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

58. Robert Southey and Grosvenor Charles Bedford to Charles Collins, 26 September 1793 ⁠* 

Brixton. Thurs. Sept. 26. 1793.

the evening we receivd yours.

——————

Was it the thunders as they pass?
Was it the braying of an ass?
Or was it from the walls re-ringing
The echo of my own sweet singing?
Or struck by hand of maddning Ire,
Discord from the Mantuan lyre? [1] 
Yes Anger struck the jarring string
Yes Anger stern essayd to sing.
The swan that whilom charmd the Po
Breathd the hoarse croak of the crow.

Oh I will lightly touch the lyre
To sooth the soul of maddning Ire —
Gently breathe the fluent numbers
Softly sooth his soul to slumbers —
Cool the fever furious raging
Every pang & pain assuaging.
What tho thy hand unweeting tore
The wound that was but slight before
Physic to Poetry is brother —
One dose shall counter act another.

[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
Two Regulars must lend their aid
To cure the ill one Quack has made
And as you seem non compos mentis
To Willisize you [2]  my intent is
Collins indeed you can’t conceal
How ill you take our friendly zeal
Well did we think to rouse your pride
And make you lay your books aside
[end of section in Bedford’s hand]
Good our Intention tho you mist her
Our lenities have raisd a blister
[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
The blister broke — what came away
Is far too foul for us to say
Suffice that bolt into our faces
It flew, & left it’s nasty traces
[end of section in Bedford’s hand]
And then wed nothing else to do
But wipe ourselves & then — wipe you.

Did you my dear friend never hear
The story of Achilles spear? [3] 
Fruitful of wounds he wont to deal them
On purpose afterwards to heal them.

Tis now twelve months or something better
Since I sat down & pennd a letter
Wherein I beggd but beggd in vain
That you would write in English strain —
That faild. I deemd a useless task
Again the same request to ask
Resolvd no more my pains to waste
Till you’d compleatly formd your taste.
Your taste it seems is now grown ripe
At “Pretty Grange & Pretty Pipe”
[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
Taste! the dull produce of the schools
Receiv’d by you — & taught by fools
Who love to prune & to suppress
Luxuriancies they can’t possess
Whose heads so hard so dry, that ne’er
Sprouts forth a crop of manly hair
But forced to fly for foreign aid
To Barber’s shop & deadman’s head.
[end of section in Bedford’s hand]

Of heads & hair my friend enough
No more of any such vile stuff —
Here we the palm to you submit
And take your nastiness for wit.
Not here descending to come nigh
Or dirt our paper by reply
Let Christ Church here enjoy the field
[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
In Politesse & Filth We yield
But beg when next you satirize
You’ll stick to truth & not write lies
As to the pair you shan’t come off
And think so cheap to have your scoff

Make my respects to all your good Family.

G.C.B.

[end of section in Bedford’s hand]

Make my respects to all your good Family. R.S.


[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
Tho’ Southey gentle bard refuse
To contradict your vile abuse
Know this — unstudied unadmired
By us, our persons are attired.
We boast no perfumes in our hair
But those bestowed by health & air
And ivory combs. — we spurn pomatum [4] 
Pots full of filth — as such we hate ’em.
Are heads are clean, nor when we’ve done ’em
Fear we to put our hats upon ’em
Like some good Christ Church beau who stalks
Filthy & fine on X Church walks
Who without lining wears silk breeches
And shows brown skin thro’ stocking stitches.

Who talks of impudence to read
His works his own conceit to feed?
[end of section in Bedford’s hand]
Remember Collins I implore you
“Ambrosio puella toro” [5] 
True in the Christ Church hall not heard
This pretty warmth of Jack the third —
The Dean much shockd went home good Sir!
To read Petronius Arbiter [6] 
And you displeasd return to dwell
On Jack the second [7]  or Pucelle. [8] 
[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
Or what’s more worthy copying o’er
Your verses twenty times or more
Writing so neatly copies fair
Detergent to your friend’s derrieres
[end of section in Bedford’s hand]

And now my friend let Satire cease
Gently sink to gentle peace —
Proudly in poetic pride
We began & you replied.
We empt our wit & you your jakes
Let us cease for both our sakes.
This good at least from ill has sprung
That you have usd your native tongue
Flung the Gradus [9]  quite aside
And in good English verse replied
Barber & Shoe black in one letter!
To be the Gentleman is better
And so who first began first end —
Well write more gravely to our friend.

True Collins not till Fancy quits
In endless gloom these wandering wits
Till Reason abdicates her reign
And Fashion triumphs oer my brain
Till Grosvenor shall forget his friend
Till Time himself shall have an end —
I dress my hair to hide my sense
Or give to you my friend offence.

———

[start of section in Bedford’s hand]
As dancers at a Masquerade
At summer lay aside parade
Take off their masks & free discover
Their smiling faces to each other,
So we to say the truth admire
Thro’ all your verse your wonted fire
Nor shall we e’er be angry when
You raise ’gainst us so well the pen.

If to write thus my friend twould cure ye
Each week would I provoke your fury
Nor e’er at falling, should repine
The victim of such wrath divine.

And if that is not a lenitive plaister Collins I do not know what you would have — Of your verses I will just say thus much — that you have only your {own} indolence to blame in not having before this time, excelled us as much in that line as you d in all others — you will now be unpardonable if you do not often exercise yourself in this walk There is no better in Christ Church — — You think this a pun — as you please.

[end of section in Bedford’s hand]

Passion my dear friend opened Atyss [10]  mouth — the strings were loosened & he spake —


Notes

* MS: Huntington Library, HM 44804
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Virgil (70–19 BC), who was born near Mantua. BACK

[2] Francis Willis (1718–1807; DNB), the doctor who had treated George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820; DNB) during his illness of 1788–1789. BACK

[3] In classical mythology, the Greek forces on their route to Troy stopped in Mysia. A battle followed in which the local king, Telephus, was wounded by the Greek hero Achilles. Telephus learnt from an oracle that he could only be healed by the man who had made the wound. He kidnapped Orestes, son of the Greek leader, and his wound was healed when (as a ransom) Odysseus scraped some rust from Achilles’ spear into it. This story is known only from reports of Telephos, a lost play by Euripides (480–406 BC). BACK

[4] A dressing for hair made from perfumed oil. BACK

[5] The Latin translates as ‘girl on an ambrosial couch’. BACK

[6] Petronius Arbiter (d. AD 65), satirist, author of the Satyricon. BACK

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

[8] La Pucelle, a mock-epic poem by Voltaire (1694–1778). BACK

[9] A dictionary used in writing Latin verses. BACK

[10] Originally a Phrygian god whose cult was introduced to Rome. According to some versions of his myth, he was beloved of Cybele, mother of the gods, but was driven mad and castrated himself. He was the subject of a poem by Catullus (87–54 BC). BACK

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March 2009