216. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle [fragment], [c. 8 May 1797]

216. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle [fragment], [c. 8 May 1797] ⁠* 

May, 1797.

* * * I fancy you see no hand-writing so often as mine. I have been much pleased with your letter to Herbert Croft. [1]  I was at Dr. Gregory’s [2]  last night. He has a nasal twang, right priestly in its note. He said he would gladly abridge his life of Chatterton, if I required it. But it is a bad work, and Coleridge should write a new one, or if he declines it, let it devolve on me. They knew Miss Wesley, daughter of Charles Wesley, [3]  with whom I once dined at your house. She told them, had he not prematurely died, that she was going to be married to John Henderson. Is this true? [4] 

I have a treasure for you. A ‘Treatise on Miracles,’ written by John Henderson, [5]  your old tutor, for Coleridge’s brother George, and given to me by a pupil of his, John May, a Lisbon acquaintance, and a very valuable one. John May is anxious for a full life of John Henderson. You should get Agutter’s [6]  papers. You ought also to commit to paper all you know concerning him, and all you can collect, that the documents may remain, if you decline it. If the opportunity pass, he will die without his fame.

I have lost myself in the bottomless profundity of Gilbert’s papers. Fire, and water, and cubes, and sybils, and Mother Church, &c. &c. Poor fellow. I have been introduced to a man, not unlike him in his ideas, — Taylor the Pagan, [7]  a most devout Heathen! who seems to have some hopes of me. He is equally unintelligible, but his eye has not that inexpressible wildness, which sometimes half-terrified us in Gilbert.


* 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. 212–213 [in part, with omissions at beginning of the letter indicated]. In editing the text for publication, Cottle pieced together extracts from at least two letters. The contents of the first paragraph suggest it was written [c. 8 May 1797]. The second paragraph is taken from the letter sent by Southey to Joseph Cottle, 2 May [1797] (Letter 214). The third paragraph may be from the letter of [c. 8 May 1797] or from some other letter from the same period of which there is no other trace.
Dating note: The dating of this letter is from internal evidence, in particular the mention of Southey’s meeting with Dr Gregory (1754–1808; DNB), which took place on 7 May 1797 (Letter 215). BACK

[1] Southey and Joseph Cottle both disapproved of his exploitation of manuscripts obtained from members of Thomas Chatterton’s (1752–1770; DNB) family. Cottle had written to Croft, informing him that if he did not financially recompense Chatterton’s sister, Mary Newton (1749–1804; DNB), his misconduct would be exposed. See Joseph Cottle, Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 145. This was the first salvo in what became a public battle. In 1799, Southey proposed a new edition of Chatterton in a letter to the Monthly Magazine, 8 (July 1799), 770–772. His letter also touched on Croft’s conduct. Croft replied in letters published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 70 (February–April 1800), 99–104; 195; 222–226; 322–325. Southey responded in the Monthly Magazine, 9 (April 1800), 253. Southey and Cottle’s three-volume edition of Chatterton was eventually published in 1803. BACK

[2] George Gregory, Church of England clergyman and author, whose writings included a life of Thomas Chatterton, published in 1789. BACK

[3] Sarah Wesley (1759–1828; DNB), daughter of Charles Wesley (1707–1788; DNB). BACK

[4] Joseph Cottle notes this was a ‘vain fancy; causelessly entertained, by, at least, four other ladies’, as well as Sarah Wesley, see Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (London, 1847), p. 212 n†. BACK

[5] John Henderson (1757–1788; DNB), student and eccentric. Joseph Cottle had attended his father’s school at Hanham, near Bristol, and John Henderson had encouraged his love of literature and urged him to become a bookseller. Cottle celebrated his life and works in Poems, Containing John the Baptist. Sir Malcolm and Alla, a Tale, Shewing to All the World What a Woman’s Love Can Do. War a Fragment. With a Monody to John Henderson; and a Sketch of his Character (1795) and later in an ‘Appendix’ to Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (1847). BACK

[6] William Agutter (1758–1835; DNB), Church of England clergyman, political conservative and campaigner for the abolition of the slave-trade. A friend of John Henderson’s, he accompanied his corpse from Oxford (where Henderson had died) to its final resting place, Kingswood near Bristol, and preached Henderson’s funeral sermon. BACK

[7] The philosopher and translator Thomas Taylor (1758–1835; DNB). BACK

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