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

165. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on 17 July 1796] ⁠* 

I am vexed that I do not see you — & more vexed for the occasion. Pain is an evil — curse all pains — except Tom — & he is dying of an abscess (curse all abscesses) in his side — now could I curse all sides too in my detestation of party spirit. Wynn is gone to Oxford — but your abscess — by its situation — if I understand it — there is no kind of danger — is there?

by God Grosvenor you must not die.

for not being in the best of humours with the world I cannot afford to lose him whom I most love in it. poor Edmund Seward! there snapt one cable — if you were to make your escape I should have but one cable left — heigh ho! Life is but a bad voyage at the best — particularly if we be sea sick on it. No more of this. your abscess is in a good part — there is cut & come again there — as old Smith [1]  would have said. there tis none of your delicate parts where you must cut to a hair — there is a good bottom to work upon & an inch or two one way or the other is not much matter — Collins could spare a square foot on either side — you might cut down the barge into a Canoe — & he’d go the lighter for it.

But Grosvenor — you must send me daily accounts of yourself. when his Majesty [2]  was ill the state of his health was daily announced in the newspapers. now am I more concerned about the worst part of you than the whole body politic — all that is corrupt — & no knife can cut deep enough to cure it.

Seriously I am very anxious. write to me immediately — or if you cannot tell Horace.

I have your letter franked by Sir W. [3]  I cannot say where it give me more pain it was a kind of Achilles spear [4]  — was it not Grosvenor — healing the wound it made? I wanted to write before but I have been occupied by landing some books from Lisbon — (curse all Custom Houses!) & my time is much engaged. thank God I shall be with you before Xmas.

besides my letters — I write for the Monthly Magazine — this is a new job — you may easily trace me there if it be worth your while. they give five guineas a sheet — but their sheets are sixteen closely printed pages. I manufacture up my old rubbish for them — with a little about Spanish literature — I shall be glad to get rid of all this.

So you abuse Anna St Ives [5]  & commend the Pucelle of the detestable Voltaire. [6]  now Grosvenor it was not I who said — I have not read that book — I said — God be thanked that I did say it — & plague take the boobies who mutilated it in my absence — I said — I have never been guilty of reading the Pucelle of Voltaire — report speaks it worthy of its author — a man whose wit & genius could only be equalld by his depravity. I will tell you what a Man, not particularly nice in his moral opinions said to me upon the subject of that book. “I should think the worse of any man who having read one canto of it could proceed to a second”. it is blasphemy & obscenity highly seasond with wit — or wit highly seasond with blasphemy & obscenity. now my opinion of Anna St Ives is dramatically opposite to yours. I think it a book of consummate wisdom. & I shall join my forces to Mr Knowles [7]  — to whom I desire you will make my fraternal respects —

I agree with you that Man is a beast & an ugly beast. but what makes him so??? not God — God made him — in his own image — tell me — do you think yourself a beast? do you think me a beast? do you think Carlisle a beast? do you think Wynn an ugly beast — do you think your brother Harry an ugly beast — do you think such a Woman as you could love — an ugly beast? No. No. No.

are you yourself capable of virtue & happiness? if you are — why are not the rest of mankind? Now — they are a blackguard mob — but remember God made them for young Angels. prove to me that God has made any one being naturally vicious — & I will make you & myself Atheists — inevitably!

I am an Optimist — & believe all things are working for the best. for the mob of mankind I should feel abhorrence if it could exist with contempt. this is the best of possible worlds — yet I wish there were no such things as abscesses in it.

but can you not get well & then come down?

I have a thousand things to say to you & a thousand things to show you. if I were within twenty miles of Brixton I would come & sit by you & you should talk any thing — but Metaphysics to me — them we would keep for Σνιφελ. [8] 

So you have found five translations of Musæus!!!!! [9]  & I could show you an infinity of Spanish poems on the same subject. & if you have a mind to make a learned preface I will send you the names of them & some of the Sonnets.


Sunday —

how has this letter been neglected! no more delays however. I am continually writing or reading — the double cacoethes grows upon me every day — & the physic of John a Nokes [10]  by which I must get cured is sadly nauseous. n’importe. — I wish I were in London for if industry can do any thing for any body it shall for me. my plan is to study from five in the morning till eight — from nine to twelve & from one to four. the evening is my own. now Grosvenor do you think I would do this if I had a pigsty of my own in the country?

so goes the world! there is not a man in it who is not discontented. however if no Man has more reason for discontent than you & I have, twould be already a very good world for after all I believe the worst we complain of is that we do not find mankind as good as we could wish. — I had forgot the abscess — that is an evil. many of our mental evils — & God knows they are the worst! we make ourselves.

If a young man had his senses about him when he sets out in life he should seriously deliberate whether he had rather never be miserable or sometimes be happy. I like the up & down road best but I have learnt never to despise any mans opinion because it is different from my own. surely Grosvenor our restlessness in this world seems to indicate that we are intended for a better. we have all of us a longing after happiness — & surely the Creator will gratify all the rational desires that he has implanted in us. — if you die before me will you visit me? — I am half a believer in apparitions & would purchase conviction at the expence of a tolerable fright.

George Burnetts Uncle was fore three months terribly afflicted by the night mare. so much so that by being constantly disturbd his health was considerably impaird. one night he determind to lie awake & watch for HER

Oh Bedford Bedford
If ever though didst a good story love!

One night, he says he determind to lie awake & watch for HER. at the ritual hour he heard HER coming up the stairs — he got up on his bed — in a cold sweat — he heard HER come into the room — he heard her open the curtain & then ——— he leapt out of bed & caught HER by the hair before SHE — for SHE it was — could fall upon his breast. then did this most incomparable hero bellow to John for a candle — they fought —she pulld & he pulld & bellowed. till John came with a light & then ——— She vanishd immediately & he remaind with a handful of HER hair.

Now Bedford would not you have had that made into a locket? the tale methinks is no bad companion for your Fathers dream. was the exploit of Mr Burnett is far beyond that of St Withold [11]  — tho by the by he met the Nine foals into the bargain. & they made a bargain

I have written you an odd letter & an ugly one upon very execrable paper. by the by if you have a Prudentius [12]  you may serve me by sending me all he says about a certain Saint Eulalia who suffered martyrdom at Merida. [13]  I passed thro that city & should like to see his hymn upon the occasion & if there be any good in it, put it in a note.

how mortifying is this confinement of yours — I had planned so many pleasant walks to be made so much more pleasant by conversation.

for I have much to tell thee. much to say of the odd things we saw upon our journey Much of the dirt & vermin that annoyd us. And you should have seen my letters before they went to press & annotated them — & heard the plot of my tragedy — & laughd — not at my tragedy tho — but now! — I have a mortal aversion to all those disjunctive particles — but — & if — & yet — always herald some bad news.

Bedford you must shame for me my long silence by writing directly. perhaps if you are escaped from your bed & able to bear the journey change of air may benefit you — by helping to recruit your strength. would I were nearer you — however I shall be settled in London I hope before Xmas. I do not remember a happier ten weeks than I passed at Brixton — nor indeed a better employd period. God grant me ten such weeks of leisure once more in my life & I will finish Madoc.

God bless you.

RS.


Notes

* Address: For/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: OJY/ 18/ 96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1795
Endorsement: 17 July 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. 283–286 [in part]. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820). BACK

[3] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 5th Baronet (1772–1840), brother of Southey’s friend and patron Charles Watkin Williams Wynn. BACK

[4] A reference to a legend (found in Homer’s Iliad) that the spear of the Greek hero Achilles was able to heal any wound it inflicted. BACK

[5] Thomas Holcroft (1745–1809; DNB), Anna St Ives (1792). BACK

[6] Voltaire (1694–1778), La Pucelle (1755). Southey regarded Voltaire’s poem as obscene. BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] The Greek translates as ‘Snivel’, the name of Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s dog. BACK

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

[10] John a Nokes was a fictitious character, often used to signify the plaintiff in a legal case. BACK

[11] King Lear, Act 3, scene 4, lines 120–124. BACK

[12] The Spanish poet Prudentius (348–c. 405), author of Psychomachia (c. 405). BACK

[13] St Eulalia (d. 304), patron saint of the Spanish town of Merida. Southey published an ‘Inscription for a Monument at Merida’ in the Morning Post, 30 March 1798. Unusually, and accidentally, the poem appeared under his own name. For his brief stay in Merida, see Letters Written During a short Residence in Spain and Portugal (London, 1797), pp. 236–238. BACK

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March 2009