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

145. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [December 1795–] 20 February [1796] ⁠* 

Bedford — when I have a home, I will hang my Sans Culotte stick upon the wall, & remain there till I become the tenant of a narrower habitation. the soul of a poor Jew let loose by the Inquisitorial fire, cannot feel more exquisite delight when it arrives in Abrahams bosom than will be mine if I ever set foot again upon English ground. were my heart cold or vacant I should not feel thus, for this soil would do well enough to vegetate in; the sole pleasure I have found in this country is in counting how many days before I shall leave it. I crossed the Bay of Biscay in such tempestuous weather xxxx xx that for sixty hours I lay in momentary dread of sinking. we have broken down upon the road three times & overturned once. the wind wrecked a Spanish vessel in the river at the time we crossed it here — a passage of twelve miles at night. I was happy to tread upon the ground at landing, for I thought myself upon Terra firma. before day break there was an earthquake. earth air & water have all contributed to annoy me, & God knows I suffered enough upon the road for want of the other element. the bugs & muskitoes were gone into winter quarters & I only suffered from a few stragglers — but every night upon the road was I regularly flead. we were eighteen days travelling to Madrid & 15 from thence to Lisbon. I walked the greater part of the way by which means I kept myself warm & escaped the overturn & twice breaking down. on Xmas day the following thoughts occurred — & if the lines do not possess much poetical merit, they will at least tell you what I felt.

How many a heart is happy at this hour
In England! brightly oer the chearful hall
Beams the heapd hearth, & friends & kindred meet,
And the glad mother round her festive board
Beholds her children seperated long
Amid the worlds wide way, assembled now.
And at the sight affection lightens up
With smiles the eye that Age has long bedimmd.
I do remember when I was a child
How my young heart, a stranger then to Care,
With transport leapd upon this holyday,
As oer the house all gay with evergreens
From friend to friend with eager speed I ran
And bade a merry Christmas to them all.
Those years are past — their pleasures & their pains
Are now like yonder convent-crested hill
That bounds the distant prospect, dimly seen,
Yet picturd upon Memorys mystic glass
In faint fair hues. A weary traveller now
I journey oer the desart mountain track
Of Leon: wilds all drear & comfortless,
Where the grey lizards in the noontide sun
Sport on their rocks, & where the Goatherd starts
Rousd from his midnight sleep, & shakes to hear
The wolfs loud yell, & falters as he calls
On Saints to save. hence of the friends I think
Who now perchance remember me, & pour
The glass of votive friendship. at the name
Will not thy cheek Beloved! wear the hue
Of Love, & in mine Ediths eye the tear
Tremble? I will not wish thee not to weep —
There is strange pleasure in Affections tears —
And he who knows not what it is to wake
And weep at midnight, is an instrument
Of Natures common work, whose ill-tuned nerves
Can never vibrate to the softer touch
That wakes the Joy of Grief. yes — think of me
My Edith! think that, travelling far away,
I do beguile the long & lonely hours
With many a day dream, picturing scenes as fair,
{Of passing comfort & domestic joys}
As ever to her youthful Poets eye
Creative Fancy fashiond. think of me
My Edith! absent from thee, in a land
Of strangers: & remember when thy breast
Heaves with the sigh of sorrow, what delight
Will thrill thro every fabric of thy frame
When thou shalt meet mine eye, & read the glance
That beams unutterable tenderness
And clasp thy wedded husband to thy heart.  [1] 

———

I read the two languages with facility, & am now abridging the Angelica of Lope de Vega [2]  & extracting from it — the same with a most curious Portuguese poem [3]  — all this you will see if I escape that horrible Bay of Biscay. in the interim take these two fables from the Spanish of Yriarte. [4] 

Judge gentle reader as you will
If this short tale be good or ill,
No hours in studying it were spent
It just occurrd by accident.

As strolling out I sauntered oer
The fields that lie around my door,
An Ass across the meadows bent
His heedless way by accident.

A careless muleteer had trod
But just before along the road,
And on other thoughts intent
Dropt his flute by accident.

Dapple  [5]  when he beheld it goes
To search it with inquiring nose,
And as he snuffd, the strong breath went
Down the flute by accident.

The air in rushing to get free
Awoke the voice of Harmony,
And thro the hollow channel sent
Sweet melodies by accident.

The shrill notes vibrate soft & clear
Along his longitude of ear;
Bravo! exlaims the rapturd brute,
How masterly I play the flute!

And hast thou Reader never known
Some star-blest blockhead like friend John,
Who following upon Follys scent
Stumbled on Truth by accident?  [6] 

———

Some greater brute had caught a Bear
And made him dance at every fair
To please the gaping croud,
The multitude who liked the sight
Expressed by clamours their delight
And so the Beast grew proud.

The Bear with vanity thus fraught
Askd of a monkey what he thought
And if he danced with taste —
Most vilely — honest pug replied —
Nay nay friend Monkey — Bruin cried —
Im sure you only jest.

Come come all prejudice is wrong —
See with what ease I glide along!
A Hog was by the place,
And cried according to my notion
Here’s elegance in every motion
I never saw such grace!

Bruin tho out in his pretence
Was yet a Bear of common sense —
Enough he cries, grown sad,
The Monkeys blaming made me doubt —
But approbation from that snout —!
I must dance very bad!

Thus he who gives his idle song
To all the motley-minded throng
Meets many a heavy curse,
Vexations on vexations rise —
Bad is the censure of the wise —
The fools applause is worse.  [7] 

Bedford did you ever see a dancing bear? trust me never bear felt worse heard the sound of the bagpipes with less pleasure — than I feel at the hour of visiting. I am shown here like a wild beast from one house to another without seeing anybody that I ever wish to see again.

Beckford [8]  is at Lisbon — a man of whom it has been said with truth as well as poetry that “he has many pence.” he tells the Portuguese that he cannot live in England owing to Mr Pitt — “for I made a speech against him in the house one day, & he was so afraid of me that he trumped up an infamous story & obliged me to quit the country. the English cut him. xx he has been to court — & a Portuguese nobleman remarked — “as dogs go to church — the door was open as he walked in.” Beckford had some whelps which he valued, & pestered the servants with his care of them. passing by them one day he heard his maid servant cry — “curse the whelps — one would think they were my Masters own, he’s so fond of them.” he turned her off directly.

I was at the opera last night — the first woman was a very ugly fellow — but the chief bufo was a comical toad. her most Xtian Majesty [9]  will not permit females to act. but the Portuguese are indulged with a female dancer. admirably consistent this! it is so much more decent to dance than to sing!

I have a thousand things to say to you.

Feby. 20. the packet brought me no letter from you! ah Grosvenor if you were in a land of strangers you would know the value of a letter. I have made a female friend [10]  here & told her all my secrets — & you cannot conceive the delight I felt in talking of Edith after so long a silence. I have much to grieve me here in the conduct of my mother & uncle — (this for your eye only) who knowing my connection with Edith (& my Mother at one time encouraging it & treating her as her daughter) knowing her total dependance upon me — & knowing me too — could get me abroad to wean me of what they call a foolish attachment. I have discovered this since my arrival at Lisbon — for this precious scheme has been whispered about the town here — & I have likewise heard it from England. my Mother knew my marriage too before I left her. if this did not give me very great pain because it lessons — indeed destroys respect & esteem for those whom I most love — I could be amused at outwitting my Uncles sagacity — who carries me to Mrs Tonkins [11]  very frequently because I get tete a tete with one of her daughters — & congratulates himself secretly on my attentions to her, when I am all the while talking of Edith. you know not what pain this occasions me — but Edith is mine — & all the relations in the world weigh nothing when opposed to her. xxxxxx conduct Grosvenor if asked. my marriage got in the papers & Edith bears her legal name — this I care little for or nothing.

Write to me Bedford — your letter that reachd me at Falmouth was all mystery & if you cannot write explanations write more riddles that I may have something interesting & foreign to myself to think on. I shall write again to you by the next packet which will be on the voyage before this can reach you.

I will certainly be in England in May. & in the course of this year I hope to pitch my tent near you — then adieu to rambling — & no more politics but the newspapers. the Law will be my standing dish I shall devour the abridgement in fifty two volumes, but a little poetry must still be the desert.

I have written to Wynn — & shall by the next packet again. no merchants clerk can work harder for the packet than I have done — seven letters going! my health is very good but there is a sad weight on my spirits — & good reason why. I could weary you with complaints — is it not strange {hard} that we should grieve because others act wickedly? my Uncle uses no arguments to persuade me into orders. once indeed he showed me in a map the living which his late preferment puts in his gift & told me it was five hundred a year — he talkd of the house too & situation — but as I immediately changed the subject he has never renewed it. if you had not given away your heart I should have advised you to visit Lisbon & bespoke one for you. my confidante is a charming girl — & there is a lady here almost the facsimile of my Edith. but the best of the joke is — my Uncle (who brings me here to wean me of a foolish attachment) fell in love with this very likeness himself — & her Mother thought he was courting her but when the murder came out they all quarrelled. he is about 46 & she is about 23 — did you ever see an very old print from scripture, of a gentleman with a church beam in his eye, pulling the mote out of his neighbours. {literally so painted}

God bless you. write. {make my} remembrances to all your good family.

RS.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Postmarks: PP/ 1796; [partial] MR/1
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; J LARKING
Seal: Red wax [design illegible; trace of crest]
Endorsement: December 1795
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 104–107 [in part, and dated [20 February 1795]; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] A revised version appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[2] Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), prolific Spanish dramatist and poet. Southey’s abridgement of his La Hermosura de Angelica (1602) appeared in Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[3] Probably a reference to Pedro de Azevedo Tojal (fl, 1716), Carlos Reduzido, Inglaterra Illustrada (1716), an account of which appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[4] Tomás de Iriarte (1750–1791), Spanish poet whose best-known work was Fábulas Literarias (1782), a collection of 76 fables satirising contemporary literature. BACK

[5] A nickname for Grosvenor Charles Bedford; probably an allusion to Sancho Panza’s ass in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), Don Quixote (1605–1615). BACK

[6] Judge gentle ... accident: Verse written in double columns. The poem is a translation (probably Southey’s own) of Iriarte’s ‘El Burro Flaustista’. A revised version appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[7] Some greater ... worse: Verse written in double columns. The poem is a translation (probably Southey’s own) of Iriarte’s ‘El Oso La Mona y El Cerdo’. A revised version appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[8] William Beckford (1760–1844; DNB), writer and art collector, who was famed for his wealth and extravagance. Elected MP for Wells in 1784, he was on the verge of obtaining a peerage when his reputation was destroyed by the scandal surrounding his relationship with William Courtenay, heir to the Earl of Devon. Beckford left England for Europe in 1785, and between 1793–1796, he lived mainly at Cintra, Portugal. He and Southey did not meet during the latter’s 1795–1796 visit. BACK

[9] The Queen of Portugal, Maria I (1734–1816; reigned 1777–1816). BACK

[10] Unidentified, though this could be Ann Tonkins (the daughter of friends of Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill) who is mentioned later in this letter. BACK

[11] The Tonkins were friends of Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, and residents of Lisbon, Southey was also on good terms with their daughter Ann. BACK

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March 2009