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

62. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 [–27] October 1793 ⁠* 

Bristol. Oct. 26th. Saturday. 1793.

Never talk to me of obstinacy — for contrary to all the dictates of sound sense — long custom & inclination I have spoilt a sheet of paper by cutting it to the shape of your fancy. Accuse me not of irascibility — for I wrote to you ten days back & though you have never vouchsafed an a{n}swer am rewriting with all the mildness & goodness of a philosopher. Call me Job — for I am without cloaths [1]  — expecting my baggage from day to day — & much as I fear its loss unrepining. own I am modest in assuming no merit for all their good qualities —

know then most indolent of mortals that my baggage is not yet arrived — that I am fearful of its safety & {yet} less troubled than all the rest of the family who cry out loudly upon my puppet-show dress & desire I will write to enquire concerning it. favour me then as soon as possible with the when you sent it & the how — on what day — by what conveyance & from whence the conveyance departed. perhaps business may extort a line from you.

now I am much inclined to fill this sheet & that with verse, but I punish myself to torment you — you shall have half a prose letter. the college bells are dinning the Kings proclamation [2]  in my ears — the bott on my nose seems stationed & has got a little brother very near him ripening apace — the linings of my breeches are torn — you are silent — & all this makes me talkative & angrily communicative so that had you merited it you would have received such a letter — so philosophic — poetical — grave — erudite — amusing instructing elegant simple delightful simplex munditus in short το αγαθον & το αριςον — το βςλτιςον [3]  (NB not because the Bells are ringing a Pun Pun Pun — Belteshazzar [4]  never made so bad a one) such a letter Grosvenor full of odes elegies epistles monodramas comodramas tragodramas — all sorts of dramas tho I have not tasted spirits to day — dont think me drunk for if I am tis with sobriety — & I certainly feel most seriously disposed to be soberly nonsensical — now you wish I would dispose my folly to a short series — which sentence if you comprehend you will do more than I can — you must not be surprized at nonsense for I have been reading the history of Philosophy — the ideas of Plato — the logic of Aristotle & the heterogeneous dogmas of Pythogoras [5]  Antisthenes [6]  Zeno [7]  Epicurus [8]  & Pyrrho [9]  till I have metaphysicized away all my senses & so you are the better for it. therefore to show my knowledge of Gowers ignorance of history — read this story [10]  — When Crœsus was emperor at Rome — Virgil the famous magician by art magic made a mirror — in which the Romans thirty miles round could see all the devices of their enemies. Hannibal & the King of Pulie then at war with Rome sent three philosophers with much money to destroy this mirror. to Rome they went & buried the money in two places — then went to Crœsus the emperor & told him that they dealt with the Devil & would discover him subterranean treasures upon the condition that they might half it with him. agreed. to bed they go to dream (as many philosophers have done since particularly if engaged in periodical publications) in the morning one Philospher tells the place of a treasure — they dig — the money is found — Ditto repeated the next night. the 3rd Philosopher dreams of an immense treasure under the column that held the magic mirror — timber scaffolding props the column & when the workmen have dug till the column is solely supported by the timber — the three Philosophers set fire to it & run away. down drops the glass & is broken. in consequence Hannibal conquers the Romans & they pour melted lead down the throat of Crœsus in revenge —

now good night — egregious nonsense execrably written is all you merit — o my cloaths — o Joan —

Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh P.

Sunday morning — now my friend whether it be from the day itself — from the dull weather or from the dreams of last night I know not — but I am a little more serious than when I laid down the pen — my baggage makes me very uneasy — the loss of what is intrinsically worth only the price of the paper — would be more than I should ever find time or perhaps ability to repair — & even supposing some rascal should get them & publish them — I should be more vexed than at the utter loss. do write immediately — I direct to you that you have may have this the sooner — inform me when you sent it & with what direction — it is almost a fortnight since I left Brixton & I am equipped in such old shirts stockings & shoes as have been long cast off & have lost all this time in which I should have transcribed half of Joan.

this may perhaps pass one of yours or of your brothers on the road — I have been long expecting to hear from you — the history of Philosophy tho amusing & replete with instruction is yet too mystical to dwell upon for any length of time — is it not one proof of human absurdity that men possessed of the talents of Plato Aristotle & Epicurus should rather advance nonsense respecting theology & cosmogeny than fairly {confess} their ignorance & the unimportance of the subject? to deny the existence of a Deity were impossible — & to suppose that Deity otherwise than perfect — were contradictory to Reason. thus far Reason can lead us with safety — she can likewise judge from the benignity of an all good creator in what manner Man may act most gratifying to all-mighty benevolence — this is real Philosophy — but when Fancy thrusts herself into the throne of Reason & boldly leads into the regions of abstraction metaphysics & absurdity — instead of admiring the ingenuity we should rather lament abilities so perverted.

Of the various sects that once adorned the republic of Athens to me that of Epicurus whilst it maintained its original purity appears most consonant to human Reason — I am not speaking of his metaphysics & atomary system they are (as all cosmogonies must be) ridiculous, but of that system of ethics & pleasure combined which he taught in the garden — when the Philosopher declared that the ultimate design of life is happiness & happiness consists in virtue — he laid the foundation of a system which might have benefitted mankind — his life was the most temperate — his manners the most affable displaying that urbanity which cannot fail of attracting esteem.

Plotinus [11]  a man memorable for corrupting Philosophy was in favour with Gallienus [12]  {with} whose {imperial} qualifications you are well acquainted — the enthusiast requested his royal highness would give him a ruined city in Campania — which he might rebuild & people with Philosophers governed by the laws of Plato — from whom the city should be called Platonopolis. Gallienus who was himself an elegant scholar — was pleased with the plan but his friends dissuaded him from the experiment. the design would certainly have proved impracticable in that declining & degenerate age — most probably in any age — new visionary enthusiasts would have been continually arising — fresh sects formd & each would have been divided & subdivided till all was anarchy — yet I cannot help wishing the experiment had been tried — it could not have been productive of evil & we might at this period have received instruction from the history of Platonopolis.

under the Antonines [13]  or under Julian [14]  the request of Plotinus would have been granted — despotism is perhaps a blessing under such men — but when a thing like Gallienus rules the world & is himself ruld by his courtiers & favourites — perhaps a city of Philosophers would have gone beyond theory.

I could rhapsodize most delightfully upon this subject — plan out my city — such a city — no palaces no hovels — all simplex munditus [15]  (my favourite quotation) — but if you were with me — Southeyopolis would soon be divided into two sects — whilst I should be governing with Plato (baiting {correcting} a few of Platos absurdities with some of my own) & almost deifying Alcæus [16]  Lucan [17]  & Milton — you — as visionary as myself — would be dreaming of Utopian Kings — possessd of the virtues of the Antonines — regulated by peers every one of whom should be a Falkland [18]  — & by a popular assembly where every man should unite the integrity of {a} Cato [19]  — the eloquence of a Demosthenes [20]  & the loyalty of a Jacobite. [21] 

yrs most sincerely.

RS.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: OC/ 28/ 93
Watermark: Figure of Britannia; G R in a circle
Endorsements: Received Oct. 2. d. 1793; Answered same day./ X sent Snivel
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. 184–188 [in part]. BACK

[1] Job 1: 20–22: ‘naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there’. BACK

[2] Royal declaration of 29 October 1793, setting out the government’s war aims. BACK

[3] The Greek can be translated as: ‘the good and the best — the tops!’ BACK

[4] Belshazzar, King of Babylon, 545–539 BC. BACK

[5] Pythagoras (fl. c. 540–510 BC), Greek philosopher and mathematician. BACK

[6] Antisthenes (c. 455–360 BC), Greek philosopher, founder of Cynicism. BACK

[7] Zeno of Citium ( c. 334–262 BC), Greek philosopher, founder of Stoicism. BACK

[8] Epicurus (c. 340–279 BC), Greek philosopher, founder of the Epicurean school. BACK

[9] Pyrrho (c. 365–275 BC), Greek philosopher, founder of the School of Pyrrhonism, which later developed into Scepticism. BACK

[10] John Gower (d. 1408; DNB), Confessio Amantis (1390), Book 5, lines 2031–2224. BACK

[11] Plotinus (c. 204–270),Greek neo-platonist philosopher. BACK

[12] Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus (218–68; reigned 253–268), Roman emperor, the friend and patron of Plotinus. BACK

[13] A dynasty of Roman emperors, who ruled AD 96–192. BACK

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

[15] Hoarce, Odes, Book I, no. 5, line 4, sometimes translated as ‘excellent in simplicity’, or from Milton, ‘plain in thy neatness’. BACK

[16] Alcæus (fl. C6 BC), Greek poet. BACK

[17] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39–65), author of the Pharsalia. BACK

[18] The author and politician Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (1609/10–1643; DNB). BACK

[19] The Roman politician Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95–46 BC). Cato was reputed to be immune to bribery. He was a determined supporter of the Roman republic and a Stoic philosopher. BACK

[20] Demosthenes (388–322 BC), Greek orator. BACK

[21] A supporter of the male, Catholic line of the Stuart dynasty, which had lost the British throne in 1688. BACK

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Published @ RC

March 2009