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

73. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [started before and continued on] 14 December [1793] ⁠* 


The Gentleman who brings this letter must occupy a few lines of it. his name is Lovel. I know him but very little personally tho long by report. you must already see {he} is eccentric. perhaps I do wrong in giving him this, but I wish your opinion of him. those who are superficially acquainted with him feel wonder — those who know him love. this character I hear, he is on the point of marrying a young woman with whom I spent great part of my young{er} years. we were bred up together I may almost say; & that period was the happiest of my life. Mr Lovel has very great abilities. he writes well — in short I wish his acquaintance myself & as his stay in town is very short, you will forgive the introduction. perhaps you may rank him with Duppa. & supposing excellence to be at 100 Duppa is certainly much above 50.

now my dear Grosvenor I doubt I am acting improperly. it was enough to introduce myself so rudely but abilities always claim respect & that Lovel has these is I think very certain. characters if anyways markd are well worth studying & a young man of two & twenty who has been his own master since fifteen & who owes all his knowledge to himself is so far a respectable character. my knowledge of him I again repeat is very confind. his intended bride I look upon as almost a sister — & one should know ones brothers in law.

Bath. Saturday. Dec. 14 1793

by the time you receive this I shall once more be vegetating at Bristol so direct there as soon as you please. I fancy Charles Collins is offended with me — as tho he delivered the messages I troubled him with he has never vouchsafd one line. now I shall write again & if he still continues obstinate in resentment there let him continue. if CC can shake off my acquaintance upon such no grounds at all, he becomes unworthy of it. but these suspicions are wrong. he shall have a pretty letter — “period round & period witty” [1]  written with a new pen upon gilt paper & then if his anger is not appeasd I will een do like the Doctors give a purge to cure a purge on, & namby-pamby him week after week till laughter conquers resentment. I am in a fine way with my correspondents. Edmund Seward is preparing for orders. & I cannot persuade him that the testament only, should qualify him. the fathers were either mere men or below mere men — human authority is not be followed with passive obedience, but Edmund is as fearful of heterodoxity, as oppression is of truth. what is to become of me at ordination heaven only knows. after keeping the straight path so long, the test act will be a stumbling block to honesty. so chance or providence must take care of that & I will fortify myself against chance. the wants of man are so very few that they must be attainable somewhere & whether here or in America matters little. I have long learnt to look upon the world as my country.

now if you are in the mood for a reverie fancy me in America. imagine my ground uncultivated since the creation & see me wielding the axe now to cut down the tree & now the snakes that nestled in it. then see me grubbling up the roots & building a nice snug little dairy with them. three rooms in my cottage. & my only companion some poor negro whom I have bought on purpose to emancipate. after a hard days toil see me sleep upon rushes, & in very bad weather take out my casette & write to you, for you shall positively write to me in America. do not imagine I shall leave rhyming or philosophising. so thus your friend will realize the romance of Cowley [2]  & even outdo the seclusion of Rousseau, [3]  till at last comes an ill looking Indian with a tomahawk & scalps me — a most melancholy proof that society is very bad & {that} I shall have done very little to improve it! so Vanity Vanity will come from my lips & poor Southey will either be cookd for a Cherokee or oysterized by a tyger.

I have finishd transcribing Joan & bound her in marble paper with green ribbon [4]  & now am copying all my remainables to carry to Oxford — thence once more a clear field & Memory will be soon compleat — & then another Epic Poem & then another & so on, till Truth shall write on my tomb — here lies an odd mortal whose life only benifited the paper manufacturers & whose death will only hurt the post office —

do send my great coat &c. my distresses are so great, that I want words to express the inconveniences I suffer. so as breakfast is not yet ready (tho almost 9 o clock) you shall have an ode to my great coat. excellent subject — excellent trifler or blockhead say you — but Bedford I must be either too trifling or too serious. the first can do no harm & I know the last does no good. so come forth my book of epistles. [5] 

To my Great Coat

———

Thee antique Urse I sing
To thee the Muse shall strike the sounding string
Tho haply now not bold —
For tell me Bedford I desire
How can the soul be filld with fire
When the body starves with cold?

Thee antique Urse I sing —
No more encircled by thy wooly blanket
Feeling thy grateful gift of heat to thank it
No more defended from the rain
To give the tributary strain
For then my ode were quite another

Blanket —
How this word fires my views —
I pour the heated strains.
Blanket!
There is a charm in blankets Truth declares
For — (yet it vibrates on my ear)
Nine strokes of time from faultless clock I hear
And nobody is yet come down the stairs

If ever you have playd at cards my friend
In younger years when trifles pleasd the hour
You may have bent & stuck upon one end
The pack, a harmless military power.
Then rangd in row
The seemly show
Headed by some stern figure with a crown.
And — just touch one
The job is done
And every man falls down.

Or let me see —
This is a better simile

Just as a King
(Treason treason Southey! — no such thing)
Just as a monarch at some vain alarums
If a feather in the adverse balance flies
Or if he thinks his neighbours grow too wise!
Sounds Wars stern trump & bellows out to arms.
The Minister, himself but one
Speaks in the house & then the job is done
For all his hirelings instantly cry aye
And all the Nation as he spends must pay.
Just thus my blanket
Calls up the vagrant fancies to my mind
Of times & scenes & friends long left behind.
And so the story I will write
How under blankets seven I slept one winters night.

Absent was Majesty extremely ill
The realm obeyd to mine & Tom Lambs will
Prime Minister was he & Laureat I
And (my dear Grosvenor) you will sure agree
More innocent then Mr Pitt [6]  was he
And votre ami as good as Mr Pye. [7] 

In every scheme the other then took half.
If Tom was merry could I chuse but laugh?
And as we neither of us sported sad
But made a noise
Like too great boys
You might have very well supposd us mad.

So now (says Tom) that Majesty is gone
Here must I sleep in this great room alone.
Southey come down in Naktys [8]  bed to sleep —
Then every day
We’ll have a mess of white wine whey
And practice a most lovely noise to keep

As pleased as Punch was I
So quitted the pig stie
Three blankets & a quilt down stairs I brought
For that there was no harm
In lying warm
Most naturally my dear friend I th[MS torn]

Combe had three blankets & an under one
Tom & I made the bed
Each at the other shook his head
And laughd most vehemently when twas done.

So as poor Thomas had a cold in his head
Some white wine whey he chose to take
And I resolved to partake
Before we should retire to bed
And pleased much at the salubrious thought
Six pennyworth of milk we bought
And a bottle of raisin wine as you may think
Intending some of this to drink.

A most delightful supper did we make
And when we had drank up our fills
(About three pints apiece we take)
Each clapt a pretty night-cap on his head
Laid down to talk & laugh & sleep in bed
When in came Mills. [9] 

Now Mills had come to plague us the night before
So to Tom Lamb I gave a wooden battledore
And laid the other on my own new bed
And when Mills came to take us unprepard
He found the enemy upon his guard
And my missile weapon hit him on the head
Oh Lord oh Lord — I heard him say
And instantly he ran away.
Thick was the board but thicker was his head
And as you may conclude therefore
He scapd unhurt & I broke my poor battledore. [10] 

——————

I was mentioning Duppas name to my Aunt & was surprized to hear we had some distant relations of that name in Herefordshire. so when you see D make my remembrances & tell him we are most certainly 27th cousins or something there about. & of course I am about 54th cousin to Edmund Seward & then into what a host of relations do I fall!

nothing every surprized me more than the calm silence with which Edmund hear Duppa advance deistical sentiments & leaving me to argue. he advanced them very guardedly & diffidently & I opposed him but poorly & yet ES sat quiet nor was he any ways displeasd with Duppa. Lightfoot was angry & I was angry with Lightfoot — you know how orthodogs he is — Duppa backd up the antiquity of the world & the volcanic lava, mathematically proving its great age by the islands formd of that lava & the time time the lava absolutely requires before it become capable of vegetating.

now what could I oppose to this. Adam Eve & the Serpent. oh Grosvenor priestcraft has chaind down the human mind — & I cannot neither get rid of the chains or feels their necessity. faith is cried up & yet I cannot see its utility. morality must be religion but how will this do for a clergyman! heigho.

yrs sincerely


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Watermark: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd. 20th Decr 1793 from Mr Lovell
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. 195–197 [in part; where it is dated 14 December 1793].
Dating note: This letter, hand-delivered by Robert Lovell, is the one referred to in Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford [before 18 December 1793]; see Letter 74. BACK

[1] Southey is quoting a letter sent by himself and Grosvenor Bedford on 16 September 1793; see Letter 56. BACK

[2] Abraham Cowley (1618–1667; DNB), royalist poet who dreamed of retiring to a cottage in America. BACK

[3] Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) spent four years in seclusion at a house on his patron’s estate at Montmorency, north of Paris. BACK

[4] This manuscript of Joan of Arc survives and is now in the University of Rochester Library, AS727. BACK

[5] For an example of Southey’s youthful experimentation with the verse epistle, see an undated poem addressed to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, Bodleian Library, MS Eng Poet e. 27. BACK

[6] William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801 and 1804–1806. BACK

[7] Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB), Poet Laureate 1790–1813. BACK

[8] Unidentified; possibly an acquaintance of Southey’s at Westminster School or Oxford. BACK

[9] Probably Thomas Mills (d. 1856), a student at Christ Church, Oxford, BA 1796, MA 1800. BACK

[10] Thee antique ... battledore: Verse written in double columns. BACK

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March 2009