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

170. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29 August [–7 September] 1796 ⁠* 

Monday. August 29th 1796. by the fireside

I have run plenum sed [1]  against the Beast in my letters. if you were with me you should sit down & write a letter or two — tho perhaps you are better employed “ut prisca gens mortalium.” [2]  — but do not hurt the polypi for the sake of trying experiments. mangle the dead as much as you please — but xx let {not} Carlisle dissect dogs & frogs alive. of all experimental surgeons Spallanzan iis the only fair one I ever heard of — he kept a kite & gave him all his food in little bags tied to a long string which he used to pull up again to see the progress of digestion [3]  — now this was using the kite very ill — but he served himself in the same manner.

Wynn is at Elton with his Uncle — I wrote to him to day — told him your skylight was mended — & added that I hoped you would no longer play Squallitz [4]  while Carlisle was making too free with Becainde. [5] 

You will perhaps hear of me in Sussex. certainly if you go to Rye which is only ten miles distant {from Hastings}. I wish you may see the Lambs — for tho Tom ran with all the vices & follies of Oxford I should like to hear of him — & still more to hear something of his father & mother. Mrs L is a very pleasant woman. I was a great favorite there once — more so than I shall ever be anywhere again — for the same reason that people like a kitten better than a cat — & a kid than the venerable old Goat. their eldest daughter must be now nearly seventeen. she has lost the use of one leg entirely — yet when I knew her she was a charming girl — with that susceptible disposition easily which feeling pleasure & pain acutely is likely to render the possessor miserable — because the quantum of misery in existence is perhaps the greatest. perhaps — boarding school has altered her — go to Rye Grosvenor — & call on Lamb — if it be merely to make a report to me on the state of the family — you will give me much pleasure — & perhaps you may give them some by telling them that I am in the land of the living.

I have been very happy at Rye Grosvenor — & love to remember it. you know the history of the seventeen anonymous letters that Tom & I sent down the day before we went ourselves — there is a windmill on the bank above the house — with the glass I used to tell the hour by Rye Clock from the door — which Clock by the by was taken among the spoils of the Spanish Armada. [6]  — I hope you may go there.

Charles Collins wrote a Sonnet upon Hastings Castle — which Horace once showed me — it was ——— fourteen lines. I wrote a good many bad verses in Sussex — but they taught me to write better — & you know not how agreable it is to me to meet with one of my old lines or old ideas in Joan of Arc.

Wednesday. I wish you were here Grosvenor. Pretty Grange & Pretty Pipe is among your letters — & if we were together now we would write excellent letters from Portugal. I have begun a hymn to the Penates [7]  which will perhaps be the best of all my lesser pieces. it is to conclude the volume of poems. the ode on your birth day 1793 — the one I sent you on the same day 1794 must both be improved — & with a projected one for the eleventh of September 96 — shall be publishd as birth day odes. [8]  tell me what you chuse to be called in them? for your name is introduced more than once. you do not object to Grosvenor — Peter [9]  will not do. Musæus? What is become of Leander? [10] 

— tis a great advantage to have a London bookseller. they can put off an edition of any book however stupid — & without great exertions in its favor no book however excellent will sell. the sale of Joan of Arc in London has been very slow indeed. six weeks ago Cadell [11]  had only sold three copies.

Monday. It is Bristol fair. the Beast has got a holy day. now Bedford do I wish for nothing more earnestly than that you & I could see all his gambols in a camera obscura. not we would {not} mingle with the herd because the effluvia from so many foul lungs is not very agreable — & because there are certain vermin {that crawl} on the head of other things besides the body politic. we would look at the booths where they who make themselves the greatest fools get the most money. See children with their rattles & jumping Joans — & their parents amusing themselves with sugar plumbs — & after we were tired with these sights we would visit the more respectable race of quadrupeds whom the worst monster in creation has imprisond in a close cages & shows for sixpence a piece! the elephant — the royal tyger — the hyena — & even his own first cousins!

But you are probably by this time better employed. would I were with you; for tho I hate to be on the sea — I yet wish to pitch my tent on the shore. I do not know any thing more delightful than to lie on the beach in the sun & watch the rising waves, while a thousand vague ideas — pass over the mind — like {the} summer clouds over the water. then it is a noble situation to Shandeize. [12]  why is it salt — why does it ebb & flow — what sort of fellows are the mermen — &c &c &c. there are a thousand of the prettiest questions in the world to ask — on which you may guess away ad secula seculorum. [13]  — & here am I tormented by Mr Rossers dilatory devils — & looking on with no small impatience to the time when I shall renounce the Devil & all his works.

I translated this little piece from Quevedo [14]  this morning —


See Lisus where the Sculptors art
Has formd thine image of this polishd stone!
All perfect he performd his part,
Which Nature has not done.


Has Nature formd thy bosom white?
Lo! how the marble mocks the mountain snow!
Unrivalld are thy charms so bright —
And this is matchless too.


Oer thy fair cheek that hue she spread
That hue that flies & flushes there so oft.
She made thy lips so rosy red
Thy lips that seem so soft!


Ah Lisus — maid of marble heart
Here truly art thou formd by him alone.
For here thou seemest what thou art —
So cold — so hard — in stone.  [15] 


the poetry will form a pleasant part of my volume. I wrote an inscription last night for a column at Truxillo the birthplace of Francisco Pizarro. [16]  it is a kind of writing I am fond of — as its three requisites are brevity — perspicuity & morality.

Pizarro here was born. a greater name
The list of Glory boasts not. Toil & Want,
And Danger never from his course deterrd
This daring soldier: many a fight he won,
He slaughterd thousands, he subdued a rich
And ample realm; such were Pizarros deeds —
And Wealth & Power & Fame were his rewards
Among mankind. There is another world.
Oh Reader! if you earn your daily bread
By daily labor, if your lot be hard
And humble & obscure, yet thank the God
Who made you, that you are not such as he.  [17] 

I am about to leave off writing just when I have learnt what to write & how to write. however I may still employ a Sunday better than in going to church. I mean to attempt to get a tragedy on the stage — for the mere purpose of furnishing a house — which a successful play would do for me. I know I can write one — beyond this all is mere conjecture. it is however worth trying — for I find lodgings very disagreable. lodge however I must in London; & you will be good enough to look out for me — I hope — ere long. two rooms the Brixton side the water —.

I have a thousand things to say to you [MS torn] long absence seems to have produced no effect on us — & I still feel th[MS torn] perfect openess in writing to you — that I shall never feel to any other human being. Grosvenor when we sit down in Shandy Hall [18]  what pretty speculations shall we make! you shall be Toby — & amuse yourself with marching to Paris — I will make systems — & Horace shall be Doctor Slop.

I have projected a useful volume which would not occupy a month. specimens of the early {x} English Poets [19]  — with a critical account of all their works. only to include the less known authors, & specimens never before selected. my essays would be historical & biographical as well as critical. I can get this printed without risquing any thing myself — & I could get credit by it — but what use is that? for I regard public praise or public censure as I do the blowing of the wind.

Grosvenor that half letter which Carlisle wrote to me — appeard atheistical. I care not whether he be atheist or not. for a mans principless are the last things I shall ever trouble my head about. no doubt Beelzebub professes very excellent principles.

You see the Monthly Magazine. who wrote the letter “What Man is made for? with the Linnæan [20]  definition of Man at the end? [21] 

Wednesday. several persons have very humanely interested themselves about the state of my soul. some body — I strongly suspect it was Duppa— sent me the Age of Reason [22]  to Oxford to make a Deist of me. here is an old gentleman has lent me Job Scott on Baptism [23]  to make me a Quaker — & it was but yesterday that a good old Lady lent me “Short Sermons by the R. John Biddulph [24]  — for those who have neither leisure nor inclination to read long ones!” {to make me a Methodist.}

Now for the soul of me — when a man or woman — with a face of serious concern recommends me to read one of these books — I cannot tell him — the book is nonsense. nonsense — the word is too weak — it is a medley of folly & madness & blasphemy.

farewell — you shall have an ode this year. it is now tossing about the intellectual surges of my cerebrum & cerebullum & Friday night it shall be tost about in the Mail — & on Saturday morning it shall reach Palace Yard — & on Sunday you may open it.

I expect soon to hear that you will share the fate of Esculapius [25]  — be punished for raising the dead.

yrs sincerely



* Address: For/ G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: BSE/ 8/ 96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1795
Endorsement: 29 August 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. 290–292 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Latin translates as ‘full butt’. BACK

[2] Horace (65–8 BC), Epode, 2, line 2. The Latin translates as ‘like the men of old’. BACK

[3] Experiments carried out by Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729–1799) and recorded in his Dissertations Relative to the Natural History of Animals and Vegetables (1784). BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] The Spanish invasion fleet, which was defeated in 1588. BACK

[7] It appeared in Southey’s Poems (1797). BACK

[8] Revised versions of Southey’s 1793 and 1796 birthday odes to Grosvenor Charles Bedford appeared in Poems (1797). BACK

[9] A pseudonym used by Grosvenor Charles Bedford in the schoolboy magazine The Flagellant (1792). It originated from Peter the Hermit (d. 1115), a religious fanatic who was instrumental in preaching the First Crusade. BACK

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

[11] The booksellers Thomas Cadell, the Elder (1742–1802; DNB), and Thomas Cadell, the Younger (1773–1836; DNB). BACK

[12] To follow your own thoughts, no matter how illogically connected, in the manner of Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[13] The Latin translates as ‘forever and ever’. BACK

[14] Francisco Gomez de Quevedo y Villegas (1580–1645), Spanish poet. BACK

[15] See Lisus ... stone: Verse written in double columns. A revised version of Southey’s translation of Quevedo’s madrigal, ‘Un famoso escultor, Lisi esquiva!’ appeared in Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), pp. 326–327. BACK

[16] The Spanish conqueror of the Incas, Francisco Pizarro (c. 1470–1541). BACK

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

[18] The home of the central character of Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[19] This was never produced, but Southey’s and Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s Specimens of the Later English Poets appeared in 1807. BACK

[20] The system for classification advocated by Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778). BACK

[21] A reference to a letter signed ‘Heraclito-Democriteus’, published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (August 1796), 523–524. Stylistic features suggest Southey was not the author of this letter. BACK

[22] Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), The Age of Reason (1794–1795). BACK

[23] The American Quaker and mystic Job Scott (1751–1793), author of The Baptism of Christ, a Gospel Ordinance: Being Altogether Inward and Spiritual (1793). BACK

[24] Probably a reference to the Bristol evangelical, Thomas Biddulph (1763–1838; DNB), whose Short Sermons went through many editions. BACK

[25] In Roman mythology, Aesculapius was the god of medicine. BACK

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March 2009