189. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [c. early December 1796]

189. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [c. early December 1796] ⁠* 

You have four old engravings of mine in the Barton, by the Vivares:  [1]  three from Gaspar Poussin, [2]  one from Claude Lorrain. [3]  will you be kind enough to send them to me. the frames are good for nothing, & the prints may come safely, face to face.

they are old & dirty; I am going to write a poem upon one of them, & therefore must have it before me.

my dear friend I physiognomize every thing: even the very oysters may be accurately judged by their shells — I discovered this at Lisbon where they are deformed — hump-backed & good for nothing. is it not possible by the appearance of a river to tell what fish are in it? in the slow sluggish stream you will find the heavy chub — in the livelier current the trout & the pike. if a mans loves prints you have an excellent clue to his character. take for instance the inventory of mine at college. four views of the Ruins of Rome. Charles Fox. [4]  Belisarius. [5]  Niobe. [6]  & the landscapes. these last were a constant source of pleasure; I became acquainted with the inhabitants of every house, & knew every inch of ground in the prospect. they have formed for me many a pleasant day dream; I can methodize these into a little poem, & I think a good one.

In the mean time I shall write the two ballads, & if the weather be walkable bring them over on Tuesday morning: on which day Biggs will want four pages to make up his half sheet. if the weather be bad — I must supply him by the coach & come over the first fine day. Rosser shall at the same time receive a reinforcement.

I intend to make up one copy of the Poems with prints profiles & drawings. I think between us we may furnish our own copies very valuably thus. the profiles should be taken in red & the page they are on stained with tobacco water & bordered. there may be mine, Bedfords & Ediths as I have a sonnet addressed to her to prefix to the whole. we may get prints of Mary Wollstonecraft — Hambden — Falkland [7]  & Rousseau: & drawings of Godstow Nunnery — Chepstow Castle &c. of course a work of time, but it would render the book very valuable. I forgot the tomb of Rousseau which you can copy from the print.

I am now again settled. my books are organized in the closet, & this evening I set off again on my race. by the by can you feel among Mr Floors [8]  periodical parcels which has a small folio at the bottom, as that very identical folio contains the arguments of my two ballads. it is not the last, which was packed up on Tuesday & not directed by me. if you can physiognomize the parcel send that <it> by him on Monday next.

we have a story of a ghost here who appears to the watchman — the spirit of a poor girl whose life was most abandoned, & death most horrible. I am in hopes it may prove true as I have a great love for apparitions. they make part of the poetical creed. fare you well

sincerely yrs

Robert Southey.

Thursday morning.

Ediths love to you & your sisters.


* Address: For/ Mr Cottle/ High Street/ Bristol
Stamped: BATH
Endorsements: Southey/ Feby 1797; Feby 1797; (78) 18; Remarkable!
MS: Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. ALS; 3p. (c).
Previously published: Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), pp. 201–202 [in part, where it is misdated ‘London, 1797’].
Dating note: The dating of this letter is based on internal evidence, which proves that Joseph Cottle’s endorsement is incorrect. The letter was written whilst Southey was living in Bath in 1796 (he only moved to London in February 1797) and refers explicitly to the printing of Poems (1797), which took place in December 1796. BACK

[1] François Vivares (1709–1782), landscape-engraver. BACK

[2] The French-Italian painter Gaspard Dughet (1615–1675), who assumed the surname Poussin when he was adopted as the heir of Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665). Southey’s ‘Musings on a Landscape of Gaspar Poussin’ was published in Poems (1797). BACK

[3] The French landscape artist Claude Lorrain (1600–1682). BACK

[4] Probably the politician Charles James Fox (1749–1806; DNB). BACK

[5] The Byzantine general Belisarius (505–565), who was unjustly imprisoned by the Emperor Justinian. BACK

[6] A mythical queen of Thebes. She boasted of the number of children she had borne, and the gods punished her by killing them all. BACK

[7] John Hampden (1594–1643; DNB), parliamentarian; the author and politician Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (1609/10–1643; DNB). BACK

[8] Possibly a carrier, who dealt with booksellers, publishers and printers in the Bristol area. BACK

People mentioned