1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Cottle

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Authors Associated with Places. Thomas Chatterton — Robert Southey — Samuel Taylor Coleridge — William Wordsworth" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 390-92.



Remains of the society that rendered Clifton illustrious fifty years ago still lingered there: accomplished relatives of the Edgeworths, the Beddoes's, and the Porters. The Sketcher of Blackwood, eminent as artist (amateur artist!) and writer, scholar and wit, adorned the society. There, too, was his one picture, worth many a grand collection — a picture which, when once seen, can never be forgotten — the St. Catherine of Dominichino, from which Sir Joshua borrowed the attitude of his Tragic Muse. The more the light was reduced, the more that figure started from the canvas. Two remarkable women also were there: Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, authoress of "A Tour to Alet;" a charming, venerable lady, with her Moravian dress and language, and her habit of feeding and comforting every thing she came near; she would walk out alone, and return with a train of dogs and children, expecting and receiving doles of cake and gingerbread from her inexhaustible pockets; and Mrs. Harriet Lee, who was unfortunately absent during my visit. I am not much addicted to lion-hunting, but it was a real loss not to see the authoress of "Kruitzner," one of the very few original stories which our predecessors have not stolen from us.

The most interesting resident of the neighborhood I did however see. My kind friend, the Sketcher, drove me, by invitation, to drink tea at Firfield, a house used during the war as a French prison, and then inhabited by Mr. Cottle and his sister.

Mr. Cottle had been during seven years a bookseller at Bristol, and had during that time had the singular fortune, let me add the liberality and good taste, to publish the first works of Southey, of Coleridge, and of Wordsworth. Himself the author of many works of excellent feeling and tendency, and of one ("The Recollections of Coleridge") of the very highest merit, I found him as I had expected, a mild and venerable man, distinguished for courtesy and intelligence. He received us in a room stored with books and piled with portfolios, into each of which he had most carefully inserted the letters of such correspondents as few persons could boast. Letters of Sir Humphrey Davy, of Robert Hall, of John Foster, of Hannah More, of Charles Lloyd, of Charles Lamb, of Mr. Landor, of Coleridge, of Southey, of Wordsworth, and of a certain John Henderson, who might, Mr. Cottle said, have excelled them all, but who died at nine-and-twenty, and left nothing behind him except an immense reputation for general power, and especially for the power of conversation. "He evaporated in talk." His father had been a neighboring schoolmaster, and had retained his gifted son as his assistant, until driven by general remonstrance into sending him to Oxford. When he arrived there, the astonishment that such a scholar should come to be taught seems to have been universal. He stayed on, however, and in the course of a few years died. I remember to have heard the same account of him from my good old friend, Dr. Valpy, whom he occasionally visited at Reading, and who spoke of him as a very disturbing visitor to a man of regular habits. He would sit smoking and talking till three or four o'clock in the morning, neither of them remembering the hour, John Henderson carrying the good doctor away by the flow of his eloquence. It may be doubted whether, if he had lived, he would have left any thing behind him except a great recollection.

Besides these portfolios (many of them very bulky, and some from men whose names have probably escaped me), the walls were hung with portraits of these illustrious friends, some engravings, some drawings, some oil-paintings, and many of them repeated two or three times, at different ages. Mr. Cottle was engaged, in transcribing Southey's letters, for a life even then projected, and since executed by his son. He said, that of his various epistolary collections he thought Southey's the most amusing, preferring them even to those he had received from Charles Lamb. Very few of these letters are inserted in Mr. Cuthbert Southey's work (doubtless he was embarrassed by his over-riches); but I can not help thinking that a selection of familiar epistles from all the portfolios would be a very welcome gift to the literary world. People can hardly know too much of these great poets, and of such prose writers as Charles Lamb, John Foster, and Robert Hall.