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

22. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [c. summer/ autumn 1792] ⁠* 


Collins, if yet remembrance can remain
If Friendship still may plead, nor plead in vain
If yet this hand is dear — attend — attend
And lay aside your Homer for your friend.

Still still does study with unceasing rage
Devour the Grecian & the Roman page?
Still shall the classics feed your greedy eyes
Whilst Ossian [1]  on the shelf neglected lies
Whilst Gibbon [2]  with a careless look you see
And Spenser’s only read by Rough & me.

Behold yon hothouse — see each anxious hour
The curious florist guards his favorite flower —
From India Italy — no matter where
Tis placd in Englands cold ungenial air —
Too weak to stand the chilly winds that fly
Along Britannias bold & bracing sky
Raisd with unceasing care in artful bed
It rears in artificial bloom its head
Some half a dozen friends the plant admire
And soon both master friends & plant expire.

Now view yon violet — its fragrance round
Perfumes the air & ornaments the ground
Of every flower the sweetest & the best
Each village tenant wears it in her breast.
Say Collins which is best? or which shall claim
With most desert the honord due of fame?

The moral comes — intent the letter’d sage
Brunck [3]  or the Scholias [4]  turns the Grecian page —
Full many a year behold him studious pore
Till sense & learning can correct no more.
The new edition comes — its merit see.
Perhaps a δε for μεν or μεν for δε! [5] 

Who knows not Petrarch? [6]  many a studious day
He wove intent the Latin epic lay.
The Latin lay despised forgotten lies.
Yet have his sorrows bathd the readers eyes
Yet has the Bard in native language known
Deservd & gaind the immortal laurel crown.

Why then my friend shall Genius blaze in vain
Why pour her rapid flow in Latin strain.
Canst thou my friend the narrow praise desire?
D’Oyley may equal — Vincent will admire —
Smedley [7]  may view you with approving eyes
And Dunces ask their bible exercise!

But say — say Collins will the Doctors name
Expand the portals of the pile of Fame?
What from such labors can such Genius hope
When even Bentley only lives in Pope? [8] 

Yet deem not even Southeys dreaded strain
Holds learning useless — or thinks study vain
Tho’ he who sways with wig & rod the school
Proclaims me impious insolent & fool.
Yet I have felt enrapt the great delight
When Hector [9]  rages in the field of fight
Yes I have wept when poor & tempest tost
The suffering monarch [10]  reachd his native cost —
Without one blush een I can dare relate
That I have wept when Argus [11]  bowd to fate.
Yet still my native tongue demands my lays
And there & there alone I seek for praise —

Let not thy once lovd friends request be vain
Write soon in verse & English be the strain.
If I may beg & beg without offence
That you will stoop awhile to Common Sense. [12] 

—————

Monday. No 9 Duke Street Bath


Notes

* Address: Mr C Collins/ opposite the lying-in hospital/ Lambeth/ near/ Westminster Bridge
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: [partial] 26/ 9
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44799
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 264 [in part]; and Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 1–4.
Dating note: Baughman gives this a tentative date of 26 August 1792; Curry suggests a period between 1792–summer 1793. Internal evidence and the fact that the letter was written at 9 Duke Street, Bath, suggests a date of summer/autumn 1792, when Southey was at his parents’ house. BACK

[1] The controversial series of poems purportedly written by the ancient bard Ossian (son of Fingal), published by James Macpherson (1736–1796; DNB). BACK

[2] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), historian, whose works include The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788). BACK

[3] Richard François Philippe Brunck (1729–1803), a French classical scholar notorious for cavalier handling of the texts he edited. BACK

[4] An editor who made commentaries in the margins of Latin or Greek texts. BACK

[5] Southey is playing games, reversing the order of the tags that every student of Greek soon knows simply mean, depending on their place in the sentence, ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other’. BACK

[6] Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), Italian poet and humanist. His unfinished Latin epic Africa was little read in the eighteenth century, whilst his sonnets in Italian still commanded a wide audience. BACK

[7] Edward Smedley (1750–1825), an Usher at Westminster School 1774–1820. BACK

[8] Richard Bentley (1662–1742; DNB), classical scholar caricatured by Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) in the Dunciad. Bentley, infamously, published a revised (presumably, he thought, improved) version of Milton’s Paradise Lost in 1732. BACK

[9] In the Iliad, a Trojan hero, killed by Achilles. BACK

[10] The Greek hero Odysseus. BACK

[11] In the Odyssey, Book 17, Odysseus’ dog, who recognises his master on his return home after twenty years and then dies. BACK

[12] Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), Common Sense (1776), a key tract in support of the American Revolution. BACK

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Published @ RC

March 2009