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

42. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 25 January –8 [February] 1793 ⁠* 

Friday. Jany. 25th. {1793} 6 in the evening . such is the hour when I begin this letter when it will be finished — is uncertain. expecting Wynn to drink tea with me every moment I have not yet patience to wait without employment & know of none more agreeable than this of writing to you — my Mentor whilst he prohibits my writing much nevertheless allows an exception in your favour & believe me I look upon it as one great proof of my own reformation or what ever title you please to give when I can pass a whole week without composing one word. over the pages of the philosophic Tacitus [1]  the hours of study pass rapidly as even those which are devoted to my friends & I have not found as yet one hour which I could wish to have employed otherwise this is saying very much in praise of a collegiate life — but remember that a mind disposed to be happy will find happiness everywhere & why we should not be happy is beyond my philosophy to account for — Heraclitus [2]  certainly was a fool & what is much more rare an unhappy one. I never yet met with any fool who was not pleasd with the idea of his own sense but for your whimpering sages let sentiment say what it will they are more possessed with Envy than Wisdom.

Saturday. Feby 2. five in the morning — now Bedford this is more than you would do for me — quit your bed after only five hours rest — light a fire & then write a letter — really I think it would not have tempted me to rise unless assisted by these inducements. to-day I am going to walk to Abingdon with three men of this college & having made the pious resolution (your good health in a glass of red negus) of rising every morning at five to study that the rest of the day may be at my own disposal I procured an alarm clock & a tinder box. this morning was the first — I rose calld up a neighbour & read about three hundred lines of Ho[MS obscured] found myself hungry — the bread & cheese were calld in as auxiliaries & I made some neg[MS obscured] as I spiced it my eye glanced over the board & the assemblage seemed so curious that I laid all aside for your letter a Lexicon Homer inkstand candles snuffers wine bread & cheese nutmeg grater & hour glass. but I have given up time enough to my letter — the glass runs fast & for once the expression is not merely figurative.

Friday 8th how rapidly does Time hasten on when his wings are not clogged by Melancholy — perhaps no human being ever more forcibly experienced this than myself — often have I counted the hours with impatience when tired of Reflection & all her unpleasant train I wished to forget myself in sleep. now I allow but six hours to my bed & every morning before the watchman cries past five my fire is kindled & my bed cold — this is practical philosophy — but every thing is valued by comparison & when compared with my neighbour I am no philosopher! Two years back Seward drank wine, eat butter & sugar, now merely from the resolution of abridging the luxuries of life water is his only drink — tea & dry bread his only breakfast. in one who professed philosophy this would be only practising its tenets but it is quite different with Seward. to the most odd & uncommon appearance he adds manners which as they grow accustomed are the most pleasing. at the age of fourteen he began learning & the really useful knowledge which he possesses must be imputed to a mind really desirous of improvement. do you not find your attention flag? said I to him as he was studying Hutchinsons [3]  moral philosophy in Latin — if our tutor would but make our study interesting we should pursue them with pleasure. certainly we should he replied but I feel a pleasure even in studying this because I know it is my duty. this I take to be true philosophy of that species which tends to make mankind happy because it first makes them good. we had verses here upon the 30th of Jany— to the memory of Charles the martyr [4]  & it is a little extraordinary that you should quote those very lines to poor Louis [5]  which I prefixed to my ode. ‘his virtues plead like angels trumpet tongued against the deep damnation [6]  of his taking off. the subject was as you must suppose a very irksome one to me & more than once was I ready to apostrophize Milton — prudence however prevailed & in pitying the man I drew a viel over the faults of the monarch. with respect to the ill fated Louis you cannot feel more repugnant to his death than I do but “non civium ardor prava jubentium mente quatit solida? [7]  to me it must matter little which way the balance of power incline so my money & life be not thrown into the scales — last night the revenues of the clergy were the subject of debate. Seward Lewis contending that 200 per annum was sufficient for the superior ranks & that they never ought to exceed that or run lower than 100 — I supported & we had the best of the argument — perhaps it was not a little enforced by our being all three designed for the church. were I not convinced of the inutility of repeating them you should have our arguments — but upon this subject I flatter myself that our opinions coincide. meekness humility & temperance are the emblematic virtues of Xtianity & whatever may be my opinion upon speculative points of faith there is to me no human character so truly enviable as that of a true Xtian — morose austerity & stern enthusiasm are the characteristics of Superstition — but what is in reality more chearful or more happy than Religion — I have in my own knowledge more than one instance of this & doubt not but you have likewise. ought not therefore that wretch who stiles himself a philosopher to be shunned like pestilence who because Xtianity has to him no allurements seeks to deprive the miserable of their only remaining consolation? what I have written are my real sentiments yet Dr V would call me an atheist & the Dean of Ch Ch proscribes me as a pest of society — if I had no other cause of grief than this would occasion I verily believe that Oxford would not contain a happier being than RS.

the man who gaind the last English verse prize in Oxford has since published two odes which he calls Songs of the Aboriginal Britains [8]  — of these the Review speaks very well & yet to me who as you know have written upon the same plan these odes appear ill planned & ill executed — some metaphors are good but young Wynns observation is just that he should have mistaken the odes for burlesque. if I could write BA & MA or DD after my name my odes would meet with commendation were I to publish them unowned unpuffed & unassisted they would go to the grocers shops. poor Chatterton!  [9]  often do I think upon him & sometimes indulge the idea that had he been living he might perhaps have been my friend —

the objection you start I think easily remedied — why not adapt your metre (as Mason [10]  has in Musæus) to the bards you speak of? or supposing this scheme meets not your approbation as it does not quite please me the ideas & many of the verses may be preserved in an irregular ode & thus those lines which are weak may be altered of the two best odes I have ever written this one contains about ten of the original lines the other not one. I speak of Poetry & Contemplation. perhaps there is vanity in thus exemplifying myself but you will excuse me & a little vanity may be allowed to one who can boast of no other recommendation than that of composition — yet Bedford I would not exchange my black tassel & bombazeen gown with all it covers for the handsomest gold & silk ones in the University. alls for the best says Dr Pangloss [11]  & had my situation in life been more elevated I had probably been proud & vicious — when Prudence very nearly allied to Necessity forbids from vice bad indeed must be that man who can run counter to her dictates

I have written so rapidly that perhaps you will find some difficulty in understanding me — but you know that when I am hurried on it is not always I can attend to propriety of expression much less to kalography — this word for instance is hot from the mint of my brain. do you not really think that affluence & prosperity are dangerous blessings? occupied by variety of pleasure & reclining upon the couch of happiness man is but too apt to forget from whence those blessings flow. the enjoyments which his fortune & rank bestow he looks upon as his own — whilst the liberal minded Xtian who plucks a dinner of herbs pours out his gratitude to that God who supplies them. I know not whether Lucullus [12]  was a Stoic but surely Fabricius [13]  & Cincinnatus [14]  were religious. if I continue in this stile you will fancy me about to turn devotee — for a being of this class heaven never formed me — I can practise self denial for it is attended with temporal advantages but the cup of martyrdom would prove too bitter.

Charles Collins has been so busy with his Lent verses that I see little of him — he is my monitor be you his — I catch him frequently reading the Basia of Johannes Secundus [15]  — he pleads the elegance of the composition but that will not atone for the whole tenor of the work. he laughs at my admonitions I however follow his & am almost glad to behold somethings of the fallability [MS obscured] nature in Collins. it reconciles me more to myself. he seems to fear lest the little sleep I take should hurt me. this apprehension is very friendly — when I find myself the worse it is but again to return to the habits of Luxury whilst I do not I must think six hours rest enough for Nature & a great deal to lose. you see I am grown an oeconomist with regard to Time.

the sum you paid Ginger for me I am unable to return at present. Bedford I blush whilst I write but I ought to feel more unpleasantly could I hesitate to confess it. why is there not some corner of the world where wealth is useless! or rather why was not I like Emilius [16]  taught a trade! is humanity so very vicious that society cannot exist without so many artificial distinctions linked together as we are in the great chain why should the extremity of that chain be neglected. at this moment I could form the most delightful theory of an island peopled by men who should be Xtians not Philosopher. where Vice only should be contemptible Virtue only honourable. where all should be convenient without luxury all satified without profusion — but at the moment when Imagination is almost wrought up to delirium the ticking of the clock or the howling of the wind reminds me what I am & I sigh to part with so enchanting a delusion. if the Bounty mutineers [17]  had not behaved so cruelly to their officers I should have been the last to condemn them — Otaheitii independant of its women had many inducements not only for the sailor but the philosopher. he might cultivate his own ground & trust himself & friends for his defence — he might be truly happy in himself & his happiness would be increased by communicating it to others he might introduce the advantages & yet avoid the vices of cultivated society.

I am again getting into my dreams & sober Reason has so little to balance them that I can scarcely wake myself — where Ignorance is Bliss tis folly to be wise [18]  — we were once going to write a paper upon this subject — alas poor Flagellant never am I alone but I always recur to thee & wish for such a vehicle for thought — the ardent sensibility of youth is not suited to the cold blooded & ungenerous temper of mankind — theory & boyish sentiments are the epithets given to the ebullition of an open & not naturally bad heart & success must only hoped for in the beaten tract of prudence & dullness. I would not at this moment give up the production of No 5 [19]  for the highest title Europe could bestow — the gem has cost me dear & I am proud to wear it.

I keep a daily journal for myself as an account of Time which I ought to be strict in but this only destined for my own eye is uninteresting & unimportant. Boswell [20]  might compile a few quartos from the loose memorandums but they would tire the world more than he has already done. twenty years hence this journal will be either a source of pleasure or of regret, that is if I live twenty years & for life I have really a very strong predilection. not from Shakesperes fearfully beautifull passage ay but to die & go we know not whither?  [21]  but from the the hope that my life may be serviceable to my family & happy to myself — if it be the longer live the better — existence will be delightful & anticipation glorious. the idea of meeting a different fate in another world is enough to overthrow every atheistical doctrine. the very dreadful trials under which Virtue so often labours must surely be only trials — Patience will withstand the pressure & Faith will lead to Hope — Religion soothe every sorrow & make the bed of Death a couch of felicity — make the contrast yourself — look at the warrior the hypocrite & the libertine in their last moments & reflection must strengthen every virtuous resolution — may I however practise what I preach — let me have 200 a year & the comforts of domestic life & my ambition aspires not farther.

most sincerely yours

Robert Southey


Notes

* Address: G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: [partial] E/ 11/ 93
Watermarks: Figure of rampant lion holding a scimitar, and another figure; crown with a circle with Lloyd written underneath
Endorsement: 25 Janry 1793
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. 15–20; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 171–175 [in part; as two separate letters dated 25 January and 12 February 1793, respectively]. BACK

[1] Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 56–c. AD 117), historian, whose works include the Histories and the Annals. BACK

[2] Heraclitus of Ephesus (535–475 BC). Allegedly of a melancholy disposition, he was later known as ‘the weeping philosopher’. BACK

[3] Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746; DNB), whose Latin works included Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria, Ethices et Jurisprudentiae Naturalis Elementa Continens (1742). BACK

[4] Charles I (1600–1649; reigned 1625–1649) was executed on 30 January and subsequently declared a saint by the Church of England. BACK

[5] Louis XVI (1754–1793; reigned 1774–1792) was executed on 21 January 1793. BACK

[6] Macbeth, Act 1, scene 7, lines 19–20. BACK

[7] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 3, no. 3. The Latin translates as: ‘is not shaken from his firm resolve by hot-headed citizens urging him to do wrong’. BACK

[8] George Richards (c. 1767–1837; DNB), Songs of the Aboriginal Bards of Britain (1792). BACK

[9] Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). BACK

[10] William Mason (1725–1797; DNB), ‘Musaeus: a Monody to the Memory of Mr Pope, in Imitation of Milton’s Lycidas’ (1744). BACK

[11] The sentiments of a character in Voltaire’s (1694–1778), Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759). BACK

[12] Lucius Licinius Lucullus (c. 110–57 BC), Roman consul and famed gourmet. BACK

[13] Gaius Fabricius (d. c. 270 BC), Roman hero, famed for honesty and incorruptibility. BACK

[14] Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (C5 BC), a Roman hero who, according to tradition, was appointed Dictator in 458 BC. He routed the invading Aeqians and then renounced public life. BACK

[15] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), whose Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses) was published in 1541. BACK

[16] Book 3 of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Émile (1762), insisted that every male child should be taught a trade. BACK

[17] The mutiny on the ship HMS Bounty in 1789. BACK

[18] Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB), ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (1747), lines 99–100. BACK

[19] Southey’s authorship, in the fifth issue of The Flagellant (29 March 1792), of an essay which claimed flogging was an invention of the devil and parodied the Athanasian creed, caused a scandal and led ultimately to his expulsion from Westminster School. BACK

[20] Boswell (1740–1795; DNB), biographer of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK

[21] A paraphrase of Measure for Measure, Act 3, scene 1, line 117. BACK

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March 2009