2533. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29–30 December 1814 

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

2533. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29–30 December 1814 ⁠* 

29 Dec. 1814.

Laus Deo! [1]  – Peace with America. [2]  All difficulty about the Ode is thus terminated, [3]  & instead of singing O be Joyful, [4]  – I must set about another. Te Duivel! [5]  as my friends the Dutch say: So I shall pen one for the fiddlers, & alter the other for the either to be published separately or with it. Coming extra-officially it cannot be offensive, – & being in the press it cannot be suppressed without losing the price of the printers labour. [6] 

As for any such possibilities as those at which you hint, they are so very like impossibilities that I do not know how to distinguish them. For in the first place you may be sure that if the men in power were ever so well disposed toward me, they would think me {already} liberally x remunerated for my literary merits: – they cannot know that by gaining a pension of £200. I was actually a loser of 20 £ a year; [7]  they, if they thought about it at all, n would needs suppose that it was a clear addition to my former means, & that if I lived decently before, the addition would enable me to live with ease & comfort. Secondly they are never likely to think about me farther than as I may in pursuing my own principles happen to fall in with their view of things. This happened in the Spanish war, & would have happened in the Catholic question, if the Quarterly had not been under Cannings influence. [8]  Thirdly I am neither enthusiast nor hypocrite, but a man deeply & habitually religious in my all my feelings, according to my own views of religion; which views differ from those of the Church which I defend, in material points; – otherwise I should be in that church. But I am too old to bring my own opinions upon this subject into discussion unnecessarily; but when I am conversing with persons in whose zeal I can sympathize I take scrupulous care that they may more {not} misunderstand me, & imagine that because we agree in feeling we agree also in points of faith: But there is no occasion to do this in public. I write religiously because I write as I feel. Not being of the Church I hold the Church Establishment one of our greatest, perhaps the greatest of our blessings; & conscientiously recommend all desire to strengthen & support it. Not believing in the inspiration of the Bible, but believing in the faith which is founded upon it, I hold its general circulation as one of the greatest benefits which can be conferred upon it {mankind.} Not believing that men are damned for not being Christian I believe that Christianity is a divine religion, & that it is our duty to diffuse it. See whether whatever I write in my person is not consistent with this exposition. – The consequence a deal of naturally is that I am le exposed to a double imputation, of hypocrisy {enthusiasm} from those who believe less, – of irreligion from those who believe more. And whether they regard me at court in the one light or the other, the effect must be equally prejudicial.

No Grosvenor; I shall never get more from Government than has already been given me, & I am & ought to be well contented with it: – only they ought to allow me my wine in kind, & dispense with the odes. [9]  When did this fools custom begin? Before Cibbers time? [10]  – I would have made the office honourable if they would have let me. If they will not, the dishonour will not be mine. And now I am going to think about my rhymes so farewell for the night.


Friday 30 Dec.

I have been rhyming as doggedly & as dully as if my name xx had been Henry James Pye. Another dogged fit will, it is to be hoped carry me thro the job, & as the ode will be very much according to rule, & entirely good-for-nothing, I presume it may be found unobjectionable. As for the other [11]  if by good luck the Row-men or Pople should have the good sense to suspend the printing upon the news of the Peace, it may go quietly behind the fire; for as I certainly should not have written it if I could not have helped it, there can be no other reason for volunteering it than an unwillingness to add {more} loss of money to loss of labour than the labour lost amount of the labour lost. Meantime the xx xx poor Mus-Doc has had the old poem to mumble over – Stanzas 1.-2. 3. 5. 7. 9 – if I recollect rightly. As I have written in regular stanzas I shall dispatch him one by this post to set him his tun tune – It is really my wish to use all d imaginable civility to the Mus: Doc: & yet I dare say he thinks me a bothersome fellow as well as an odd one.

And now I have but one thing more to say, which is, – why Diabolus should you think of making any sort of apology for saying any thing to me? All your reasonings about the ode are so reasonable that I half expected them all, as you may perceive by referring to a former letter, – except the essential indispensableness of rhyme, – which certainly never by any accident could have entered my pericranium. For I should have supposed that upon any question of this kind Milton might have been sufficient authority.

Croker has sent me the Admiralty paper concerning Pensions, [12]  – with a little pen mark against the third paragraph, which I may perhaps interpret into a reference to the Register, where this very measure was advised.

God bless you


I have had a very flattering letter from Mr Roberts.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 2 JA 2/ 1815
Endorsements: 29 & 30. Decr. 1814./ 29 & 30. Decr. 1814
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25, fol. 144–145
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 98–99 [in part]. BACK

[1] ‘Praise be to God’. BACK

[2] The Treaty of Ghent, signed 24 December 1814, ended the war between Britain and America. BACK

[3] ‘Ode, Written in December 1814’. It was thought unsuitable by the authorities, and was not published until Southey’s Minor Poems, 3 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. It was retitled ‘Ode, Written During the War with America, 1814’ in The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, 221–228. BACK

[4] Psalm 100, line 1. BACK

[5] ‘The Devil’. BACK

[6] Southey’s second attempt at a New Year’s ode for 1815, ‘The palm of peace is won’, only exists in one draft version, dated ‘29 Dec. 1814’ in his notebook, now Huntington MS 2733, ff. 16v-17r. BACK

[7] Southey received a government pension in 1807 in place of the annual sum of £160 that Wynn had granted him. But as the pension was taxed, Southey was actually worse off. BACK

[8] i.e. Southey supported the Peninsular War of 1808–14 and opposed Catholic Emancipation – though Canning, who supported the latter cause, prevented Southey’s views appearing in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[9] Poets Laureate had been entitled to a butt of sack as part of their salary, but this had been commuted to £27 p.a. by Southey predecessor, Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB). Southey also had to write an ode every New Year. BACK

[10] Colley Cibber (1671–1757; DNB), Poet Laureate from 1730–1757. BACK

[11] i.e. the version sent to Grosvenor Charles Bedford on 21 December 1814, Letter 2523, which became ‘Ode Written in December 1814. BACK

[12] The Admiralty had reformed the Royal Navy pension system, so that all sailors were entitled to a pension after 14 years service and all could demand their discharge after 21 years service, with a pension of at least 1s. per day. These measures were announced publicly in January 1815. Southey had advocated similar ideas at Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 353–354 (in his article on ‘the Poor’, 319–356) rather than in the Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013