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

32. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29 November [1792] ⁠* 

My dear Bedford —

I have two apologies to make before I begin the main subject of this letter. one for troubling you with two in one week. the other for ever touching upon politicks when I ought to have recollected that we differd in opinion — this last shall never happen again — & most heartily do I add Amen to your prayer.

I wrote some short time back to Strachey intending to renew our {a} correspondence with one whom I could have wishd to still think my friend — the expressions I usd at least blamed myself as much as him — I am sorry I kept no copy to send you — the answer I have just received & you have it —


Dear Southey — Yours bearing date the 11th came to hand in the beginning of last week. from my having taken so long a time to consider of it, you will naturally conjecture that I have been at loss for an answer. indeed your letter is nearly unintelligible, but from the little I have been able to decypher you seem to hint (& that not very obliquely) that our Correspondence owes its interruption to me. if such is your meaning to say the least your insinuation is unjust. had you impartially considerd the matter, your justice must have condemnd yourself only. but surely Selfishness should not so far have made you forgetfull of all Modesty as to deny even a share of the blame when you are entitled to the whole. with the same Justice with the same Modesty that you cast the burden from yourself you throw it upon me. But you mistake me Southey. I am no Pack-horse. you have been travelling up & down the country from Bristol to Oxford from Oxford to Bristol & I know not whither — pray how was I to discover your direction even if I thought a letter from me would have proved agreeable? I thank you for your enquiries by Lamb & Collins — if you really thought proper to consider the Correspondence as droppd surely a verbal message could never be calculated to renew it, & your last letter much less so. after the coolness which had taken place at Westminster (of which perhaps the Flagellant was the cause) you might have been certain that the first must have appeard haughty to any one — but your Favour of last week was so in an higher degree tho’ half conceald under an affected humility. However gratified I might have been with the continuance of your Correspondence yet I must not forget what is due to myself as to accept even a pleasure when offerd in so Cavalier-like a manner. — yet tho I must decline the Correspondence* — thus offerd — I trust I never shall consider Southey in any other light than that of affection & esteem — so I may sign myself with all sincerity yr constant well wisher George Strachey.

* these words written after on the other side.

This is exactly his letter markd with —— as in the original I send you now my answer. when his letter reachd me I had just begun an ode to Phillis my spaniel. I finishd it & immediately wrote as follows

Dear George I have only taken a few minutes to consider your letter (tho it would admit of consideration whether I ever ought to notice it or not) my answer to every paragraph is so easy that (tho I really think think you neither expected or wishd to hear more of me) I could not refrain giving it. let me first say it required some time to persuade yourself that your charges in that letter were upon any score justifiable.

you throw the whole blame upon me in recrimination. I kept no copy of my letter to your therefore cannot speak positively but I do not think I did entirely exculpate myself then, I do now. go back to last Xmas — the only notice you then took of me was to send a note to Wynn. with regard to the Flagellant, your prudence I highly commend. your behaviour with regard to every other tie you cannot approve yourself. availing yourself of that knowledge which my credulous friendship had given you & of that exemption which your inconsistency & insincerity had procured you, you amused yourself at school in sporting with that knowledge till you had made every one guess at the truth & not content with that, without regard to any promise you mentioned my name to Rough. — the fact is this Strachey you were tired of one who ever scrupled to tell you of your faults — may they never occasion you more regret than you feel at the loss of my friendship — the excuse of not knowing my direction is so very flimsy, that I wonder at your inserting it even among others so very unjustifiable. supposing that you had forgotten it with as much facility as you had me Collins Lamb Combe or Bedford could have given it you. even had they not you must have known that the old direction would find me. I wrote to you without knowing where you were

You talk of what is due to yourself. I conceive your meaning. state the case however with that impartiality of the want of which in my letter you so much complain. you had acted ungenerously & unkindly to me. I wrote to you, perhaps in an angry stile, such you deservd but I offerd to renew our correspondence, an offer which I now think I ought not to have made in any manner. you reply that I am solely in fault, talk of what is due to yourself & decline the correspondence — the words “thus offerd” wrote afterwards are meant only to appear as palliating. Was you not certain that the Flagellant occasioned the coolness on my part? can you forget that your idleness first checkd our correspondence? can you say that you knew not my direction? I will save you the trouble of answering these queries — you wanted to shake the blame on me. you were conscious of a behaviour equally ungenerous & unjust, & in the space of ten days composd an artful letter to which you never imagined I would have returned an answer.

I have now done with reminding you of your faults — it is a hateful task & for twelve months my intercourse with you has been little more. that intercourse is now over for ever. not without regret on my part, on yours it will be treated with the same levity you display upon every subject.

your well wisher Robert Southey.

I think Bedford will not disapprove of my conduct. I have done with Strachey for ever. will you show this to Collins he knows much of his behavior with respect to the Fl. to him I owd respect. I have twice written to apologize for my former neglect as yet he has answered neither letter. if those apologies are not sufficient you may make as many more as you think proper. the firm consistency of his conduct deserves them —

Yours which you directed to Oxford reached me after my last was dispatched — how you could direct there when in my recent letter I mentioned the day of my departure I am little able to guess — still less so how it could ever find me at so great a distance. you say it is difficult to answer a letter that requires no answer — out of thine own mouth will I convict thee. I had beggd your Chartreuse verses in October they reach me on the 20th of November & at the same time that you send them you tell me mine required no answer. I am much obliged to you for them & for your Horace some stanzas of which I much like, but some of the verses are rough a fault which the transp[MS torn]tion of a few words would rectify — take my translation

O thou religion of this spot severe
By what name may to thee most pleasing sound
(For sure some powerful deity reigns here
These native streams & antique woods around)
Here mongst these pathless rocks — these mountains high
These cliffs oerhanging & these sounding streams —
These groves impervious to the suns gay eye
This forest night where never sunshine beams —
Here we the present God more clearly find
Than formd of cedar burnishd oer with gold
Here we perceive him in the ecstatic mind
More than the Phidian statue sculpturd bold.
Hail thou Religion — to a youth give rest
If Fortune here forbids me to remain
In these sad silent scenes with willing breast
But drives me on the waves & stormy main —
Father at least afford some spot retird
Where I may pass my wintry hours in peace
There of the world & all its follies tird
There gently bid my every sorrow cease.  [1] 

You seem to expect something beside this translation — as I am ignorant of what you want I send you this epistle as an equivalent — if however you will mention in your next any production of mine it is much at your service

Berenice to Titus

__________

The Sun shall from the west his course pursue
Eer Titus [2]  prove to Berenice [3]  untrue
Eer that ill fated hour Nights shadowy sway
Shall mantle oer the full meridian day
All vows all bonds all Love itself be vain
Or Fortune rear Jerusalem again.
Such were thy vows when oer this flatterd face
Wealth rank combind to spread superior grace —
When love soft beaming from the glowing eye
Wingd every glance & loaded every sigh —
Like Heavens avenging angel whose red arm
Spreads Fear & Horror round & wild Alarm
At whose command Want — Death oershadowing fly
And victor armies bow their heads & die —
So oer Jerusalems unhappy tower
Thy hand impelld the stream of Roman power —
Then then when gore dyd arms yclaspd thy form
Yet red from Desolations death fraught storm
When scant faint evening trembling gleam no more
The feast of slaughter & of death was oer
Swift wouldst thou quit the bloody scene of arms
Allurd by victor Love’s more soft alarms.
Swift then with eager transport haste to greet
And lay thy laurels at thy mistress feet —
Nor Time nor Space could check thy fiery way
Nor War nor Danger for one hour delay
All all were vain — or Danger Death or Fame
Of these all forgetful Titus came.
Then Titus wont his joy in silence speak
To glow with mantling pleasure on his cheek
Sigh forth his soul & seize the kiss imprest
And press me half unwilling to his breast.
Past are those days — no more with watchful ear
Intent I sit thy well known step to hear
No more at distance rove with eager eye
Count all the tedious moments as they fly
Till Fear & trembling Doubt my bosom move
Till Fear & Doubt are all forgot in Love.
Past are those days — this eye bedimmd in vain
Casts the lost gaze around the extended plain
Then sick with expectation turn to grieve
For Hope itself no longer can deceive.
Dear to my soul return & bless my eyes —
Bid the blest days of happiness arise
Let no rought blast the sea of pleasure move
Let every day be happiness & love.

Such pleasure will not deck the regal seat
Power cannot call her from her lovd retreat
Where far retird from each intruding eye
In soft Contentment’s lap she loves to lie
She loves the noisy courtier throng to shun
Blest with her friends but still more blest with one.
The glittering croud — the guards imperial row
The lictors state — the frowning fasces show —
The Tyrian robe the purple pomp of state
But vex her quiet & provoke her hate.
I knew thee first Vespasians [4]  humble son
Such wert thou when our mutual love begun
Thou then wert as inferior to me
As Berenice is now compard to thee
The mean distinctions of all rank above
I knew nor rank nor fortune but thy love
Such thoughts such warm regards possessd my mind
Will Titus prove ungrateful & unkind
Can he forget so soon each bliss fraught hour
When triumphd Love in all his fiercest powr
Can he forget this form this voice this face
Which Flattry wont to deck with every grace?
Can he forget — yes all are now forgot
Lost in the splendor of imperial cot —
Lost & confounded in the blaze of state
Augustus has forgot a Titus fate
When all the world culls forth its brightest [MS torn]
When every willing beauty seeks thy arms
& ready smile illumines every face
And rival charmers court their Kings embrace
Amid the riot & the gust of power
Shall Memory dare to claim the grateful hour?
When soft reclining on the harlots breast
Thy soul with pleasures madning rage possest
Shall then Reflection check the impetuous vice
Shall love presume to whisper Berenice?
Ah no it must not be — these thoughts are vain
No trace no fond remembrances remain
Yet I will haunt thee on thy guarded throne
Will claim thy heart thy love thy all alone.
Alas my Titus (fain I’d think thee mine)
Nature will rage — the woman will repine —
These cheeks now pale would bloom at Titus sight
These eyes now dim would sparkle new delight
These hands again the silent lute would move
This cold cold heart again revive to love —
Vain thoughts for ever in oblivion sleep
These cheeks must hide these eyes must only weep
This heart grow chill — the languid pulse beat low
The silent lute but wake its strings to woe

Where’er these eyes regardless move around
The image of my Titus still is found
Twas here where first the womans love confest
He claspt me eager to his thrilling breast
Twas here where prodigal of oaths he swore
His love should last till Life itself were oer
Twas here where Berenice’ too thirsty ear
Believd so fondly what she wishd sincere
Twas here he sat — twas here his bursting heart
Heavd forth the sigh that told me we must part —
Twas here where slow departing from my view
His hand unwilling wavd al long adieu.
Ill fated scene still picturd in this breast
By thee alone in every form possest
Een now dark Fancy paints with cruel care
Memory recalls & with it calls Despair.

Canst thou amid the flattring pomp of power
Canst thou forget that sad that trying hour?
Forget those mingled tears adown each face
That spoke the anguish of a last embrace?
Forget those vows that I too fond believd
By thee deserted & by thee deceivd?
Ah no it cannot be. the senates voice
Forbids the master of the world his choice
Forbids him place a Jewess on that throne
Which Messalina [5]  once could call her own.

And need I urge indeed? & need I move?
Must Berenice intreat her Titus love?
And must I seek to fix thy plain decree
The easy contest when the prize is me?
Titus no wars no dangers wait thee here
What from the Senate shall Augustus fear?
Thy friends in arms their darling chief adore
Rome loves — the senate fear — can man ask more?
No more intreat with blushes on thy cheek
No let them quake to hear their master speak —
Their fond complaints their empty pride despise
And let Judæas victor claim his prize.
Ah no — no longer lovely in thine eye
The hapless Berenice must learn to die —
Gape then o Grave — expand thy secret womb
Receive & hide me in the silent tomb —
There nor shall pain nor grief nor woe molest
Nor mans ingratitude torment my breast
This heart that wont to beat to Love alone
Then cold & senseless as surrounding stone
These eye-balls then for ever cease to move
Eyes which were weak to fix my Titus love —
The loathly worm then riot on this breast
So oft to Titus thrilling bosom prest —
Come then kind Death I ask thy pleasing sway
Come wear each weak each fruitless charm away
For then no more shall heave the woe fraught sigh
For every grief for every joy must die. [6] 

________________

Upon second thoughts I do not think Stracheys letter deserves any answer at all. I will not yet send it if I ever do —

you will be puzzled I fear to read this vile writing as well as tired but it will be some time before you hear again from me.

remember to your brother & little Joseph. if your brother will come with you to the Installation & put up with such inconveniences as the season will permit I shall be very glad to see him —

Yrs sincerely

RS.

Bristol. Nov. 29.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single Sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [illegible trace]
Watermark: G R in a circle and figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd Novr 24th/ 1792./ Ansd. [Bedford seems to have misdated his endorsement.]
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s translation is of Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB), ‘O tu severi religio loci’ (1741). BACK

[2] The Emperor Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus (AD 40–81; reigned AD 79–81). In AD 70, he led the Roman troops that conquered Jerusalem. BACK

[3] A Jewish princess (c. AD 28–?), daughter of Herod Agrippa I (10 BC–AD 44) and sister of Herod Agrippa II (b. AD 27/28), Kings of Judea. Mistress of Titus. BACK

[4] The Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (AD 9–79; reigned AD 69–79). BACK

[5] Valeria Messalina (c. AD 17/20–48), third wife of the Emperor Claudius (10 BC–AD 54; reigned AD 41–54). She was renowned for her debauchery. BACK

[6] The sun ... must die: Verse written in double columns. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009