3697. Robert Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 29 June 1821

3697. Robert Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 29 June 1821⁠* 

Keswick, June 29, 1821.

Your “Peter Faultless” [1]  has found his way to me, in one of my slow parcels. Thank you for the book. The charge of indecency ought not to have been made against it; but there are parts which are coarser than the age will bear. [2]  The surest criterion in such cases is a woman’s feelings. Whatever Mrs. Elliott [3]  would not like to read aloud in company, you would do well to expunge.

There is great power both of conception and expression in even the most faulty of these poems. The stories are better imagined than they are made out. The serious poems have very great merit. Indeed, the graver your subject, and the higher you pitch your tone, the better you succeed. Thirty years ago, these pieces would have excited general attention. Thirty years hence, somebody will assume credit for finding out their merit. Present reputation depends far less upon real desert, than upon trick, tinsel, trashiness, mannerism, fashion, and accident. But merit outlives all these, and finds its place at last.

I am versifying a little, and prosing a great deal. My History of the Peninsular War [4]  keeps me closely employed.

It is, I hope, needless to say, that if any chance should bring you into these parts, I shall be heartily glad to shake you by the hand. Yours, very truly,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857)
Previously published: Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857), pp. 160–161. BACK

[1] Elliott’s Peter Faultless to His Brother Simon, Tales of Night, In Rhyme, and Other Poems (1820). BACK

[2] A short, but hostile, review of Peter Faultless in the Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c., 181 (8 July 1820), 439, had accused Elliott of offending public decency by publishing ‘filth and obscenity’. BACK

[3] Frances (Fanny) Gartside (dates unknown), who had married Elliott in 1806. BACK

[4] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)