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

77. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 26 December 1793] ⁠* 


Tis come. een now the eternal course of Time
For ever round-revolving ends the year
Now to Existence dead
The year but lives to Fame.

Yet Grosvenor even now the merry bells
Ring round to welcome in the newborn day
Een now is heard the song
Een now the feast is spread.

Fond foolish man — whilst Pleasures bounteous hand
Fills even to the brim the cup of bliss
Whilst Fortunes cloudless sun
Illumes thy summer day

Whilst all around but wear one face of joy,
Canst thou rejoice — rejoice that Time flies fast
That swift the stream of years
Rolls to eternity?

If thou hast wealth high-heapd in endless store
To gratify each wish — if power be thine
Reflect that power must cease
That wealth be thine no more

Hast thou known Love? does Beauty bless {thy soul?}
Beam oer thy house in each domestic charm
And heighten every joy
And chear the wintry hour?

Remember that as fades the lovely rose
As falls the forest from the autumnal gale
So Times relentless hand
Must wither Beautys flower.

Remember Age must chill the palsied frame
That Love the friend of youth with youth expires
That soon thy pious grief
May wail a widowed bed.

Bedford does Fancy paint the future scene
In hues too dark? does sage Reflection wear
The fearful frowning form
That awes the shrinking soul?

Dost thou dislike the sable-vested maid?
Would Nature rather view the fairy form
In many colourd robe
Of rich etherial hue?

Shall Fancy sport in Hopes enlivening beam
Till the clear ray illumes her inmost soul
And turn the reckless eye
From Lifes bedarkend scenes?

Ah vainly does the Pilgrim whose long way
Leads oer the storm vext mountains barren height
With anxious gaze survey
The fruitful far off vale.

Yet hopeless sorrow hails the lapse of time
Rejoices when the fading orb of day
Is sunk in nights dull mists
That one day more is gone.

Yet calm Philosophy whose eagle eye
Look on intrepid to the future scene
Shall love the new-born year
And give to thought the hour.

And Friendship now shall spread the social board
Wear on his open face the honest smile
And prompt the earnest prayer
And pour the votive lay.

Shall pray for length of happiness & years
That Death may pierce ere Misery wound the heart
And Virtue welcome Death —
Such fate my friend be thine. [1] 

—————

I take Milton to have introduced this kind of alcaics into the English language in his translation of Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa &c. [2]  it is since used most elegantly by Collins [3]  Mrs Barbauld [4]  — in the gent. of Devon & Cornwalls poems [5]  — & by my favourite Dr Sayers [6]  — so here I have strong authority.

It is no less strange than true my dear Grosvenor that our disputes have more frequently been owing to a difference in terms than in opinion. when you speak of the mercenary motives to action you are but one step from the ground on which I build my principles. if virtue be sought for in the present system of things it must be for its own sake & its reward as being most pure is likewise abstract. riches titles places & pensions are the baubles that attract attention & “man being gregarious” [7]  & adopting the manners of the herd he associates with, is more likely to be pleased with the admiration of a wondering crowd who wonder at his equipage & envy his wealth than with the applause of that still small recompence {voice} the sole recompense of virtue upon earth. this lamentable prejudice is early inculcated & strongly supported. as you observe gain is the chief engine of education, & pride the first sentiment taught. my own experience tells me this. I was early warned not to play with dirty little boys & caressed & corrected with equal injustice. the catechise has given me many a weary hour. forgive egotism if I mention one circumstance which happened above twelve years ago. I was struck with the apparent falshood in “I believe in the holy catholic church” [8]  when my sixpenny history of England taught me I was a protestant. I mentioned it & was severely reprimanded for impiety, but the passage was never explained & I was silenced instead of convinced till Greek gave the information. fortunately I escaped utter ruin from such an education of which more particulars would be as tedious in recital as they were injudicious & unpleasant to me. but xxxxxxxxx the principles of present instruction are widely dfferent from the laws of Nature & {from} our maxim Be just & fear not. justice would teach us to pay respect only to merit — society to pay homage to superior rank & riches. do not thinking I am running out, when I object to the maxim Fear God. it is impious to fear him who is himself Love. the confused manner in which my sentiments are expressed is of great disadvantage I wish you could look into my mind & read it thro. perhaps you little think that what you say of laws is the echo of Tom Paine — but had you known that, I will do you the justice to believe you had still said it. “government is a necessary evil.” [9]  let me stop here. the master spring is touchd & my mind is filld with a thousand ideas which I cannot clearly express — could you but feel their force I would cut off a limb with pleasure. you must be struck as well as myself with the superiority of antient Greece over the rest of the world. perhaps this may in some measure be imputed to the philosophers but more I believe to the conscious dignity of independance. where abilities command more respect than wealth or titles — & virtue is more honourd than a long pedigree, it is morally impossible that the mercenary motives should prevail. Socrates did he live now would be treated as an itinerant field preacher & Plato would be transported for sedition. Athens as yet is unrivalld in the history of the world for astonishing virtue & as astonishing folly — yet it may be doubted whether its advantages did not counterbalance its defects.

Physiognomy oftener gives me pain than pleasure. I mingle in a crowd & behold a compound of vice & folly whose dress denotes affluence — the next bears a countenance which Lavater [10]  might love but has a leathern apron on. now for the soul of me cannot I but wish these men might exchange situation & had they been born in a country where merit was the standard of respect the one must have risen & the other as inevitably sunk. this is the inequality of Nature but we reverse it. but never does this pleasing study {give me} more pain than when I look at the women of the town — the momentary glance is worth a thousand sermons & gives me a stronger argument against the present state of things than all the republican writers from Moses [11]  down to Mackintosh. [12]  by the by is not Lovells face something like Hookes? I was hurt at first glance but I soon discovered something different from that compound of abilities & consummate libertinism, in short all the sense without the vice. shame to say I physiognomoze at church more than I can apply to the uniformity of prayer. oh Grosvenor I am ill-qualified to take orders — a sad weight presses on my heart when I give way to reflection upon the subject. where Edmund Seward is incapable of comprehending he imputes it to his own dullness — I am less diffident perhaps here it were right to follow him Grosvenor — but your maxim must be mine Nullus addictus &c. [13] 

perhaps few people spend the Xmas evening in this manner. to me all days are alike in this place. I have to make my own amusements & this is at least innocent. CC wrote to me very lately. he had no news & therefore was silent. this struck at our system of letter writing & I replied rather at large. he invited me to Maize Hill but I am from Bristol to Bath & Bath to Bristol till I see Balliol once again. & most gladly shall I see it. my recreations I always carry with me & society will add to these. Edmund Seward resides six months longer than he expected. much to my satisfaction you may suppose. poor George Burnett is alone there, mal-treated for his temperance.

How Rousseau would have exulted in the history of Pelew. [14]  Bedford if the death of Lee Boo [15]  was fortunate how must you execrate the new colony founding there when they have our luxuries, our creeds, our arts & distinctions, they will no longer preserve their characteristic excellencies — artificial vices will be introduced among them & the Xtianity we may teach will be worse than their present atheism — many a man would start at this assertion. but as no man would contract a distemper for the sake of being cured by an excellent physician — I am apt to think the virtuous irreligion of Pelew far above the degenerate Xtianity of Europe.

You may take this for a new years letter. as such I wrote the verses this evening to pass a heavy hour. at least antedating is preferable to a certain friend of ours who honourd St David [16]  always on the 2nd of March. you have plenty of time to send me a new years ode in return & your purposd visit to Ealing need not prevent you. has Lovell shown you any of his verses? I speak impartially when I say that they equal anythings production that have fallen under my judgement for elegance & delicacy. I will go to Bath for a few on his return chiefly to meet him. Sewards married sister is there now & Combe. direct however here as usual my stay will be short & my departure is uncertain. your friends I hope are all well. remember me to them kindly & respectfully. send me Tom Paine & believe me yours sincerely.

RS.

is not Elmsley a fellow of Oriel? if so I fear we are not destined to be friends. you know I am barely acquainted with Peter. [17] 


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: ADE/ 26/ 93
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd. Decr. 27 1793
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Tis come ... be thine: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[2] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), translation of Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 1, no. 5, line 1 as ‘The Fifth Ode of Horace. Lib. I’ (1654). The Latin translates as ‘what slender youth [courts] thee amid so many roses?’ BACK

[3] William Collins (1721–1759; DNB), whose most famous experiment with alcaics was ‘Ode to Evening’ (1746). BACK

[4] Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825; DNB), whose ‘Ode to Spring’ (1773) is written in alcaics. BACK

[5] For example see, ‘Ode to Fancy’ in Poems Chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall, 2 vols (Bath, 1792), I, pp. 71–77. Contributors to the collection included Richard Polwhele (1760–1838; DNB). BACK

[6] Frank Sayers (1763–1817; DNB), ‘Ode to Aurora’, in his Poems (Norwich, 1792), pp. 167–170. BACK

[7] Joseph Townsend (1739–1816; DNB), A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1792), I, p. 252. BACK

[8] English translation of part of the Apostles Creed of c. AD 300. ‘Catholic’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘Katholikos’, and refers to all Christians rather than the Roman Catholic Church. BACK

[9] A paraphrase of Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), Common Sense (London, 1776), p. [1]. BACK

[10] Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801), Swiss theologian, poet and physiognomist. BACK

[11] Leader of the Israelites, and believed to be author of the first five books of the Old Testament. After his death, Israel was ruled by judges rather than kings. BACK

[12] James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB), author of Vindiciæ Gallicæ: A Defence of the French Revolution and its English Admirers (1791). BACK

[13] Horace (65–8 BC), Epistles, Book 1, no. 1, line 14. The Latin can be translated as ‘I am not bound over’. BACK

[14] Probably The Interesting and Affecting History of Prince Lee Boo, a Native of the Pelew Islands, Brought to England by Capt. Wilson (1789). BACK

[15] Prince Lee Boo (c.1764–1784; DNB), first visitor to Britain from the Pelew Islands, became something of a celebrity. He died of smallpox during his visit and is buried at Rotherhithe, Kent. BACK

[16] Patron saint of Wales; his feast day is 1 March. BACK

[17] is not Elmsley...Peter: Written upside down on fol. 2 v. BACK

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March 2009