903. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [c. 1 March 1804]

903. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [c. 1 March 1804] ⁠* 

Dear Cottle

I was glad at seeing your hand writing this evening – & in truth you would have seen mine before – if I had had heart to write to you – that could not be done without adverting to our removal from Bristol, a subject which still brings with it too much pain to be ever voluntarily admitted into my mind. You will, I am sure, rejoice to hear x that it is probable I shall soon again become a father, but indeed the recollection of what has past makes it to me a thing more of anxiety than of hope.

You seem in Mrs Newtons business [1]  to have done every thing that could be done. in a woman of her line of life, & still more one who had been cheated, suspicion was to be expected, & both you & I did foresee it & wisely provide against it. But if any farther symptoms should appear, it will then be proper to wash our hands clean & let her negociate immediately with the publishers. It will be well to publish the statement in the Monthly Magazine, & perhaps in the Gentlemans also when the booksellers whom you mention have settled their accounts. She has good reason to be thankful – for we have done better for her in publishing than ever we did by for ourselves.

I have long looked among the advertisements for Alfred [2]  without success, thank you! Longman had a parcel to send me this week, & it is probable therefore that the Kings of the West Saxons – or rather of England – may be at this moment travelling in the Flying Waggon. I hope in the course of the next winter to pay you in kind – for Madoc is about to be printed. [3]  my bargain is the same as yours, – to share the eventual profits. they however are to expend more upon the work, for it is to have vignettes & tail-pieces, some in copper, some in wood according as the subjects suit. I made this stipulation. not from any ambition of what is merely ornamental, nor solely from the wiser motive of setting eye-traps in the booksellers windows, but because I wish to have the costume, the antiquities, & the natural history of the poem elucidated. Thus there will first come Madocs vessel – such as ships of burthen were at that period. Queen Emma in her Saxon dress. [4]  The armour of that day – the Welsh dress, the various Indian dresses &c − &c − &c. all this if designed with taste will be very beautiful as well as very useful. [5]  I divide the poem into parts – of which the first ending with his return to America, & comprising the old six books, is finished. The subdivisions are now eighteen in number, called by no <common> name, but each having its title from its subject – as thus – 1. The Return. 2. The Banquet. 3. Cadwallon. 4 The Voyage &c − & the length perfectly at pleasure. some exceeding 300 lines, some short of 100. the whole 18 containing about 3700. from 8 to 9000 will be the content of the whole. These minutenesses would interest you as mere literary gossip if I were not assured that you will take a nearer interest in a poem which is among your old recollections & belongs to an old friend. You will find great additions – of the alterations you will hardly be sensible, as they are of that nature which occur almost in every line, affecting the sentences not the story, the story remaining nearly the same, except that much is ingrafted into it. It has cost me much labour, & will yet cost much. What is added in the second part will relate chiefly to the extirpation of idolatry − & in fact the philosophy of the poem will be showing how to civilize & convert by force − for the last tail piece − or else for the title-page there shall be this emblem, the Cross planted upon a rock, a Palm Tree beside it, & a spring of living waters gushing forth. [6] 

As you may suppose it is some pleasure & some pride to look forward to the termination of this labour. In 1789 I conceived the design of writing upon Madoc & in the course of that & the two ensuing years more than once began – In the winter of 1794 the first book & half were written in the state which you may remember. In the spring of 1797 rewritt corrected & carried on to the [MS torn] of the fourth book, in 1798 resumed & finished in 1799. It then remained till October 1801 when the rewriting was commenced at Dublin − & this is the history. Yet so much of my thought & so many of my solitary feelings have been fixed upon this object, that the getting rid of it at once – the turning it adrift, & making my main private delight public property – seems the most serious thing I have ever done in my life. Not from any anxiety for its fate – for I know the acorn will come up, tho I shall never see its growth, nor sit under the shade of my own Oak: but having considered it as my own great work, the publication will bring with it a feeling that my great work is done – & that I may go to rest.

However there is the History [7]  to succeed, & in that I make a daily progress. the reviewing has impeded every thing. but that is over for the year.

You tell me nothing of your own pursuits – do not however forget that I shall always take an interest in hearing of them. Of your sister Sarahs marriage I am glad, looking at it with a calm & uninfluenced mind – were she my own sister I should like you have some regret mingled. God bless her in her change! you will remember me & Edith to her, & to your sister Mary − & Mary Anne & your good Mother. We did not see them before our departure for obvious reasons – in fact we were both nearly heart-broken − & both feel the blow still. howbeit sorrow is like unripe fruit – sour & bitter only because unripe, & afflictions always mature into blessings. – I am in good health – indeed never better, only that my eyes are still at times a vexation. Longman is to send down for my perusal a Life of Chatterton by John Davis, [8]  a man who printed Travels in America [9]  at Bristol last year – a book which if you have not seen, is, with great defects, well worth seeing, for he is a has genius.

God bless you

R S.


* Address: To/ Mr Cottle/ Portland Square/ Bristol./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ MAR 1/ 1804
Watermark: C HALE
Endorsement: 170 68
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Mary Newton (1749–1804), sister of Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB), was the principal beneficiary of the sales of The Works of Thomas Chatterton, which Southey and Cottle edited to relieve Chatterton’s family from financial distress. In 1803 Southey reckoned that the publication would clear over £400 for her. BACK

[2] The second edition of Cottle’s Alfred; an Epic Poem, in Twenty-four Books was published by Longman and Rees in 1804. BACK

[3] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication. It was published in 1805. BACK

[4] Emma of Anjou (b. c. 1138) was the illegitimate half-sister of Henry II, (1133–1189; King of England 1154–1189; DNB) who married Dafydd (in English, David), King of Gwynedd, son of Owain Gwynedd (1100–1170, Prince of Gwynedd 1137–1170; DNB). She is described in Madoc, Part 1, Book 2. BACK

[5] In the event Madoc was published with only two engravings. For further details of Southey’s plan for illustrations; see Southey to Mary Barker, 17 February 1804, Letter 896. BACK

[6] An engraving of the palm tree and cross appears above the exordial lines of Madoc (1805). BACK

[7] Southey’s unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[8] John Davis (1774–1854), The Life of Thomas Chatterton was published in London in 1806 by Thomas Tegg (1776–1846; DNB), rather than Longman. BACK

[9] Southey reviewed Davis’s Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America; during 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801 and 1802 (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 54–59. BACK

People mentioned

Cottle family (mentioned 3 times)
Rees, Owen (1770–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 1 time)