Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853)

Bristolian author, bookseller and publisher. Although Coleridge’s biographer James Dykes Campbell joked ‘I never heard of ... [Cottle’s] having ... any [parents], and think it very doubtful. I should think he was found under a booksellers counter wrapped in Felix Farley’s newspaper’, Joseph was in fact the second child of Robert and Sarah Cottle. He was educated at the school run by Richard Henderson (1736/7–1792) at Hanham, near Bristol. In 1791 he opened a shop as a printseller, stationer, binder and bookseller in Bristol. Cottle abandoned bookselling in 1798 but continued publishing. Between 1791 and 1800, he sold, printed or published 114 works, in congeries with Joseph Johnson, Benjamin Flower, H. D. Symons and others. In 1800 he began to sell his copyrights to the London firm of Longman. A poet and prose writer, his works included: Poems (1795), Malvern Hills (1798; with a prefatory poem by Southey), Alfred (1800), The Fall of Cambria (1808), Early Recollections, Chiefly Relating to the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, During his Long Residence in Bristol (1837) and Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (1847). Cottle and Southey were introduced by Robert Lovell in 1794. Although not wealthy, Cottle provided generous financial help to Southey throughout the 1790s, even lending him money for his wedding ring. He published Joan of Arc and the majority of Southey’s earliest works, including Poems (1797) and Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). His professional collaboration with Southey also included contributing poems to the Annual Anthology and co-editing the works of their fellow Bristolian Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). What Cottle did not know, was that Southey viewed his poetry with a merriment that verged on contempt. The two men met less frequently after Southey’s move to Keswick in 1803, but maintained their correspondence. Southey’s final tour of the West Country in 1836–1837 included a visit to Cottle in Bristol. After Southey’s death, Cottle was a central figure in the successful campaign to erect a monument to his memory in Bristol cathedral. He recorded his association with Southey for posterity in his controversial Reminiscences (1847), itself a reworking of the equally contentious Early Recollections (1837).

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