344. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [late August 1798]

344. Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, [late August 1798] ⁠* 

Hereford, 1798.

My dear Cottle,

My time here has been completely occupied in riding about the country. I have contrived to manufacture one eclogue, [1]  and that is all; but the exercise of riding has jostled a good many ideas into my brain, and I have plans enough for a long leisure. You know my tale of the ‘Adite,’ in the garden of Irem. [2]  I have tacked it on to an old plan of mine upon the destruction of the Domdanyel, and made the beginning, middle, and end. [3]  There is a tolerable skeleton formed. It will extend to ten or twelve books, and they appear to me to possess much strong conception in the Arabian manner. It will at least prove that I did not reject machinery in my Epics, because I could not wield it. This only forms part of a magnificent project, which I do not despair of one day completing, in the destruction of the ‘Domdanyel.’ My intention is, to show off all the splendor of the Mohammedan belief. I intend to do the same to the Runic, and Oriental systems; to preserve the costume of place as well as of religion.

I have been thinking that though we have been disappointed of our Welsh journey, a very delightful pilgrimage is still within our reach. Suppose you were to meet me at Ross. We go thence down the Wye to Monmouth. On the way are Goodrich castle, the place where Henry V. was nursed; and Arthur’s cavern. [4]  Then there is Ragland Castle somewhere thereabout, and we might look again at Tintern. I should like this much. The Welsh mail from Bristol, comes every day through Ross; we can meet there. Let me hear from you, and then I will fix the day, and we will see the rocks and woods in all their beauty. God bless you.

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* 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. 217–218.
Dating note: The similarities between this letter and that to John May of 2 September [1798] (Letter 346), suggest that the letter to Cottle was written at a slightly earlier date. BACK

[1] Probably ‘The Wedding’, later published in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1800), pp. 119-126. BACK

[2] The story of a man who claimed to have found the hidden garden of Irem. See George Sale (c. 1696–1736; DNB), The Koran, Commonly Called the Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English Immediately From the Original Arabic, with Explanatory Notes Taken From the Most Approved Commentators. To Which is Prefixed a Preliminary Discourse (1734), ‘Preliminary Discourse’, p. 6, cited by Southey as a note to Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 1, line 187; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 181–188 for Southey’s initial plan of the poem. BACK

[3] At the beginning of Book 1 of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Thalaba and his mother Zeinab discover the garden of Irem. BACK

[4] After the death of his mother, Henry V (1386/7–1422; reigned 1413–1422; DNB) was fostered by Maud Montague, Countess of Salisbury (d. 1424; DNB), who lived at Courtfield, near to Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire. Arthur’s cavern is a cave just north of the town of Monmouth, on the English-Welsh borders, where, in legend, Arthur and his knights sleep, awaiting England’s call. BACK