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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2382. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 25 February 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby 25. 1814.

My dear Grosvenor

The eleventh book [1]  is indispensable, unless like Ld Byron I were to save all trouble of continuous narrative by lines of convenient asterisks set at proper intervals. You will observe, – which indeed the next book shows you, that Alphonso is a very important personage in Spanish history, [2]  – & that the moment of his return is critical. Had Pedro [3]  & his people not been thus prepared, the Moors would have secured the whole party, the preparation therefore has a direct purpose. – Adosinda is a personage who has been introduced at first so strikingly, that it is better here to make her influence felt xx rather than let her be seen. Quoad  [4]  the banner, the vassals would have taken it without Pedros consent, & thence his speech. [5]  Favinias character contrasts with Gaudiosa, & from it the meeting derives its passion, which is to original, & to my feeling good.

I am in the 15 book – but my way is impeded has been impeded by indispositions of my own & of the children: Lunus & Isabel are both just ailing enough to give me a constant sense that something is not right as I would wish it, – if you understand what that sort of disquietude is; & I have not been well myself, – first a cold affecting my chest, & yesterday & today head aches proceeding from the stomach. Magnesia, heavenly Maid, – is at this moment playing upon my bowels as on a bag-pipe. However to have exchanged head ache for growels is a good exchange, & is getting the malady, so far on its way out.

Thank you for the bills. [6]  I shall keep afloat till the next quarter be payable – or I can draw upon Longman.

Surely when you need a frank potential Gifford can procure you one, for he regularly franks to me thro the Admiralty. I am heartily glad you have recovered the MS. Send it me in your next dispatch & I will be at the trouble of restoring the article. [7] 

I foresee that the Laureateship will cost me more time than any body else would have bestowed about it: For I must do whatever is expected in the way of official composition, – & so do it as as to not to be out of humour with myself. Here is a Marriage coming to – I have no right to grumble at the subject, – the condition of the office renders me liable to such, & if Pindar could condescend to write upon demi-asses, which when he called them demi-horses were but mules still, [8]  of what should I complain? – I have a plan in my head for the occasion, which I owe, to a chance occurrence in one of my morning walks with the Deus Lunus. And if I do not put off beginning it till there be no time for compleating it properly, it may be turn out well – At least there will be nothing common-place about it. [9] 

Your xxx remark upon the beginning of the 8th book [10]  was occasioned by a mispunctuation – which must have been an accidental. there was a semi-colon after thraldom; – instead of a comma. With this correction you will find the passage perfectly clear.

Vauxhall [11]  might have shown you that leaves are grey by fire light. I first observed it travelling in the mail coach, – often afterwards when returning home at Cintra by torch light

I have written six inscriptions, [12]  & shall ere long set-to to transcribe them for your inspection. One of them is of inordinate length – about 70 lines, – but the subject required it, & inscriptions upon paper need not be subject to the same prudential laws of measurement, as if {when} the expence of marble & stone-cutting is to be taken into the account. This long one is upon Gen. MacKinnon – & has given very great satisfaction to his family, who are the only persons that have seen it as yet. [13]  – I shall the sooner send you these, that when you see the manner of them, you may help me to such xxxxxxxx facts as may be suitable to the monumental ones.

What is become of the Bust? [14]  Is it {at} a stand because of the weather?

Will you learn from Wm Nicol [15]  when there is any money forthcoming at the Chamberlains office, & let the Docstor know. [16]  John May has a power of attorney to receive it, & I have nothing more to do with it while he & I live, than to save him trouble by letting him know when it is payable. The first quarter will be swallowed up by fees. The manner in which this salary is disposed of makes me sincerely glad that I have got the appointment; – all things considered a better income – such as would have placed me in comparative affluence, would probably have been less beneficial.

This is a trying season for your father. It has just carried off Mrs Woods mother [17]  here, at the age of 104, – in the West Indies she might have lived a score of years longer; – & even here it was so little the effect of gradual decay that we x may fairly say she was cut off; – Sharp sent down £10 to the poor here, – & as much to Ambleside.

I want to the see the Letters of Calvus upon peace – but they have not yet reached me. Landor is the author. [18]  My paper [19]  has failed to night, which at this time is vexatious.

One word more concerning Roderick. Remember that he gives name to the poem; & that his history is the subject of the poem, – not the restoration of Spain: [20]  just as in Anthony & Cleopatra Shakespere chose their love for his drama, – & not the fate of the Roman world. The action therefore consists not so much in battles &c, which are only incidental to the story, but in developing the character of Roderic & restoring him to that estimation which he at the commencement he has totally lost. Remember too that I disclaim all rules, for poems are not like plum-puddings to be made according to a receipt: – you must construct them as you would a house according to the xxxxx x xx the xx ground-plot, aspect & other local circumstances. – I am thinking already of my next poem, & hesitating whether to begin upon Oliver Goffe, [21]  Robin Hood, [22]  – the Persian – or the Runic romance. [23] 

God bless you


Feby. 26.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 1 MR 1/ 1814
Endorsement: 25 February 1814
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The 11th Book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Alfonso I, King of Asturias 739–757, the central figure in Book 11. BACK

[3] Pedro, Duke of Cantabria (d. 730), father of Alfonso I. BACK

[4] ‘As to’. BACK

[5] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 11, lines 168–169. BACK

[6] Bedford had loaned Southey money. BACK

[7] The MS version of Southey’s review of David Bogue (1750–1825; DNB) and James Bennet (1774–1862; DNB), The History of Dissenters, from the Revolution in 1688–to the Year 1808 (1812); Walter Wilson (1781–1847; DNB), History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches (1808–1814); Neal’s History of the Puritans (1812), Quarterly Review, 10 (October 1813), 90–139. Southey, increasingly irritated by pre-publication changes and cuts made by the Quarterly’s editor, had asked Bedford to retrieve it so that it was preserved for any future use he cared to make of it; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29 January 1814, Letter 2373. BACK

[8] See Pindar (c. 522–443 BC), Olympian 5 and 6. BACK

[9] The Prince Regent’s only child Charlotte Augusta (1796–1817; DNB), had been engaged since December 1813 to the Hereditary Prince of Orange, William (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849), the husband selected for her by her father and his advisers. As Poet Laureate, Southey was required to write on the occasion. He began the required poem (The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale) but in the event it was not needed as the engagement was broken off in June 1814. The Lay was recycled in 1816 to celebrate Charlotte’s marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

[10] Roderick, the Last of the Goths, Book 8, line 4. BACK

[11] Vauxhall Gardens, the famous south London pleasure gardens. Southey may be referring to Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 15, line 5. BACK

[12] Southey’s ‘Inscriptions Triumphal and Sepulchral, recording the acts of the British army in the Peninsula’ had been recently advertised as ‘nearly ready for publication’ (e.g. in European Magazine, 65 (January 1814), 77). However, the promised volume did not appear and only 18 of the proposed 30 inscriptions were written. They were not collected together until 1837–1838 when they appeared in the last-lifetime edition of Southey’s Poetical Works. BACK

[13] Henry Mackinnon (1773–1812; DNB), who had died whilst storming the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, 19 January 1812. The poem was ‘To the Memory of Major-General Mackinnon’, published in 1837–1838 as the seventeenth of Southey’s Peninsular War inscriptions. BACK

[14] A bust of Southey sculpted in 1813 by James Smith (1775–1815). BACK

[15] William Nicol (fl. 1800s-1850s), bookseller and publisher. Nicol was also Assistant Paymaster in the Lord Steward’s office and thus had some responsibility for part of Southey’s salary. The Lord Steward, who has charge of the Royal Household’s domestic arrangements, had traditionally provided the Poet Laureate with a tierce of canary wine, as a supplement to his salary. The wine had been converted into an annual sum of £27, but this was still paid by the Lord Steward. BACK

[16] Southey’s salary as Poet Laureate was paid by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. BACK

[17] Possibly the mother of Mrs Elizabeth Wood (c. 1747–1813) of Underbarrow; or a relative of Humphrey Senhouse, whose mother was Catherine Wood (dates unknown). BACK

[18] Letters Addressed to Lord Liverpool: And the Parliament on the Preliminaries of Peace (1814), published under the pseudonym ‘Calvus’. Landor’s pamphlet demanded that Napoleon be deprived of all his power, preferably his life, and that France at least be stripped of all territory acquired since the French Revolution. The Letters were modelled on Junius’s. Landor had originally sent 3 of the letters to the Courier. He then prepared them for separate publication, adding a fourth letter. The Courier eventually published part of this fourth letter on 12 January 1814. BACK

[19] Probably the Courier, Southey’s regular newspaper at this time. BACK

[20] Southey had, in fact, refocused his poem. His original plan had been to centre it upon Pelayo [Pelagius] (d. 737; reigned 718–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias, who began the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. BACK

[21] An early idea for ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. In Southey’s poem, Newman was the godson of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; DNB) and the son of William Goffe (d. 1679?; DNB), Puritan, regicide and major general, who fled to New England in 1660 after he was excluded from the Act of Indemnity after the Restoration. BACK

[22] Southey eventually collaborated with Caroline Bowles on a romance on the legendary outlaw. It was left unfinished at his death, and a fragment was published posthumously in 1847. BACK

[23] The Persian (i.e. Zoroastrian) and Runic romances were not written. BACK

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August 2013