & proud as he is it might gratify him to have them acknowledged & appealed to by one who condemns & pities him as I do.

Sure I am that Poets can best appreciate each others merits, – & in looking for friends for this unfledged Eagle (indeed I think he is of Eagle breed) – of whom could I think more properly than you? Among all the pleasures of Memory [7]  there is none so lasting as that of the good which we have done.

Believe me, my dear Sir

with the highest esteem

very truly & respectfully yours,

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Samuel Rogers Esqre/ St James’s Place/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] E/16 DE 1/ 1816
MS: University College, London, Special Collections, Sharpe Papers. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: P. W. Clayden (ed.), Rogers and His Contemporaries, 2 vols (London, 1889), I, pp. 235–236. 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] Richmond School, which had been transformed into a powerhouse for classical education by its reforming headmaster James Tate. BACK

[3] Gerrard Andrewes (1750–1825; DNB), Dean of Canterbury 1809–1825. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] St John’s College, Cambridge. A sizar was a student in receipt of benefits such as free meals or reduced fees, in return for performing set tasks. BACK

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

[7] Southey plays on the title of Rogers’s best-selling poem The Pleasures of Memory, first published anonymously in 1792. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)