3239. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 February 1819

3239. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 February 1819 ⁠* 

Keswick. 2 Feby. 1819

My dear Cottle

Thank you for your little volume. [1]  It always gives me great pleasure to hear from you, – & that pleasure would have had no drawback upon this occasion, if the letter had contained a better account of your eyesight. I agree in the main with the opinions which you have expressed in the preface, except as to the censure which you have pronounced upon the Alexandrine. [2] But I cannot say that My own practise is to say as little as possible by way of preface, & when I make any innovations upon established usages of poetry, & introduce any experiments in versification, to leave the reader to find them out for himself, & discover if he can upon what principle I have proceeded. Kehama I believe passed thro the reviews without the slightest remark upon the novelties of this kind which it contained: whereas if I had called attention to them, they would of xx have been abused as a matter of course. [3]  It is best to keep ones own counsel in such cases. By & bye critics will take merit to themselves for analysing the metre, & pointing out its beauties.

It will not be very long before I shall hope to send you the concluding volume of my Brazilian history – of which 63 sheets are printed; & I & the printer (your old acquaintance Pople) are steadily proceeding towards the end of our respective labours. [4]  The volume is exceedingly curious, being for the greater part, drawn from unpublished documents. It contains the history of the expulsion of the Jesuits, & the consequent overthrow <destruction> of their meritorious labours. [5]  – I am going on at the same time with ‘the Life of Wesley & the Rise & Progress of Methodism” (such is the title.) [6]  – it will be two thick volumes, – the notes to the first are now in the press. I have taken a wide view of the subject; – the existing lives of Wesley [7]  are scandalously imperfect, either observing a total silence upon what they do not like to acknowledge, or slurring it over. My work will be perfectly faithful as far as extreme diligence – & the scrupulous desire of fidelity can make it so. You may perhaps differ from me in a few minor points, – but on the whole I know you will be well pleased with the disposition in which it is written. You are not to purchase the book, – for Longman will be directed to send you a copy as soon as it is published.

Hartley C. has done himself great credit at Oxford. [8]  He has taken what is called a second class, – which considering the disadvantages of his school education is as honourable for him, as a first class for any body else. In all the higher points of his examination he was excellent, & inferior only in those minuter points whxxx in which wherein he had not been instructed. He is now on the point of taking his degree. There is a good prospect of sending Derwent to Cambridge, [9]  – which you will be pleased to hear. – Of the father I say nothing; – because when I think of the manner in which he has left these boys to sink or swim, I cannot speak of him with patience.

The children are well – God be thanked. The eldest is in her fifteenth year – the youngest in her seventh; – & after so long an interval, Mrs S. is at this time expecting every week to be confined. [10]  During the whole term of gestation she has been miserably unwell, – which did not use to be the case; – & her spirits are by no means good. For myself, – a feeling which I need only hint at, must needs prevent this expected event from being a matter of joyful expectation, – which, but for that feeling, it would otherwise have been. But He by whom all things are appointed, appoints all things for the best if we believe them to be so, & so in reliance upon Him, receive them.

Remember us most kindly to your sisters, & to Robert when you communicate with him.

& believe me my dear Cottle

ever faithfully

your affectionate friend

Robert Southey.

I wish you would amuse yourself by recording such recollections of yourself & others as you might think worthy of being preserved. [11]  It would be easy for you to devise an apparatus for writing without exercising your sight, – in the manner of a port some tablets which I remember to have seen many years ago called the Nocturnal Remembrancer – a frame, with a slit in it to mark the line, – you wrote in the slit, – & then moved up the tablets; or a pasteboard frame might do, the size of a sheet of paper, cut like a gridiron from top to bottom. [12] 


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsements: 91; Feby 2d – 1819/ after receiving/ Messiah 2d part
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 195–197; Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 231 [in part, printed as a postscript to Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 September 1817; see The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3020].

[1] Joseph Cottle, Messiah: in Twenty-Four Books. Part the Second (1819). BACK

[2] Cottle, Messiah: in Twenty-Four Books. Part the Second (London, 1819). The preface justified the experimental metre of Cottle’s poem. This was ridiculed in the Monthly Review, 92 (August 1820), 406–409. The review concluded that ‘Mr. Cottle must undeceive himself … He has not a ray, nor a shadow, of the genius of a poet’ (409). BACK

[3] The Curse of Kehama (1810). Southey was being slightly disingenuous, because contemporary critics had pointed out its irregular metrics. See, for example, the Edinburgh Review, 17 (February 1811), 429–465, which critiqued the use of irregular metre and singled out passages that were ‘extremely offensive to … [the reviewer’s] ears’, ‘detestable in rhythm, style and conception’, full of ‘harsh and noisy bombast’ and characterised by ‘pure childishness and sing-song’ (451–453), though it did find sections of which it approved. BACK

[4] The third and final volume of the History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[5] The expulsion of the Jesuits from Brazil in 1759 and Spanish America in 1767 and the destruction of the ‘Reductions’, or colonies of Native Americans, that they had created. BACK

[6] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[7] These earlier accounts were listed by Southey in The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. v-vi. They included John Hampson (c. 1753–1819; DNB), Memoirs of the late Rev. John Wesley, A.M. with a Review of his Life and Writings; and a History of Methodism, From its Commencement in 1729 to the Present Time (1791), and Thomas Coke (1747–1814; DNB) and Henry Moore (1751–1844; DNB), Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. including an Account of the Great Revival of Religion in Europe and America, of Which he was the First and Chief Instrument (1792). BACK

[8] Hartley Coleridge had been a student at Merton College, Oxford, since 1815. BACK

[9] Derwent Coleridge entered St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1820. BACK

[10] Charles Cuthbert Southey was born on 24 February 1819. BACK

[11] Cottle eventually took this advice and produced Early Recollections, Chiefly Relating to the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1837) and Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (1847). BACK

[12] The ‘Nocturnal Remembrancer’ was patented in 1768 by the watchmaker, Christopher Pinchbeck II (1710–1783; DNB), and was designed to allow the user to write in the dark. BACK

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