2508. Robert Southey to James Hogg, 1 December 1814

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

2508. Robert Southey to James Hogg, 1 December 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. Dec. 1. 1814.

Dear Hogg

Thank you for your books. I will not say that the Queen’s Wake [1]  has exceeded my expectations, because I have ever expected great things from you, since in 1805 I heard Walter Scott by his own fireside at Ashiestiel repeat Gilmanscleuch. [2]  When he came to that line ‘I ga’e him a my goud father’ – the look & the tone with which he gave it were not needed to make it go thro me. But the Wake has equalled all xxx that I expected. The improvements in the new edition are very great, & <they are> in the two poems which were most deserving of improvement, as being the most impressive & the most original. Each is excellent in its way, but Kilmeny [3]  is of the highest character: The Witch of Fife [4]  is a rich work of fancy, – Kilmeny a fine one of imagination, – which is a higher & rarer gift. These poems have given general pleasure throughout the house; my eldest girl often comes out with a stanza or two of the Witch, – but she wishes sometimes that you always wrote in English. – The Spy [5]  I shall go thro more at leisure.

I like your praise both of myself & my poem because it is comes from a good quarter. You saw me where & how a man is best seen, at home, & in his every day, wear & tear, mind & manners: I have no holy day suit, & never seek to shine; such at <as it> is, my light is always burning. – Much <Somewhat> of my character you may find in Chaucers Clerk of Oxenford, & the concluding line of that description might be written as the fittest motto under my portrait ‘Gladly would he learn & gladly teach.’ [6]  I have sinned enough to make me humble in myself & indulgent toward others. I have suffered enough to find in religion not merely consolation, but hope & joy. & I have seen enough to be contented in, & thankful for, the state of life in which it has pleased God to place me.

We hoped to have seen you on your way back from Ellory. [7]  I believe you did not get the Ballad of the Devil & the Bishop [8]  which Hartley transcribed for you. I am reprinting my miscellaneous poems collected into three volumes, – & as your projected publication [9]  will have the start of it greatly, for the first volume is not nearly thro the press, – & there is a corrected copy of the ballad, with its introduction, in Ballantynes hands, which you can make use <of> before it will be wanted in its place.

You ask me why I am not intimate with Wilson. There is a sufficient reason in the distance between our respective abodes. I seldom go even to Wordsworths or Lloyds, – & Ellory is far enough from either of their houses to make a visit the main business of a day. So it happens that except dining in his company once at Lloyds many years ago, & breakfasting with him here not long afterwards, I have barely exchanged saluations with him once or twice when we met upon the road. Perhaps however I might have sought him had it not been for his passion for cockfighting. But this is a thing which I regard with abhorrence.

Would that Roderick [10]  were in your hands for reviewing. I should desire no fairer nor more competent critic. But it is of little consequence what friends or enemies may do for it now; it will find its due place in time, which is slow but sure in its decisions. From the nature of my studies I may almost be said to live in the past; it is to the future that I look on for my reward, & it would be difficult to make any person who is not thoroughly intimate with me, understand how compleatly indifferent I am to the praise or censure of the present generation, farther than as it may affect my xxxxx means of subsistence, which thank God it can no longer effectually do. There was a time when I was materially injured by unjust criticism; but even then I despised it, from a confidence in myself, & a natural buoyancy of spirit. It cannot injure me now, – but I cannot hold it in more thorough contempt.

Come & visit me when the warm weather returns. You can go nowhere where you will be more sincerely welcomed –

And may God bless you

Robert Southey.

I specify your person on the cover, for want of a fuller direction – this no doubt will reach you –  [11] 


* Address: To/ Mr James Hogg/ (The Ettrick Shepherd.)/ Edinburgh./ Paid
Stamped: KESWICK/298
Postmark: [partial] 3 DEC/ 1814
Watermark: J DICKINSON & CO/ 1811
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 2245. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Mary Garden, Memorials of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd (Paisley, 1844), pp. 73–77. BACK

[1] James Hogg, The Queen’s Wake: A Legendary Poem (1813). The copy in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, no. 1344, is described as ‘Presentation Copy from the author’. BACK

[2] Hogg’s ballad ‘Gilmanscleugh’, published in his The Mountain Bard; Consisting of Ballads and Songs, Founded on Facts and Legendary Tales (Edinburgh, 1807), pp. 35–49. The line Southey quotes appears on p. 48. BACK

[3] ‘Kilmeny’, in Hogg’s The Queen’s Wake: A Legendary Poem (Edinburgh, 1813), pp. 176–197. BACK

[4] ‘The Witch of Fife’, in Hogg’s The Queen’s Wake: A Legendary Poem (Edinburgh, 1813), pp. 70–95. BACK

[5] Hogg had edited (and often written) a weekly magazine called The Spy, 1 September 1810–24 August 1811. BACK

[6] Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400; DNB), Canterbury Tales, ‘General Prologue’, line 310. BACK

[7] John Wilson’s home, near Kendal. BACK

[8] ‘A True Ballad of St Antidius, the Pope, and the Devil’, Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), III, pp. 171–180; first published as ‘A True Ballad of a Pope’, Morning Post, 4 February 1803. BACK

[9] Possibly Hogg’s Pilgrims of the Sun (1815). BACK

[10] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[11] I specify … you: Written at top of fol 1r. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Ashestiel (mentioned 1 time)