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

54. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 25 July [– c. 5 August] 1793 ⁠* 


Newport. Friday July 25. 1793

Just arrived here half way between Glocester & Bristol
I sit down to drink cyder & write an epistle —
And find but too sure as I empty each cup
The one goes faster down than the other comes up.
If my stream of verse flowed as clear & as fine
The critics might truly pronounce it divine
The rich golden vein were Potosi [1]  for wealth —
I want some more spirit. so Bedford your health.

This morning from home on my road I repair
And at eight o clock mount on a hackney bay mare
Cramm’d my pockets brimful yet contriving to shape there
Clean linen et cætera with pen ink & paper.
Slow & sure as the weather is warm on we pass till
My eye caught the turrets of Thornbury castle
So I tied up my mare at the sign of the swan
Eat some decent cold mutton & instant am gone.
I like these old ruins. my soul loves to cast
Reflections keen eye on the days that are past
View the shadowy forms in their gorgeous array
Pass in Fancy’s review & then vanish away

________

Ledbury. Saturday 26. 11 o clock morning.

————

A hard trotting horse & a smart shower of rain
Are no friends I am sure to the smooth rhyming strain.
No Helicon pours from the black low’ring sky
No Phœbus inspires or assists me to dry.
Heaven would Patience alone as assistant bestow
And Patience affords but cold comfort you know
So half wet & quite hungry my journey I take fast
Till I reach this good place 16 miles on to breakfast.
Of good bread & butter three plates I devour
& drink excellent tea for the space of an hour
Pay a visit — return — & then mending a pen
Sit down solus to scribble my journey again.

At Glocester last night the cathedrals tall tower
Invites me to loiter away a dull hour
In I go to see pillars & windows & stones
And the tombs that inearths some monarchical bones. [2] 
That now levelled by Death (for whom levels he not?)
For the loathly worm provender moulder & rot.
Ye PESTS of MANKIND soon or late ye must come
All divine as ye are to the democrat tomb
Nor fondly conceive that beyond the cold grave
The title profane or the sceptre will save
For if Justice finds out that your deeds have been {evil}
The vicegerent of God goes post haste to the Devil.

There lies Edward the 2nd. & Bedford I hope none
Will ever again turn a man to a pop-gun —
So now I have said all I’ve treasurd to say
Once more in my pocket I put this away.

————

Hereford. Wednesday 30th. 10 morning.


A long way on his road has been past by old Time
Since Occasion (young Horace) forbade me to rhyme.
For Hereford city — I mounted my mare
And onward to dinner at leisure repair.
Thick & dark & tremendous deep threatned the sky
And I thought being wet was exceedingly dry.
Down it came. quick I hurried across the wide plain
My old mare went fast but much faster the rain.
So my poor leather breeches in horrible plight
I got into town just laid up for the night.

I’ll suppose you as tired as myself or my ride
& so (if you please) turn to something beside
On yesterday morning your curious friend goes
To see great children play with their arrows & bows.
(Surely Horace no harm for the sake of my verse
Bows & arrows to arrows & bows to reverse —
Since in this topsy turve age we see every day
Men & women turned children & running to play)
Three ways of amusement I quickly discern
And what those 3 ways were pray listen & learn.
On one part of the green one green company stands
With shooting away & diverting their hands
A little away the next company meet
Cutting capers by way of amusing their feet
The third (& the wisest give me leave to tell ye)
Smug & sober sat down & diverted their belly
This play I thought prettiest, nor made a to-do
But sat myself quietly down & fell to.
This each aristocrat must commend who remembers
The fable antique of the belly & members
Tho the business be done by the hands heels & head
Yet the guts gormandizing you know must be fed. [3] 

of this enough. I had materials enough in my head to fill up the sheet — but the days of romance are past & a man may travel over the face of this country without meeting one adventure worthy of recording. on my journey I have however been fortunate enough to meet three literary characters. Dr Napleton [4]  the great logician of whom I won enough at cards to pay for his elements of that most execrable science. Watkins [5]  the traveller & another young man who has published an excellent tour thro France & an appendix explaining his principles tho attached to the monarchical revolution of 89, not by any means to agree with the democracy of the present day. however I may differ in opinion from Mr Shepherd [6]  (for that is his name) his company pleased & instructed me. I passd two evenings with him & his sister & in that short space of time we were old acquaintance. reserve I am apt to think exists only in fools knaves or politicians (statesmen I mean). men of liberal ideas will not be backward of communicating them & like the needle to the pole attracted by a kind of natural magnet fly from every duller substance to the more powerful metal. how ingeniously I find an excuse for forwardness! but it strikes me as true. look into life you will find two fools bow hem & sit silent whilst two philosophers equally free from politeness & embarrassment are acquainted immediately. your brother & Edmund Seward were not long strangers to each other.

last night an old man entertained my Uncle (NB a clergyman) & myself. neither of whom he had ever seen before with a conversation of which I will endeavour to give you a specimen. I have been riving along with the Bishop & he is an amazing man. he told me that when he was young he wrote over all the bible because he took such a liking to the Hebrew letters — I had a mind to ask him if there wernt some wrong translations, if it would not have been going too far. I was once very sorry to hear a gentleman say — we was talking along with him about religion you know — & about the excellent moral system of our church & how good a man would be that lived as the Bible & the scriptures tell him & how good the Bible & the scriptures was & he said God d—n you do you think God would inspire a man to write nonsense — ha ha ha — I was very sorry to hear him talk so — but there he was a friend of Humes. [7]  I was acquainted along with Hume. he was apprenticed to Mr Combe’s [8]  father (Naktys [9]  grandfather) in the linen business & being young was put to copy letters — instead of writing Messr such a thing — received yours — done the needful. draft honourd &c he used to make English of the letters & so the business would not do for him. but he was a very pleasant man. he used to say he would rather excuse a man for being a Atheist than a Deist — there his essays are very pretty. a friend of mine asked him why he did not write — he said I am too old too fat & too rich. (I have none of these objections to author-ity or-ship) so much for Humes life from one who knew him. I do not believe that he would have pardoned an Atheist. what Hayley [10]  says of Hume I rather think true

Already pricked by Reasons searching rays
The waxen fabric of thy fame decays. [11] 

his essays I have never read. upon any other subject it would be arrogant to decide without reading but upon this common sense will speak. however prostituted by villains & disgraced by fools. Xtianity is the purest of moral systems. Deism — will do well for the philosopher whose cool calm passions may be governed by the principles of Reason & Morality — but the minds of the million require a more powerful tie. they must be actuated by hope & fear two master springs admirably touchd by religion. even a Deist will not deny this. the best & wisest of mankind have believed this religion; upon a subject where Reason fails to reason is absurd. it is impossible in favour of any thing where every thing must rest upon supposition. Hume was a vain sophist & a partial historian, & a cold friend —

Rousseau in the present proscription of his opinions has been branded as an Infidel. he was not one. the Savoyard curate [12]  speaks his faith — it is {the} creed of rational Xtianity. Voltaire was a man totally devoid of principle — why they are ranked together in the indiscriminate abuse & absurdity of Aristocracy is easy to see. both had abilities & both loved freedom. but this is trespassing upon forbidden grounds & I must take the strait road to the end of my letter.

dinner is just ready & I even doubt whether this can go to day. the variety of different occupations which filled my time upon my journey must excuse my not having written before.

your letter did not reach me till the evening before I left Bristol & I arrived at home but last night so you I have wasted no time.

I have a letter two thirds finished to your brother which I purpose sending by tomorrows post. Charles Collinss I found on my return & have to acknowledge with one from Edmund Seward. when the regiment which had been quarterd at Derby embarked for Valenciennes — many of the men wept. the King desired them to shout & was answered ‘it will be time enough to shout when we return’. with how very different an account was the public insulted.

——————

you will I think see me in the course of ten days but I shall write & say when. when I can exactly fix. let me hear from you in the mean time. I am at Bristol. I long for a bathe. the only good thing at Oxford is the river. Isis — silver slipperd Queen [13]  — is my Goddess. query would not silver-buckled have been more fashionable? — tomorrow your brothers letter goes off.

yrs sincerely

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: Horace Walpole Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: AAU/ 5/ 93
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath and figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd Augt. 5th. 1793./ B.C.
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A mining settlement in Bolivia, famous for its export of silver. BACK

[2] Edward II (1284–1327; reigned 1307–1327; DNB) is buried at Gloucester cathedral. BACK

[3] Just arrived ... be fed: Verse in double columns. BACK

[4] John Napleton (1738/9–1817; DNB), clergyman and educational reformer. His works included Elementa Logicae (1770). BACK

[5] Thomas Watkins (dates unknown), author of Travels Through Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, the Greek Islands to Constantinople, Through Part of Greece, Ragusa, and the Dalmatian Isles, in a Series of Letters to Pennoyre Watkins Esq. … in the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 (1792). BACK

[6] The identity of Mr Shepherd is a mystery, but the book he is described as the author of is almost certainly A Tour Through France, Containing a Description of Paris, Cherbourg and Ermenonville; With a Rhapsody, Composed at the Tomb of Rousseau (1789), published under the pseudonym ‘G. Monckton’. A second edition appeared in 1793. BACK

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

[8] The old man who was talking to Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, seems to have given a very garbled account of David Hume’s brief time in Bristol in 1734, when he was employed by Michael Miller, a local sugar merchant. BACK

[9] Unidentified. BACK

[10] William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), poet and biographer. BACK

[11] Southey is paraphrasing William Hayley, An Essay on History; in Three Epistles to Edward Gibbon, Esq. With Notes (1780), lines 450–451. BACK

[12] The fourth chapter of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Émile (1762), ‘The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar’. BACK

[13] Thomas Warton (1728–90; DNB), The Triumph of Isis, A Poem (London, [1749]), pp. 2–3. BACK

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March 2009