1445. Robert Southey to [Joseph] Cottle, 20 [–21] April 1808

1445. Robert Southey to [Joseph] Cottle, 20 [–21] April 1808 ⁠* 

Wednesday evening. April 20. 1808

My dear Cottle,

On opening a box today the contents of which I had not seen since the winter of 1799, your picture made its appearance. Of all Robert Hancocks performances it is infinitely the best. [1]  I cannot conceive a happier likeness. I have been thinking of you & of old times ever since it came to light. I have been reading your Fall of Cambria [2]  & in the little time <interval> that remains before supper, must talk to you in reply to your letter.

What you say of my copyrights affected me very much. Dear Cottle set your heart at rest upon that subject, it ought to be at rest. They were yours: – fairly bought & fairly sold; you bought them upon the chance of their success, – which no London bookseller would have done; & had they not been bought they could not have been published at all; – nay, if you had not bought <purchased> Joan of Arc [3]  xxx the poem xxx never would have existed nor should I in all probability ever have obtained that reputation which is the capital on which I subsist, & <nor> that power which enables me to support it. But this is not all. Do you suppose Cottle that I am have forgotten those true & most essential acts of friendship which you showed me when I stood most in need of them? Your house was my house when I had no other; the very money with which I bought my marriage-ring & paid my marriage fees was supplied by you; it was with your sister that I left Edith during my six months absence, – & for the six months after my return it was from you that I received week by week the little on which we lived, – till I was enabled to live by other means. It is not the settling of our cash-account that can cancel obligations like this. – You are in the habit of preserving your letters, & if you were not I would entreat you to preserve this – that it may be seen hereafter. It is my Sure am I that there never was a more generous or kinder heart than yours, & you will believe me when I add that there does not live that man upon earth whom I remember with more gratitude & more affection.

My head throbs & my eyes burn with these recollections. Good night my dear old friend & benefactor.



I have read thro nineteen books of the Fall of Cambria & shall finish the poem tomorrow. Of the p story therefore I am not at present able to speak. It seems to me that you would write x a long narrative poem far better in rhyme than in blank verse – & if you attempt another I should earnestly advise you to use either a regular rhymed stanza, – or that irregular form which Scott has made so popular, – indeed any mode of rhyming except the monotonous common couplet. The facility of writing which you possess tempts you to dilate too much, & this temptation is more easily yielded to in blank verse. Rhyme would also lead you to lessen the quantity of dialogue & the length of the speeches. It would have another important advantage – there is so much danger of sacrificing sense to sound in rhyming, that one is always upon the watch against it: – your feelings carry you away – you find words which seem at first to express them & do give them vent. but it is not always possible for another to make out a precise & definite meaning, for what you conceived strongly, but vaguely. In many instances I, who can enter into the mind of a poet, see when you have had a true poetic feeling, – & yet have failed t <in> bringing it fairly to light.

Of what I have yet read I am best pleased with Eleanors [4]  lament, – which is exceedingly beautiful. There strikes me that there is a strange inconsistency of character in the Knight & Squire who betray Gloucester: – you first describe them as men of high honour – then make them traitors.

You have with great skill xxx got rid of the main difficulty in the subject. & given equal interest <[force]> both to Edward & Llwelyn [5]  as men, preserving a paramount interest for the xxx English. Virgil & Tasso [6]  have failed in this great point, & even Homer inclines our feelings too much in favour of the Trojans. My own Madoc [7]  has the same fault of inclining the balance the wrong way at the conclusion.

I was vexed that it was not in my power to see you again before my departure, as I had promised & purposed – We look forward, as far as we dare do to so distant a time, with great pleasure to the prospect of bidding you & your sister Mary welcome at Keswick in the summer of 1810. Perhaps I can shift off the visitors who have promised to come next year till the end of the summer & so get room for you next x summer instead of the year after. This I will try to do, & will do if possible; – consider it as a thing likely & do not make any engagement which would stand in its way. Edith begs to be affectionately remembered to your good mother & sister

believe me my dear Cottle

Yours very truly

R Southey


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol
Postmark: [illegible]
Stamped [partial]: KESWICK
Watermark: T. BOTFIELD/ 1803, shield with crown and anchor
MS: Bristol City Library, MS 20864. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 135–137; Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. x-xi [in part]. BACK

[1] Robert Hancock (1730–1817) made portraits of Southey, Coleridge and Cottle in 1796. BACK

[2] Cottle’s The Fall of Cambria, a Poem (1808), dealt with the conquest of Wales by King Edward I (1239–1307; DNB). BACK

[3] Southey’s poem Joan of Arc, published by Cottle in 1796. BACK

[4] Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223–1291; DNB), mother of Edward I. BACK

[5] Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf (‘Llywelyn, Our Last Leader’) (c. 1223 – 11 December 1282) was the last prince of an independent Wales before its conquest by Edward I. BACK

[6] Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), author of the epic poem La Gerusalemme liberata (1580). BACK

[7] Madoc (1805). BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Cottle family (mentioned 2 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)