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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2436. Robert Southey to James Hogg [fragment], 7 June 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick June 7. 1814.

On the next leaf you will find an inscription written at the request of an E Indian officer, high in the service, for his mothers monument, [1]  – but which was too little in the fashion of epitaphs to suit his purpose. I have nothing else among my papers, but what has appeared years ago in the newspapers, & probably found its way into the Poetical Register, – which I believe is the title of Mr Davenports [2]  yearly volume. I wish you success, – & hope that the critical part of your work will display a better spirit than is to be found in any contemporary journal. [3] 

Ballantynes is likely to be a good representative opinion. [4]  You {who} live in the public can perhaps hardly understand how little I who live out of it, think of it, or care for it xx [MS missing] xxxx written. The one thing which I [MS missing]

I have seen some comments upon Jeffrays last attack [5]  in the Times, [6]  – not the article itself. He gives me credit for incredible xxx industry in selecting the passages quoted in my notes. I never read his Review, – I desired a Lady of my acquaintance [7]  to borrow one two or three volumes & select a few flowers for my xxxx {purpose}; – she with the help of a female friend performed the task one evening after tea in the course of an hour, – & sent me the extracts in question, with others equally choice which are reserved for a second course. Mr Jeffray will find me what the pugilists call an ugly customer. As a critic he is perfectly safe from any attack on my part; – but as a politician & prophet. – I am writing the history of the War in the Peninsula, [8]  with every possible advantage of documents & authority, – & he may depend upon being having his due praise there. It is not likely that I shall ever xxxx xxx hitch him into verse, – but I will certainly [MS missing]

Epitaph [9] 

_____

This to a Mothers sacred memory
Her son hath hallowed. Absent many a year
Far over sea, his sweetest dreams were still
Of that dear voice which sooth’d his infancy;
And after many a fight against the Moor,
And Malabar, & that fierce cavalry
Which he had seen covering the boundless plain
Even to the utmost limit where the eye
Could pierce the far horizon, his first thought
In safety, was of her who when she heard
The tale of that days danger would retire
And pour her pious gratitude to heaven
In prayers & tears of joy. The lingering hour
Of his return, long-lookd for, came at length.
And full of hope he reach’d his native shore: –
Vain hope that puts its trust in mortal life!
For ere he came the number of her days
Was full. O Reader what a world were this, –
How unendurable its weight, if they
Whom Death hath sundered, did not meet again!

Notes

* Address: To/ Mr. James Hogg/ Messrs Grieve & Scott’s/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: B/ 9 JUN/ 1814
MS: Pennsylvania State University Library
Previously published: Eliza Beshero-Bondar, ‘Nine New Letters of Robert Southey’, The Wordsworth Circle, 30.1 (1999), 48–49. BACK

[1] Major-General John Peché (d. 1823), of the East India Company’s Army. He had been a neighbour of Southey’s at Keswick. BACK

[2] The author and publisher Richard Alfred Davenport (1776/7–1852; DNB). His Poetical Register commenced in 1801. It contained new poems (some by Davenport himself) and reviews (often highly critical) of other poetic publications. BACK

[3] Hogg had written to Southey on 4 June 1814 and asked if he would contribute poetry or a review to a new ‘poetical repository in Edin. … to consist of original poetry and the remainder to be filled up with short reviews or characters of every poetical work published in the interim’; see Douglas S. Mack et al (eds), The Collected Letters of James Hogg, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 2004–2006), I, p. 181. He also invited contributions from Scott and Byron, amongst others. However, his original plan of soliciting contributions changed and instead he published parodies of his eminent contemporaries in the Poetic Mirror: or, The Living Bards of Britain (1816). Southey was sent up in ‘Peter of Barnet’ and ‘The Curse of the Laureate, Carmen Judiciale’ (pp. 231–256). BACK

[4] Hogg had reported Ballantyne’s opinion of Roderick, which was at press: ‘he [Ballantyne] says that there are more instances of strength of mind and bold fancy in it than perhaps any former one of yours but that the narrative is so much the leading feature of the poem that all depends upon it and that it gets rather slowly on and the beauties are sometimes half lost’; see Douglas S. Mack et al (eds), The Collected Letters of James Hogg, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 2004–2006), I, p. 182. BACK

[5] Jeffrey’s highly critical review of Carmen Triumphale (1814), especially its Notes attacking the Edinburgh Review, in Edinburgh Review, 22 (January 1814), 447–454. This advised him to ‘shake off his foolish bays, and return to his fresh water as speedily as possible … we earnestly hope [Roderick] was written before he came to his Laurel and Butt of Sherry’ (454). BACK

[6] The Times, 7 April 1814. BACK

[7] Mary Barker, with the assistance of Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sarah Hutchinson (1775–1835): see Southey to Mary Barker, [c. 15–17 December 1813], Letter 2348. BACK

[8] The History of the Peninsula War (1823–1832). BACK

[9] The ‘Epitaph’ had been completed by March 1811. It was first published in Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 129–130 BACK

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August 2013