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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1333. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [started before, and continued on] 18 June 1807 ⁠* 

My dear Cottle

Long since I ought to have thanked you for a letter which interested & affected me very deeply ; – & this I should have done, & have sent you according to your desire what I had said of poor Amos, had I made any use of its contents. [1]  But [MS missing] to wait till it arrived I had dispatched a few lines (of [MS missing] respect

[Half a page of MS missing]

but when all went to wreck & ruin, one of the last things which was done was to obtain for me a pension of 200 £ per year. The net income will be 160 the sum which I have till now received from Wynn, & which of course I shall now receive no longer, the necessity no longer existing. [2] 

This letter has remained longer in my desk than it should have done. Mean time I have learnt that fees & taxes are not contented with a fifth, but that of 200 they will take 56.

every item of it.

By this time you will have found out that as to ‘Saul’ you have made the often-made mistake between Sotheby [3]  & Southey. It seems to me very doubtful whether my career of poetry is not at an end: I have disused it so long that as before {for} every thing else after long disuse, the inclination {for it} is gone. There is a calmer & steadier pleasure in acquiring & communicating the knowledge of what has been & of what is, – I am passionately fond of history, – even when I have been most delighted with the act of poetical composition. the recollection that all was but fable in the story with which I had exerted myself, frequently mingled with the delight. I am better pleased with rendering justice to the mighty dead, – with holding up to the world the action of Kings, Conquerors, Heroes & Saints, not as they have usually been held up, but as they really are, good or evil, according to the opinions formed of them by one who has neither passion, prejudice, nor interest of any kind to mislead his mind. There is a delight in decoding great actions, & (this of a different kind) in execrating bad men beyond any thing which poetry can give, when it departs from historical truth. There is also a source of power even beyond what the poet, creator as he is, can exercise. It is before my earthly tribunal that these mighty ones are brought for judgement. Centuries of applause, trophies & altars, canonizations or excommunication xxxx {avail} nothing with me. No former sentences are cognizable in my court. The merits of the case are all I look to, – & I believe I have never failed to judge of the actions by themselves, & of the actor by his motives, & to allow manners, opinions, circumstances &c their full weight in palliation. What other merits my words will have others must find out for themselves, – but this I will vouch for, that never was the heart of any historian full of purer opinions, & that never any one went about his work with more thorough industry or more thorough good will.

Your account of Churchey [4]  is very amusing. I shall like much to see the pamphlet of which you speak. – Burnett is coming down to see me: he is just publishing two books, & is I hope & believe more likely to maintain himself comfortably & attain some rank & society than he ever has been. – Edith desires to be kindly remembered to you & your mother & sisters. Some summer holy day you & Miss Cottle must visit us. The way is long, but you will think the journey well repaid, – & I am charged by Edith to say that there is no person whom it would give her greater delight to see than your sister. Remember that I bespeak you for next years midsummer, if God willing, we be all alive & well. You & I are now friends of twelve years standing, & now that I am, for the first time in my life, settled, you will not do the part of a friend if you do not come & visit me.

God bless you

yrs affectionately

June 18. 1807.

RSouthey

Remember me to Robert when you see or write to him.


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Brunswick Square/ Bristol/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Cornell University Library, Cottle album.
Previously published: Joseph Cottle (ed.), Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 229–230 [in part].
Dating note: The letter was written over a longer time than the date indicates, as Southey states that it ‘has remained longer in my desk than it should have done’. BACK

[1] Southey had planned to include Amos Cottle in his Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), co-edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford, but he was omitted from the final publication. BACK

[2] The so-called Ministry of All the Talents, in which Wynn had served as Under Secretary of State in the Home Office, had broken up in March 1807. Before he left office, Wynn had succeeded in arranging that the pension he paid Southey from his personal funds was replaced by a government pension. BACK

[3] William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), the poet and translator, published Saul. A Poem in Two Parts in 1807. BACK

[4] Walter Churchey (1747–1805; DNB), Welsh poet who published Poems and Imitations of the British Poets in 1789. Southey had asked Cottle for information on Churchey with a view to including him in his Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807); see Southey to Joseph Cottle, 11 August 1806 (Letter 1210) and 2 November 1806 (Letter 1232). Churchey was not included in the Specimens. BACK

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August 2013