3140. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 28 May 1818

3140. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 28 May 1818 ⁠* 

Keswick. May 28th. 1818.

This day – & not till this day – did I receive your manuscript & the very interesting letter by which it was introduced. [1]  You will have expected to hear from me ere this, & I think I know how you will have thought & felt as a suspicion has arisen of something even less pardonable than the brutal sort of repulse which you have done me the justice not to anticipate. – Parcels lie for me at Messrs Longmans till they have occasion to send to me; – they then travel by waggon, which owing to the change of carriers is a business of eighteen days or sometimes three weeks. Your packet has been fortunate in not having been longer in Paternoster Row.

I reply to your letter without the delay of a single post, – & with sincere pleasure, –

for tho’ what I have to say may in some degree discourage hope hope, in all other respects it will correspond entirely to your wishes. – The success of a poem, indeed of any xxxx composition whatsoever, does not depend upon its merit, – or less upon its merit than upon any other cause. Of the volumes of poetry which are published not one in twenty, – perhaps I might say in fifty, – pays the expense of publication, – tho there is not one of the whole number which would not have excited attention & secured or a remuneration to the author had it been published thirty years ago. No persons therefore should risque the publication of a poem on their own account unless the sacrifice of the money so expended were a matter of indifference. For the same reason booksellers will not purchase poetry, – unless from some writer who is in vogue. But I must not leave you here, without trying what can be done. The “Caroline Bowles, to whose very name & existence I was a stranger” this morning, cannot now be to me an “insignificant” person, – one of whom I shall soon forget, – or by whom I would xxxx willingly {be} forgotten. [2] 

Booksellers are not the most liberal, nor the most amiable of men. They are necessarily tradesmen, – & a constant attention to profit & loss is neither wholesome for the heart nor the understanding. Of those with whom I have any dealings Murray is the one who would be least unlikely to risque the publication of your poem, & the most likely to make the publication answer. He would perhaps take the risque upon himself, & give you half the eventual profits. Shall I write to him upon the subject? xx Poor as these terms may appear, they are the best that I have ever obtained {for} myself. – My recommendation ought to have some weight with him.

I do not like such poems, because I am old enough to avoid all unnecessary pain. Real griefs do not lessen the susceptibility for fictitious ones, but they take away all desire for them. There is a great deal of beauty in it, – a female fluency a womanly fluency, a womanly sweetness, a womanly truth & tenderness of feeling, which I have enough of my mother in me perfectly to understand. It is provoking to think that if the same powers had been displayed in prose instead of verse, in a novel instead of a poem, there would have been little or no doubt of finding a publisher, – for let the supply of novels be what it will, the demand is sure to outrun it.

Many years ago, I resided for a short time within ten miles of Lymington. [3]  I wish I were near enough now to see & converse with you. It is in planning a work that advice is useful; – a single remark may then induce an author to avoid a fault, which would xxxx cannot afterwards be got rid of by any laborious correction. I do not mean to say that this poem has any such faults: – a few verbal alterations are all I should suggest here, & a few omissions where they can be made without injury, chiefly for the sake of shortening it, because I foresee that its length will be a bookseller’s objection. – But to the point; – if you think proper I will write to Murray & ask him whether he will publish it, – this you must {I would wish you to} consider as extremely doubtful, – but if the application fails, it will not be for any want of warmth & sincerity in the recommendation. And if it should fail you must not be discouraged, but turn your thoughts to something else, in prose or verse, – in which if I can assist you by any advice, or direct youxx to any subjects which carry with them some attraction, I shall be very happy to xxxxxxx you {show} that you have not honoured with your confidence one who is unfeeling & therefore unworthy of it. – for the present farewell, & believe me

Yrs with sincere respect

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Miss Bowles/ Buckland/ near/ Lymington/ Hampshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 1 JU 1/ 1818
Seal: red wax, design illegible
MS: Westminster School. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), pp. 4–6. BACK

[1] Bowles had written to Southey on 25 April 1818, enclosing her manuscript poem ‘Ellen Fitzarthur’ and seeking his advice as to publication; see Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), pp. [1]–4. The poem was published by Longman in 1820. BACK

[2] Southey quotes Bowles’s letter to him of 25 April 1818. BACK

[3] Bowles’s place of residence was near Burton, Christ Church, where Southey lived in June–September 1797 and again in October–December 1799. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Paternoster Row, London (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)