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

182. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 13 October 1796 ⁠* 

Thursday Oct. 13th. 1796. Bristol.

To India — Horace! if you have not found happiness among your friends in England do you expect to find it without them in that detestable country? the worthless return from those polluted shores with wealth & honors — I have heard of one great man & only one who adventurd there — & Camoens [1]  returned to perish with poverty. surely there is room enough in England: you are younger than I am — & I have not yet set out on my “way of life.”

tell me my dear Horace would not the frequent company of a friend whose mind met yours — remove half the gloom that darkens the morning of your days? Grosvenor is not that friend — because you live with him. the food of Love is the poison of friendship. I wish I were in London. perhaps I could remove the {religious} doubts that disquiet you. for I have disbelieved. perhaps I could cure your heresy as to Women for I am married.

in other points we should probably agree. I think as badly of the mob of mankind as you can do — but perhaps admit more exceptions to the general rule. you likewise must know how many of our vices & miseries spring from existing institutions. I believe all of them Horace.

in all the anxiety that has fallen to my lot — & I have had my share — literary occupations have afforded me a resource. poetry has been with me a passion & I am indebted to it as well for happiness, as for bread. whilst employed about Joan of Arc I was tempest-tost on the ocean of life — but at the moments of composition — I soard eagle like into the regions of tranquillity above the storm. I was no longer R.S. pennyless — & doubtful of tomorrows dinner with all my {own} feelings I was transplanted into the wise wildness of Conrade — or the dignified resignation of the Maid of Orleans. Horace these pleasures are in your power: I have long laid aside the hypocritical language of compliment. the poetry which you have ever sent me evinces powers capable of greatness. cultivate them Horace. after xx {let us} have ploughed our fields & manure our pasture grounds — but let not the flower garden be neglected. you would be happier if your mind were occupied. why not employ it, till you are more settled, in writing a book if the book be bad burn it when it is done — you will have at least exercised your mind & by exercise only can the mind as well as the body be kept healthful. the water that stagnates will corrupt.

no Horace Ignorance & Vice shall not eternally coexist with Folly. for Folly & Vice are the children of Ignorance, & their existence by a wise mystery linkd to that of their mother. when you are in your heart an Optimist you will be happy. I feel that I can convince you no medium can exist between Optimism & Atheism — & Atheism is a self-evident absurdity.

if you want a book — read St Pierres Etudes de la Nature. [2]  it is enough to say that he deserved to be the friend of Jean Jacques Rousseau. I think of publishing a volume of Selections from the Early English Poets — with copious essays critical &c. the volume publishd by Edwards [3]  is totally destitute of taste as far as regards the compiler. I have a good many valuable books — & perhaps Mr Reid & Lodge [4]  would allow me the range of their libraries — as I know Ld Carysfort would. I could thro Nares have access to the Museum. & I believe I [MS torn] possess those powers for the work which alone can re[MS torn] any other circumstances valuable. to have a book in [MS torn] press is my hobby. I now drive a pair. a volume of poems is advancing as well as my letters. I expect more praise than profit — Joan of Arc sells slowly. a matter of consequence to me only as it retards a second edition. the book has had no friends to push it. my private list of subscribers did not amount to thirty — & of these nine were from the relations of my dear Edmund Seward — a man whom I must always love & lament.

I shall live a secluded life in London. probably without ever making another friend. the repellent coldness of my silence manners will protect me from any acquaintance. for I cover the milk of human kindness with as coarse {rough} an outside as the Cocoa nut.

Your brother has talkd to me of a club. I wish to decline it — tho perhaps in vain. notoriety is not comfortable Horace. if ever I reach the cot of Independance — I will prefer changing my name to being persecuted.

if Jupiter [5]  would descend in a golden shower to me — I would allow him to rain hard enough to break my head. whenever he does come — whenever I can realise a small independance I will pitch my tent near the sea — & take down the harp from the wall. alas Horace the strings may be untund — & the hand that strikes them now — witherd & feeble by age! God bless you & make you as happy

as Southey

the married man.


Notes

* Address: H. W. Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: AOC/ 17/ 96
Endorsement: Recd. Octr. 17th
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (16)
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Luis Vaz de Camoëns (c. 1524–1580), author of The Lusiad (1572). BACK

[2] Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), Etudes de la Nature (1784). BACK

[3] George Ellis (1753–1815; DNB), Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790) was published by the London bookseller James Edwards (1756–1816; DNB). BACK

[4] Possibly friends of the Bedfords and possessors of their own private collection of books. BACK

[5] In Roman mythology, Jupiter, the king of the gods, descended in a golden shower to the mortal woman Danae. BACK

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March 2009