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

193. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1–7 January 1797 ⁠* 


January the first. 1797. So Bedford begins the year that will terminate our correspondence. I mean to spend one summer in North Wales studying the country for Madoc, & do not intend writing to you then — because you shall be with me: & for all the rest of the days I look on to clearly, the view is bounded by the accursed smoke of London. methinks like Camoens I could dub it Babylon & write lamentations for the “Sion” of my birth place, [1]  having like him no reason to regret the past but txxxxxx it except that it is not the present. it is the country I want. a field thistle is to me worth all the flowers of Covent Garden.

However Bedford happiness is a flower that will blossom anywhere — & I expect to be happy — even in London. you know who is to watch at my gate, & if he will let in any of your club — well & good.

Time & Experience seem to have assimilated us. we think equally ill of mankind, & from the complexion of your late letter, I believe you think as badly as I do of their rulers. I fancy you are mounted above the freezing point of aristocracy to the temperate regions degree where I have fallen. am I not obliged to Carlisle for leading you round? but your mind is yet in a revolutionary state — mine is calm & settled. I have a belief in politics & religion, both of which I apprehend you want. methinks Grosvenor the last two years have made me the elder, but you know I never allow the aristocracy of years.


Monday. I have this day finished my letters [2]  — & now my times is my own. my “race is run” [3]  — & perhaps the next book of mine that makes it appearance may be my “posthumous works”! I go to Bristol tomorrow to be present at its completion. you may perhaps receive the volume by this day week. on Saturday next I return to Bath. you shall know when I come as soon as I know myself — the sooner the better.

I must be on the Surrey side of the water. this will please suit me & please you. I am familiar with the names of your club — shall I ever be so with them sober? naturally of a reserved disposition, there was a considerable period of my life in which high spirits — quick feelings — & principles enthusiastically imbibed, made me talkative; experience has taught me wisdom, & I am again as silent — as self centering as in early youth.

After the nine hours law study — I shall {have} a precious fragment of the day x {at} my own disposal. now Grosvenor I must be a miser of time — for I am just as sleepy a fellow as you remember me at Brixton. I tell the story of John & the robbers, & never see a wasp without thinking of the myriads we destroyed. you see I am not collected enough to write — this plaguey cough interrupts me & shakes all the ideas in my brain out of their places.

Saturday. Jan. 7.

A long interval Grosvenor & it has not been employed agreably. I have been taken ill at Bristol. my trullibubs were in a state of insurrection & sent every thing up that I sent down, I was afraid of a fever — but the timely aid of some pills opened the back door — & I hope all the mutinous particles have been ejected. a giddiness of the head which accompanied this seizure rendered me utterly unfit for anything. I was well nurst & am well.

this happened at the house of Charles Danvers — excepting Cottle — the only man whom I shall leave with regret in this part of the world. when I get to London I have some comfortable plans made but much depends on the likeability of your new friends. you say you have engaged some of them to meet me. now if you taught them to expect any thing in me they must owe their disappointment to you. remember that I am as reserved to others as I am open to you. you have seen a hedge hog roll himself up when noticed? even so do I shelter myself in my own thoughts —

I will not ask you to explain some few little mysteries [MS torn] your last. we shall meet so soon — but you may send me your Musæus [4]  first: you should do as you are done by in this respect — I never send to ask you when you wish to receive my books but pack them off by the first coach. Bob Banyard [5]  has announced you often enough & pompously enough.

I have sketched out a tragedy on the Martyrdom of Joan of Arc which is capable of making a good closet drama my ideas of tragedy differ from those generally followed. there is seldom nature enough in the dialogue. even Shakespere gets upon the stilts sometimes. the dramatist ought rather to display a knowledge of the workings of the human heart, than his own imagination. high straind metaphors can rarely be introduced with propriety — similies never —. do you think I shall strip tragedy of all its ornaments? this time must discover — yet look at the dramatic parts of Joan of Arc they are best — the dialogue is impassioned but it is natural. John Doe & Richard Roe [6]  must however form the chief personages in the last act of my life. Grosvenor will it be a tragedy or a comedy? however I will not now think of the catastrophe but rather look on to the pleasant scenes when we shall meet.

fare you well. I shall write with my book which the frost has delayed. it all be done this day week.

yrs affectionately

RS.


Notes

* Address: G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: BJA/ 9/ 97
Watermark: [Obscured by MS binding]
Endorsement: 1 Jany 1797
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 299–301 [in part]. BACK

[1] In Luis Vaz de Camoëns’ (c. 1524–1580) ‘Babylon and Sion’ (c. 1552), ‘Babylon’ represented Goa and ‘Zion’ represented Lisbon. BACK

[2] Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal, published in 1797. BACK

[3] An adaptation of John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB), ‘Sigismonda and Guiscardo’, line 337, published in Fables Ancient and Modern (1700). BACK

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

[5] Possibly a nickname for Robert Nares. BACK

[6] Fictitious characters, often used to signify the plaintiff (Doe) and defendant (Roe) in legal suits. BACK

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Published @ RC

March 2009