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

35. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 December 1792 ⁠* 

Wednesday Dec. 26. 92 Bristol

My dear friend

I hoped to have seen you before this day. that hope like most of mine is disappointed. my father is now in heaven. on Monday week I attended him to the grave. who knows but my next visit thither may be final — I ought to have written to you before but the subject was painful & you will excuse me. he had been long declining. evident however as this was I still deceived myself. when I passed thro Bath to Oxford I staid at my fathers & saw him in his bed — he prest my hand with affection & for the only time in his life blest me. why it was I know not but it struck me that I never should see him more. I never did. in a better world I shall.

Of this no more — the subject is painful to me & cannot be agreable to you. to his loss I am resigned. I am even thankful for it when I consider how grievous a burden is a heart opprest by injustice & misfortune. our meeting you see is thus deferrd & the melancholy silence of sorrow wears away with me that season appropriated to festivity. I have however resources in my own reflexions & solitude I have never found irksome — one book succeeds another — I take the pen for relaxation & at least possess negative happiness.

you will visit me at Baliol at the Installation [1]  I hope. there will be a great chair a good fire & a bottle & I flatter myself with the hope of introducing you to the only man upon earth whom I at once love & respect. [2]  he has half promised me his company. I depend upon yours — the opportunities of happiness are so rare that we ought to snatch them eagerly ere they disappear. where is young Wynn? he never will write to me & I am tired with expostulating. I asked him to send Collins’s letter long before the end of term & he has never noticed the letter perhaps he never received the letter. this government trick of opening private correspondence is very unpleasant. next come lettres de cachet Bastille & good night to poor Basil [3] 

Collins’ last I have, & thank him for. your postscript did not surprize. but you have a sad trick of keeping letters long after they are wrote. the Miller [4]  was a true Philosopher & I wish I was of his school — such doctrines are far more calculated for promoting happiness than the abstruse wisdom of the Samian. [5]  the metaphysics of Plato the dry reason of Aristotle or the grossly-interpreted tenets of Epicurus. [6]  I might add the witty impiety of Voltaire & the artful infidelity of Hume. [7]  the man who destroys religion deprives us of the only substantial happiness. you will believe me. I cannot write. my intention was to fill the sheet but it impossible to command attention when one particular subject engrosses the mind. do write me & believe me in every situation

most sincerely yours

Robert Southey

I send you this merely to fill up — you will it no ways equal to the former

Titus [8]  to Berenice [9] 

“The Sun shall from the West his course pursue
Eer Titus prove to Berenice untrue
Eer that ill fated hour Nights shadowy sway
Shall mantle oer the full meridian day
All oaths all vows all love itself be vain
Or Fortune rear Jerusalem [10]  again.

Lovd of my soul still Memory calls to view
These vows which Love & Titus breathd to you.
As now thy lines thy characters I trace
Swift flies the mantling transport to my face
The well known seal I kist & instant prest
With more than mortal transport to my breast
As high the glowing tide of rapture flows
For one short moment I forget my woes
Trembling I broke the seal — my name appears
Half blotted out with Berenices tears —
She wept on Titus name — nor Titus flies
To kiss the tear away from Beautys eyes!
And couldst thou weep for me & I delay
To dry those tears one hour my eager way?
Ah Berenice still oer this hapless head
Must Fate her heaviest clouds relentless spread
Like Aprils opening morn my life begun
Clear smild the sky & favouring shone the sun
Still as he rose he brightend on my view
Still still alluring till eclipsed by you.
Vespasians [11]  humble offspring first in arms
I rushd to follow Glorys glittring charms
Fearless of wounds & prodigal of life
There Titus strove where fiercest ragd the strife
On as I rushd to Fames attractive call
I saw thy face & disregarded all —
Sorrowing I found myself in chieftain state
Blind to the splendour but perceivd the weight
Oft as I fled to thee my eager speed
Has curst the slowness of the jaded steed
Oer mountains but the base to hills as high
Their summits lost amid the pendant sky
Oer these by Hope & Love impatient led
With unabating course thy Titus sped.
As oer the neighbouring mountain swift he went
Hope wingd the glance adown the steep descent
Impatient Fancy saw the spot appear
Than worlds or wealth of worlds to me more dear
Thence have I seen thy hand or seemd to see
Support that Face which Love had turnd to me.

And canst thou think that Fortunes power can wrest
Each dear-belovd remembrance from my breast
Can days or years of anguish mantle oer
Those blissful moments which are now no more —
Those moments when each melting eye ball strove
To express the fierce emotions of my love
High beat each heart to passions flowing tide
And Love forgot there was a world beside.

Again methinks adown the hill I fly
Again I seem to catch the mutual eye
Again beats high this breast to Loves alarms
Again I rush — I clasp thee in my arms —
Fond scene away — unman my soul no more
Alas Those hours of ecstasy are oer —
Yes Berenice too weak the voice of Power
To call forth Pleasure from her blissful bower
Where from the sight of courts retird she lies
And hears affrayd the harsh command & flies
To her in happier solitude unknown
Each hourly peril that attends a throne —
The throng incensd — grave Wisdoms saw severe
Dangers gaunt form & wildly glancing Fear
Dark browd Deceit that drugs the honeyd bowl
Meet not her eye nor terrify her soul —
Yet these on courts & monarchs still attend
To guard weak Caution to partake no friend.
Lovd of my soul these perils still await
In grim attendance round thy Titus state
The fawning courtier on each word attends
The weal of nations on each act depends
Suspicion stalks around with jaundiced mien
And poisons every prospect round the scene.

Still still Remembrance paints that cruel day
When from thy arms harsh Fortune calld away —
Twas Evenings closing hour — the sky serene
No gloomy cloud nor harsher Fate was seen
We sat together in the jasmine bowr
And watchd the silent step of Twilights power
This better hand in thine intwind — I past
The other gently round thy yielding waste
We talkd of days of future love & bliss
Nor knew the last of Love & Bliss was this

I heard the couriers speed — swift oer my frame
A deadly chill presaging misery came
The hand unlockd its grasp — the eye that gazd
On thee with rapture bent to earth defacd
Trembling I took the scroll — oh fatal day
That forcd me from the scene of joys away
Accursed hour that swiftly gliding saw
The hapless Titus yield to Fortunes law
No Time the wounds you made from hence can wear
No Time no Splendour can efface Despair.

Inhuman Fortune why decrees the hand
To stretch its sway oer every subject land
Oer others every bliss of life bestow —
Yet doom the heart to pine with endless woe
Why rather Nature didst thou not more kind
Ordain me offspring of some rustic hind
Teach me to bow the neck of labouring ox
Impress the furrow guide my fathers flocks
Then might some country lass my heart have won
Mate not unequal for a peasants son —
Willing perhaps might one my vows receive
Nor then could Fortune force me to deceive
Upon each act would hang no Empire’s weig[MS torn]
No soulless Stoics interrupt my fate
But at eves leisure hour we’d walk
And there unspied & unmolested talk
Talk of our future joys — & every friend
For such I then should have — around attend
When crownd with garlands of each rustic flower
We bowd beneath the Priest to Hymens [12]  power
Till at the length secure from Envys rage
And bent beneath the gentle hand of age
We saw around our sons a hardy train
Manure the glebe & furrow all the plain
Gain with their restless hands old ages store
& till that land their fathers tilld before
Till Time at length mature should bring the doom
& sons & grandsons wait us to the tomb.

Yet een than this was Titus once more blest
Bliss more unsullied filld his faithful breast
Een then when tyrant Neros [13]  iron hand
Delugd with patriot blood the servile land
When virtuous Seneca [14]  bowd down his head
When first of Bards immortal Lucan [15]  bled
Far from the guilty scene to me each day
But witnessd Love & Pleasures softning sway
Methinks each blissful room each spot I view
The bower the palace hallow’d all by you
That sacred bower the seat of every bliss
Where first I dard to seize the glowing kiss
That bower where oft fatigued with Wars red fight
I gazd on thee & only felt delight
Hide Memory hide the rest — that fatal bower
That sent me from the arms of Love to power
Oh come my Love with all thy heavn of charms
Oh come once more to Love & Titus arms
Come thou most fair most lovely most divine
Come let thy heart responsive beat to mine
I see I see thee now — those eyes no more
Like gems bedimmd this perjurd man deplore
No longer sad shall wear the hour away
No longer Sorrow mark the livelong day
I see thee now high flows my hearts warm tide
I see but thee, nor heed the world beside
Ah no avoid me — fly me farther yet} these lines I think are Popes [16] 
Avoid me hate me if thou canst forget} if so scratch them out & put two in their place —
Fly — hate this wretch — unblest unkind unjust} I have no book to see.
This wretch most wretched vainly stild august
Weak would be Dutys shield to fence this heart
To guard this breast from Loves resistless dart
Pride Prejudice would instant quit the field
And Nature & the Man be proud to yield.
In vain I’d fly thee best belovd — in vain
Would lose thy visage mid the courtier train
Amid the gaudy show the fawning throng
The weight of empire & of cares among
That form appears so fair so lovd of thine
So fair so lovely & which once was mine.
Was! what dire imports on that word attend
Can Love so blest so heavenly find an end
Must such ecstatic moments haste away
Will nought avail Times fatal course to stay?
Rapid he fled when Titus viewd that face
Now slow he lags along with leaden pace
Now heavy laden with a weight of woe
Longer than years of bliss the minutes go —

No joys no peaceful moments eer await
The hapless Titus mid the pomp of state.
Can Pomp assuage these burning pangs? or eer
Teach Memory to forget that thou art fair?
Can Splendor eer efface from Titus breast
That Berenice was kind & he was blest?
Ah no. in vain the tempting harlots face
Puts on each smile & each alluring grace
Each smile each grace alluring but recall
How much my Berenice exceeds them all.
How blest would Titus (best belovd) to thee
Fly from this weight of cares & misery
The noise of courts the voice of Fame despise
And seek for favor only in thy eyes!
Hid in obscurity in silence blest
Of all that heavn can give in thee possest
No hovering clouds of care would intervene
No Fear no Jealousies pollute the scene
Content & Bliss should seek our secret grove
& every joy be centerd found in Love
Perhaps sweet offspring of connubial bliss
Our children climb to gain the fathers kiss
Away sweet scene — no more torment this breast
Be all the senseless store now confest
Come rigid Duty triumph in thy sway
I must be wretched but I will obey
Rome spacious streets red drenchd with Roman gore
Titus Vespasians love shall neer deplore
No widows heartfelt groans for him arise
No orphans curses pierce the avenging skies
If Titus died Domitian [17]  must succeed
But neer will I resign for Rome to bleed.
Supremely wretched as supremely great
Still will I drag along this load of state
Oppressd with Miserys weight I still will bear
Bane of each hour the image of my fair
With Roman Pride will seek to steel my mind
And most unhappy strive to bless mankind.

———— [18] 

{Of these epistles a few words. four years back I wrote one from B. to Titus & began an answer. the only copy I had was with all my earliest pieces in a foul book, I lent this to one whom I conceivd would take care of it. the book was lost to my eternal sorrow for all in it is bad. & I have reason to think it is still preservd — so some time hence these cursed rhymes will rise up in judgement against me. the epistle was very bad & I could only recollect the beginning — the two first lines as they now stand are all that remain of it.

you now have both & if you will add alter & correct them — by continual correction they may in time be good. the first is best. this last hardly tolerable. I will hint some topics which I could wish you to touch upon. some lines in answer to those “the silent lute &c. wish of Titus to place Berenice upon the throne. unwilling to hold her in any other rank than that of partner in his throne. you will find many others. Beaumont & Fletcher [19]  wrote plays together. — surely it more practicable to write poems.

you will wonder at this crammd sheet after last nights inability to proceed. but idleness is the worst of companions. I want employment & know you like a long letter.

you will let me hear from you soon & do say how affairs go on in London & send me the names of the prisoners in the tower. [20]  surely it is better to run mad with politics than to turn maniac or frantic. next Tuesday begins a new year. I expect a good epistle from you upon that day & promise you one which I shall set about immediately upon concluding this. remember however that I hope to hear from by return of Post. will you send me the ode you did for your brother quique pii vates & Phœbo digna locuti. [21]  you shall have plenty in return of all sorts. I have a tolerable Satire addrest to you but cannot send it by the Post upon this levelling subject — another in embrio upon the grand Leveller Death. say what you will he puts all upon an equality & may one day (no matter how soon) level me with the well wiggd Doctors & well titled champions of Aristocracy. it is very seldom I hear from you — so I remain like a solitary oyster feeding upon thought — a most unsubstantial diet. in this hoggish city my acquaintances are few my friends fewer. friends however I have elsewhere & what need to care for the world beside? let the world wag how it will — let Despotism triumph or Freedom prevail I will still use my pen if I can in peace — if I must quit it for the musquet it is but cutting off a few years perhaps of disappointed hopes.} [22] 

{For your friendly invitation & that of Collins accept my best thanks & make my excuse to them. remember me to your Brother likewise — 1792 is expiring — good god how many events have transpird — from the fall of Gualbertus [23]  to that of Louis! [24]  from my libel upon rod to Paines upon sceptres!  [25]  of all this more by Tuesday. my letter shall reach you then. are you in any of these tremendous associations? our church wardens have devised a curious test all loyal subjects are desird to sign their names to an address. such is their artifice that to my knowledge they made a child of ten years old write his name. thus they mean to know those who believe not in the divine right &c. never shall the name of your friend be prostituted so basely.} [26] 


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single Sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: ADE/ 29/ 92
Watermark: G R in a circle and figure of Britannia
Seal: Black wax [design illegible]
Endorsement: 26 Decr 1792
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 12–14 [in part; verse not reproduced]. BACK

[1] 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

[2] It is unclear to whom Southey is referring. BACK

[3] St Basil (c. 330–379), founder of eastern monasticism. A pseudonym used by Southey when writing in The Flagellant (1792). BACK

[4] Southey is referring to the traditional song sometimes known as ‘The Miller of Dee’, particularly the lines ‘I care for nobody, no not I,/ If nobody cares for me’. BACK

[5] Pythagoras (580/72–500/490 BC), Greek philosopher, born on the island of Samos. BACK

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

[7] David Hume (1711–1776; DNB), philosopher and historian. BACK

[8] The Emperor Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus (AD 40–81; reigned AD 79–81). BACK

[9] 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

[10] Titus was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman troops in AD 70. BACK

[11] Titus’ father, the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (AD 9–79; reigned AD 69–79). BACK

[12] Greek god of marriage. BACK

[13] The Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus (AD 37–68; reigned AD 54–68). BACK

[14] Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC–AD 65), philosopher and dramatist, committed suicide after being accused of involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy against Nero. BACK

[15] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39–65), author of the Pharsalia, forced to commit suicide when his involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy against the emperor Nero was discovered. BACK

[16] A rough paraphrase of Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ (1717), lines 289–291. BACK

[17] Titus Flavius Domitianus (AD 51–96; reigned AD 81–96), younger brother of Titus. BACK

[18] No widows ... ————: Written in right hand margin of fol. 1 r. BACK

[19] Francis Beaumont (1584/5–1616; DNB) and John Fletcher (1579–1625; DNB) collaborated on a number of plays. BACK

[20] The rumour that some British radicals had been imprisoned in the Tower of London was false, and dismissed in the Times, 5 December 1792. BACK

[21] Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 6, line 662. The Latin translates as ‘good bards, whose songs were meet for Phoebus’. BACK

[22] Of these epistles ... hopes: Inserted in the margins of fol. 1 r. BACK

[23] John Gualbert (c. 995–1073), founder of the Vallombrosian order. The pseudonym ‘Gualbertus’ was used by Southey for his controversial attack on flogging as an invention of the devil in the fifth issue of The Flagellant (29 March 1792). BACK

[24] Southey is comparing his expulsion from Westminster School, for publishing an essay against flogging, with the indictment of Louis XVI (1754–1793; reigned 1774–1792) on 11 December 1792. Louis was executed on 21 January 1793. BACK

[25] Southey is comparing his essay against flogging in The Flagellant, no. 5 (29 March 1792), 75–89, with Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), The Rights of Man, the second part of which appeared in 1792. BACK

[26] For your ... so basely: Inserted at top of fol. 1 r. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009