May 16 1816: Egotism in Poetry

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“. . . . . If egotism in poetry be a sin, God forgive all great poets! But perhaps it is allowable in them, when they have been dead a few centuries; and therefore they may be permitted to speak of themselves and appreciate themselves, provided they leave especial orders that such passages be not made public until the statute of critical limitation expires. Who can be weak enough to suppose that the man who wrote that third stanza would be deterred from printing it by any fear of reprehension on the score of vanity? Who is to reprehend him? None of his peers assuredly; not one person who will sympathise with him as he reads; not one person who enters into his thoughts and feelings; not one person who can enter into the strain and enjoy it. Those persons, indeed, may who live wholly in the present; but I have taken especial care to make it known, that a faith in hereafter is as necessary for the intellectual as for the moral character, and that to the man of letters (as well as the Christian) the present forms but the slightest portion of his existence. He who would leave any durable monument behind him, must live in the past and look to the future. The poets of old scrupled not to say this; and who is there who is not delighted with these passages, whenever time has set his seal upon the prophecy which they contain? . . . “

—  Robert Southey writes to Grosvenor C. Bedford, Esq, May 16 1816.

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