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701. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, August 1802 ⁠* 

Bristol,  Aug. 1802.

Dear Cottle,

Well done good and faithful editor. I suspect that it is fortunate for the edition of Chatterton, that its care has devolved upon you.

The note with which you preface ‘Burgum’s Pedigree’ [1]  need not come to me, as the M.S. is yours, whatever inferences may be drawn from it, will be by you. Add your name at the end to give it the proper authority. I shall know how to say enough, in the preface, about all other aiders and abetters, but it will not be easy to mention such a ringleader as yourself in words of adequate acknowledgment.

What you have detected in the ‘Tournament’ [2]  I have also observed in Barrett, [3]  in the omission of a passage of bombast connected with one of the accounts of the Bristol churches. Your copy of the ‘Tournament’ being in Chatterton’s own hand-writing is surely the best authority. We are now of one opinion, that Chatterton and Rowley are one.

I am glad to hear that you have discovered anything worth printing in the British Museum. Doubtless, if you think it worth printing, others will do the same, and it is not our fault, if it be dull or an imperfect work. I transcribed page after page of what would have been worth little if genuine, and not being genuine, is worth nothing. This refers only to the local antiquities, and false deeds of gift, &c. I made a catalogue, and left it with you. Why say, ‘I hope you will not take it amiss.’ I am as ready to thank you for supplying any negligence of mine, as any one else can be. I should have wished for more engravings, but we have gone to the bounds of expense and trouble, in this gratuitous, but pleasant effort to benefit the family of Bristol’s most illustrious bard. Why did you not sign your notes? I can now only say, that much, indeed most of the trouble has devolved on you. J. C. at the end of each note, would have showed how much. [4] 

I have seen Catcott. [5]  Chatterton had written to Clayfield [6]  that he meant to destroy himself. Clayfield called on Barrett to communicate his uneasiness about the young lad. ‘Stay,’ said Barrett, ‘and hear what he will say to me.’ Chatterton was sent for. Barrett talked to him on the guilt and folly of suicide. Chatterton denied any intention of the kind, or any conversation to that import. Clayfield came from the closet with the letter in his hand, and asked, ‘Is not this your hand-writing?’ Chatterton then, in a state of confusion, fell upon his knees, and heard in sullen silence, the suitable remarks on his conduct. [7]  God bless you.

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847)
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 225-227.
Dating note: Content suggests a date in summer 1802; dating is taken from Cottle. BACK

[1] Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton, 3 vols (London, 1803), II, pp. 455-462. The manuscript of this fake pedigree drawn up by Chatterton belonged to Cottle. His initials, ‘J.C.’, were added to the end of his prefatory note on the work. Southey made it clear in the unpaginated ‘Preface’ to vol. 1 that he and Cottle were joint editors of the edition. BACK

[2] Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton, 3 vols (London, 1803), II, pp. [57]-82. Pages [59]-[60] reprint the passage about the medieval foundation of St Mary Redcliff, Bristol, that are omitted from the main text of ‘The Tournament’. Cottle stated of this passage, ‘The following account is transcribed from one of the parchment manuscripts produced by Chatterton’ (I, p. [59]). BACK

[3] William Barrett (c. 1727-1789; DNB), History and Antiquities of the City Bristol (Bristol, 1789), p. 568. BACK

[4] Most of Cottle’s editorial notes were not signed. For the exception, see Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton, 3 vols (London, 1803), II, pp. 455-462. BACK

[5] George Symes Catcott (1729-1802), pewterer and patron of Chatterton. BACK

[6] Michael Clayfield (dates unknown), a Bristol distiller and friend of Chatterton. BACK

[7] William Barrett (c. 1727-1789; DNB), History and Antiquities of the City Bristol (Bristol, 1789), p. 646 also relates this story. BACK

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August 2011