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

171. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 29[/30] August [1796] ⁠* 

Tuesday Aug 29th. Bristol.

I have been several times on the point of writing to you & as often delayed by the daily expectation of a letter. your last never reachd me. I have received but one from you, except what arrived to day & in that you evidently allude to another which must have been lost on the road.

Take care of despondence Horace. you are younger than I am — & yet I have not yet set out on my way of life — I am to live by the law — & know not even the ABC of it. of the nature of the application which you say has xxxxxxxx {failed} I know nothing. is not the law open to you? or the more rational & more respectable study of physic?

some subjects you say harrass you to distraction. if — as I suspect — they are upon some metaphysical questions — think nothing about them. I have followed the bubble myself till it burst — & take my word for it it is nothing but emptiness. time has produced some changes in me Horace since last we met. I have learnt heartily to despise the reptile race that pollute the world.

you love Rousseau. read his letter to that rascal Voltaire. perhaps the most eloquent & the most excellent of all his works. it is in answer to a Poem which Voltaire had written upon the earthquake at Lisbon [1]  — speaking of religion he says — my mind cannot {endure} the painful state of suspense — & xxxx if the arguments on one side balance those on the other — I fling the weight of Hope into the scale of Reason.

My letters are advancing. I treat the Beast with as little respect as he deserves, & give my own opinion totally careless how far it may coincide with any one else.

I have now read the Monk — & admire the delicacy of Lewis [2]  in criticising the Bible. there is genius in the book — but no good can possibly be produced by it. I would not have men distrust themselves. xx he who slides timidly will fall — & this is a slippery world.

apropos I must give you a couplet in the best alliterative stile

There — trace where tranquil oer his track of trail
Slow slides the sleek & slimey-slipping snail.  [3] 

Lewiss poetry is contemptible — except the Water King — & Alonzo & Imogine [4]  — of which the story is bad — & the most striking part very inferior to what appears to me its original the Franciscan monk at the marriage of Lorenzo in the Ghost-Seer of Frederick Schiller. [5]  an author compared to whom the sublimity of Eschylus [6]  & Shakesperexx is little have you read Fiesco? Stodhard [7]  of Christ Church is one of the translators. you may hear something of him from Collins — if you still retain his acquaintance: with friendship I believe him totally unacquainted.

I envy you your Hastings expedition. that country is well known to me. I love the sea when on shore — but no motive shall ever take me a longer voyage than to Calais again. x somebody (a painter I believe — Tresham?) has [MS torn] a poem called the Sea Sick Minstrel [8]  lately. tis a villainous subject. Oh Horace — conceive Heart Liver & Lights & Tripes & Trullibubs with the Fauxbourg St Intestinal Canal — in a state of insurrection — then the tocsin of the windpipe — then the discharge — such a scene of retchedness! — there is no occasion of the W.

I must give you the Effusion of a morning [MS torn] before [MS torn] breakfast. the Personification & image is I think new

How did ye murmur then my Trullibubs!
On that ill-omend day
When forth — all-breakfastless — I went my way.
xxxxx Mother of Mulligrubs
Hunger — with all the melody of gripes
Playing the flaccid bagpipe of my tripes!

I made a good pun the other day on a boy who had stolen some cakes — for I said he was παις κακος [9] 

“With what a weight does Expectation load the wings of Time”! [10]  says somebody — but at what a pace says {does} the bald old rascal run on when the spur of business goads! I have a great desire to write my tragedy & to finish Madoc. both of which I could do with great ease in a twelvemonth — I have heard people laugh at “give us this day our daily bread” [11]  as a foolish petition — if those persons were at the trouble of getting it they would think otherwise.

Sunday is to be a day of rest from my law studies. & as I frequent no place of worship I shall then have leisure for writing.

Let me hear from you soon: you promisd some remarks on Joan of Arc. let them be critical ones. we shall meet soon — & then if you have time & inclination to execute half my plans — take the mantle of Elijah [12]  — I have a thousand things to say {to} you when we meet —

farewell

yrs most truly.

RS.


Notes

* Address: Horace Walpole Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard Hastings/ Westminster./ Sussex
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmarks: BSE/ 1/ 96; FSE/ 1/ 96
Endorsement: Thursday afternoon
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (15)
Unpublished.
Dating note: The letter is dated ‘Tuesday Aug 29th’, but this could be a misdating as Tuesday was 30 August in 1796. BACK

[1] The Lisbon earthquake occurred on 1 November 1755. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) wrote to Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778) on 18 August 1756, in reply to Voltaire’s ‘Poem on the Lisbon Disaster’ (1756). BACK

[2] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818; DNB), author of the controversial Gothic novel The Monk (1796). BACK

[3] Southey’s sonnet ‘Oh! ’tis a soft and sorrow-soothing sight’, published anonymously in the Morning Post, 3 April 1799. BACK

[4] Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk, 3 vols (London, 1796), III, pp. 17–20 and pp. 63–66. BACK

[5] Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), The Ghost-Seer (1786–1788). BACK

[6] Æschylus (525–456 BC), Greek tragic dramatist. BACK

[7] John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB), co-translator of Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), Fiesco; or the Genoese Conspiracy: A Tragedy (1796). BACK

[8] Henry Tresham (c. 1750/51–1814; DNB), The Sea-Sick Minstrel; or, Maritime Sorrows. A Poem, in Six Cantos (1796). BACK

[9] The Greek translates as ‘[a] bad boy’. BACK

[10] William Mason (1725–1797; DNB), Elfrida, a Dramatic Poem. Written on the Model of the Antient Greek Tragedy (London, 1752), p. 12. BACK

[11] Matthew 6: 11. BACK

[12] 1 Kings 19: 19. BACK

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March 2009