3720. Robert Southey to David Laing, 29 August 1821

3720. Robert Southey to David Laing, 29 August 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 29th – Aug. 1821


I thank you for your obliging present of Alexander Montgomery’s Poems. [1]  The volume reached me two days ago, & I have gone half thro it, in a careful perusal, with very great pleasure, tho not without wishing sometimes for a glossary. This poet is well worthy of the pains which you have bestowed in editing his works. [2] 

My acquaintance with the Scotish poets began in the year 1789, when I was a schoolboy. At that time I purchased three numbers of your early poetry, published by Morrison at Perth; – there I became acquainted with Dunbar, [3]  – & ever since have wished to see a compleat collection of his works. [4] 

It strikes me that the fashion of “Flyting” [5]  – (flouting I suppose would be the English word) was imitated from the French, who in that age wrote such things in rancorous earnest.

I remain Sir

yr obliged & obedient Servant

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] London First Septr 1821./ David Laing Esqr/ Care of Messrs Tait/ (Burks Xxxx)/ Princes Street/ Edinburgh/ Frm/ J Rickman
Postmarks: FREE/ 1 SE 1/ 1821; B M/ SEP/ 4/ 1821
MS: Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, The Laing Collection. ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Geoffrey Bullough, ‘Southey and David Laing’, Times Literary Supplement, 1681 (19 April 1934), 282 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Poems of Alexander Montgomery: With Biographical Notices, by D. Irving (1821). The volume was no. 1981 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] Laing had been instrumental in producing the edition of Alexander Montgomery (early 1550s–1598; DNB): ‘the poems were collected, arranged, and conducted through the press, by Mr David Laing, who likewise contributed the notes on the reverse of the different title-pages, and at the end of the volume’, The Poems of Alexander Montgomery: With Biographical Notices, by D. Irving (Edinburgh, 1821), p. xvii n. BACK

[3] The three-volume edition of Scottish poets published in Perth by the firm run by Robert Morison (1722–1791; DNB). It consisted of The Works of James I, King of Scotland (1786), Selected Works of Gavin Douglas (1787), and Selected Poems of Wil. Dunbar. Part the First (1788). Southey’s copy was no. 1492 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[4] Laing was to publish a two-volume collected edition of the works of William Dunbar (1460?–1513x1530; DNB) in 1834; no. 870 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] A contest that consisted of the exchange of insults and was often conducted in verse. In fifteenth and sixteenth century Scotland it had become a form of public entertainment, with makars (poets) engaging in verbal jousts. The custom originated not in France, but in Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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