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

159. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on 12 June 1796] ⁠* 

Well said Grosvenor! you have hit off the character of our fine Ladies — & Mary Wollstonecraft & Robert Southey with all their hearts cry Amen. by the by have you ever read her Rights of Woman? [1]  but as you think either too little or too much of woman; we will talk of the other sex. yes by the Lord — talk — for is not the tongue of the pen as allowable a phrase as the eye of the mind? By the physiognomy of his name Shee [2]  must be a queer bitch. you promise me a good society — & I anticipate the enjoyment of it — yet — will my studies allow so periodical an engagement? — how came Duppa to snarl at Godwin? Godwin has many dangerous errors in his system, but its excellencies hugely preponderate. have you studied it — or are you of my opinion that systems are good for little & metaphysics for nothing. I have declared war against metaphysics — & would push my arguments as William Pitt [3]  would his successes — even to the extermination of the enemy.

Blessd be the hour I scaped the wrangling crew! [4] 

I think it may be proved that the material & necessarian controversies are Much ado about nothing. that they end exactly where they began, & that all the moral advantages said to result from them by the Illuminated — are fairly & more easily deducible from religion, or even from Common Sense. there are a great many Goddesses spring up lately — Nature — the Atheists Goddess. Liberty a French Goddess for whom I profess veneration — & Truth — the metaphysicians goddess, in pursuit of whom they would fain send every body on another Pilgrims Progress. but the misfortune is that none of these adventurers never get beyond Doubting Castle. now my Goddess shall be Common Sense — she has no mysteries & her creed is a comprehensible one.

Allen is indeed married & his marriage is of all others the most quaint “of Mrs A—s income I know nothing. our agreement was to support ourselves seperately. she tells me she has enough to support herself & her two children; I am satisfied & enquire no farther.” — they made a bargain.

What of Carlisles wings? I believe my flying scheme — that of breaking in condors & riding them — is the best — or if a few rocs  [5]  could be naturalized — tho it might be a hard matter to break them —. seriously I am very far from convinced that flying is impossible:  [6]  & have an admirable tale of a Spanish bird for one of my letters which will just suit Carlisle.

Grosvenor Bedford — what think you of the Prince of Wales??? his debts twice — & now!  [7]  “When Pharoah saw that there was respite he hardened his heart.” [8]  good people begin to croak — & I wish that some of the croakers would go into his bed chamber.

I mean to pass Saturday with Hannah More. you heard from me of my former visit to Cowslip Green. an elder brother of Cottles goes there Friday. with whom I shall return. he is a young man of some talents & patronised by Thornton the Friend of the Negroes. [9]  Hannah More educated the two eldest daughters — & very amiable & accomplishd women they are. Amos the elder brother is about to take orders.

Sunday. Morning — And behold I did not go. No nor do I go to Meeting this morning — for methinks Grosvenor I am better employed in writing a letter than hearing a sermon. public instruction is necessary yet I dislike the tenets of the church — & the forms of the Meeting. however as I can better endure what I think dull — than what I believe blasphemy the Meeting carries the day.

Grosvenor — Miss Lodge [10]  was in the right & what would she have said to me with a Trinitarian cornerd hat on? & my own unsophisticated seditious hair under it! with respect to women, as to the Mob of them & particularly the Mob of High Life — you are both right — but if there are among the sorry-cattle of mankind such odd animals as ourselves, depend upon the old proverb “every Jack has his Gill.” it is a pity that we do not know as much of women as we do of men they order these things better in France — where friendship (— & ne plus ultra) is common with a woman. the sexes are too much seperated in England — but nothing will be right till You & I have informed the world — & then Grosvenor — provided all words ending in —crat be abolishd — you & I shall agree in our proposed reform.

Yes your friends shall be mine — but it is We (in the dual number) who must be intimate. if Momus had made a window in my breast [11]  — I should by this time have had sense enough to add a window shutter. London is not the only place for me. I have an unspeakable loathing for that huge city. “God made the country & Man made the town —” [12]  now as God made me likewise I love the country — here am I in the skirts of Bristol — & in ten minutes in th a beautiful country — & in half an hour among rocks & woods with no other company than the owls & jack daws with whom I fraternize in solitude. but London — it is true that you & Wynn will supply the place of the owls & jack daws — but Brixton is not the country — the poplers of Pownall Terrace — cannot supply the want of a wild wood — & with all my imagination — I cannot mistake a mile stone for a rock. but there are among the Τα ουκ εφ’ ημιν. [13]  it is within doors & not without that Happiness dwells — like a Vestal, watching the fire of the Penates. [14] 

Duppa ( — tho out of his element, which is the water, he being the oddest fish in Nature — & well represented in the Naturalists Miscellanny.) Duppa must be a loss to your society. a Painter is very necessary. one who would make a good picture for the Exhibition from Joan of Arc would do me infinite service, & there are subjects in abundance. is he going to Italy. if not — & I think that very hazardous & very improbable — where can he go — not to Spain if he has any compassion upon himself! not to France — oh the luxury of a trip there after a peace! not to the Low Countries & what other part of the world can tempt a painter? now were it not for that cursed Germany — I should have mathematically proved Duppa would stay in England.

I have told you what I am about. writing letters to the world is not however quite so agreable as writing to you & I do not love shaping a good thing into a good sentence. when you come down you will see the first part of my correspondence. I am wise enough to have 25 copies printed on good paper & hot-pressed. then Grosvenor for a volume of poems — & then — for the Abridgement of the laws — or the Lawyers pocket companion — in fifty two volumes folio. is it not a pity Grosvenor that I should not execute my intention of writing more verses than Lope de Vega [15]  — more tragedies than Dryden [16]  — & more epic poems than Blackmore? [17]  the more I write the more I have to write — I have a helicon-kind of dropsy upon me & xxxx — crescit indulgens sibi. [18]  the quantity of verses I wrote at Brixton is astonishing — my mind was never more employed — I killed wasps & was very happy — & so I will again Grosvenor tho employed on other themes — & if ever man was happy because he resolved to be so, I will.

I have heard from Tom since I returned only. he speaks hugely well of you & Miles [19]  even as a couple of oracles. Miles told him he had corresponded with me. do you remember that letter? & the still more celebrated one to Signor Carlo Collins — & the most celebrated one to Nicholas Lightfoot?

Of Lightfoot it is long since I have heard any thing. I conclude that he has taken orders, & christens children out of the POT of abomination. there is something melancholy in knowing nothing of a man with whom I lived so much at one period — & who really had a great regard for me — as I still entertain for him — methinks I ought to write to him — he is a worthy fellow & I believe since the death of our Edmund Seward bears for no one a higher esteem than for me.

When blew the loud blast in the air
So shrill — so full of woe
Unable such a noise to bear
— Down fell Jericho. [20] 

Lightfoot — on the authority of some rum old book, used th to assert the existence of a tune that would shake a wall down — by insinuating its sounds into the wall & vibrating so strongly as to shake it down. now Grosvenor to those lines in the 4th book of Joan [21]  — that allude to Orlando’s magic horn was I going to make a note — which by the help of you & Lightfoot would have been a very quaint one, & by the help of Dr Geddes [22]  not altogether unlearned. not to mention great erudition in quotations from Boyardo Ariosto Archbishop Turpin [23]  & Spenser.

farewell Grosvenor. have you read Count Rumfords Essays? [24]  — I am ashamed to say that I have not yet. have you read Fawcetts Art of War? [25]  with all the faults of Young [26]  it possesses more beauties — & is in many parts — in my opinion — excellent.

write soon & often & on huger paper —

remember me to all your good family



* Address: For/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: [illegible; obscured by MS repair]
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; W SHARPE
Endorsement: 12 June 1796
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. 277–279 [in part]. BACK

[1] Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). BACK

[2] Identity not certain, but possibly the portrait painter Martin Archer Shee (1769–1850; DNB). BACK

[3] The Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB). BACK

[4] An adaptation of James Beattie (1735–1803; DNB), The Minstrel; or, the Progress of Genius. A Poem. Book the First (1771), Book 1, stanza 42, line 5. BACK

[5] Enormous legendary birds of prey that could reputedly carry off an elephant. The roc (or Simorg) would later appear in Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), in a note added to the 1809 edition, Book ll, line 138n. BACK

[6] Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), pp. 246–7, relates the traditional story of a Spaniard who attempted to fly using wings made of bird’s feathers. BACK

[7] The massive debts of the future George IV (1762–1830; reigned 1820–1830; DNB) had been paid off by Parliament in 1787, and in 1795 a further £65,000 per annum was added to his annual grant, in order to pay off further debts gradually. BACK

[8] Exodus 8: 15. BACK

[9] Henry Thornton (1760–1815; DNB), banker and political economist. He was a cousin of William Wilberforce (1759–1833; DNB) and a leading member of the Clapham Sect. In 1791, Thornton became chairman of the Court of Directors of the newly constituted Sierra Leone Company, dedicated to establishing a colony of freed slaves in Africa. The company aimed to confer on Africa the blessings of European religion and civilization through a trading operation that would be both profitable and free from the taint of slavery. BACK

[10] Unidentified; presumably a friend of Grosvenor Charles Bedford and an acquaintance of Southey’s. She might be related to the Mr Lodge whose library Southey mentions in a letter to Horace Walpole Bedford, 13 October 1796 (Letter 182). BACK

[11] According to Hesiod (8th century BC), Theogony, Momus (the god of pleasantry) criticised Vulcan (the god of fire) because in manufacturing a human form out of clay, Vulcan had not placed a window in the human breast so that whatever was done or thought could be easily discovered. BACK

[12] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Task (1785), Book 1, line 749. BACK

[13] The Greek can be translated as ‘matters not under our control’. BACK

[14] In ancient Rome, the Vestals were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. One of their tasks was to keep the fire burning in Vesta’s temple. The Penates were the patron gods of the home. BACK

[15] Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), prolific Spanish dramatist and poet, who is believed to have written over 1500 plays, of which about 425 survive. BACK

[16] Excluding tragi-comedies, John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB) wrote ten tragedies for the London stage. BACK

[17] Richard Blackmore (1654–1729; DNB) wrote epics which, even by the standards of the genre, were of great length. BACK

[18] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 2, no. 2, line 13. The Latin translates as ‘It grows by being indulged’. BACK

[19] A friend of the Bedford family, he lived at Vanbrugh Fields, Greenwich. His first name is not recorded. BACK

[20] See Hebrews 11: 30. BACK

[21] The lines appeared in Southey’s Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), p. 132. BACK

[22] Dr Alexander Geddes (1737–1802; DNB), Roman Catholic priest, radical, philologist and biblical scholar. BACK

[23] Matteo Maria Boiardo (1434–1494), author of the epic Orlando Innamorato; Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1535), author of Orlando Furioso; Archbishop Turpin (d. 800), a French warrior-priest, who appears in the romance, The Song of Roland. BACK

[24] Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753–1814; DNB), Experimental Essays, Political, Economical and Philosophical (1796). BACK

[25] Joseph Fawcett (c. 1758–1804; DNB), The Art of War (1795). BACK

[26] Possibly a reference to Edward Young (c. 1683–1765; DNB), The Complaint, or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742–1746). BACK

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March 2009