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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

137. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 23 October [1795] ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor mark the ludicrous association of words I have just discovered in Joan

now they reachd
Stood at the gate, stretching her eager head
As tho to listen; on her face vacant face
A smile that promisd premature assent.
Tho her behind, Regret a meagre fiend
Disciplind sorely.  [1] 

what a curious double-meaning by placing behind before. I have placed it after Regret now.

Friday. Oct. 23d

And where Grosvenor do you suppose the Fates have condemned me for six months? to Spain & Portugal! — indeed my heart is very heavy — I would have refused but I was wearied of everlastingly refusing all my mothers wishes — & & it is only one mode of wearing out a period that must be unpleasant to me any where. Edith is to be with my Mother during my absence. on this condition only would I go.

I now know neither when I go nor where. except that we cross to Corunā & thence by land to Lisbon. Cottle is delighted with the idea of a volume of travels — my Edith persuades me to go & then weeps that I am going tho she would not permit my {me to} stay — tis well that my mind is never unemployed — I have about 900 lines & half a preface yet to compose & this I am resolved to finishd by Wednesday night next. it is more than probable that I shall go in a fortnight.

then the advantageous possibility of being captured by the French — or the still more agreable chance of going to Algiers — with perhaps the pleasant alternative of circumcision — or another operation which qualifies for high office. then to give my inside to the fishes on the road, & carry my outsides to the bugs on my arrival — the luxury of sleeping with the mules — & if they should kick in the night — & to travel Grosvenor with a lonely heart — & to know that hers is as lonely!

when I am returned I shall be glad that I have been. the knowledge of two languages is worth acquiring — & perhaps the climate may agree with me & counteract a certain habit of skeletonization, that tho I do not apprehend it will hasten me to the worms — will if it continue certainly cheat them of their supper.

Warm with desire & eager for delight [2] 
They chid the lingering day & prayd for night


And whilst they loathd the day stars envious light
They chid the slow approach of lingering night

that is the idea. your other four lines are better compressd in two — for the second “that oer the wave in widestretchd ruin past” is expletive & incorrect.

Sing now the blast that joind with furious breath
The light & lover &c.

Can you spare time to send me the MSS before it be printed. if you can I have the Greek, & will peruse it with a fault-finding eye

concerning the moral tendency of the poem we differ. — I should like to find all the faults I can in its execution — this is a friends duty before printing. afterwards he will look for beauties.

You are all mystery. God bless & prosper you.

We will write a good opera. my expedition will teach me the costume of Spain. by the by I have made a discovery respecting the story of the Mysterious Mother. Ld O— tells it of Tillotson. the story is printed in a work of Bp. Halls 1652. [3]  he heard it from

Perkins [4]  (the clergyman whom Fuller calls an excellent Chirurgeon at joynting of a broken soul [5]  — he would pronounce the word Damn with such an emphasis as left a dolefull echo in his auditors ears a good while after. Warton-like [6]  I must go on with Perkins & give you an epigram — he was lame of the right hand — the Latin is as blunt as a good humourd joke need be

Dextera quantum vis fuerat tibi manea, docendi
Pollebas mira dexteritate tamen. [7] 
Tho Nature thee of thy right hand bereft
Right well thou writest with thy hand thats left.

now all this in a parenthesis!) Hall adds that he afterwards discoverd the story in two German authors, & that it really happened in Germany. if you have not had your transcription of the Tragedy bound there is a curious piece of information to annex {to} it — & I believe unknown to any person except myself.

you must write to me often at Lisbon. with the Rev. Herbert Hill Lisbon is direction enough. your letters will lie there till my arrival — by the by — number them on the outside 1 — 2 &c that I may read them chronologically. you will of course often hear from me.

I have journal books getting ready at Cottles for me. if I next I hope to become master of the two languages — & to procure some of the choicest authors. from their miscellanies & collections that I cannot purchase — I shall transcribe the best or favourite pieces & translate — for we have little literature of those parts. & these I shall request some person fond of poetry to point out — if I am fortunate enough to find out {one}. mais — helas! J en doute as well as you. & fear me I shall be friendless for six months.

Grosvenor I am not happy. when I get to bed — reflection comes with solitude & I think of all the objections to the journey. tis right however to look at the white side of the shield —

the damned Algerines. if they should take me — it might make a very pretty subject for a chapter in my memoirs, but of this I am very sure that my Biographer would like it better than I should.

I sit for my picture [8]  by Cottles particular desire on Monday

preface-writing is an unpleasant job.

have you seen the Mæviad? [9]  the poem is not equal to the former production of the same author — but the spirit of panegyric is more agreable than that of satire & I love the man for his lines to his own friends. there is an imitation of Otium Divos [10]  very eminently beautiful. Merry [11]  has been satyrized enough too much & praised too much — his taste is debauched but he is a man of Genius.

I am in hopes that the absurd fashion of wearing powder has received its death-blow. the scarcity we are threatened with (& of which we have as yet experienced a very slight earnest) renders it now highly criminal. I am glad you are without it.

where is Horace & what is he doing or thinking of? is it not lamentable Grosvenor that the best years of life should be spent in anxiety!

is Cadman [12]  with you? that man deserves ten years more Tippooing [13]  for not writing his life. tell him so.

& now God bless you. write to me & send me your MSS directly. to all your friends my affectionate remembrances.

Robert Southey.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single Sheet
Postmark: AOC/ 24/ 95
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1794
Endorsements: Recd. Octr. 24. 1795; Ansd. Octr. 29. sent copy of/ Hero & Leander
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 251–254 [in part, where it is dated 23 October 1795]. BACK

[1] A revised version of these lines appeared in Southey’s Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), p. 344. BACK

[2] A quotation from Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), published as The Loves of Hero and Leander (1797). BACK

[3] Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB), The Mysterious Mother. A Tragedy (1768), a play dealing with incest; John Tillotson (1630–1694; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury; Joseph Hall (1574–1656; DNB), Bishop of Norwich, religious writer, and satirist. Southey is citing Hall’s Resolutions and Decisions of Divers Practicall Cases of Conscience, 2nd edn (London, 1650), pp. 412–415. BACK

[4] William Perkins (1558–1602; DNB), theologian and Church of England clergyman. BACK

[5] Southey had borrowed Thomas Fuller (1607/8–1661; DNB), The History of the Worthies of England (1662) from the Bristol Library Society between 4 May and 1 June 1795. His quotation, however, is from Fuller, The Holy State (Cambridge, 1642), p. 90. BACK

[6] A comparison with the poet and historian Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB). BACK

[7] Thomas Fuller, The Holy State (Cambridge, 1642), p. 92. BACK

[8] In 1795, Southey was painted by Peter Vandyke (1729–1799; DNB). The portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. BACK

[9] William Gifford (1756–1826; DNB), The Mæviad (1795). His previous poem was The Baviad, a Paraphrastic Imitation of the First Satire of Persius (1791). BACK

[10] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 2, no. 16. Gifford’s version appeared in The Mæviad (London, 1795), p. 55. BACK

[11] Robert Merry (1755–1798; DNB), who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Della Crusca’. BACK

[12] Unidentified; a friend of the Bedfords. BACK

[13] A reference to Tippu Sultan (1750–1799), Sultan of Mysore (from 1782), who was defeated and killed at Seringapatam in 1799. BACK

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March 2009