1796 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ann Batten Cristall

Robert Southey to Joseph Cottle, 13 March 1797; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 1:305-06.



When I was with George Dyer one morning last week, Mary Hayes and Miss Christal entered; and the ceremony of introduction followed. Mary Hayes writes in the Monthly Magazine under the signature of M. H. and sometimes writes nonsense there about "Hevetius." She has lately published a novel — Emma Courtenay; a book much praised and much abused. I have not seen it myself, but the severe censures passed on it by persons of narrow mind have made me curious, and convinced me that it is at least an uncommon book. Mary Hayes is an agreeable woman, and a Godwinite. Now, if you will read Godwin's book with attention, we will consider between us in what light to consider that sectarian title. As for Godwin himself he has noble eyes, and a nose — oh, most abominable nose! Language is not vituperatious enough to describe the effect of its downward elongation. He loves London, literary society, and talks nonsense about the collision of mind; and Mary Hayes echoes him. But Miss Christal, — have you seen her poems? — a fine, artless, sensible girl! Now, Cottle, that word sensible must not be construed here in its dictionary acceptation. Ask a Frenchman what it means, and he will understand it, though, perhaps, he can by no circumlocution explain its French meaning. Her heart is alive, she loves poetry, she loves retirement, she loves the country: her verses are very incorrect, and the literary circles say she has no genius; but she has genius, Joseph Cottle, or there is no truth in physiognomy. Gilbert Wakefield came in while I was disputing with Mary Hayes upon the moral effects of towns. He has a most critic-like voice, as if he had snarled himself hoarse. You see I like the women better than the men. Indeed, they are better animals in general, perhaps because more is left to nature in their education. Nature is very good, but God knows there is very little of it left.