3428. Robert Southey to William Smyth, 29 January 1820

3428. Robert Southey to William Smyth, 29 January 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 29 Jany. 1820

Dear Sir

Calling to mind the old saying “better late than never,” – & taking some shame to myself that I should have cause to remember it on this occasion, I thank you for the manner in which you have done me the honour of mentioning my name in your epitaph upon Kirke White. [1]  This is the first time that my praise has been written in marble: [2]  & tho I am as indifferent as a man would wish to be in these times to common applause & to common censure, I am well aware that laudari a laudato viro [3]  must always be a subject of just satisfaction. – We were not deceived in the opinion which we formed of this extraordinary youth. You had the gratification of knowing him, & of showing him personal kindness. I could only pay a tribute of respect to his remains; but of all the actions of my life it is that for which I have been the most abundantly requited.

You would have had another youth, of not inferior promise, some three years ago, if he had not been cut off even more prematurely than poor White, – that Herbert Knowles, whose lines written in Richmond Church Yard you have no doubt seen. [4]  When the first plan for placing him at Cambridge failed thro the inability of some of his friends to allow him the little which they had promised, he introduced himself to me by letter, & sent me that poem, with another of considerable length & great power of execution, tho by no means fit for publication from its ill conceived & incongruous plan. [5]  I wrote to Rogers concerning him, [6]  he put my letter into Lord Spencers hands; [7]  – & with their aid a provision for his support at College was xxx made, when – happily perhaps for himself – he was called to a place where no farther provision will be needful.

Remember me to Tilbrooke, – my friend Neville White I believe is not in Cambridge at this time.

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs with sincere respect

Robert Southey.


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Wm Smythe Esqre/ &c &c xxxxx xxxxx/ xxxxx xxxxx/ London/ Peter House/ Cambridge/ J. Johnson Esq/ Danson/ Dartford/ Kent
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: [partial] B/ F E/ 3/ 820; C/ 3 FE 3/ 1820
Seal: [partial] black wax
Watermark: G. W./ 1816
MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Smyth’s epitaph to Henry Kirke White was inscribed on a memorial, funded by an American admirer of the poet’s, the physician and botanist Francis Boott (1792–1863), in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge. It was reproduced in editions of Southey’s Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham from 1822. BACK

[2] The epitaph praised ‘generous SOUTHEY’, who ‘Told the tale and show’d what WHITE had been’ (lines 9–10). BACK

[3] ‘To be praised by a man of praise’. BACK

[4] Knowles’s ‘Lines written in the Churchyard of Richmond, Yorkshire’ (sent to Southey in 1816 under its original title ‘The Three Tabernacles’) appeared in the New Monthly Magazine, 7 (June 1817), 420–421, and was much reprinted, including in Southey’s article ‘Cemeteries and Catacombs of Paris’, Quarterly Review, 21 (April 1819), 359–398 (396–398). BACK

[5] For Southey’s response, see his letter to Herbert Knowles, 27 October 1816, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 2855. It is not clear what the second poem sent to Southey was; it might have been the untitled poem beginning ‘My Friend! not now thy name – yet sacred still,’, published in The Literary Gazette, 105 (23 January 1819), 59. BACK

[6] See Southey to Samuel Rogers, 13 December 1816, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 2879. BACK

[7] George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758–1834; DNB), with whom Samuel Rogers was staying when Southey’s request arrived, also agreed to contribute to Knowles’s expenses at Cambridge. BACK

People mentioned

White, Henry Kirke (1785–1806) (mentioned 2 times)
Knowles, Herbert (1798–1817) (mentioned 1 time)
Rogers, Samuel (1763–1855) (mentioned 1 time)
Tilbrook, Samuel (1784–1835) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)