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

70. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 November–2 December 1793 ⁠* 

College Green Bristol. Friday 22nd. November. 1793.

I Robert Southey of the city of Bristol being in sound health of body & (I believe) of mind — but not knowing how long I may continue so — do hereby make my last will & testament which however short & trifling, I do desire may in no one point {be} controverted.

worldly wealth I have none to dispose of. I do give & bequeath all my writings of what kind soever they may be, being now in my possession & contained in my deal desk — oaken box or casette — & likewise all my letters either here at Bristol, or at Oxford & all those papers which my be at Oxford or elsewhere appertaining to me — to Grosvenor Charles Bedford — of Brixton Causeway in the county of Surry. to be disposed of by him as he may think proper. & I do desire that in case of my death the said Grosvenor Charles Bedford will make immediate application for the said papers — if possible before they may have been inspected — I the said Robert Southey leaving it entirely at his option in what manner to dispose of the said papers.

signed this 22nd of November by me

Robert Southey.

in the presence of

Shadrach Weeks

Margaret Hill


There my dear Grosvenor — now when the fates shall think fit to rid the world of an useless incumbrance — you will prevent his remains from falling into bad hands — some few of my letters of the date 91 with a particular signature you will read & destroy. with the rest do what you will — my diary I could wish Edmund Seward to see — at least from the latter end of last March — it may then either feed the flames or be sacrificed to Cloacina. [1] 

rumour says, the plague has arrived in Bristol but rumour tells lies — the only plagues are domestic & I have plenty of those — the other I need not fear. in good health & spirits have I made my will — more from the wish of preventing impertinent curiosity than of indulging vanity. be assured of this that were I to die tomorrow in all probability my papers would soon be destroyed after a search very disagreable to me. do you read burn or preserve what you please — only burn those letters after you have read them — when the worms are honey-combing my carcase what signifies the fly blows upon fame? I am tired of politics — I am tired of this place — Life however has still temptations & I am not yet tired of myself — by the by I am tired of expecting your letter —


Tuesday 26. I have just five minutes before I sit down to dinner hanging idly upon my hands — make some pretty apology to Mrs Deacon & tell her she shall receive a penitentiary apology very soon. I am about a letter to Ledbury at present which I cannot accomplish well because I am too earnest. a few glasses of wine after dinner will make the pen flow easier. be not startled — it is November — cold dark damp & raw & constitution seems to ask it. an Essay on Memory is my projected Xmas employment — an agreable task — literally a task. Dido [2]  make her bulls hide very extensive & I can stretch my subject. mere poetical flourishes without any moral principle inculcated is like — a false building in a city garden — or Burkes book [3]  — or two certain looking glasses. they have often reflected upon me — retaliation is but fair. I am studying such a book! [4]  talk of morality in — Potiphars wife [5]  & Solomons song — ! [6]  Democracy, real true democracy is but another word for morality — they are like body & soul. Bedford you are too good for {an} aristocrat


Thurs. 28. Edmund Seward says the man who pursues literary studies merely for the gratification they afford, is as little entitled to respect as the libertine or the glutton. whilst I feel the severity of the remark I cannot deny its truth. when the sage says γνωθι σεαυτον [7]  he merited more from mankind than Homer when he finishd his Odyssey. in fact the sum of necessary knowledge is very small — & may perhaps be compressed in two words. Be just. let a man observe that precept & he will be faultless. the imperfect nature of man has been always in the number of the common place aristocratical declamations. it has been dinned into my ears continually. now I am inclined to think man is capable of perfection. look at the New Hollander & the Englishman — observe the vast distance & judge what Man may attain to by the attainments he has already reachd. I do not believe the existence of innate ideas — as far as argument can avail on metaphysical subjects their non existence may be proved & this once granted every sentiment of the human mind is the effect of cultivation & example. had your father thought differently from his present sentiments you had been a republican. had I sought the friendship of Hook in preference to yours I had been an abandoned libertine. Godwin observes that great geniuses have usually existed in a cluster, it is like flint & steel. [8]  or like a number of quicksilver globules attracting each other.

now admitting the human mind to be blank of original ideas, it follows that every thing that follows is the effect of education, & of example; this hypothesis may explain the difference of Man under different governments — it may teach us that the slaves of Xerxes [9]  were born capable of the virtues of Themistocles & Aristides. [10]  I have talkd to Seward of the eternal & immutable laws of Justice — he talks to me of the eternal & immutable laws of Religion. the difference exists only in terms

——————

The First of December.

——

December hail — tho usherd in
By chilling blasts & driving sleet
Tho dark & drear & dull thou com’st
I hail thy due return.

Hail with thy mantle hoar of clouds
Stern Winters herald — tho thy breath
With icy chillness numbs my frame
And Nature shrinks appalld —

Tho whilst the rude blast sweeps along
And on its laden pinions bears
The storm — no rustling leaves delay
With music hoarse its strength.

Tho bare the forest stands undeckt
By varied foliage varied flowers
One russet barren mournful scene
I hail thy due return.

For now to heap the glowing fire
Delights — & round the hearth to draw
The social party & beguile
With various talk the hour

From Mem’rys ample store to cull
The legend lovd in earlier years
Of giant huge or wizards wiles
And Virtues fruitful toil.

Or oer the old Historians page
Enrapt to feel th’ expanded glow
Of patriot fire — when Persias host
Rushd oer the vanquishd sea

And firm amid the fateful straits
The Spartan [11]  stood — his full fixd eye
Firm gazing on the adverse host
Without one backward glance.

Nor undelightful now to rove
The wild heath white with wintry gems
Or scale the beetling cliff or pace
The forests ample rounds.

And see the spangled branches shine
And mark the many colourd moss
That paints the trunk — or ivy wild
That Yclasps the leafless oak

Emblem of Virtue — that supports
Unmovd the trying Wintry storm
And bears it leaves aloft unseard
And mocks the tempests rage.

Nor void of beauties now the spring
Whose gurgling waves from summer sun
Retird have soothd the pilgrims ear
With more than musics charms

Tho ceasd is now the gurgling sound
Nor flowers bedeck the mossy bank
Still lovely seems the silvery scene
Enshrind in crystal gem.

The green moss shines with icy glare
The long grass bends its spear like fogth form
And many an herb & many a root
Reflect the feeble sun.

Reflection too may love the scene
When Nature hid in Winters grave
No more expands the bursting bud
Or paints the flowrets head [12] 

For Nature soon from Winters grave
Shall rise renewd in Springs best charms
Again expand the bursting bud
And paint the flowrets head.

—————

Henceforth let this metre be called the Southëic. [13] 

Decem. 2.

at last I have written to Mrs Deacon in most execrable rhymes — I never had better will or worse ability. my letter to Ledbury is gone & I am once more totally free from any graphic employment to intrude upon Joan & Memory.

would you imagine that I draw every day? a little instruction would make me decent in that most agreable of arts — as it is I can amuse myself — & if the traveller on his road may not be pleased with the daisys on the bank — his pleasure will be very little.

Do not imagine that I am vindicating the stile of Candide [14]  when I differ with you in judgement. no book perhaps is more subversive of morality — but has not the poignant ridicule many advantages? were ever the pride of birth & of heroism better held up to the contempt they merit? against these vices that have so long infected society ridicule is the best weapon. had Voltaires heart been equal to his head such a man might have reformd the world. to argue against the arrogance of hereditary honors — or the glory of military atchievements is labor lost. their absurdity & injustice are evident as noon-day light — ridicule shews them in their strongest colours. when you laugh at the Baron of Thundertentroach & Candides heroism do you {not} feel a satisfaction superior to common merriment?

your plan of a general satire I am ready to partake when you please. Pope Swift & Atterbury you know once attempted it but malevolence intruded into the design & Martinus Scriblerus [15]  bore too strong a resemblance to Dr Woodward. [16]  Swifts part is more levelld at follies than at vice. establish the empire of Justice & folly & vice will be annihilated together. draw out your plan & send it me — if you have resolution for so arduous a task. you know mine. I have plans lying by me enough for many years or many lives — yours however I shall be glad to engage in — whether it be the Devil or no I know not — but my pen delights in lashing vice & folly. Stemmata quid faciunt? [17]  measure the Colossus by his thumb. I think of indulging Edmund Seward with a most delectable dish of democracy. an abortive letter to you will furnish some good lines & I have a whole host of ideas each with a sting in its tail as sharp as a wasps.

Memory comes on rarely. that is in embryo for as yet I have written but 115 lines. it will swell into a Volume. & as I entitle it a Rhapsody it will comprize much morality & politics.

yrs sincerely

do send my great coat &c.


Notes

* Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; G R in a circle
Endorsement: Ansd. Decr. 18th. & 19th 1793.
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22 [This letter was possibly enclosed in that from Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 11 December 1793, see Letter 71.]
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, p. 194 [in part; 1 paragraph; this is extracted from 2 December section and misdated 22 November]. BACK

[1] The Roman goddess of the sewers. BACK

[2] The legend that when Dido, the first Queen of Carthage, was planning her city, she paid for as much ground as could be covered by a bull’s hide, but then cut the hide into fine strips and enclosed a large tract of land. BACK

[3] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB), Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). BACK

[4] William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, (1793). Southey borrowed the first volume from the Bristol Library Society between 25–28 November 1793 and the second between 9–18 December 1793. BACK

[5] Genesis 39 describes her attempt to seduce Joseph. BACK

[6] The Song of Solomon, a book of the Old Testament mainly devoted to secular love. BACK

[7] The Greek can be translated as ‘know thyself’. Inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi, at least six ancient Greek sages were claimed as the originators of the inscription. BACK

[8] A paraphrase of William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 2 vols (London, 1793), I, p. 196. BACK

[9] King of Persia (reigned 486–465 BC), he invaded Greece and was defeated at the battles of Salamis and Platæa. BACK

[10] The Athenian generals and statesmen, Themistocles (c. 528–462 BC) and Aristides (c. 530–468 BC). BACK

[11] The battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). BACK

[12] December hail ... flowrets head: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[13] ‘For Nature soon ... the Southëic’: Written in the right hand margin. The poem is an early version of Southey’s ‘Written on the First of December, 1793’, published in Poems (1797). BACK

[14] Voltaire’s (1694–1778), Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759). BACK

[15] ‘Martinus Scriblerus’ was the name of a fictional antiquarian and pedant invented by members of the Scriblerus club, including Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) and Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB). Francis Atterbury (1663–1732; DNB), Bishop of Rochester, politician and Jacobite, was a close friend of Pope and Swift. BACK

[16] John Woodward (1665/1668–1728; DNB), physician, natural historian and antiquary, satirised in the Memoirs of Martin Scriblerus (1741). BACK

[17] Juvenal (fl. AD late C1 and early C2), Satire 8, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘What’s the use of pedigrees?’ BACK

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March 2009