61. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 20 October 1793 [possibly started before this date] 

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

61. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 20 October 1793 [possibly started before this date]⁠* 


Deferor tempestas hospes quo me cunque rapit, [1] 
In no other form to a rhyme could I shape it,
And tho this my dear Horace a very queer whim will be
I must beg leave just here to insert a good simile.

Of old tis said
Procrustes had a bed [2] 
And a famous bed had he
Where he used to invite
To pass the night
Whoever he could see.

Unlucky was the wretch
Whom he resolvd to stretch
For if the man were longer than the bed
He left him shorter by the heels or head —
And if the bed was longer
Why he stretchd out
The miserable lout
As strong as Harrys catapulta or stronger.
But Theseus [3]  at last made him take to his bed
Good Physician — rebukd him
Pilld him purged him, & pukd him
And physickd him till he was dead.

Tis a sad thing to say & yet say I must this.
That I my dear Horace resemble Procrustes
Thus distort the old verse in each prominent feature
And cut it to fit the just shape of any metre —
So you may apply what is true for you know me
Hospes cunque rapit tempestas deferor quo me. [4] 

This bed (a strange contrast) recalls to my mind
A most mournful scene I have just left behind.
Still still it will force on my unwilling view —
And I must relate the sad story to you.
When to Brixton I went — as I past thro this town
And to this house like lightning ran rapidly down
I was just introduced to Miss Colbourne [5]  in haste
Made my congè & then on my journey I past.
Such my speed I scarce lookd at the young Ladys face
And forgot here as soon as I quitted the place.
Twas even (my friend) as the sailors rude hand
Marks his mistresses name on the perishing sand
He perhaps drops the tear — & goes pensively on
The high billow comes & the traces are gone.

I forgot her for deeply engraved on my breast
Other features their durable figure imprest,
Till when I arrivd here last Wednesday — my mind
Recurrd to the Lady I there left behind
I enquird & was shockd at the mournful reply —
The poor girl fell down & had broken her thigh
To the next house bore in — the Physicians not found
Cursed asses — the nature & cause of the wound
A full week she lay ere the fracture was known
In the most dreadful part of that dangerous bone
Six weeks quite unable to move has she lain
And perhaps never more will she walk well again.

You may guess what I felt. better fancied than said
To make short this evening I saw her in bed
Angel-like I beheld her meek mild & resignd
And the sad scene is deeply imprest on my mind —
Still lovely still blooming still chearful her face
Appeard from misfortune to gather new grace
She seemd like a suffering angel below —
To teach how superior is Wisdom to Woe
And whilst my breast was full with compassion the while
She welcomd us in & conversd with a smile.

I returnd my eyes ready with tears to oerflow
My bosom high swoln in the fullness of woe.
In these moods no joy so delightful as grief
From Sorrow itself Sorrow finds its relief
In silence I wishd to heave past oer the night
And sit pensively down & to you Horace write.
But Fate intervened & Fate must have her way —
The card table is spread & poor Southey must play —
I soon lost the rubber — then gladly withdrew
Took my pen & sat down to unbosom to you.

Non ignarus disco miseris succurrere malo. [6] 
When this I advance I do not advance a lye.
To pour Pitys balm in Adversitys breast
To lull the sharp viper of sorrow to rest
With compassion to soften the anguish of woe
Is the best boon which Heaven on man can bestow.
But to see Beauty suffer nor render relief
Fate has not in store a more exquisite grief.

I shall rhapsodize more if on this I go on
But believe me all springs from compassion alone
By Philosophy shielded my well guarded heart
I trust can repel every love pointed dart —
As the small pox no longer my terror can move
So neither I fear the invasion of Love.
Can gaze tranquil & calm on each soft females charms
And seek shelter from Anguish in Apathys arms.

No more of this hang-gallows-heltering theme
Ill betake me to bed & look sharp for a dream.

God of dreams hear my prayer
To my pillow repair
Indulge my petition to night
Around my wild brain
Send thy fanciful train
And give me a dream I may write.

Some chimeras prepare
Some visions of air
Unshapd by Reflections dull art
In airy state spread
Let them float round my head
But let them not aim at my heart.

Be so kind & so civil
To present little Snivel [7] 
The far famous general Tuncq [8] 
Or with ghosts & with goblins
When my wits are all hobling
Put my frame in a terrible funk.

God of slumbers hear my prayer
Round my sleeping head repair
Oer my vacant brain diffuse,
Thy lethean poppy dews
Come with all thy shadowy train
Revel oer thy victims brain.
Tho by the haggard night mare prest
Vainly heaves my panting breast —
When madness rules the midnight hour
Tho then presides the witches power
To load my breast with vapours chill
And bid the freezing blood stand still
Whilst Horror triumphs oer my brain
God of dreams I ask thy reign.

Lead me lead me Fancy’s child
Oer woods & mountains wandering wild
Lead me thro the gloomy glade
Pathless glen & desart shade
Let me in midnight forest hear
The gaunt wolfs howling rend my ear
And seek to shun the savage foe
Whilst my limbs forget to go.

Or bid thy sprightly phantoms rare
Round my sleeping head repair.
Let me see in church yard gloom
The ghost slow rising from the tomb
Slow & stern his pale hand wave
And bid me follow to the grave.
Or from the rude rocks mighty height
Seize & plunge to endless night.
Or lead me, to withdraw uneath
To the dull abode of Death
Where rangd in mouldering order lay
The monumental sons of clay.

Such visions Genius round my head
In stern array I bid thee spread —
I ask each horror wild & wood
That chills with fear the palsied blood.
Strikes on those strings that jar my soul
And every shrinking nerve controul
Freeze me with terror — but forbear
Those softer scenes that nurse despair

Vain vain my petition the God heard my prayer
And dispersd it unnoted ungranted to air.
Tis true round my head float the forms of the night
Unconnected & wild they but troubled my sprite.
I saw you & Grosvenor & Harry & Kate
In scenes rude & senseless too strange to relate —
Wakd quite sorry that Sleep would not aid my epistle
Eat my breakfast & hurried away here to Bristol.

Need I say that friend Shad when at last I reachd home
Was exceedingly glad Mr Robert was come —
Phillis [9]  ran to the door — & stood shaking her tail
And Ned ran downstairs to bid Robert all hail.

How they lookd at my bott & agreed every one
That I seemd very well & was very much grown.

As a magpye returnd from her food seeking flight
Flies in haste to observe if her eggs are all right
Sends her spouse what provisions he near him to catch
Squats down on the eggs & expects them to hatch.
Like this magpye this chattering vain noisy bird I —
To the eggs in my great desk impatiently fly
What will soon be young chickens in one place I lay
And burn what are addled or fling them away.
But first Sans Culottes was laid safe on the shelf
By the side of that far famous leveller Myself.
I lockd up my desk & fled quickly down stair
Then with Shad to my theatre up I repair
Saw the scenes put in order each part in its place
Then sat down to dinner without saying grace
Made a hearty good meal off each excellent dish
Eat like a young tyger & drank like a fish.

Night came — as old Custom & Appetite please
I devourd thirteen inches of good toasted cheese
By no means proportioned my morsel of bread
Then glad of repose I retird to my bed.

So Saturday past this morn I arose
From fantastical visions & put on my cloaths
To church our good folks go directly to pray
Whilst at home I & Edward more wickedly stay
He remaind unto me his days lesson to do
And I my dear Horace to scribble to you.
And perhaps you, this notion will Southey, confirm in
I was better employd than in sleeping at sermon —
At the dull heavy dogma that tediously flows
Thro the filth filld foul kennel of orthodox nose.

Here I am then at home. but how long here to stay
Is more than just now I can venture to say —
So now to amuse & inform you I’ll try
To explain in what manner the dull moments fly
One while I the paper my humours express on
Then read & then hear my friend Edward his lesson.
When evening comes on & the brew house is dark
Hear Phillis at watch give the sentinel bark.
Run away when Shad calls like a couple of cats
And hero-like slaughter the rabble of rats
Watch with anxious desire when the post enters Bristol
And read twenty times each delighting epistle
Thus I draw read & write & take care to keep warm house
Eat like a young lion & sleep like a dormouse
And hear hear ye at Brixton & envy me then
I am always in bed eer the college strikes ten.

To all your good family make my respect
And do not to write very shortly neglect.
Love &c &c to all friends relate
And be sure you remember Drawcansir [10]  to Kate.

There my dear friend — if there is not rhyme enough for you God forgive your insatiable avarice; it is now seven o clock on Sunday night. October 20th 1793. I left Brixton on Tuesday morning last — peregrinated till Wednesday night — played a rubber on Thursday — read Sir Launcelot Greaves [11]  — playd again on Friday — reachd Bristol on Saturday — & during this interval have I written to your brother & all this rhyme to your Doctorial dignity — in the mean time neither you nor Grosvenor have laid pen to paper. this letter has no curious incident to fill it such as Snivels cough or the wasps nest — had I been here during the riots you should have had a very tragical account & perhaps would have been favoured at the assizes with the last dying speech & confession birth parentage & education of the notorious RS who was hung for being engaged in the riots. [12]  but my hour not being yet arrived I was peacefully employd at Brixton & scaped hanging for the present. peace is at last restored — we are still however well watchd by the military — the horse parade in martial array & we have all the appearance of war. Bristol has indeed experienced some of the miseries of war — when the soldiers fird — so ill were their pieces directed — that only two who fell were rioters — the remainder were spectators & one a woman. our walls are white with denunciations of vengeance — no murders no blood hounds — Damn Ld Bateman [13]  — & — Daunbeny [14]  dies — are written upon every watch box & corner . it is melancholy to reflect that all these lives are lost thro the imprudence of the commissioners in taking off the toll & then imposing it again. the people have however carried their point — but should they attempt to punish the rioters in gaol I think consequences still more serious will ensue. so much of the riots. my journey was little productive of incident — I am not made for solitude & the road which in company would have appeard short — soon fatigued me. my pilgrimage to Dunnington was pleasant. I walkd twenty miles only breaking my fast with one small biscuit & some blackberries & without resting — then threw myself on the bank & contemplated the walls where Chaucer [15]  wore out the evening of his days — I lookd for his oak but it existed not — the traces of foundations are still visible — the whole fabric indeed sufferd more from the the civil war than from Time. you may easily imagine with what vehemence I devourd my dinner at Newbury. by the by mine was like to be a painful pilgrimage for I felt something not unlike a pea in my shoe — upon examination one of the wooden pegs was perforating the small part of my foot — the Sans Culottes removed the obstruction.

my eyes smart much but I am unwilling to leave off so very near the end — you will write soon I hope & send the plan of the 8th book — I wait for my baggage to begin — in the mean time I have plenty of employment. the history of the theatre — Shad & Southey managers you do not yet know — perhaps my next may give you the account — Peroonte Sir Bertrand [16]  &c &c. we shall kill a few rats by that time & perhaps other incidents may occur to make a good letter — this must however be deserved by you. the prospect of my toasted cheese at nine keeps my eyes open. tell your brother he must write soon & make my respects to all your good family

yrs sincerely.

RS.


Notes

* Address: Horace Walpole Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single.
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: AOC/ 22/ 93
Seal: Red wax; design illegible
Endorsement: Recd. Oct. 22. 1793
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (14)
Unpublished. BACK

[1] An adaptation of Horace (65–8 BC), Epistles, Book 1, no. 1, line 15. The Latin translates as ‘I find hospitality wherever the weather takes me’. BACK

[2] In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a robber who placed his victims on an iron bed, stretching or cutting them down until they fitted it. BACK

[3] In Greek mythology, a hero who killed Procrustes. BACK

[4] An adaptation of Horace, Epistles, Book 1, no. 1, line 15. The Latin translates as ‘I find hospitality wherever the weather takes me’. BACK

[5] Unidentified. BACK

[6] An adaptation of Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 1, line 630. The Latin translates as ‘not unacquainted with evil myself, I have learned how to help the wretched’. BACK

[7] The Bedford family’s dog. BACK

[8] The leader of the victorious French republican forces at the battle of Luçon, 14 August 1793. BACK

[9] Southey’s spaniel. BACK

[10] A character in George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1628–1687; DNB), The Rehearsal (1672) and also a pseudonym adopted by Henry Fielding (1707–1754; DNB). BACK

[11] Tobias Smollett (1721–1771; DNB), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot Greaves (1762). BACK

[12] The Bristol Bridge Riot of September 1793. BACK

[13] John Bateman, 2nd Viscount Bateman (d. 1802), politician. He was commander of the Hertfordshire Militia, which was based in Bristol at the time of the Bridge Riot. His troops fired on the crowd, resulting in the deaths of 11 civilians. BACK

[14] George Daubeny (dates unknown), a Bristol Alderman who, in September 1793, read the Riot Act to the assembled crowd during the Bristol Bridge Riot. BACK

[15] Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400; DNB), poet and administrator. Dunnington Castle, near Newbury, was reputed to have once belonged to the Chaucer family. An oak in the park was known as ‘Chaucer’s Oak’. BACK

[16] ‘On the Pleasure Derived From Objects of Terror; with Sir Bertrand, a Fragment’ in John Aikin (1747–1822; DNB) and Anna Letitia Aikin (1743–1825; DNB), Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse (London, 1773), pp. 117–137. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009