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

162. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 June 1796 ⁠* 

Sunday. June 26th. 1796.

The Cambridge Intelligencer [1]  has this day informed me that George Strachey has won the Greek Ode.  [2]  I felt five minutes inclination to write & congratulate him — but five minutes reflection prevented me. I do not know any man whose future character could so well be prophesied from the past as GS. whatever virtues, whatever abilities he possessed, would dilate & his foibles which instead of darkening the brighter parts of the picture served only to make the pleasant xxxx them more visible by a little shade. a thousand little incidents were recalled to remembrance by his name, & if at first melancholy — as reminding me of many friends now scattered wide “By many fates” [3]  — I delighted in the thought that the best part of the flock will soon be gathered together again. What is become of Combe & Lamb? you know not & I probably never shall. must not such ever be the fate of connections not built upon the basis of similarity of character? I had enthusiasm of character — & a highly cultivated taste for the πο πρεπον [4]  — they — little more than great good humour — while at school the ascendancy of my mind — kept them within the bounds of regularity, & even gave them some love for study. but the seed fell among thorns — at Oxford they mixt with other society — Lamb was drunk every night — & Combe was agreable in all companies because he adapted himself to all. I love to remember Westminster. how little do can (in general) {be} judged of the man by the boy! Matthew Lewis [5]  is a Senator & Charles Bunbury a Soldier! & if the Devil had decided for those two men he could not have placed both of them more out of character. — & I am Robertus Scriblerus — where is Martin Sc-not-riblerus? [6]  by the by I have some excellent portraits of that great Philanthropist — the physiognomy of which so struck Edith one day that she enquired first the name & then the history — the name I told & quoted Slawkenbergius [7]  for the rest — but she intends to ask you his history.

now I must give you a better pun upon paper than Hogarths. [8]  I had assisted in making a pie for George Burnett — & at tea wrote him this note — “I am coming presently to what I richly deserve — the Π.” [9] 

Wynn comes tomorrow — & tomorrow you are to hear — what Grosvenor? — need I add write immediately?

Take the whole of the Spanish Poem. it is by George of Montemayor. [10]  addressd by Sirens to a lock of Dianas hair — whom after returning after twelvemonths absence he finds married to another.

Ah me — thou Relic of that faithless fair!
Sad changes have I suffered since that day,
When in this valley from her long loose hair
I bore thee — Relic of my Love! away.
Well did I then believe Dianas truth,
For soon true Love each jealous care represses
And fondly thought that never other youth
Should wanton with the Maidens unbound tresses.

Here on the cold clear Ezla’s breezy side
My hand amid her ringlets wont to rove,
She proferrd now the lock, & now denied,
With all the baby playfulness of Love.
Here the false Maid with many an artful tear
Made me each rising thought of doubt discover,
And vowd & wept, till Hope had ceasd to fear,
Ah me! beguiling like a child her lover.

Witness thou — how that fondest falsest fair
Has sighd & wept on Ezla’s shelterd shore,
And vowd eternal truth, & made me swear,
My heart no jealousy should harbour more.
Ah tell me — could I but believe those eyes —
Those lovely eyes with tears my cheek bedewing —
When the mute eloquence of tears & sight
I felt & trusted & embraced my ruin.

So false & yet so fair! so fair a mien
Vieling so false a mind — who ever knew?
So true & yet so wretched! who has seen
A man, like me, so wretched & so true?
Fly from me on the wind! for you have seen
How kind she was, how loved by her you knew me —
Fly! fly! vain Witness what I once have been
Nor dare all wretched as I am to view me!

One evening on the rivers pleasant strand
The Maid — too well beloved! sat with me
And with her finger traced upon the sand
“Death for Diana — not Inconstancy!”
And Love beheld us from his secret stand
And markd his triumph, laughing to behold me —
To see me trust a writing traced in sand!
To see me credit what a woman told me!  [11] 

If you can add any thing to the terseness of the conclusion, or the simplicity of the whole — do it. the piece itself is very beautiful.

My letters occupy more of my time & less of my mind than I could wish. Conceive Garagantua [12]  eating wood strawberries one at a time — or green peas — or the old dish — pap with a fork — & you will {have} some idea how my head feels in dwelling on desultory topics. Joan of Arc was a whole. it was something to think of every moment of solitude — & to dream of at night. my heart was in the poem — I threw my own feelings into it in my own language. aye — & out of one & another — {you may find} my own character. seriously Grosvenor to go on with Madoc is almost necessary to my happiness. I had rather leave off eating than poetizing. but these things must be — I will feed upon Law — & digest it — or it shall choke me. did you ever pop upon a seditious ode in the ludicrous stile addressed to the Cannibals? twas in the Courier & the Telegraph — a stray sheep markd Caius Gracchus [13]  — to which you may place another signature

Grosvenor I do not touch on ought interesting tonight. I am conversing with you now — in that easy calm good humourd state of mind which is perhaps the Summum bonum. [14]  the less we think of the world the better — for it only serves to make us worse —without making that better. Odi profanum vulgus [15]  — aye I detest the mob of mankind — the mobility as well as the nobility. I have friends enough to preserve me from misanthropy — which is always the child of Virtue — tho the Brat be an ill looking whelp. & tho {he is} ragged & dirty & ugly — {ye[MS torn]} it is the world who have torn his cloaths & bespattered & disfigurd him. Grosvenor I do not assume this sombrous gravity. I have it — I feel it. may I not say thank God I feel it? my feelings were once like an ungovernable horse — now I have tamed Bucephalus [16]  — he retains his spirit & his strength — but they are made useful & he shall not break my neck. I can laugh & play the boy too — yes & I can feel for the miseries of mankind — yes & I will try to remedy them — but I will give {administer my remedies to} the world my medicines as I would give medicine to a fellow with the itch — by a pair of tongs. cure him if I can — but no touching!

this is indeed a change. but the liquor that ceases to ferment, does not immediately become flat. xx — the beer then becomes fine — & continues so till it is dead.

tomorrow Wynn comes. shall I find him altered? would that I were among you. if unremitting assiduity can procure me independance that prize shall be mine. Christian went a long way to fling off his burden in the Pilgrims Progress. [17]  I doubt only my lungs. I find my breath affected when I read aloud. but exercise may strengthen these.

When do you come? twas wisely done of the old Conjurer who kept six Princesses transformed into cats [18]  to tie each of them fast — & put a mouse close to her nose without her being able to catch it. for the nearer we are to a good — the more do we necessarily desire {it}. the attraction becomes more powerful as we approach the magnet. I expect Musæus [19]  with you. What of Godwins Sermons? [20]  what of his nonsense bringing Allen to town? I know nothing of either. do not despise Godwin too much. he is despicable — but his book [21]  is not. he will do good by defending Atheism in print — because when the arguments are known they may [MS obscured] easily & satisfactorily answered. tell Carlisle to ask him this question. if man were made by the carnal meeting of atoms — how could he have possibly supported himself without superiour assistance? the use of the muscles is only attained by practise. how could he have fed himself? how know from what cause hunger proceeded? how know by what means to remedy the pain? — the question appears to me decisive.

Allen has excellent points in his character. he should have shown you all my letter tho.

Merry [22]  (of whose genius erroneous as it was I always thought highly) has publishd the Pains of Memory. a subject once given me — & from which some lines in Joan of Arc [23]  are extracted.

farewell — write after tomorrows conversation & Be Bold.


Quomodo valet Σνιφελ? [24] 


* Address: G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single Sheet
Stamped: [partial] BR
Postmark: [partial] U/96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES 1795
Endorsement: 26 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. 279–282 [in part]. BACK

[1] A radically-inclined newspaper, based in Cambridge. It ran from 1793–1803 and had a wide circulation. It was printed and published by Benjamin Flower (1755–1829; DNB). See M. J. Murphy, Cambridge Newspapers and Opinion, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 24–41. BACK

[2] Strachey had won the Browne Medal for a Greek ode. BACK

[3] William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850; DNB), Sonnets, (Third Edition) with Other Poems (Bath, 1794), p. 29, ‘Sonnet XXVI: On Revisiting Oxford’, lines 9–10. BACK

[4] The Greek can be translated as ‘what is fitting’. BACK

[5] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), author of the controversial Gothic novel, The Monk (1796). He was MP for Hindon between 1796 and 1802. BACK

[6] A pun on ‘Martin Scriblerus’, the name of a fictional antiquarian and pedant invented by members of the Scriblerus club, including Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) and Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB). This is possibly a reference to John Marten Butt, who was a contemporary of Southey’s at Westminster School. BACK

[7] A character in Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767), who is distinguished by the length of his nose and by the fact that he is an authority on the subject of noses. BACK

[8] William Hogarth (1697–1764; DNB), painter and engraver. BACK

[9] Π: Southey has sketched a gallows. BACK

[10] Jorge de Montemayor (c. 1520–1561), poet, novelist and musician. BACK

[11] The translation was published in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[12] Gargantua was a legendary giant, and the central character in a series of satirical novels by François Rabelais (c. 1494–1553). BACK

[13] Gaius Gracchus (154–121 BC), Roman radical reformer. This was a pseudonym used by Southey in the mid-1790s; see, for example, his letter to Robert Lovell, 5–6 April 1794 (Letter 85). The Courier and Telegraph were London daily newspapers, but the poem Southey refers to seems not to have survived. BACK

[14] The Latin translates as ‘the highest good’. BACK

[15] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 3, no. 1, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘I hate the vulgar rabble’. BACK

[16] A horse belonging to Alexander the Great (356–323 BC; reigned 336–323 BC). BACK

[17] In John Bunyan (c. 1628–1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Christian’s burden was the weight of original sin. BACK

[18] Unidentified. BACK

[19] Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), The Loves of Hero and Leander, was published in 1797. BACK

[20] Probably a reference to William Godwin, Sketches of History. In Six Sermons (1784). BACK

[21] William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). BACK

[22] Robert Merry (1755–1798; DNB), The Pains of Memory, A Poem (1796). BACK

[23] Possibly a reference to Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. 141–143. BACK

[24] The postscript can be roughly translated as ‘How’s Snivel?’, a reference to Bedford’s dog. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009