3632. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 13 February 1821

3632. Robert Southey to Caroline Bowles, 13 February 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 13 Feby. 1821

Thank you for your book & your drawing. [1]  They arrived this evening. I have been intending & intending to write to you ever since my return home in July, – & more especially since I got your poem [2]  in November, to have told you then how well I liked it in print, & how much it was admired by the reading part of my family. But you know what becomes of good intentions – the Devil is said to pave his dominions with them, & if it be so I have furnished him with as many materials as most men. My excuse must be not so much the number of my own employments, as the numerous interruptions to which I am liable, during part of the year, from unexpected visitors, & all the year long from persons at a distance who, with or without a reason, writes to me upon all imaginable & unimaginable subjects. – One man for instance requests an acrostic for his mistress, & another consults me upon a scheme for paying off the national debt. [3]  My collection of such letters is not a little curious. The evil is that in replying to them either for the sake of getting rid of the application, or in mere courtesy, or in the kinder mood which those of a better kind excite, things which I ought & designed to do are left undone, time passes on; & the arrears become like a prodigals debts, irksome to remember because they are too heavy to be cleared off.

I wish I could have seen you again at Chelsea, – but my very minutes were numbered while I was in & about London, [4]  nor did I ever <feel> any thing like a sense of rest from the time I entered it, till I got into the mail-coach on my return. I heard of you once from Dr Thomas, [5]  who is an old friend of my family. – I saw such an account of your poem as it was gratifying to see in the New Monthly Magazine, [6]  & I did what I could to recommend it for such notice as it deserved in another quarter, [7]  where the will must be taken for the deed.

Your stanzas upon the Kings death are very good, both in thought & feeling & expression. [8]  So are the Lines upon the Proclamation. [9]  I do not see anything to censure. Go on with your blank-verse poem; [10]  if I am not deceived the subject will secure for it a favourable acceptance, relating as it does to feelings which will find sympathy in every kind heart. I need not xxx tell you that when you read contemporary writers poets the best thing you can learn from them is to avoid their peculiarities & their mannerisms & their affectations, – in one word their faults: but you are in no danger of catching them

I am publishing an experimental poem [11]  which Longman will send you as soon as it comes forth, – in the course of a fortnight probably. It is written in hexameters, the heroic measure of the ancients. Do not trouble yourself with the explanation of its principle in the preface, but read it as you would verse of any other kind, & you will soon feel & find the rhythm. The subject is the late Kings [12]  death: considering that I might be expected as a matter of duty to write upon it, I chose to do it in this form.

You & I must be better acquainted personally, – & you must become acquainted with my wife & daughter. Our spare room will be filled this summer; – but next year we shall be very glad if you will let us show you this neighbourhood, – if we may dare to look on so long! farewell & believe me

yrs very truly

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Miss Bowles/ Buckland/ near Lymington/ Hampshire
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: No 20 Miss Caroline Bowles
MS: British Library, Add MS 47889. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), pp. 20–21. BACK

[1] An unidentified book, and a sketch by Bowles, a keen amateur artist, of a Bristol scene; see Southey to Caroline Bowles, 14 February 1821, Letter 3633. BACK

[2] Bowles’s Ellen Fitzarthur: a Metrical Tale, in Five Cantos, published by Longman in 1820. Her name was not on the title page. Bowles had sent a copy to Southey in June 1820; see Edward Dowden (ed.), The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles (Dublin and London, 1881), p. 19. BACK

[3] ‘N.P.T.’ had written to Southey asking for ‘an acrostick upon the word Rebecca’, in order to help him win the affections of Rebecca Rankin (1795–1871), daughter of a prominent farmer in Bocking, Essex; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 26 August 1817, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3019. The scheme for paying off the national debt is unidentified. BACK

[4] When Southey had visited London in May–June 1820. BACK

[5] Possibly Benjamin Thomas (c. 1741–1824), a wealthy doctor resident in Kington, Herefordshire, and known to Southey’s mother’s family. BACK

[6] Ellen Fitzarthur had been very favourably reviewed in the New Monthly Magazine, 14 (July 1820), 35–39. BACK

[7] Southey had recommended the poem to John Wilson for review in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine; see Southey to John Wilson, 27 July 1820, Letter 3515. BACK

[8] ‘Stanzas on the Death of the King’, Ellen Fitzarthur: a Metrical Tale, in Five Cantos (London, 1820), pp. [121]–123. BACK

[9] ‘Thoughts Suggested By Hearing the Bells Chime After the Proclamation of George the Fourth’, Ellen Fitzarthur: a Metrical Tale, in Five Cantos (London, 1820), pp. 124–134. BACK

[10] Bowles’s autobiographical ‘The Birth-Day’. It was never completed, but it was published in 1836. BACK

[11] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[12] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

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