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

86. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 13 April 1794 ⁠* 

College Green. Bristol. April 13th. Sunday. 1794

My dear Grosvenor

tis a long while since any thing in the shape of a letter has reachd me from your part of the world. your brother is obstinate either in anger or in system. you are busied in the concerns of the nation — & I have been — at Oxford the worst place in the world for letter writing. Friday morning. Burnett called me before the clock struck three. up I got — we breakfasted & talked till five when I departed in the Mail. the folly of my companions taciturnified me — their frigidity of intellect petrified my organs of voice. his most amorous Majesty was an outside passenger but I could not approach his person & was silent all the way. the next morning I conveyd my baggage to the inn. & secured a place in the Caravan newly launched on the plan of your Greenwich machines. [1]  this was seven o clock & the coach was to set out at eight. I walked on leisurely. the morning was warm & when I had got four miles — I sat me down by a brook to wait the coach. the spot was within a mile of the school where some of my younger days were passed. [2]  & upon viewing the course of the brook I discovered it to the same in which every morning I washed my hands & face. the lapse of twelve years have not obliterated one image from my memory — & I have seldom past half an hour more agreably in solitude than the one yesterday morning. the caravan came — in I went — & away to Bristol.

there is something in the recollection of scenes of childhood that give a pleasing melancholy to the mind. I remember the various hours of alternate gaiety & sorrow, business & play that diversied my time at Corston. on this subject Bowles [3]  has written so very beautiful a sonnet, that I am sure the inserting it will delight you.

To the river Itchin near Winton [4] 

————

Itchin when I behold thy banks again,
Thy crumbling margin & thy silver breast
On which the self-same tints still seem to rest,
Why feels my heart the shivering sense of pain?
Is it — that many a summers day has past
Since in Lifes morn I carold on thy side?
Is it that oft since then my heart has sighd
As Youth & Hopes delusive gleams flew fast?
Is it — that those who circled on thy shore
Companions of my youth, now meet no more?
Whateer the cause, upon thy banks I bend
Sorrowing — yet feel such solace at my heart,
As at the meeting of some long lost friend
From whom in happier hours we wept to part.

The author of this sonnet, tho indisputably one of the first poets of the day, is little known. he was of Trinity College Oxford. I have only seen his sonnets — they are so scarce that a friend of mine [5]  transcribed them, & so beautiful that I have copied his transcription.

now Grosvenor I have two pieces of poetry of a very different nature to fill up my letter. the first is by an undergraduate whom I saw at the Anatomy School — physiognomised, & introduced myself to. a man of extraordinary ability.

To a Painter

from Anacreon [6] 

————

O skilld each mimic grace to wake
Thy all creative pencil take —
Master of the rosy art
To my rapturd eye impart
The form thats picturd on my heart.
Thy pencil from my love-strung lyre
Shall catch Expressions vivid fire.
Artist — be it first thy care
Soft & black to paint her hair,
And if thy skill such power can show
Breathing odours let it flow.
Paint her forehead gleaming white
Thro her ringlets dewy-bright —
Where each eye-brows wont to end
In her nor seperate nor blend
But let the arches of her brow
An union in partition show.
Paint her speaking eye of fire
Kindling flames of fierce desire
Like Minervas to my view
Let it rise celestial blue —
And as hers who yokes the dove
Let it swim in liquid love.
The nose & cheeks must boast an hue
Like roses bathed in milky dew.
Her lips imbued with nectard bliss
Must swell to meet the eager kiss.
Let her polishd neck below
Like the Parian marble glow
While round it all the graces fly
That hold & charm the Lovers eye.
Hide beneath a purple vest
Modest Artist — hide the rest.
Yet still some little be reveald
To show what treasures are conceald.
Enough! no picturd Maid is she
Herself her lovely self I see. [7] 

———

the four last lines run more literally thus.

Yet let some little glisten thro
To show what charms are kept from view
Enough — no absent Maid I seek
Soon wonderous portrait — soon youll speak.

———

This translation pleases me much. Charles Collins has met the author at my rooms & taken a great liking to him. by the by poor Carlo has met with a grievous misfortune. Don Quixotes library has been purged. Wynn & I — guess whats to come. the Curate & the Barber — twas a good fire. the book case open. Jack [8]  you know is of an inflammable nature & he burnt well. Wynn & Maule [9]  held Signor Carlo on the sofa & I burnt Jack. next morning Maule carried off La Pucelle [10]  & poor Collins has nothing luscious left to amuse himself with except Solomons Song & the story of Potiphars Wife. [11]  we made a most incomparable ballad on the subject. a parody of the Son of Alknomok [12] 

“But Ill buy my Johannes Secundus again.”

Ode to my Stick yclept the Sans Culottes

—————

O worthy to be sung in loftiest lays
Stay of my steps along the rugged road.
I strike the lyre to hymn thy praise
To thee I write an ode.
The laurel wreath I spread
To deck thy holly head
For with thy upright frame & strenuous crook
Thou hast a very democratic look.

Truth fill thy votaries strains —
Thy influence lend
So may the world attend
And learn morality from Sticks & Canes.

And here I would reform an ugly trick
In a parenthesis.
For if a Parson preach amiss
The folks will say he is a Stick.
A title very wrong
His prattle being weak & sticks being strong.

World of the wise & unwise list my strains
Ye who use sticks the strong
And ye more numerous throng
That strut about with canes.
For I will show
That a fashionable cane is like a fashionable Beau.

What is a Beau?
Oh God of Definitions be my friend!
Spirits of Lexicographers descend.
What is a Beau?
Is it a man or no?

When at some mighty call
Pards lyons tygers buffaloes grew tame —
And the fierce Ouran outangs all
With all his cousin apes round Adam came
Each to receive from him his destind name —
Did he the Father of mankind or no
Behold one Beau?

Tom Paine [13]  has said
(And Thomas never speaks without good cause)
That Lords & Dukes were never known to Adam.
It may perhaps appear against the laws
Thus to declare that I his book have read.
And Mr Reeves [14]  may say that I a traitor bad am.
But more than Tom has said shall Robert sing.
I say that Adam never knew a King.
And since nor Kings nor Courts did Adam know
By what strange miracle could he have seen a Beau?

Do coral rocks produce green peas?
Do Oysters grow on Cherry trees?
When Nature only reignd the Queen
How could a Beau be seen!

Twere hard to say what a Beau is
To say what he is not is easy.
I will do this
To please ye.

He does not bear the upright manly gait
Which honest Independance loves to wear
He knows not firm in Stoic strength to bear
The ills of Fortune & the frowns of Fate.
Nor his the sinewy form the open eye
The fearless front of virtuous honesty.
Nor firm on Freedoms adamantine rock
Dares he to brave Oppressions powerful shock
To breathe Defiance in his parting breath
Smile on the scaffold — & exult in Death.

Oh Bruin Bruin Bruin Bruin bear
Do not from Alpine heights descend
Do not thy journey to the valleys bend —
For ah — thou knowest not all the dangers there.
Poor brother Bruin if thou shouldest be caught
Thou dost not know thy lamentable lot!
Wouldst thou conceive that Man should bore thy nose
Teach thee to dance & eke turn out thy toes,
And call the crowd around & play his flute
Till he himself appears the greatest brute.
Ah Bruin Bruin
Much do I feel for thee poor Bruin Bear!
These wicked Beaus will prove thy ruin
And take thy grease to grease their Asses hair.

This plasters oer the Beau.
And Corn that most inestimable treasure
{Which by the by is ten shillings & nine pence
{A bushel Winchester measure [15] 
He showers upon his greasy pate like snow.
Then when the Barbers fashionable trade
The gentleman has made
He takes his cane & walks on the parade.

When the Heads outside takes such pains
Ah who will wonder at the lack of brains.

And now I come to show
Wherein the cane is like the Beau.
Is the Cane good for anything? — no.
Is the Beau?
Does {it} not bend if any one leans low?
So does the Beau.
When wandering on fatigued & slow
The Pilgrim creeps along the lengthening plain —
Does he derive assistance from the Cane?
And who derives assistance from the Beau?
In this they differ, & in this alone,
The cane had come to something good it may be,
If it amid the wood uncropt had grown,
The Beau will always be a Baby.

Thus in an excellent comparison
I prove the Cane & Beau are as one.

Stick of Democracy — Stick Sans Culottes
To thee I tune my democratic note
Leveller the mighty thou resemblest me
And I a stick myself resemble thee.

Unknown to bend art thou.
And I unknown to bow.
And tall & thin art thou. & so am I.
And ungenteel thy shape nor nice nor neat
So that when we together walk the street
We catch the passing puppys wondering eye.

Nor Sans Culottes — thy strenuous bulk was made
To saunter up & down the South Parade —
Nor I to move amid the minuets maze.
But when we’re together
We defy wind & weather
And merrily trudgest along the long ways.

Supporter of my strength. for oft tried aid
For succor very very oft displayd
Because thy strength has saved me many a fall
In fine for all thy bounties one & all
Felt on the pathless heath & rugged road
Accept this most incomparable Ode.

As thou hast propt my steps I prop thy name
For long shall last this tributary lay,
Nor soon o San Culottes thy fame
Shall fade in dull Oblivions reign away.
But as thy native holly lifts its head
In horrent strength erect tho thou art gone
So Sans Culottes shall bloom when I am dead
The garland evergreen of Southeys song.

————

Robert Southey.

how is Mrs Bs gout?


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr./ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: AAP/ 15/ 94
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Wrote to R.S. Apl. 11/ 1794; Received this Apl. 14. & 15th/ 1794
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 52–53 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] Specially designed long coaches which could carry more passengers than a standard coach. BACK

[2] This incident inspired Southey’s ‘To a Brook near the Village of Corston’, published in Poems (1797). BACK

[3] William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850; DNB). BACK

[4] First published in William Lisle Bowles, Fourteen Sonnets, Elegiac and Descriptive. Written during a Tour (1789). BACK

[5] Southey’s friend is unidentified. BACK

[6] The Greek lyric poet Anacreon (fl. C6 BC). Allen’s translation of Anacreon’s Ode, no. 16, follows. BACK

[7] O skilld … I see: Verse in double columns. BACK

[8] A reference to Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses), published in 1541. BACK

[9] George Maule (d. 1851), educated at Westminster School and Christ Church (matric. 1793, BA 1797, MA 1800). He was a friend of Southey’s during his time at Oxford, and possibly during his school days. Maule pursued a legal career, and in 1818 was made Solicitor to the Treasury. BACK

[10] La Pucelle (1755–1762), a mock-epic poem by Voltaire (1694–1778). BACK

[11] The Song of Solomon is concerned with secular love. Genesis 39: 7–19 describes the attempts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce Joseph. BACK

[12] The popular ballad composed by Anne Hunter (1742–1821; DNB) and anthologised as ‘The Death-Song of a Cherokee Indian’ in [Joseph Ritson (1752–1803; DNB)], A Select Collection of English Songs, 3 vols (London, 1783), I, p. ii. BACK

[13] Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), author of The Rights of Man (1791–1792). BACK

[14] On 20 November 1792, John Reeves (1752–1829; DNB) established the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers. BACK

[15] A system of weights and measures, particularly used for ale and wine. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009