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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey to Ebenezer Elliott, 22 November 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, Nov. 22. 1809.
“My dear Sir,

“I have had your poem little more than a week: yesterday I carefully perused it (not having had leisure before), and should this evening have written to you, even if your letter had not arrived.

“There are in this poem (which appears to me an alteration of that whereof you formerly sent me an extract) unquestionable marks both of genius and the power of expressing it. I have no doubt that you will succeed in attaining the fame after which you aspire; but you have yet to learn how to plan a poem; when you acquire this, I am sure you will be able to execute it.

“This is my advice to you. Lay this poem aside as one whose defects are incurable. Plan another, and be especially careful in planning it. See that your circumstances naturally produce each other, and that there be nothing in the story which could be taken away without dislocating the whole fabric. Ask yourself the question, is this incident of any use? does it result from what goes before? does it influence what is to follow? is it a fruit or an excrescence? Satisfy yourself completely with the plan
before you begin to execute it. I do not mean to say that the detail must be filled up, only make the skeleton perfect. There is no danger of your getting into the fault of common-place authors, otherwise I would recommend you to read some of the bad epic writers, for the sake of learning what to avoid in the composition of a story.

“In your execution you are too exuberant in ornament, and resemble the French engravers, who take off the attention from the subject of their prints by the flowers and trappings of the foreground. This makes you indistinct; but distinctness is the great charm of narrative poetry: see how beautifully it is exemplified in Spencer, our great English master of narrative, whom you cannot study too much, nor love too dearly. Your first book reminded me of an old pastoral poet—William Brown: he has the same fault of burying his story in flowers; it is one of those faults which are to be wished for in the writings of all young poets. I am satisfied that your turn of thought and feeling is for the higher branch of the art, and not for lighter subjects. Your language would well suit the drama: have your thoughts ever been turned to it? . . . .

“If, when you have planned another poem, you think proper to send me the plan, I will comment upon it, while it may be of use to point out its defects. It would give me great pleasure to be of any service to a man of genius, and such I believe you to be. If business ever brings you this way, let me see you. Should I ever travel through Rotherham, I
Ætat. 35. OF ROBERT SOUTHEY. 267
will find you out. I have spoken so plainly and freely of your defects, that you can have no doubt of my sincerity when I conclude by saying go on and you will prosper.

“Yours respectfully, and with the best wishes,

R. Southey.

“One thing more: forget this poem while you are planning another, lest you spoil that for the sake of appropriating materials from this.”