63. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29 [–30] October 1793 

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

63. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 29 [–30] October 1793 ⁠* 

Tuesday. Oct. 29. 1793. College Green. 4 o clock.

Whenever I sit down to write to you a thousand different subjects are so jumbled in my strange brain — that the one confuses the other & I wander from all. your letter arrived to day & relieved me from a great weight — the apprehension that my baggage was lost — tho I jested upon the subject made me very uneasy — when my Aunt seemd anxious I laughd but my laugh (as it often is) was artificial — the rogue who would wear my cloaths would do, what the erudite abomination of Israel never did, with my papers — & I far advanced as I am in the science of Apathy — that would severely have afflicted me.

For once in my life I rejoiced that Grosvenor Bedfords paper was small & his letter at the end — to suppose I felt otherwise than grieved & indignant at the fate of the unfortunate Queen of France [1]  — was supposing me a brute & to request an avowal of what I felt, implied a suspicion that I did not feel. you seemd glad when arguments against the system of Republicanism had faild — to grasp at the crimes of wretches who call themselves Republicans & stir up my feelings against my judgment. it is as just as if you should urge the existence of the Inquisition as an argument against Xtianity. for your feelings I make every allowance — but tho you may indulge them in conversation you might be more cool when you take up the pen. the infamous accusation hurt me certainly as much as it did you — perhaps (from obvious reasons) more — but I have been too long accustomed to brood over painful reflections in silence, ever to give vent to passion. at this moment Edward is crying for poor Antoinette — I could have done the same but tears lie as near the eyes as curses do to the tongue & there is as much reason in indulging the one as the other. you have mentioned Hollefear [2]  in a manner mysteriously disrespectful — why I know not but I perceive that without knowing him I am following his example & (perhaps from the xxxxxxxxxx) sinking into the same eccentric philosophical & miserable being. excuse me if I have said too much relative to the Queen — I felt hurt at the supposition implied in your letter — & it seemed hard that you {should} apply to me to execrate her death — when I heard the murder of the Mayor of Toulon [3]  in silence. you will accuse me of an undue partiality — act impartially & you must acquit me. I can condemn the crimes of the French & yet be a Republican nor am I as you have often stiled me merely a theoretical one.

Present my compliments to your brother & tell him if I tal regulate thy intervals of my writing by his — we shall be excellent correspondents — thank him for his punctuality but he I suppose has begun a new language & in the course of another week when he is tired of it — he may vouchsafe a line to me.

So far in reply to part of your long expected & his still expected letter. it is a lamentable knowledge my dear friend, that the guilt must entail misery — innocence does not insure happiness — Marat [4]  could not have been happy but Louis 16th [5] was far from happiness — Cordè [6]  according to my estimate attained the summit of sublunary bliss but this you will call romantic & Edmund Seward would pronounce wrong — yet Solon [7]  entertained much the same idea of happiness when he abashed the pride of Crœsus. [8]  I well remember the conversation you allude to — & should have been surprized at it — but for my knowledge of Judas Iscariot — I wish the French would come over & carry him off — he acts upon me with an electric power — to his arguments you ought not to bestow a moments attention — it were as rational to expect any thing good from him as it would be to to expect apples from a yeugh tree — or milk butter & cheese from Hyder. [9] 

I have laid down Gillies [10]  to write to you the third letter in one fortnight. thank yourself for the intrusion — had my casette arrived I should have been otherwise employed, so to your negligence my industry must be attributed — I can laugh as loud as you at the suspension of my cloaths & add He he to ha ha — but when I think of Joan — ‘let me not think’. knowledge of history is surely above the class of accomplishments — it is something more — it expands the human mind — presents before it every age of the world & teaches by the most powerful instructor — example. perhaps the history of Greece is the most interesting in the annals of mankind — can there be a stronger argument against the most absurd assertion that liberty is constitutional & attachd to climate, than that Greece is now enslaved — in a fool such prejudices deserve only contempt — but when I have heard you defend them — I have felt for the inconsistency of human reason when blinded by the mists of prejudice. depend upon it the mind of man is formed with the the {same} capabilities in Africa & in Europe — much more in two countries so nearly situated — but I say too much on a subect which could only be advanced when Indignation had triumphed over Impartiality

my Bott is going but the beast leaves a numerous offspring behind him — perhaps he may be dignified with an ode — & if Alexanders wry neck distorted Macedon [11]  — & Georges — sore one — poulticed (not only) all the fools in England [12]  — why should not my Bott be celebrated in a more rational way? my eyes most vehemently denounce this employment — so bonsoir — & you will it make bon jour before you quit the bed

Wednesday. 1/2 past eight & breakfast over. upon the rational supposition that my cloaths left London by Saturdays waggon are to arrive in Bath to day & to be delivered tomorrow I have composed my mind to expect them here by next Saturday noon & even so far does this saint-like resignation extend that were I quite certain all was safe I could wish it delayd longer for — horrible to say — when my cloaths arrive I must bedeck myself & call pay my ceremonious visits. to night I sit snug in the pit instead of being stuck up in the boxes, where in all probability I shall meet more agreable company & certainly feel more at my ease. is not this real philosophy to extract comfort from calamity as gardeners raise cucumbers from something which CC would express openly — a true philosopher like the bee will extract honey from weeds equally pure with what gives fragrance to the rose — (hæ nugæ (IE my baggage) (parenthesis within parenthesis) seria ducunt [13] ) most of those characters which History holds up to example rather derive celebrity from the fortitude with which they sustaind adversity — danger & even death than from any tinsel of prosperity — oftener glittering upon a fool than a philosopher. the Antonines [14]  — Julian [15]  & our Alfred [16]  knew how to add honour to their rank — & [MS torn] would be difficult to name four others who did not rather sully it. I have been blubbering yesterday over the death of Socrates [17]  — a scene the most interesting & most affecting in history — yet had the philosopher perished by the course of Nature he had lost much fame & posterity much instruction. I should not be surprized if the French amongst their inconsistent eccentricities were to revive the Grecian philosophy as they have in part the Grecian education. I should make an excellent founder of a sect, partly eclectic but more original — you remember what Shakspere says of adversity — it calls forth all the latent powers of man, many of which if not entirely destroyed are certainly obscured by the tinsel of Fortune [18]  — the prison of Socrates — the last actions of Cato [19]  & the tent of Julian [20]  —very different as they are — demonstrate most forcibly the power of ancient philosophy — I doubt whether so much can be learnt from many volunteers in the army of Martyrs. Latimer [21]  preachd patience to Friar Forest [22]  when the poor Catholic was agonizing by a slow fire — & Cranmer [23]  — much as he disliked roas being roasted for a protestant had no objection to cooking the Papists.

The toleration of Polytheism was its best quality — is it wrong to suppose that they persecuted the Xtians for their intolerant principles? Lightfoot & I have often disputed upon the comparative demerits of Impiety & Superstition — I maintaind the latter to be most pernicious & am actually engaged in an essay upon the subject. give me your opinions how very little have the doctrines of Xst been understood! we find neither bishops of 10,000 a year — jugged Jews or roasted heretics — or church & state — or test act in the whole gospel. compel them to enter said our Saviour as the book says [24]  — but does the testament bear false witness — or the Son of God act in contradiction to his life & doctrines — those damned monks who smuggled & monopolized the scriptures for so many years — pieced them & patched them from the Alexandrian Platonists [25]  — the Oriental fictions & Jewish Cabbala — till we read of persecution metaphysics — scarlet whore & eating books [26]  — in the book of life of benevolence & simple truth.

I can say all this to you — but Edmund Seward would shake his head & lament the arrogance of Reason. I wrote to him last week & exposed the folly of his almost criminal diffidence — he talks of his total inability for the task he is about to undertake — & I am very confident would rather be acquainted with all the Fathers than all the historians philosophers & poets. you have more than once accused me of paying too much deference to his opinions — but I deserve not the accusation — Nullius addictus [27]  &c I can see where he goes beyond the right line & where others stop short — yet frankly confess that in the few months of my acquaintance with him I {have} learnt more than in the other nineteen years of my life — an old Philosopher [28]  compared himself to a narrow mouthed bottle — slowly admitting but long retaining — his bottle is better than the sieve of the Danaides. [29] 

yrs

RS

make my respects to all your good family.


my compliments to Mr & Mrs Deacon &c. I must write to her but the very idea affrights me.

I am now sitting down to CC.you bid me write soon & I gladly obeyd you.

will you do the same? [30] 


Notes

* Address: [not in Southey’s hand] James Deacon Esqr/ Long Room/ Custom House/ London
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: OC/ 31/ 93
Watermark: Figure of Britannia; G R in a circle
Seal: Red wax [design illegible]
Endorsement: 29. Octor 1793
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, p. 188 [in part; 1 paragraph]. BACK

[1] Marie Antoinette was executed on 16 October 1793. BACK

[2] Probably William Mainwaring Hollefear, educated at Hertford College, Oxford, BA 1774, later Vicar of Wolvey. BACK

[3] Unidentified. BACK

[4] Jean Paul Marat (1743–1793), Swiss-born French revolutionary, stabbed to death in his bath on 13 July 1793. BACK

[5] Louis XVI (1754–1793; reigned 1774–1792). BACK

[6] Charlotte Corday (1768–1793) who, on 13 July 1793, stabbed Jean Paul Marat to death in his bath. She was guillotined four days later. BACK

[7] Solon (c. 640–558 BC), statesman and poet, whose reforms earned him the title ‘father of Athenian democracy’. BACK

[8] Crœsus, King of Lydia (c. 560–546 BC). Southey is citing a story, originally from Herodotus, that Solon reminded Croesus that no man could be described as happy until he had died. Croesus’ subsequent fall from power demonstrated the truth of this. BACK

[9] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[10] John Gillies (1712–1796; DNB), The History of Ancient Greece (1796). Southey borrowed the second volume of Gillies’s History from the Bristol Library Society between 28 October and 4 November 1793. BACK

[11] Alexander the Great (356–323 BC; reigned 336–323 BC), King of Macedon. It was believed that he had a crooked neck and that sycophants copied his posture. BACK

[12] Possibly a reference to the treatment received by George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820; DNB) during his illness of 1788–1789. BACK

[13] A paraphrase of Horace (65–8 BC), Ars Poetica, line 451. The Latin translates as: ‘These trifles will bring that friend into serious trouble’. BACK

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

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

[16] Alfred the Great (848/9–899; reigned 871–899; DNB). BACK

[17] Socrates (c. 470–399 BC), Athenian philosopher. After being found guilty of impiety and corruption of youth, he was sentenced to death. He committed suicide by drinking hemlock. BACK

[18] As You Like It, Act 2, scene 1, lines 12–16. BACK

[19] The Roman politician Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95–46 BC), who committed suicide rather than submit to Julius Caesar (100/102– 44 BC). BACK

[20] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 12 vols (London, 1788), II, p. 457, compared the dying Emperor Julian’s dispensing of wisdom to the behaviour of Socrates when he was about to commit suicide. BACK

[21] Hugh Latimer (c. 1485–1555; DNB), Bishop of Worcester, preacher, and protestant martyr. BACK

[22] John Forest (c. 1470–1538; DNB), Franciscan, burned for heresy. Hugh Latimer presided at his execution. BACK

[23] Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556; DNB) who, as Archbishop of Canterbury, oversaw the trial and execution of numerous Catholics. Convicted of heresy, he recanted and then repudiated his recantation before being burned at the stake in Oxford. BACK

[24] Luke 14: 23. BACK

[25] A school of philosophy developed by Plotinus (AD 205–270) and his successors. It merged Greek philosophy with mysticism and was influential in the thought of early Church Fathers, especially St Augustine (AD 354–430). BACK

[26] Revelation 17 and 10: 9. BACK

[27] A paraphrase of Horace (65–8 BC), Epistles, Book 1, no. 1, line 14. The Latin translates as ‘I am not bound over’. BACK

[28] Zeno of Citium (c. 334–262 BC), founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. BACK

[29] In Greek mythology, the daughters of Danaos, King of Argos. As a punishment for murdering their husbands on their wedding-night, they were condemned in Hades to draw water from a well in a sieve. BACK

[30] my compliments ... the same: Written above the address on fol. 2 v. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009