173. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 3 September 1796 

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

173. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 3 September 1796 ⁠* 

SIR,

IF Mr. COLERIDGE had ever made a pilgrimage to the birth-place of Chatterton, [1]  he would never have inserted these lines in his beautiful Monody [2]  — the only one that has yet done honour to the subject:

“Thy native cot she flash’d upon thy view,
“Thy native cot, where still at close of day
“PEACE smiling sat — and listened to thy lay.”

The street is as close and filthy as any in St. Giles’s: there is a charity-school there, and Mrs. Chatterton herself taught children to read and sew. When such is the place and such the inhabitants, we cannot easily conceive PEACE sitting in Pile-street.

In his dress, Chatterton had none of the carelessness by which genius is so often so dirtily distinguished. At that period laced cloaths were worn, and he was fond of appearing in a showy suit. It is strange that men of genius should so frequently wish to render themselves singular by their appearance, either by becoming slovens, or, like Chatterton and Gray, [3]  by affecting the opposite extreme.

The field has been so often and so completely gleaned, that no new anecdotes of this strange young man can now be expected. A complete edition of whatever he left, either under his own name or that of Rowley, is still to be desired. His unpublished pieces are in the hands of Mr. CATCOTT, [4]  of Bristol, on whom Chatterton has reflected a celebrity which he would otherwise have sought in vain, either* [5]  under ground or on the top of a church-steeple. Some of these should be preserved. To publish them without submitting them to the pruning knife would be to injure the reputation of the author and to insult the decency of the reader. Some beautiful poems, (not contained in the editions of Rowley,) are in Mr. BARRET’S History of Bristol; [6]  and they appear amid that dull compilation, like a few stars in a dark night. These pieces, with the published poems of Chatterton, and his contributions to the magazine of the day, if collected into a volume with his life, would form an acceptable present to the public. [7]  Subscriptions have been proposed for erecting him a monument; surely this would be the noblest?

B.

Bristol, Sept. 3.


Notes

* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 2 (September 1796), 614 [from where the text is taken] under the pseudonym ‘B.’. For conjectural attribution to Southey, see Kenneth Curry, ‘Southey’s contributions to The Monthly Magazine and The Athenaeum’, The Wordsworth Circle, 11 (1980), 215. BACK

[1] Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). BACK

[2] Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Monody on the Death of Chatterton’ appeared in his Poems on Various Subjects (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. [1]–11. BACK

[3] Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB). BACK

[4] George Catcott (dates unknown), Bristol pewterer and antiquarian. BACK

[5] Southey adds a footnote: ‘Alluding to his descent into Penpark-hole, and his ascent up to the steeple of St. Nicholas Church: facts well known at Bristol.’ BACK

[6] William Barrett (1727?–1789; DNB), The History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol (1789). BACK

[7] Southey and Joseph Cottle published a three-volume edition of Chatterton’s works in 1803. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009