3020. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 September 1817

3020. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 September 1817⁠* 

My dear Cottle

I take it for granted that you have learnt long ere this, from some channel or other, that when your packet was sent off to Keswick, I was upon the continent. Here I found it on my return a few days ago, & the earliest leisure which I could find has been given to its attentive perusal. This lapse of time is not to be regretted, because it will have abated blunted the edge of your resentment, & I doubt not by this time you regard the criticism of the Monthly Review just as it deserves. Such things are utterly unworthy of notice. The easiest & wisest course is to despise them; – recollect the abuse which I have endured for so many years, & you will kn perceive that I practise what I preach. [1] 

Yet I should be sorry to lose your preface, – your prose has a natural ease which no study could acquire, & the whole personal part is related in a <the best> manner. All of this you should retain, & the more you added to it the better I should like it. But it is not worth while to reprint a piece of mere scurrility which if it be not reprinted will never be re-read or remembered.

Perhaps I anticipate your own judgement when I say that if the poem ends with the death of S John the Baptist it remains imperfect – for this assuredly is not the conclusion of your subject – the Ascension or the Pentecost would be the proper close. [2] 

For a long time I have found it necessary to review no poetry, & even to lay down a law <for myself> upon this subject – like the laws of the Medes & the Persians. [3]  The principles of the Quarterly Review in matters of poetry differ widely from mine, – & indeed care has been taken (& that too rather in an offensive manner) to unsay in a criticism upon Wordsworths poems what I had incidentally said upon a former xxxxxxxx occasion. [4]  The last poetical work which I reviewed was the World before the Flood, & that article was not inserted till after long delay & a long struggle, in which I was compelled to assert that my personal feelings were concerned, & in some manner my character also, – for I had let Montgomery know that I should review it. [5]  This however was a very unpleasant circumstance & for this xxx & other obvious reasons, I made a resolution, the propriety of which I have had frequent occasion to perceive.

I have made a long journey in company with a friend of my own age from this country, & with Mr Nash, the artist who gave me the drawings of Waterloo. [6]  We went by way of Paris & Bescançon into Switzerland, visited the Grande Chartreuse crost Mount Cenis, <proceeding> to Turin & Milan, & then turned back by the Lakes x Como Lugano & Maggiore, & over the Simplon. Our next business was to see the mountainous part of Switzerland. From Berne we sent our carriage to Zurich & struck into what is called the Oberland (Upper-land). After ten days spent thus in the finest part of the country we rejoined the carriage, & returned thro the Black Forest: the most interesting points upon our homeward road, were Danaushingen (where the Danube rises) Friburg, Strasburg, Baden, Carlsruh, Heidelberg, Manheim, Frankfort, Maintz, – Cologne, & to by Brussels & Lisle to Calais. I kept a full journal, which might easily be made into an amusing & useful volume or two, – but I have <no> leisure for such a task it. You may well suppose what an accumulation of business is upon my hands after so long an absence, & when for four months I have been spending money instead of earning it. The time however has been well employed. I have derived great advantage both in knowledge & in health, & every person remarks that I look better than they ever remember to have seen me.

I have dispatched your MS by the Coach this day, but it has so many coaches to change that it may probably be two or three days longer than this letter on the road. Edith desires her kindest remembrances both to you & your sisters. Is there no hope of seeing you one day in this country?

God bless you my dear Cottle

Yrs most affectionately

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 2 Sept. 1817.


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol
Endorsement: September 2 d 1817 on 2 d part of/ Messiah
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Reminscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 236 [in part; with a postscript taken from Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 6 February 1819, tacked onto the end]. BACK

[1] Cottle’s Messiah: A Poem in Twenty-Eight Books: Part the First (1815), had been savaged by the Monthly Review, 82 (March 1817), 323–324, as ‘such a farrago as no human imagination could possibly have conceived to be within the compass even of the modern English press’ and ‘merely a flat versification of the Bible, degrading the sacred volume as far as it can be degraded by human means’ (324). Cottle was working on the second volume of his Messiah and was possibly considering retaliating in a preface. He had sent a copy to Southey, for his opinion. Messiah: A Poem in Twenty-Four Books. Part the Second appeared in 1819. The Monthly Review, 92 (August 1820), 407–412, described it as containing not a ‘particle of poetry’ and dismissed its author as possessing ‘not a ray, nor the shadow of the genius of a poet’. BACK

[2] Cottle rejected the advice, concluding Messiah … Part the Second (1819) with the death of John the Baptist. BACK

[3] Daniel 6: 15, ‘it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed’. BACK

[4] Probably a reference to the hostile review of Wordsworth’s Poems (1815) and The White Doe of Rylstone (1815) in Quarterly Review, 14 (October 1815), 201–225 (published 12 March 1816), which opined ‘mere simplicity of language is no merit at all, if it be purchased at the expense of perspicuity’ (223) and that if Wordsworth was not ‘a favourite with the public, he can have nobody to blame but himself’ (225). BACK

[5] Southey had reviewed The World Before the Flood (1813), in Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 79–87. For his struggle to get the review published, see Robert Southey to John Murray, [c. 13 May 1814], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 2421. BACK

[6] Seven of the eight engravings in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816) were derived from sketches by Nash. BACK

People mentioned

Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle family (mentioned 1 time)
Montgomery, James (1771–1854) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)