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

218. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 25 May 1797 ⁠* 

Thursday. May 25th. 1797. Southampton

In every village of the Susquehanah Indians there is a vacant dwelling called the Strangers House. when a traveller there arrives at one of these villages he stops & hollōs. two of the elders of the tribe immediately go out to meet him, they lead him to this his house, & go round to tell the inhabitants that a stranger is arrived fatigued & hungry. [1] 

They do not order these things quite so well in England. We arrived at Southampton at 6 last evening. “Lodgings” were hung out at almost every house. but some would not let less than eleven rooms — some 7 & so on — & we walked a very long & uncomfortable hour before we could buy hospitality — & that at a very dear rate. I mean to walk tomorrow thro Lyndhurst & Lymington to Christ Church. that is if Edith be better — for she is now very unwell. she is feverish. I hope & believe it is only the temporary effect of fatigue. — but Grosvenor a single man does not know what anxiety is.

Edith is not well enough to walk out — I therefore have seen only enough of this place to dislike it. its inhabitants are people connected with shipping — & sharking shopkeepers — its visitors the very top scum of aristocracy. the carrion that these vultures feed upon. I want a quiet lonely place. in sight of something green. surely in a walk of thirty miles this may be found — but if I find the whole coast infected by visitors I will go to Bristol — where I shall have the Printer on one side, Charles Danvers on the other, Cottle in front — the woods & rocks of Avon behind — & be in the centre of all good things.

Our journey was hot & dusty. but thro a lovely country. at one time the coach was full — & all — but me asleep. I something fell off the roof — & I had the unutterable pleasure of waking all of them by bellowing out to bid the Coachman stop.

the idea of my lonely expedition is not very agreable. it is thirty miles to Christ Church. I could go 18 by coach. but the coach sets out at 3 in the evening — so that as it would not be well to walk the other 12 after 7 o clock — it would occasion an absence of 3 days. I hope Edith is better (it is now near 6) — two days of solitude will be unpleasant to her.

Would we were settled — aye & for life in some little sequestered valley — I would be content never to climb over the hills that sheltered me, & never to hear music or taste beverage but from the stream that ran beside my door. Let me have the sea too — & now & then some piece of a wreck, to supply me with firewood & remind me of commerce. This New Forest is very lovely. I should like to have a house in it — & dispeople the rest like William the Conqueror. [2]  of all land objects a forest is the finest. Gisborne has written a feeble poem upon the subject. [3]  the emotion feelings that fill me when I lie under one tree & contemplate another in all the majesty of years — are neither to be defined or expressed. & these undefinable unexpressable feelings are those of the highest delight. they pass over the mind like the clouds of the summer evening — too fine & too fleeting for Memory to detain.

And now Grosvenor would I wager sixpence that you are regretting my absence, because you feel disposed to come to tea with us. I could upbraid you — but this is one of the follies of man — & I have my share of it — tho thank God — but a small share. what we can do at any time is most likely not to be done at all. We are more willing to make an effort. is this because we feel uneasy at the prospect of labour — of something to be done? & so are stimulated to industry by a love of indolence. I am a self observer, & indeed this appears to me the secret spring.

I shall however act in opposition to it now — & stay here probably till Monday — tho the idea of going is very uncomfortable & clings like birdlime to every thought. this is because I do not like to leave Edith to the double evil of solitude & indisposition.

farewell Grosvenor. I shall sally forth — & look for the Post Office. whereunto Write. When I tell you that Southampton has a Quay instead of a beach — I need not abuse the blackguard place.

I wish THE Tribunal was established. it would make provisions cheaper. there are so many ugly mouths!

God bless you.

yrs at a distance

R Southey.

Remember Cupid & Psyche for Carlisle. [4] 


Notes

* Address: G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: SOUTH/ HAMPTON
Postmark: BMA/ 27/ 97
Watermark: Crown and anchor
Endorsement: 25. May 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. 312–314 [in part]. BACK

[1] A paraphrase of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), Philosophical and Miscellaneous Papers (London, 1787), p. 173. This information was later used in a footnote to Madoc (1805), Part 1, book 5. BACK

[2] William I, the Conqueror (1027/8–1087; reigned 1066–1087; DNB) turned the New Forest into a royal hunting ground. BACK

[3] John Gisborne (1770–1851; DNB), The Vales of Wever, a Loco-Descriptive Poem (1797). Southey reviewed it for the Critical Review, 22 (January 1798), 100–101. BACK

[4] Remember ... Carlisle: Written upside down at the top of fol. 1 r. Possibly a reference to Thomas Taylor’s (1758–1835; DNB) translation, The Fable of Cupid and Psyche (1795). BACK

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March 2009