1846 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Cottle

John Dix, in "Robert Southey and Joseph Cottle" Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers, and Politicians (1846) 160-64.



Let me here digress a little, in order to give a slight pen-and-ink sketch of my host himself, whose name has been very long, if not during the last quarter of a century, very intimately associated with literature. All the reading world must remember Lord Byron's attack upon him, but all the world does not know that to Mr. Cottle belongs the honour of having befriended and patronized Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, in their youthful days, and that he first introduced them to the literary ranks, by publishing, at his own risk, and for their especial benefit, their first productions.

There are some men who outlive their reputations, whose intellectual fires pale before the blaze of brighter stars in the literary hemisphere. I do not mean to say that Mr. Cottle only lives in the cutting satire of Byron, or as the lettered accoucheur of the "Bard of Rydal," the late Laureate, and the "old man eloquent," but certainly he has of late years so entirely withdrawn from literary pursuits, that, were he dead, he could scarcely be less thought of. As it is, an occasional hymn in a new "selection" is the only intimation that he exists. A few years since he published some early recollections of Coleridge, which fell almost still-born from the press; but that may be accounted for, they having been published, I believe, in a city notorious for its neglect of literature. His early works consisted of epic poems on "Malvern Hills," "The Fall of Cambria," "Alfred," and "The Messiah," — productions which are now seldom met with, excepting on dusty shelves, side by side with the Gentleman's Magazine. In private life, Mr. Cottle is most estimable; and in the enjoyment of lettered ease, and surrounded by all that is exquisite and refined, he surveys, with the serene enjoyment of a true Christian, the retrospect of a calm and well-spent life. As an early friend and associate of men so eminent as those to whom I have just referred, a sketch of him cannot but be interesting, and therefore I introduce it here, as the present occasion seems a fitting one for the purpose.

If, then, reader, you would wish to look upon our venerable friend, just by an effort of the imagination, (a faster mode of travelling even than by the express train of the Great Western Railway,) accompany me to Bristol; it is an old place, rich in antiquities. As we drive up the street leading into the heart of the city, on our right hand is the old church of the Knights Templars, which leans so much out of the perpendicular, that one hurries unconsciously by it, as if it were every moment in danger of falling. When its bells ring out, this old tower shakes fearfully, and so much does it "seriously incline," that I believe one cannot stand against it with the heels and back of the head touching the decayed free-stone of which it is composed. It absolutely seems to lean over the dingy old houses which surround it. Proceeding on our way into the city, we arrive at a bridge, the successor of the one about which Chatterton published his first Rowleian forgery. Passing over this, we enter the High Street alluded to by the same marvellous boy, in his ballad of Sir Charles Bawdyn; and in the next street, Wine-street, we observe a draper's shop, in which Southey was born. Not far from this is Broad-street, in which, at a well-known hotel, the early days of Sir Thomas Lawrence were spent, the great painter's father having been landlord of the inn. At the other extremity of Wine-street frowned, within my remembrance, a dark pile of building, the Bridewell, in which Savage died; and not three minutes' walk from thence is the old Mint, in the dreary grave-yard of which he rotted years and years ago. But these associations have led me away, as they are apt to do, from my main object, which let us turn and pursue.

It is Sunday morning, and from a hundred church towers and steeples the chiming bells ring cheerfully and solemnly out; those from the noble church of St. Mary Redcliffe,

The pryde of Bristowe and the Western Londe,

being heard sonorous and distinct above all the rest. With a sad, but usual neglect of all that is beautiful in art, the Bristolians have allowed the finest parish church in England to fall into decay; and, so its stones are crumbling to dust, or falling one by one, and decay sits busily employed upon buttress and pinnacle. Chatterton's monument, a wretched architectural abortion, which resembles a huge ornamental extinguisher, with a Dutch doll on its top, (apt illustration!) is on our left-hand as we ascend Redcliffe Hill, and proceed towards a neat place of worship, alluded to in another part of this volume, as the chapel where I sketched Rowland Hill. As we enter the enclosure of the building, we perceive a carriage, drawn by an old white horse, at the door, and from it alights a gentleman, who, in consequence of a lameness, experiences great difficulty in walking into the building. Let us, too, enter, for within we shall have a better opportunity of observing him.

In the very furthest pew from the pulpit he has taken his place. He is an old man, for he cannot, from his general appearance, have numbered less than seventy-five years. His head, which is thinly covered with grey hairs, is well shaped, but rather flattened on its superior portion. As might be expected, time, which has thinned his flowing hair, has also dimmed that benevolent grey eye, for a pair of spectacles almost conceal them. The prevailing characteristic of his combined features is benevolence, and yet there is no want of decision in his expression; the compressed lips indicate that plainly enough. He looks like what he is, a gentleman in easy circumstances, but you would seek in vain for any peculiarities telling of striking genius. And can that quiet-looking old gentleman be him whom Lord Byron so mercilessly abused? One is tempted to say, as we gaze on his bland countenance, "why he looks as if he could not call down the resentment of any mortal man." What could

Joseph of Bristol, the brother of Amos,

have done to merit the bitter denunciations of his lordship? The reader, however, must be content to solve these enigmas himself; I only profess to give the outlines of his outward and visible man. But let us return to Southey.