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

178. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 25 September [–14 October] 1796 ⁠* 

Sunday. Sept. 25. 1796. Bristol

I have been reading Sidney Biddulph. [1]  Grosvenor what a mass of misery do prejudices occasion? the distress of many novels turns upon the discovery of incest — where is the crime if a brother & sister should marry unknowingly? or knowingly? — here again is a young woman must not marry the man she loves because he is a Bastard forsooth: the very reason says Mr Shandy [2]  why she should: & there was wisdom in all his systems.


I know not xxx the day of the month — but October is somewhat advanced & this is Friday evening. why did I not write sooner? excuses are bad things. I have much to employ me — tho I can always make a little leisure — if you were married Grosvenor you would know the luxury of sitting indolently by the fire side, at present you only half know it. there {is} a state of compleat mental torpor very delightful, when the mind admits no sensation but that of mere existance. such a sensation I suppose plants to possess, made more vivid by the dews & gentle rains. to indulge in fanciful systems is a harmless solitary amusement, & I expect many a pleasant hour will be thus wore away Grosvenor when we meet. the Devil never meddles with me in my unemployed moments. my days dreams are of a pleasanter nature — by the Lord I should be the happiest man in the world if I possessd enough to live with comfort in the country. but in this blackguard world we must sacrifice the best part of our lives to acquire that wealth which generally arrives when the time of enjoying it is past.

I wish I could give you a satisfactory answer to a very interesting question. I ardently wish for children — yet if God should bless me with any I shall be unhappy to see them poisoned by the air of London.

Sir I do thank God for it, I do hate
Most heartily that city. [3] 

so said John Donne. tis a favorite quotation of mine — my spirits always sunk when I approachd it. green fields are my delight — I am not only better in health, but even in heart in the country — a fine day exhilarates my heart — if it rains I behold the grass assume a richer verdure as it drinks the moisture — every thing that I behold is “very good [4]  except Man — & in London I see nothing but Man & his works. a country x clergyman with a tolerable income is surely {in} a very enviable situation — would to God his creed was such as a contemplative man could with truth profess! I believed too firmly in the faith of Jesus Christ to become the perjured defender of its corruptions. I long to know the state of your mind upon religion: am I deceived in supposing that it fluctuates? surely Bedford we have a thousand things to transfuse into each other; which the lazy language of the pen cannot express with sufficient rapidity. your illness was very unfortunate. I could wish once to show you the pleasant spots where I have so often wandered — & the cavern where I have written so many verses. you should have known Cottle too — for a worthier heart you never knew. that xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxx.

You love the Sea. whenever I pitch my tent it shall be by it. when will that be? is it not a villainous thing that poetry will not support a man when the cursed jargon of the Law enriches so many? Zounds — I had rather write an epic poem than read a brief.

So Lamb is a soldier! I detest the profession — officers are the most ignorant impertinent & debauchd members of this execrable state of society. if ever I were disposed to get out of the world — I should prefer being shot for beating an ensign. I have known so many horrible acts [MS obscured] oppressive barbarity exercised by those liveried murde[MS torn] that I have feel a most honest & hearty hatred for the gang.

have you read St Pierre? [5]  if not, read that most delightful work & you will love the author as much as I do.

I am as sleepy an animal as ever. the rain beats hard — the fire burns bright — tis but eight o clock — & I have already begun yawning — good night Grosvenor lest I set you to sleep. my father always went to bed at nine o clock. I have inherited his punctuality & drowsiness.

God bless you

Robert Southey.

I am the lark that sings early & early retires. what is that bird that sleeps in the morning & is awake at night Grosvenor? do you remember poor Aaron? [6] 


* Address: G C Bedford Esqr./ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: AOC/ 17/ 96
Endorsement: Septr 25 Octbr 16. 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. 292–294 [in part, where it is dated October 1796]. BACK

[1] Frances Sheridan (1724–1766; DNB), Memoirs of Miss Sydney Biddulph (1761). BACK

[2] Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[3] A paraphrase of John Donne (1572–1631; DNB), ‘Satyre II’ (c. 1594), lines 1–2. BACK

[4] A paraphrase of Genesis 1: 31. BACK

[5] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), author of Paul et Virginie (1788) and Etudes de la Nature (1784). BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009