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

47. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4–20 April 1793 ⁠* 

Sapey. Sunday. April 4th. 1793

In sober sadness my dear friend you deserve a letter as little as any lazy mortal ever yet did — but perhaps there is one waiting for me at Oxford — I will think so at least — it is easy to deceive ourselves when we wish to be deceived — I expect to find one upon my return in acknowledgement of this

my philosophy which has so long been of a kind peculiar to myself neither of the school of Plato Aristotle Westminster or the Miller [1]  is at length settled. I am a peripatetic philosopher far however from adopting the tenets of any self sufficient cynic or puzzling sophist my sentiments will be found more enlivened by the brilliant colours of Fancy Nature & Rousseau than the positive dogmas of the Stagyrite [2]  or the metaphysical refinements of his antagonist — I aspire not to the honourary title of subtle disputant or divine Doctor — I wish to found no school to drive no scholars mad — ideas spring up with the scenes I view — some pass away with the momentary glance — some are engraved upon the tablet of memory & some infixed upon the heart you have told me what Philosophy is not & I can give you a little more information upon the subject — it is not plunging in debauchery because the world do the same — it is not reading Johannes Secundus [3]  because he may have some poetical lines — it is not wearing the hair undressd in opposition to custom perhaps — it is certainly not in giving pain to a friend by neglect {this I feel the severity of & blush for} — it is not rejecting Lucan [4]  lest he should vitiate the taste & reading without fear what may corrupt the heart — it is not clapt on with a wig or communicated by the fashionable hand of the barber — it had nothing to do with Watson [5]  when he burnt his books — it does not sit upon a woolsack. honors can not bestow it — persecution cannot take it away — it illumined the prison of Socrates but fled the triumph of Octavius [6]  — it shrank from the savage murderer Constantine [7]  it dignified the tent of Julian [8]  — it has no particular love for colleges — in crowds it is alone — in solitude most engaged. it renders life agreable & death enviable —

Yesterday makes one twelvemonth from the day on which I breakfasted with you & brought Dr Vs letter in my pocket — that transaction I begin to look upon as the most fortunate I ever met with — in consequence of it I avoided the society of Ch Ch where according to all the observation I have able to make it would not have been possible to add one to the number of my friends & went to Balliol where I found some deserving of the title. in consequence of it I have visited Worcestershire & shall during the long vacation repeat my visit. how little does man know of good or evil! the affliction of today may produce the happiness of every future hour — the reverse is too often the case. but as the shield has two colours I will turn to the most agreable.

I have long expected your ode Quæqui pii vates & Phœbo digna locuti [9]  — as you have alterd it — you are most intolerably indolent — by the by your word interview with the bishop gave great offence to young Wynn. do you ever hear anything of Bunbury? I could wish to know something of one with whom I was once upon terms so very intimate that though I despise his conduct I cannot but love his abilities — abilities are not however the best gift of heaven — Bunbury wallows in brutal excess & — the race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong. Alas poor Poland! [10]  this may be allowed.

I have lately read the Man of Feeling [11]  — if you have never yet read it — do now from my recommendation — few books have ever pleasd me so painfully or so much — it is very strange that man should be delighted with the highest pain that can be produced — I even begin to think that both pain & pleasure exist only in idea but this must not be affirmed, the first twitch of the toothache or retrospective glance will undeceive me with a vengeance. It is Mackenzies writing if I am not mistaken the author of Julia de Roubigne. [12]  & La Roche & Louisa Venoni in the Mirror. [13] 

the age of chivalry is past & my travels have nothing in them any way interesting to one who is not with me — to paint the different spots I have seen & romantic seats I have admird were impossible & to describe the emotions they occasioned — the attempt would be absurd —

you can better imagine rocks of petrifaction — cascades — glens & cottages from your own fancy than from my description — after all both would fall very short — you must find leisure at some future period to tramp it with me across the country. I never see a romantic spot without wishing for Charles Collinstell him he has used me very ill in not writing but you will there keep one another in countenance — evil communications corrupt good manners — you will study the pure Johannes Secundus & forget the unclassical RS.

I have seen, Bedford some of the most delightful spots that Fancy could possibly have picturd & at a moment when I was in the most delightful mood to enjoy — a certain tinge of melancholy heightens every shade around & disposes the mind more fully to enjoy the awful grandeur of the scene. I feel much disposed to finish this letter there should the weather continue good —

Nescia mens hominis fati sortisq futuræ! [14]  my letter was reserved to be finishd at Balliol. I found upon visiting C Collins Jack the second [15]  as usual upon the sopha & he shelters himself behind you as an example — yes Bedford I have heard you mentioned as an example for the most contemptible looseness — when I asked him why he bought the Pucelle [16]  he replied Bedford was with me. it does not extenuate his fault but it aggravates yours. can the finest language, the most honeyd flow of words that ever dropt from the pen of a Rousseau atone for lasciousness of idea? is poison less dangerous if mingled with sweetmeats? who would touch it were it infused in gall? my dear friend the goodness both of your head & heart should make you fling that damned book behind the fire where Collins’s has been more {than}once & where it will be purged of all its impurities.

if you have any message to Cambridge that I can carry let me know as in the approaching fortnights vacation Seward & I purpose walking there. on our return I sprained my ancle pretty severely which however did not prevent my walking twenty miles farther that day & twenty more the next. at present I am an invalid for convenience sake — it gives me time to read & write & rests my ancle. on Monday I purpose emerging.

Saturday 20th . if immediately hastening to repair a fault be to atone for it that atonement shall be made — I could even excuse myself & offer a plea which you would think admissible — but I detest mysteries. Le premier pas vers le vice est de mettre du mystere aux actions innocentes et quiconque aime à se cacher, a lôt ou tard raison de se cacher [17]  — I know not why I should quote these words but they rushd into my head or more properly my heart & that when it is full is too apt to overflow. in short then I have promised to send some verses of mine into Herefordshire & that employment alone has been the real cause of my confinement & my neglect. the sprain happened fortunately for me I could have finished them [MS torn] the time but I am continually altering in hopes of amendment & as fast as I corr[MS torn] fault more of the Hydra race start up.

Wynn is welcome to laugh at my walking plan — I have no need for were I to fix upon those parts of my life which I would desire to relive it should be my Worcestershire journey — to one who goes for fashion or to a fète or to a hunting box it may appear ridiculous but to him whose philosophy proceeds from nature & the heart the case is different. I was absent but three weeks — yet three ages in this sink of science could not erase the ideas resulting from it (nor were that possible) supply the vacancy. Evesham Abbey was the only spot memorable from accidental occurrences which I visited — a clear brook an extensive prospect a woody glen or a rising spring were more frequently the objects of my pilgrimage & where I let my Fancy stray more at will. I meant to have concluded this letter in a spot the most romantic I ever recollect to have seen — that intention was never executed & memory must supply the picture. a spring rushing dropping over a rock which it had made amid the wood — thro a narrow opening in the wood a cascade caused by the dissolving snow — a brook between so clear so broken by stones! the opposite side a hill almost perpendicular with excellent timber & on the summit as far as sight would reach (here a very small space) such a house as brings to remembrance Switzerland & St Preux. [18]  my mind was well tempered to enjoy the scene. it was returning from Ledbury which I left with reluctance & I had walked near twenty miles — the spring was delightful even your favourites ode o fons Brundisia vitrio &c [19]  would fail to give you an adequate idea. for six days we were confined at Ledbury by the snow — this delay prevented us from visiting the greatest part of Herefordshire. much has been said of the depravity of mankind by authors & in the moment of discontent I have accorded to their sentiments — but those who live in that hot bed of iniquity London, or that nursery of debauchery an English University are not qualified to judge — if observation may be depended upon there are men buried in retirement neither unworthy of the names of men or of Christians. the women I met with in the country neither delighted in balls or were proud of showing a white hand at a harpsichord. yet I found them artists & botanists without instruction — well read & sensible without ostentation. nay more wonderful I found one perfect beauty without vanity. C Collins ridicules me as one without feeling because I reprobate Johannes Secundus perhaps you may blame me or rather wish to blame me for the same — but a susceptible heart ought to be guarded with double care — purity of mind is something like snow best in the shade. Gybralter is on a rock but it would be imprudent to defy her enemies & call them to the charge. my heart is equally easy of impression with Rousseaus & perhaps more tenacious of xxxx. refinement I adore but to me the highest delicacy appears so intimately connected with it that the union is like body & soul. you will upon xxxxxx most xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx refinements do you yourself think elegance an atonement for licentiousness? if so — Lovelace [20]  is an accomplished character — Johannes ought to be read & the book of Christian morality be discarded. “vice loses half its evil by losing all its grossness” [21]  is a vile sentiment — it is the strumpet of the Strand affecting modesty. tell me of all my faults & I will strive to mend them but abjure forever those infamous lines whose sole merit is in handling gilding poison.

yrs most sincerely



* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: BAP/ 22/ 93
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; W T
Endorsement: Recd. 22d April 1793
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. 180–182 [in part]. BACK

[1] The traditional song sometimes known as ‘The Miller of Dee’, particularly its lines ‘I care for nobody, no not I,/If nobody cares for me’. BACK

[2] Aristotle (384–322 BC); his ‘antagonist’ is probably Plato (427–348 BC). BACK

[3] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), poet. BACK

[4] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39–65), republican poet. BACK

[5] Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff (1737–1816; DNB), who in 1793 had publicly abandoned his support for the French Revolution. BACK

[6] Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (63 BC–AD 14; reigned 30 BC–AD 14), later the Emperor Augustus. Southey strongly disapproved of Augustus for putting an end to the Roman republic. BACK

[7] Constantine I (late 280s–337; reigned 307–337), the Roman emperor who made Christianity the State religion. In AD 326, he imprisoned and executed his son Crispus, a subject Southey treated at length in his prose romance ‘Harold’ (1791); see Bodleian Library, Eng. Misc. e. 114. BACK

[8] Flavius Claudius Julianus, the Apostate (331–363; reigned 361–363), Roman emperor and pagan philosopher. BACK

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

[10] The second partition of Poland, between Prussia and Russia, in 1793. BACK

[11] Henry Mackenzie (1745–1831; DNB), The Man of Feeling (1771). BACK

[12] Henry Mackenzie, Julia de Roubigne (1777). BACK

[13] The Mirror, a periodical edited by Henry Mackenzie in 1779–1780. His ‘La Roche’ and ‘Louisa Venoni’ first appeared there. BACK

[14] Virgil, Aeneid, Book 10, line 501; ‘O mind of man, knowing not fate or coming doom’. BACK

[15] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), poet. BACK

[16] Voltaire’s (1694–1778) mock-epic La Pucelle (1755–1762). BACK

[17] Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761). The French translates as: ‘The first step towards vice is to cloak innocent actions in mystery, and whoever likes to conceal something sooner or later has reason to conceal it.’ BACK

[18] A central character in Rousseau’s Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), St Preux enjoyed an idyllic existence with his lover, Julie, and her husband, Baron Wolmar, at their estate on the shores of Lake Geneva. BACK

[19] A misquotation of Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 3, no. 13, line 1, ‘O fons Bandusiae splendidior vitro’. The original can be translated as ‘O spring of Bandusia, more glittering than glass’. BACK

[20] The rake Lovelace, a central figure in Samuel Richardson (c. 1689–1761; DNB), Clarissa (1748–1749). BACK

[21] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), Reflections on the Revolution in France (London, 1790), p. 113. BACK

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March 2009