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

30. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [16–17 November 1792] ⁠* 

Friday night. Saturday morn night.

My dear Bedford

[central part of fol. 1 r contains Southey’s sketch of a church]

I question not but you will surprized at my sending a church neither remarkable for beauty of design or neatness of execution — waving however all apologies for either if at some future period you are disposed to visit the “narrow house” of your friend when he shall be at supper not where he eats but where he is eaten [1]  you will find it on the other side of this identical church — the very covering of the vault affords as striking an emblem of mortality as would even the mouldering tenants of the tomb. yesterday I know not from what strange humour I visited it for the second time in my life. the former occasion was mournful & no earthly consideration shall ever draw me there upon a like. my pilgrimage yesterday was merely the result of a meditating moment when philosophy had flatterd itself into apathy. I am really astonished when I reflect upon the indifference with which I so minutely surveyd the heaving turf which inclosed within its cold bosom ancestors upon whom fortune bestowed rather more of her smiles than she has done upon their descendants — men who content with an independant patrimony lay hid from the world too obscure to be noticed by it — too elevated to fear its insults — those days are past — . three Edward Hill’s [2]  there sleep for ever the fourth alienated & estranged from all his kin yet lives at a distance. I send the epitaph which at present is inscribed upon one of the cankerd sides. perhaps the production of some one of my forefathers who possessd more piety than poetry.

Farewell this World
With all Its Vanity
Wee hope through Christ
To live Eternally

You have the exact orthography & this inscription will probably cover the remains of one who has written so much for others & must be content with so humble an epitaph himself, unless you will furnish him with one more characteristical.

Were the million to know of this visit to the family vault they would stile it want of feeling — the Ds [3]  would call it want of principle — I only say if I am not the better for it till my last visit this heart is worse than I really believe it.

Were you to walk over the village (Ashton) [4]  with me, you would like me be tempted to repine that I have no earthly mansion there. it is the most enchanting spot which nature can produce — my rambles would be much more frequent were it not for certain reflections not altogether of a pleasant nature which must always recur — I cannot wander like a stranger over lands which once were my forefathers nor pass those doors which are now no more open without feeling emotions altogether inconsistent with pleasure & irreconcileabl with the indifference of philosophy — what is there Bedford contained in that word of such mighty virtue — it has been sounded in the ear of Common Sense till she is deafend & overpowerd with the clamour. artifice & Vanity have reard up the pageant — science has adorned it & the multitude have beheld at distance & adord — it is applied indiscriminately to vice & virtue — to the exalted ideas of Socrates the metaphysical charms of Plato — the frigid maxims of Aristotle, the unfeeling dictates of the Stoics & the beasty disciples of the defamed Epicurus. [5]  Rousseau was called a philosopher whilst he possessd sensibility the most poignant — Voltaire was dignified with the name when he deserved the blackest stigmas from every man of principle. whence is all this seeming absurdity? or why should Reason be dazzled with the name when she cannot but perceive its imbecility.

so far I wrote last night — upon running it over I find you will conceive you have a rhapsody for the Flagellant [6]  instead of a letter, & really had I continued it in the same mood it would have been little different. if I had any knowledge of drawing I would send you some of the most pleasing views you can conceive whether rural melancholy pleasing or grand — at some future period I hope to show you the place & you will then judge whether or not I have praised it too lavishly.

I think it is one month since the date of your last letter & about ten weeks since that of Collins. he can plead some excuse & quote me for an example — you cannot. surely in a month you might find one hour when you were extricated from mouldy parchments & moth eaten records — you promised me a long letter six weeks back & I think your promises more sincere than Dr Vincents!

in the course of next summer the Duke of Portland [7]  will be installed at Oxford — the spectacle is only inferior to a coronation. I have rooms there & am glad of the opportunity to offer them to you. we are permitted to have men in college upon the occasion — the whole University make up the procession {I would ask Collins too but he will then have rooms of his own} — it will be worth seeing as perhaps coronations like the secular games will soon be as a tale that is told.

within this half hour I have received a letter from {my uncle at} Lisbon, chiefly upon a subject which I have been much employed with since March 1st I will shew it you when we meet — it is such as I expected from one who has been to me more than a parent — without asperity without reproaches — had it had either I should have despised it — tomorrow I answer it & as he has desired, send him the Flagellants — I then hope to drop the subject for ever in this world — in the next all heart are open & no mans intentions are hid!

I can now tell you one of the uses of Philosophy — it teaches us to search for applause from within & to despise the flattery or the abuse of the world alike — to attend only to an inward monitor to be superior to fortune — such are its real virtues — why then is the name so prostituted? do give me a lecture upon Philosophy & teach me how to become a Philosopher — the title is pretty — & surely the Philosophic S. would sound as well as the Philosophic Hume [8]  or the Ph of Ferney. [9]  would it {not} be as truely applied?

I am loth to part with my poor Flagellants. they have cost me very dear & perhaps I shall never see them more — one copy ought to be preserved in order to contradict the inventions of future malice —. are you not ashamed of your idleness?

R Southey.

if I can one day have the honor of writing after my name, fellow of Baliol College that will be the extent of my preferment — sometimes I am tempted to think that I was sent into this world for a different employment — but as the play says beware of the beast that has three legs — now Bedford as you might long puzzle to discover the genus of this beast know that his grasp is always mortal — that — in short ΓΠ [10]  but as that drawing wants explanation as much if not more than the description know it is the gallows —.

about the 17th of January I begin my residence at Oxford where the prime of my life is to pass in acquiring knowledge — which when I begin to have some idea of it will be cut short by the Doctor who levels all ranks & degrees — is it not rather disgraceful at the moment when Europe is on fire with freedom — when Men & Monarchs are contending to sit & study Euclid [11]  & Hugo Grotius? [12]  — Pindar says a good button-maker is spoilt in making a King [13]  — what will be spoilt when I made a fellow of Baliol? that question I cannot resolve. I can only say that I have spoilt a sheet of paper & you 15 minutes in reading it — NB. if you do not soon answer it you will spoil my temper.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: ANO/ 19/ 92
Watermark: G R in a circle and figure of Britannia
Seal: Red wax [design illegible]
Endorsements: Recd. Novr 20th. 1792./ Ansd Novr 21st; Recd Novr 20. 1792
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. 165–168 [in part].
Dating note: Misdated 20 November, the date it was received by Grosvenor Charles Bedford, in Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence. BACK

[1] Hamlet, Act 4, scene 3, line 19. BACK

[2] The ancestors of Southey’s mother, Margaret. BACK

[3] Possibly a reference to Louisa Dolignon and her sisters. BACK

[4] A village two miles south-west of Bristol. BACK

[5] Epicurus (341–270 BC), Greek philosopher, founder of Epicureanism. BACK

[6] A schoolboy magazine devised by Southey and his friends, it was forced to cease publication after nine issues. BACK

[7] William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738–1809; DNB), Prime Minister 1783 and 1807–1809, was installed as Chancellor of the University of Oxford on 1 July 1793. BACK

[8] David Hume (1711–1776; DNB). BACK

[9] Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), French writer and philosophe who owned an estate at Ferney. BACK

[10] Southey has drawn 3 down strokes joined at the head by a horizontal stroke. BACK

[11] Euclid of Alexandria (dates uncertain, between 325 and 250 BC), mathematician. His work includes the Elements. BACK

[12] Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), Dutch statesman and writer on international law. BACK

[13] John Wolcot, ‘Peter Pindar’ (1738–1819; DNB), The Lousiad: An Heroi-comic Poem. Canto I (London, 1785), p. 18. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009