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

2399. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 April 1814 ⁠* 

You are right about days instead of years, – & I cannot now tell for what reason I was chose to avoid the repetition. Yet there must have been some, which perhaps will strike my eye or my ear in correcting the proof. [1] 

Exalted as here used has a foreign shade of meaning akin to Enthusiastic. war I wore – was miswritten, it should be wars. [2] 

Does the prospect of future danger heighten the sense of present security you ask. The danger here described is distant, & doubtful: & evils of those this degree I think have that effect. The man who means to rise at eight on a cold morning, & wakes at seven, enjoys his bed the more for the prospect of leaving it.

You will find by a note upon the scale-armour that I have gone as far back as possible for authority, – which is to Roland & Oliver. [3] 

I write bends instead of bent, [4]  because seldom as such a case can happen the s is required in that place for the sake of euphony, to smooth the line. As for the tenses it is mere pedantry to suppose that they may not be used at libitum where no possible ambiguity can be produced by passing {going} from an indefinite-perfect to a past, to a passing present.

What is a Cat looking out of a window – most like? – Like a Cat looking in – says the old jest. But my simily is not of this description. [5]  The sound of water by day is very different from the sound of water by night, – as you may perceive whenever you come & make the observation out of my room-window. And here it is that the simily fails in philosophical, but not in poetical truth.

I do not comprehend what you mean by asking if Lines 43–4 Book 13, are not rather dogmatick. [6] 

By aiming the point of the scymitar against the neck I meant precisely to describe the xxxx way of beginning to behead by a push. [7] 

62. The battle is over, & if you recollect that a valley in a mountainous country is the scene, you will see that a little eminence by the way side is just where Chiefs who had done their work should take their stand at such a time. To go higher would be to climb a mountain. [8] 

Asturias is the antecedent. By duty I understand what every man in the common routine of life is called upon to perform – by virtue (in this place) that higher the voluntary discharge of it when there would be no positive crime in the omission. – This is not expressed with due precision – but you will understand me, & I am too much in haste to hunt for more accurate language. I meant to imply {say} that martyrdom political or religious is not to be demanded of a man, – & that in the then state of Spain they who took arms with Pelayo must be such men as were volunteers for it. – The last half line of the speech is to my ear & feeling a worthy finish; & in dramatic verse, which this is, the break in the measure adds to its rapidity & passion. [9] 


The necessity of the 15th Book you will see in the progress of the story wherein Florinda must rejoin her father. The dog also has his use. If you do not like his anglicised name I have no alternative but to borrow one from Ovid, & suppose the Romans left it there. [10] 


You have here a book {the 16th} which is almost wholly descriptive. The reason th is that this valley & this xxxx xx is the scene of the final battle: the description is as much to the life as it can be made from books, – which are however tolerably minute. I have spangled the book with a few classical & other allusions.

I am disappointed at the nonappearance of both my articles in this Quarterly, [11]  – for the supply would have come seasonably. – The printer gallops on. He has got thro the 12 book – 152 pages – & I am beginning the 17th! – 20 or 26 will be the extent. [12] 

How is your father? this will be a trying month for him. I think often of him & of you with a concern which you will very well understand.

God bless you my dear Grosvenor –


April 5. 1814.


* Endorsement: 5 April 1814; April 5. 1814
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey was correcting proofs of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). The bulk of this letter deals with his responses to Bedford’s critique of the MS of the poem. These remarks probably refer to Book 12, lines 68–69. BACK

[2] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 12, lines 50, 64. BACK

[3] The note was appended to Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 13, lines 108–109. It referenced the French paladins Roland and Oliver, who were reputed to have died at the battle of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees in 778. BACK

[4] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 12, line 162. BACK

[5] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 12, lines 223–224: ‘like the voice/ Of waters in the stillness of the night’. BACK

[6] In the published poem, Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 13, lines 43–44 read: ‘Therefore gave way to wonder, and dismay/ Effected what astonishment began’. BACK

[7] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 13, lines 56–57. BACK

[8] In the published poem, Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 13, line 67: ‘a little rocky eminence’. BACK

[9] Pelayo’s speech refusing to make terms with the invaders, Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 13, lines 169–212. BACK

[10] In MS drafts of Roderick, the Last of the Goths, Southey originally gave the name Whitefoot to a faithful dog. He later changed it to Theron (after one of Actaeon’s hound’s in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and reduced the dog’s role in the poem; for the significance of this see Diego Saglia, ‘A Siege, a Dog, and Too Many Women: Refiguring the Epic in Roderick, the Last of the Goths’, Romanticism 17.1 (2011), 52–62. BACK

[11] Southey’s reviews of James Montgomery, The World Before the Flood (1813), eventually published in Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 78–87; and of Johann Gottfried Haensel (1749–1814), Letters on the Nicobar Islands (1812), in Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 57–72. BACK

[12] Roderick, the last of the Goths (1814) finally ran to 25 books. BACK

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August 2013