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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Mr. Ebenezer Elliott, 3 February 1809

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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“Keswick, Feb. 3. 1809.

“Yesterday I received your note enclosing the specimen of your poems. I have perused that specimen, but my advice cannot be comprised in a few words.

“A literary, as well as a medical opinion, Mr. Elliott, must needs be blindly given, unless the age and circumstances of the person who requires it are known. When I advised Henry White to publish a second volume of poems, it was because he had fixed his heart upon a University education, and this seemed to be a feasible method of raising funds for that end; his particular circumstances rendering that prudent which would otherwise have been very much the reverse. For poetry is not a marketable article unless there be something strange or
Ætat. 35. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 213
peculiar to give it a fashion; and in his case what money might possibly have been raised, would, in almost every instance, have been considered rather as given to the author than paid for his book. Your poem would not find purchasers except in the circle of your own friends; out of that circle not twenty copies would be sold. I believe not half that number.

“You are probably a young man, Sir, and it is plain from this specimen that you possess more than one of those powers which form the poet, and those in a far more than ordinary degree. Whether your plans of life are such as to promise leisure for that attention (almost it might be said that devotement), without which no man can ever become a great poet, you yourself must know. If they should, you will in a very few years have outgrown this poem, and would then be sorry to see it in print, irrecoverably given to the public, because you would feel it to be an inadequate proof of your own talents. If, on the other hand, you consider poetry as merely an amusement or an ornament of youth, to be laid aside in riper years for the ordinary pursuits of the world, with still less indulgence will you then regard the printed volume, for you will reckon it among the follies of which you are ashamed. In either case it is best not to publish.

“It is far, very far from my wish to discourage or depress you. There is great promise in this specimen; it has all the faults which I should wish to see in the writings of a young poet, as the surest indications that he has that in him which will enable him
to become a good one. But no young man can possibly write a good narrative poem; though I believe he cannot by any other means so effectually improve himself as by making the attempt. I myself published
one at the age of twenty-one: it made a reputation for me,—not so much by its merits, as because it was taken up by one party, and abused by another, almost independently of its merits or demerits, at a time when party-spirit was more violent than it is to be hoped it will ever be again. What has been the consequences of this publication? That the poem from beginning to end was full of incorrect language and errors of every kind; that all the weeding of years could never weed it clean; and that many people at this day rate me, not according to the standard of my present intellect, but by what it was fourteen years ago. Your subject, also, has the same disadvantage with mine, that it is anti-national: and believe me, this is a grievous one; for though we have both been right in our feelings, yet to feel against our own country can only be right upon great and transitory occasions, and none but our contemporaries can feel with us,—none but those who remember the struggle and took part in it. And you are more unfortunate than I was, for America is acting at this time unnaturally against England; and every reader will feel this; and his sense of what the Americans are now, will make him fancy that you paint falsely in describing them as they were then. There is yet another reason—criticism is conducted upon a different plan from what it was when I commenced my career. You live near the
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Dragon of Wantley’s den; but you will provoke enemies as venemous if you publish; and Heaven knows whether or no you are gifted with armour of proof against them. Nor is it the effect that malicious censure and ridicule might produce upon your own feelings which is of so much importance, as what would be produced upon your friends. They who are so only in name will derive a provoking pleasure from seeing you laughed at and abused; they who love you will feel more pain than you yourself, because you will and must have a higher confidence in yourself, and a stronger conviction of injustice than they can be supposed to possess.

“The sum of my advice is—do not publish this poem; but if you can without grievous imprudence afford to write poetry, continue so to do, because, hereafter, you will write it well. As yet you have only green fruit to offer; wait a season, and there will be a fair and full gathering when it is ripe.

Robert Southey.”