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

2562. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 March 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 2. March. 1815.

My dear Cottle

I have delayed longer than I ought to have done, to thank you in Hartleys name & in his mother for your unsolicited kindness toward him, [1]  – & in my own for your poem, [2]  the brief account (too brief) of your excellent parent, [3]  – & the pencil, – to which I affix no common value. The idea which you have expressed in your cancelled preface of the couplet coincides with the practice of our early poets; many, or rather most of whom, wrote it with all the freedom & variety of blank verse. [4]  My judgement upon this point accords with theirs & with yours. I could have wished that the title of your poem had been different: because it unavoidably excites an expectation that the subject will be the New & not the Old Testament history – but I see the difficulty of substituting any other which xxx would embrace the whole of so extensive a plan. Have you ever seen Sylvesters translation of Du Bartas? [5]  The great work [6]  upon which the extraordinary, tho ephemeral, popularity of the French poet was founded, takes the same range of scripture history that you have done, tho’ handled in a very different manner, being full of digressions & desultory matter. Du Bartas comes down to the Captivity. – Two other parts were to have compleated his plan – Messiah, & the Eternal Sabbath, but he did not live to write them. But I am inclined to think that if he had lived, he would have filled up the intervening portion of Jewish history, & probably have made his Judith [7]  a part of this extensive undertaking. You who perhaps are not so tolerant in these matters as I am, would perhaps be disgusted with the conceits of Du Bartas & the quaintnesses of his translator: I can see all their faults & yet admire the powers which both have perverted.

I do not see why you should not enlarge your plan to three parts, & carry on the history in the second thro the whole intermediate period between the Psalmist & the commencement of the New Testament. There are many splendid subjects, & the connection of the whole would appear more clearly than if you pass at once, with so long a skip to the Gospel Dispensation. [8] 

I admire the general flow, & the frequent felicity of your verses. Some of the liberties which you take with language, such as omitting the article, & inserting the & some occasional inversions, I should not have used. But your ear is always good, & one {anyone} who studies the rhymed-couplet would do well to go to school to you.

We are going on well, God be thanked. I am working away at sundry employments, continually accumulating materials for more works than I can possibly live to compleat, – yet it xx this is not loss of time, for it is a continual accumulation of knowledge which is always turning to account, x I have not got thro the introduction to my Tale of Paraguay [9]  yet; – but when the fit takes me my progress will be rapid. At present my main business is the history of Brazil, [10]  a most laborious work which will be most inadequately remunerated. I speak within compass when I say that the same time & labour bestowed upon temporary subjects might have produced ten times more emolument: nevertheless I have chosen well, & shall persevere thro the whole series of my historical labours undertaking.

I recognized your hand on a Bristol newspaper last night. [11]  We knew that Coleridge was with the Morgans [12]  at Calne, & this is all we know. He leaves his family to chance & charity. With good feelings, good principles as far as the understanding is concerned, & an intellect as clear & as powerful as ever was vouchsafed to man, he is the slave of the vilest & most degrading sensuality, & sacrifices every thing to it. The case is equally deplorable & monstrous.

Is it in vain to say how truly we should rejoice if you & your sister would pass your summer holy days here? – I think I could promise you pleasures which would leave a lasting gratification behind them. The mountain-ponies are sure footed, – & xxxx {a} boat would give you air & enjoyment with perfect ease & without exertion.

I beseech you make this your summers arrangement: you & I are of an age to know that what we mean to do should not be unnecessarily delayed, – & I will hope that you mean to see this delightful scenery; & visit one of your oldest & most affectionate friends

God bless you my dear Cottle

R Southey


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 231 84
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 116–117; Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 386 [in part, as the final paragraph of a cut-down version of Southey to Cottle, 27 October 1814, Letter 2493] BACK

[1] Cottle was contributing towards Hartley Coleridge’s expenses at university. BACK

[2] Cottle’s biblical epic Messiah (1815). BACK

[3] Cottle’s mother, Sarah, had died on 18 December 1813. BACK

[4] A cancelled preface to Cottle’s biblical epic Messiah. The first part (which engaged with the Old Testament) appeared in 1815, a second part (dealing with the New Testament) in 1820. BACK

[5] Joshua Sylvester (1562/3–1618; DNB), translator of Bartas his Devine Weekes and Workes (1608). This played a crucial role in disseminating the writings of the French Huguenot epic poet Guilluame de Salluste Du Bartas (1544–1590). BACK

[6] Du Bartas’s La Sepmaine; ou, Creation du Monde (1578). BACK

[7] Du Bartas’s first epic Judith (1573), based on Judith 13: 1–10. It was translated into English by Thomas Hudson (d. in or before 1605; DNB) in 1584. BACK

[8] Cottle did not follow Southey’s advice. The second part of the Messiah, published in 1820, dealt with the New Testament. BACK

[9] A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[10] The first volume of The History of Brazil had appeared in 1810; volumes 2 and 3 followed in 1817 and 1819, respectively. BACK

[11] Unidentified. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013