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

37. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 30 December 1792 ⁠* 

Sunday evening. 1/4 past seven. Dec 30. College Green. 1792.

On speed the hours — the expiring year flies fast
Soon to increase the number of the past —
The past — huge mass — which heaps each several day
Stole from the future mass of years away —
The well-pil’d fire, the bowl of festive joy
The social game each passing hour employ
Together meet each long disseverd friend
And Mirth & Pleasure mark the annual end.
Such joys no more (my friend esteemd) are mine
Such joys to me are past nor I repine —
Misfortune clouds oer Hopes enlivening sun
But tis the will of heaven. that will be done.
Since then I drain not riots noisy glass
Nor sport away the live long hours that pass —
Since bleeding Memory still her way will force
Brood oer a lifeless Fathers clay cold corse
Let Contemplation come in solemn state
For ah what Time more fit to contemplate!

But twelve months since (for Memory loves to dwell
On scenes so dear, on friend belovd so well)
But twelve months since & this now sadning breast
Was filld with bliss & social joy possest
Elate with Hope — in flattering Fancy high
& fond & eager of applause was I.
Each day our unborn plan I still pursued
Each night revolvd & dreamt & thought it good
Whilst gay Imaginations fingers spread
The laurel chaplet for her offsprings head
But twelve months past I turn again & view
The laurel chaplet changd for wreath of yeugh —
For Fames applause behold the grins of Dodd
& Vincents well pleasd eyes & well workd rod.

Exild from Westminster is Southey seen
Expelld from school rejected by the Dean —
& shall I strive the glorious truth to hide
Which Conscience owns & only owns with pride?
True I attackd the beastly rod & true
Held horrible Indecency to view
But Satan feard Ithuriels [1]  potent touch
And Power as usual provd for Right too much —
Power held the sevenfold shield to Dullness head
I am expelld the Flagellant is dead
Christ Church rejects as though the itch possest
But Baliol takes & Basil [2]  is at rest.
Nor I alone in this eventful year
Of wicked libels & sedition hear
To hope that Truth would shelter me how vain
When Truth & Eloquence both faild for Paine! [3] 

As in each public paper will appear
The great transactions of the amazing year
Suppose my friend that you & I should see
What deeds have chanced this year to you & me!
The Flagellant was born as greedy Law
Advancd in hungry wise his threatning paw.
Opprest by foes the hapless victim died
I was expelld — not Vincent satisfied.
The Doctors life was publishd new & rare
And he (proclaim it Fame) turnd up his hair —
You to spy out an infamous Attorney
Thro many a town & county took your journey —
I took an oath or two at Oxford town
And by the by got wet in going down.
I lost whom once I hopd & thought a friend —
But flattering hopes too often find an end.
Why humble Bedford as we are yet we
From Resolutions are not wholly free
What though {nor Birth} nor highly partial fates
Have givn us crowns or titles or estates
Low as are Dame Fortune (queer old Girl)
Has given you & I full many a whirl.
Give me o Fortune one more turn beside
But one spoke higher — I am satisfied.

Of the past year enough. past griefs farewell
For why of these should Rhyme or Reason tell?
Or why should I misfortunes past deplore
When wide Futurity expands before?
Een whilst you read my friend these lines from me
Has Time markd down the newborn ninety three.
Whilst then the varying seasons in their sphere
Diversify & mark the coming year
Whilst Freedom struggles in a happier land
Whilst War & Slaughter wait on Pitts [4]  command
Whilst Pension-men proclaim each croud among
“The right divine of Kings to govern wrong” [5] 
Whilst pissing posts & corners all bespeak
Merits of Justice Reeves [6]  & Doctor Leake
With Bull Broth Powder Pill or what you please
Like to rid us of the French Disease.  [7] 
Whilst Vincent is with loyal terror sick.
And More [8]  is trembling for his bishoprick —
The press grows hot — the widowd wifes sad cries
Of power inhuman, pierce the listless skies
Whilst Justice dares the guilt of Kings to show
And write apostate after Mirabeau!!!  [9] 
Let me a while attempt to avoid them all
Whilst Reason claims one lucid interval
And let these varying scenes as Fate will, end
Whilst I breathe forth a wish for self & friend.
May then each hour without annoy be spent
Possest at least of that best gift Content
May no Disease extend his sorrowing sway
Nor Death some friend some parent reave away
& at the Installation you come down
(To wish for both at once) to Oxford town.

———————

Parturiunt montes — nascetur ridiculus mus! [10] 

———————


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] JA
Watermark: obscured by MS binding
Endorsement: 30. Decr 1792.
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667), Book 4, lines 810–813. The spear of Ithuriel could penetrate any disguise, and revealed Satan, who had assumed the form of a toad. BACK

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

[3] In December 1792, Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB) was tried and convicted in absentia for seditious libel. BACK

[4] William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801 and 1804–1806. BACK

[5] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), The Dunciad (1728), Book 4, line 188. BACK

[6] John Reeves (1752–1829; DNB), barrister and writer, who on 20 November 1792 established the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers at the Crown and Anchor tavern in the Strand, London. BACK

[7] John Leake (1729–1792; DNB), man-midwife who published a Dissertation on the Properties and Efficacy of the Lisboa Diet Drink in the Venereal, Scurvy, Gout &c. (1767), an alleged cure for syphilis, ‘The French Disease’. BACK

[8] John Moore (c. 1730–1805; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury, 1783–1805. BACK

[9] Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749–1791), French writer, orator and politician. In 1792, his secret dealings with the French Court were revealed, leading to his posthumous denunciation by fellow-revolutionaries. BACK

[10] Horace (65–8 BC), Ars Poetica, line 139. The Latin translates as ‘The mountains will be in labour and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth’. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009