3268. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 18 March 1819

3268. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 18 March 1819 ⁠* 

Keswick.  18 March. 1819.

I wrote to Murray on the sixth of last month to enquire the fate of your poem, [1]  – & this day I have received an apology for not answering my letter <till now> stating (which no doubt is the truth) that not having answered it by return of post it went out of his head.

I feared what his reply would be, – & from this long silence you will have expected it. These are his words – “The MSS poem is such as to do its author very great credit. But the fact is that no poetry except your own & that of some four or five others, has the least chance of sale at present, & I am obliged to refrain.” – There is but too much truth in this. Poets who would <have> obtained universal applause thirty years ago, cannot now obtain a hearing, – however xxx great the promise which their works may contain, – & the vilest trash will be received from one who, by fair means or by foul, has obtained a reputation. As for the incivility of Murrays long delay, you must remember that a great bookseller is a much greater man than the Prime Minister.

I am sorry for this, & perhaps more disappointed than you will be. A local poem, – such as I suggested in my last letter, – would have a better chance than one of any other kind, – because it carries with it a local interest. The New Forest [2]  is both in its history & scenery a rich subject – & with the help of prints a poem book might be made which would be bought by idlers at Lymington Southampton &c; – booksellers must look to the sale of what they publish, & this is a kind of sale on which they can in some degree calculate. – The Isle of Wight is not so extensive a subject but it would have the same advantage. The Forest however affords more scope, & would supply matter for a very interesting poem, especially to one who has so many feelings connected with it as you needs must have. – Have you ever accustomed yourself to write blank verse? – for that would be the most suitable metre. Think of this, – of the Convents & Castles within its xxx <ancient> precincts, – of Winchester, – of William the Conqueror & William Rufus, [3]  – of its natural history – both as relating to vegetable & animal life, – of what you have seen, & what you have felt there. Think of these things, & tell me what you think of them.

& believe me

Yrs faithfully

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Miss Bowles/ Buckland/ near Lymington/ Hampshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47889. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), pp. 13–14. BACK

[1] Bowles’s ‘Ellen Fitzarthur’, which Southey had drawn to Murray’s attention for possible publication; see Southey to John Murray, 9 June 1818, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3149. Murray had expressed a cautious interest, and Bowles had then sent her manuscript to him; see Southey to John Murray, 6 February 1819, Letter 3241. BACK

[2] Southey’s advice was to write a poem about the area (Hampshire) in which Bowles had been born and brought up. Bowles replied on 12 May 1819, rejecting the idea of a poem on the New Forest, but promising to send the manuscript of a blank verse poem, a draft of ‘The Birth-Day’, Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), p. 15. BACK

[3] William I, ‘the Conqueror’ (1027/8–1087; King of England 1066–1087; DNB), who turned the New Forest into a royal hunting park, and his son William II, ‘Rufus’ (c. 1060–1100; King of England 1087–1100; DNB), who died as the result of an accident there. Local legend claimed that William II’s death was to atone for the destruction wreaked by his father in appropriating the forest for the crown and inflicting harsh punishments on those who broke its laws. BACK

People mentioned

Murray, John Samuel (1778–1843) (mentioned 2 times)