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

51. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8–16 June 1793 ⁠* 

Saturday. June 8th. Balliol. 9 in the evening —

It is seldom Bedford that I have felt any thing like reluctance in writing to you, nor indeed ought I to feel it now. your invitation kind & attractive as it is, cannot be accepted by me at the time you mention. on the 18th of January I left home & since that period have not seen any one of my own family. it is now necessary to give some time to them & this it is my duty to do. as for inclination I must learn on many occasions to bridle it. home is far from being to me the comfortable retreat you enjoy. I have been so long inured to misery there that the idea of it when it comes across happier scenes clouds them. keen as my relish is for the pleasures of domestic life I have experienced them but little — perhaps I never may more but my present disposition is not the most chearful & I will hope better scenes in store. some time this year however Bedford I will pleasure myself by visiting you, as I think of missing Michaelmas term & will then if you permit me make Brixton in my road to Rye. after saying so much you will not attempt to press me farther & pain me to refuse. we shall meet at the Installation. I have seldom looked to any period with greater pleasure it is more than twelvemonths since we have seen each other & in despite of the various transactions which have since passed during that period I do not fancy myself altered in any great respect. I am as visionary & childish, or indeed more so, than ever as noisy as wild & sometimes as melancholy. you Bedford are peculiarly fortunate in escaping the four years purgatory of an University. to live so many months without seeing one female being, or rather without speaking to one — totally confined to the intercourse of men or boys your own age, is miserable. here we have none of that mixed intercourse which polishes down our rough edges & renders us human. if the consequences of this defect can be good I much wondering am much mistaken — the old fellows vegitate among their books — the undergraduates take to the bottle for resourse, or the “mercenary retailers of iniquity” [1]  — for me who am alike disgusted by both when the clock strikes nine I generally get to bed & really find that the happiest time. in sober sadness (for I am both sad & sober) it were better both for me & you, were I there now — so good night. after my daily exercise I need not invoke Sleep. so you may perhaps get a hymn in the morning when my faculties are awake for the undertaking.

Yes soother of the silent hour
I feel thy kind oblivious power
I feel o sleep thy softening sway
Steal every painful thought away. [2] 

Wednesday the 12.

strange are the vicissitudes which mortal experiences. I promised you an ode to sleep instead of the long lazy lines & sombrous epithets see what this morning produced whilst I waited in minutary expectation of the clocks warning sound.

Bedford my friend to you
Not having much to do
Ill write a line or two
In this odd metre.
Nor have I need to fear
What I say you will hear
Bad as it may appear
Holy St Peter [3] 

Did you my friend but know
Whither I soon must go
Tho my will answer no —
T’would raise yr pity
Very near tis belike —
When the clock next shall strike
Much as I this dislike
Nor wise nor witty.

Logic dry stuff to chop
Up to my tutors shop
Presently I must hop
Oh lamentāble
Tho to say true my friend
In vain I shall attend
Begin go on & end
Round a large table.

There must I learn to find
What comes into my mind
Of things Ive left behind
Where thoughts are stowed to
And what gives me much ruth
(Poor wretched simple youth)
All falshood & all truth
Must find the road to

Say Bedford is this fit
For a romantic chit
Childish for want of wit
And fond of rhyming
To sit & turn about
All his wits inside out
And find amid the rout
What keeps him chyming

If when my search is past
I should find out at last
By a mischievous cast
Rhyming is folly —
Bedford you may believe
One who would not deceive
This piece of news would leave
Me melancholy.

If I ideas find
Uppermost in my mind
Is it not too unkind
To analīze them
Why should I fright away
All those clear dreams of day
Round Fancys head that play?
I who so prize them!

No still remain imprest
Still ador’d still carest
In your poor votarys breast
Maugre Logicians
For to the minds disease
Quack Doctors such as these
Who reason at their ease
Are bad Physicians [4] 

Old Time for mercies grace
Do but delay thy race —
Give me a little space
To end my letter.
Hark — tis the clock — alack
Away poor I must pack
Had old Time but kept back
I’d finished better

Where ignorance is bliss — tis folly to be wise. [5]  this maxim is as true as ever fell from poetical pen & there has more morality distilled from the waters of Helicon [6]  than ever was procured from the withered skulls of metaphysicians or Philosophers.

Bedford I detest Logic. my ideas please me very well. they err perhaps on the right side by supposing humanity more perfect than it is. but if wisdom consists in being convinced of the depravity of human Nature I must pray Nature to continue me in my present state of folly. [7] 

Sunday 16.

if Collins could receive your brother on Friday as well I can you I would request you to come as soon as possible but he cannot disengage himself from business till the Tuesday following. on that day then we hope to see our Brixton friends & believe me Bedford I wish to say soon after, Brixton too. but I have spoken at large in the begining of my letter & you will not press me farther. since I began my Uncle is arrived from Lisbon so you see another bar to my visiting you. you do not know how unpleasantly I feel or how I force my own inclinations in refusing what you so kindly & so strongly request.

as to Rough it was not with any idea of pressing you to engage in his schemes that I mentioned it. he requested me to inform you & in compliance I wrote. but Rough is not a man upon whom either you or I can place any dependance. he is all warmth & kindness when you see him but turn your back & you are forgotten. for myself I would not wish again to attempt as yet. twelve months hence or as much later as you please & I shall be ready without fear to venture upon the public. once a fortnight I write an essay but this rule has been but lately adopted & when I have this letter I shall copy only the third produced in obedience to it. it is upon [MS obscured] & pleases me much, the subject is so copious that it will fill another paper. have you seen my ode upon the same? as a companion to Poetry which I believe you have with you.

I have unfortunately forgotten your caution of leaving space for the wafer. the word most likely to be obliterated is Romance.

do not bring a horse with you. it will be expensive troublesome & useless. we have planned many delightful days. one to Blenheim one to Godstow — to Abingdon &c &c. one evening to drink tea with Mr Thorp who has invited me when you come. but I shall receive no greater pleasure than from seeing you once more. it is a long while since we met. Lamb will be with his Majesty at the Installation. Sir Watkin herds with his brother. [8]  let me hear from you soon & mention if you will come Tuesday. I should recommend a stage as the best mode if you are too delicate to walk. & indeed walking might fatigue you. I will make Wynn deliver his sentiments upon this important subject. I recommend travelling in the stage. C Collins will I think coincide in opinion with me. by the by you must lecture him upon beastiality in conversation. it is very strange than in a large party he should endeavour so to attract notice. I shall set to him again when next we meet.

I have {seen} your letter relative to Strachey. against him I feel no resentment & must only lament that I was too sincerely his friend ever to think of him without regret. reconciliation I should be far from opposing, but I doubt whether it would be worth the trouble. George can be firm in a case like this & perhaps he never would esteem me as he once did. I am not conscious of having acted improperly & can almost say with Job ‘oh that my words were written in a book’ [9]  words thoughts & actions I need not blush for either. but notwithstanding this rather than oppose a reconciliation I would rather part with my firmness founded as it is upon rectitude than with affection perhaps not so well chosen.

will you inform your father & mother how much I feel obliged by their invitation & how much I regret the total impossibility of accepting it. I know you will not press me farther. but rest assured that the first moment I find it in my power I will please myself by visiting you.

yrs most sincerely

R Southey.

hope the Dr. is well. he will not find my calves head drest. I am still the boy


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single Sheet
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: OJU/ 17/ 93
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath and figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Recd. June 18.1793; Ansd {& sent in parts} June. 20th. 1793
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey is quoting a letter written by Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB) to a Mr. Clayfield, as published in William Barrett (1727?–1789; DNB), The History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol (Bristol, 1789), p. 647. BACK

[2] Yes … away: Verse in double columns. BACK

[3] Peter the Hermit (d. 1115), religious fanatic, instrumental in preaching the First Crusade. ‘Peter’, ‘St Peter’ and ‘P.H.’ were pseudonyms used by Southey’s friend Grosvenor Charles Bedford. BACK

[4] Bedford … physicians: Verse in double columns. BACK

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

[6] In Greek mythology, the waters of mount Helicon were sacred to the Muses. BACK

[7] ‘Old Time ... folly’: Written in the right hand margin of the letter. BACK

[8] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840; DNB), elder brother of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn. BACK

[9] Southey is paraphrasing Job 19: 23–24. BACK

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March 2009