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

2467. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 7 August 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 7 August. 1814

My dear G.

My only reason for putting the dedication in Latin was that I knew not how to render in English the ‘in perpetuam amicitiæ memoriam’. [1]  The objection to latinizing Grosvenor is, I think, overstrained. [2]  Almost every name has some meaning – Roderick for instance is Rode-rich, – consilio pollens, [3]  but Rodericus is the proper Latin. If it be in English it must run simply thus

To –

G. C. B.

this poem is inscribed

by his old schoolfellow & friend

R. S.

– if it be in Latin I should like after the G. C. B to insert if I were more sure of the Latinity

olim condiscipulo et semper amico [4] 

Chuse you between them, – for my own part I prefer the Latin, because it is {only} for things of this kind only that I have felt ever felt our language x ill adapted, – but my reason for the preference professing it here but the reason of my preference in this instance is the in perpetuam &c – a foreign tongue here gives something of the same kind of license as a mask. [5] 

Some of your remarks upon these last books have been profitably attended to. About Mahommeds coffin you will find that I have Mohammedan authority. [6]  Their notion is that it is supported by angels, – the vulgar opinion supposed a loadstone, – I make it a constant miracle of his own working. If there had been need I could easily have shown in a note that infidelity was in fashion among the Moors of this age. {The Ommiade Caliphs [7]  were mostly unbelievers themselves.} The xx tone of the speech cannot be mistaken, – its use was to introduce some of those appropriate allusions of which the poem stands in need, the time in which it is laid being barren of costume.

I have My ear is always accustomed to hear humble not umble [8]  – & by writing a humble this pronunciation is plainly expected

The string of names [9]  has some use; the number giving an impression of the importance of Julians forces, & the names themselves being carefully chosen to show to learned eyes the mungrel nature of the composition of the army, being Greek Roman, Gothic & Sueve & Vandal.

I will substitute wretch for Beast {or Blind} if you like it better. The only question is which is the more natur dramatic; that is to say the more natural

In the first book there is all bloody all abominable things, [10]  which is what you remember. There was also yea & hallowed them on, but this was expunged & transplanted to the place where you recognize it.


If Gifford lets you review Roderick [11]  you may notice that it is a poem sui generis, [12]  – which is the same indeed with all my poems, except Joan of Arc [13]  (that as far as story goes, being almost without invention, & in its battles &c very much selon les regles. [14] ) Heroic poems have usually been things of mere imitation, & therefore worthless. But as time changes what delighted one age becomes would no longer delight another. We admire Homer deservedly (& undeservedly too, as might very easily be shown by a good analysis of the two poems), – but if Homer were living t now, he would write very differently: book after book of butchery, however skilfully performed is unsuitable to the European state of mind at present, & the raw head & bloody-bone-monsters of the Odyssey are not better. In this age & xxx Homer would address himself more to our feelings & reflecting faculties.

If you say any thing of my stile & ‘the school’ as it is called, there would have been a good opportunity if some egregious nonsense upon this subject had not got into the last number of the Quarterly. [15]  The history of my style is simply this. In all young poets it is & ever must be, mere imitation. We imitate what we admire, & as we admire (when young) in wholesale, defects become the easiest objects of imitation. Thus they who imitate Milton succeed in writing something very stiff, very pedantic & anti-English. My favourite poet was Spenser but at the age when of what might be termed poetical puberty when the voice of song began to be fixed, I had Bowles by heart. – Perhaps I have read more poetry than any man living, – much Italian, much French, – almost every thing Spanish, Portugueze Latin & English, & in former times a proper share of Greek. But for many years I had entirely laid it aside till within these few months. My mature style aims at nothing but to express in pure English what I have to say: – xxx I profess nothing but to avoid the barbarisms & nonsense which have so long past current in verse. Briefly, the subject being such as seems good to me, & the manner of treating it my own, I {endeavour to} write {in} such English as would bear the assay of Q Elizabeths [16]  mint: & it is in this, & in this only, that the resemblance between my poetry & Wordsworths exists. Whether we write well or ill in other respects, all that we write is English, & this cannot be said of Scott, Ld Byron, Campbell [17]  &c &c –. It may be good for nothing, but it is not bad in itself; – the sense may be worthless, but it is not nonsense.

Ballantyne was instructed to preserve the mss for you: I hope he has done so, & that I may get it back from him in time to send it to you by Atra Nox, [18]  who is I suppose somewhere between Lancaster & Keswick at this time, in woeful weather.

Make the corrections in the Odes. [19] 

My Bust [20]  was broken xxx x on the way – the head however remaining with no other injury than the loss of part of the scalp. I have proposed to erect it upon a mop stick in the pea-garden, & accommodate it with one of my old hats, – where it may serve to frighten away the birds.

Oliver Goffe was christened after his godfather Oliver Cromwell, & thereby came by one of the finest names in our language. I marvel at your disliking it. Would you like Oliver Newman better for the title? [21]  for Newman he will call himself, for the sake of concealment, methodisticé, or rather quakericé in reference to his new birth. If you object of this remember the Οΰτις [22]  of Homer & Euripides.



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 10 AU 10/ 1814
Endorsement: 7 August 1814
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 103–106. BACK

[1] ‘In memory of a perpetual friendship’. Southey intended to dedicate Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) to Bedford and had sent him a Latin dedication; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 17 July 1814, Letter 2461. BACK

[2] Southey had Latinized ‘Grosvenor’ as ‘Grosvenori’, rather than attempting to translate the name’s literal meaning ‘great hunter’. BACK

[3] ‘famously powerful’. BACK

[4] ‘Once a schoolfellow and always a friend’. BACK

[5] The dedication as published was in English and read: ‘To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford,/ This poem is inscribed,/ In lasting memorial of a long and uninterrupted friendship,/ By his old school-fellow/ Robert Southey’. BACK

[6] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 23, lines 145–150. Southey’s Islamic source for the legend that the Prophet Muhammad’s (c. 570–632) coffin in Medina was suspended in mid-air is Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663–1738), Nouvelle Relation de l’Afrique Occidentale, 5 vols (Paris, 1728), II, p. 143, no. 1578 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] The Umayyad family were Caliphs 661–750 and rulers of Cordoba 756–1031. BACK

[8] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 24, line 12. BACK

[9] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 24, lines 41–43. BACK

[10] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814), Book 1, line 24. BACK

[11] Bedford’s review of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) appeared in Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 83–113. BACK

[12] ‘Of its own kind’. BACK

[13] Southey’s controversial revisionist epic Joan of Arc, first published in 1796. BACK

[14] ‘By the book’. BACK

[15] Southey’s complaint was aimed at the description of the ‘Lake Poets’ in an appraisal of the second edition of Coleridge’s Remorse. A Tragedy (1814), Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 183: ‘It appears to us that chance or a congenial mode of thinking has brought into intimate connection minds of very distinct powers and peculiarities. Thus a school of poetry has arisen of which all the members agree in some points, but differ in others; and even where they agree in kind they sometimes differ in degree. In examining their writings, therefore, we are to expect a general resemblance in all, which yet shall be neither so strong nor universal as to obliterare a peculiar character in each. Mr. Southey, for instance, appears to us more active and playful than those with whom his name is here associated: metaphysical enough to gratify the vanity, without fatiguing the attention, of the common reader; rather sweetly developing the virtues of the heart, than curiously untwisting the subtleties of the mind; diffusing over his whole picture a colouring more grateful and soothing, but less contrasted with strong light and shade; more delightful and amiable, more curious and excursive, but, on the whole, perhaps possessing less of that touching and irresistible power which incidentally redeems the wilder eccentricities of his friends’. The review’s author was Coleridge’s nephew, John Taylor Coleridge. BACK

[16] Elizabeth I (1533–1603; Queen of England 1558–1603; DNB). BACK

[17] The poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB). BACK

[18] John William Knox (1784–1862), clergyman, scholar and usher at Westminster School 1806–1821. BACK

[19] Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness The Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). Southey had sent a series of corrections to Bedford; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 July 1814, Letter 2456. BACK

[20] A copy of the bust of Southey sculpted by James Smith (1775–1815). BACK

[21] Early ideas for ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at Southey’s death. In the 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] ‘Nobody’. In the Odyssey, Book 9, line 336, ‘Nobody’ is the name Odysseus gives himself when talking to the cyclops Polyphemus. Euripides (c. 480–406 BC) used this story in his satyr play, Cyclops. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013