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

88. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 [–c. 29] April 1794 ⁠* 

Bristol. Apr. 26. 1794.

Grosvenor I have cut my finger in mending this blackguard pen.

————

how this exordium may amuse you I know not but I hope I shall never make another like it. I have to abuse you for sending your last to Oxford when you received mine dated from hence, & likewise to apologize for no answering sooner. variety of engagements I cannot plead but must alledge particular ones.

you say her husbands name will please me. in sober sadness no. Integer laude — fuge suspicari. [1]  to quote your own quotation. perhaps no being has less suspicion of evil than myself. —. a hand even as soft as you hyperbolize your gypseys to be, would have little effects upon one armed either with Philosophy or with Love. I forget the old sage whom Lais could not tempt, but I believe the story. [2]  your enthusiasm Grosvenor is equal to mine — like me you grasp at the gay visions of Fancy with avidity, & were I to turn prophet of evils & presage that we should both meet disappointment, I fear the presage would be versified. take however my good wishes with you & believe me twill give me much pleasure to hear you have found your gipsey. but how recognize her when she did not unmask? how be recognized yourself when bepowderd & bebeaued? I have seldom been more pleased with any of your letters than this last; & give you credit for all because I feel the nature of all your have said. Edmund Seward, who wants only a tub to Deserve the name of Diogenes [3]  rails much against masquerades. twas one of those topics on which we usd to battle when our opinions deviated but slightly from each other. I allowed in some degree this impropriety of them in general but at the same time professd my intention of visiting the motley groupe. visit one I will possibly without feeling {your} animation or meeting like you with so enchanting a Sybil. your standard of happines reminds me of another subject. when shall we essay our essays again? where shall we do it? how shall we do it? I have much conversation with Lovell upon the subject & of course you always make part. the periodical mode pleases me more than a volume at once. do my dear St Peter [4]  think of this subject — call up the memory of times that are gone & believe that the spirit of Gualbertus [5]  will rise {like} the phenix from his ashes. I have subjects upon subjects ready. how like you the Knight Errant for the title. tis certainly new & novelty is something in the scale of popular opinion when it does not too boldly attack the prejudices of age.

You have of course seen Wynn. I was much with him last term & witnessd some actions which would have raised him in my esteem had that been possible. an old Welshman who had formerly kept a school & lived in affluence & whose productions shewed that he possessd ability & knowledge above mediocrity, was travelling homewards with his wife. at Oxford she was taken ill & they were both old friendless & penniless. Wynn supported them there. paid the apothecary to attend Mrs Denham [6]  & supplied them with money to carry them comfortably home. the manner in which he did it almost equalld the act. & Wynn would never have mentioned the circumstances even to me had I not accidentally witnessed great part. the inequality of property would seem like a blessing did Fortune always shower her favours on such as our friend. I know not his direction or would write to him. he has promised to examine a Will for me at Doctors Commons. should you see him tell him tis of John Canon Southey [7]  who died in 1768. the contents of that Testament may possibly decide the tenor of my future life. I expect it however without very much anxiety. if it be in my power to sell the reversion for any comfortable & immediate independance, in all probability I shall do it. I do not wish for affluence. Man wants but little here below &c. my wishes are bounded & tho they partake a little of romance {they} are certainly practicable. the study of physic pleases me much & what little knowledge I can gain in that line will certainly be my object to pursue. but the length of time required in the study & the additional expences are such that I fear it will be impossible to pursue them it.

I wish Grosvenor you would visit Oxford very soon & meet Lovell there. we have determined upon publishing Valentine & Orson at Oxford & he will be with me a week shortly. can you not come then and at the commemoration? remember you have promised me an annual visit & recollect that I should like a monthly weekly & daily one better. or rather one visit to last all the year round. am I ever to see Horace there? if it be but out of compassion to me send him to Balliol. for Seward is gone! & Lightfoot soon goes — then will I hang my harp on the wash hand basons stand & sit down by the waters of the pot of abomination. poor Lightfoot! he is now with Seward in Worcestershire but Lightfoot lost his place tho he got up at four o clock & put on his new leather breeches & boots. & then Lightfoot went to bed again in his new leather breeches & boots. & surprized Burnet & me at breakfast by his unexpected appearance. oh had you but seen Lightfoot in the affair of the Imposition when he had 42 pages of Ralph Churton [8]  to Latinize & all this because the Grace was omitted!

Have you seen the Children in the Wood [9]  yet? I never recollect being more delighted at a theatre than at the representation of this simple piece. Nature is all in all. however the Aristotelian Critics {Luthers [10]  opinion of Aristotle in a parenthesis. Certam est, Aristotelem mortuum & damnatum esse doctorum hodie omnium universitatum magis quam Christum!! [11]  to elucidate this or rather to say how I came by this erudition i must lengthen my parenthesis. Saturday last the day I began this letter I was at Downing at old Robert Lovells. the most primitive of Quakers but withall an affable intelligent pleasant man. he was pleasd with me & in a manner which interested me very much, offerd to lend me a good book written by William Dell. [12]  the offer was so made that if I could I would not have refused him. & in fact I am reading a large octavo full of mysticism. tis but a few hours stole from rhyming — it gives him pleasure & I shall get a little knowledge of John Huss Jerome of Prague & Martin Luther. Nullus est alius antichristus in mundo, neque venturus quam sacerdotes. [13]  Jo. Huss. you may see the tenor of the book from these quotations in it) however the followers of Aristotle (who certainly is dead & as Luther says damned if the imprecations of those he has puzzled take effect) may ridicule the idea of tragicomedy I am myself partial to that stile of writing. look at Hamlet. who would feel half the pleasure at seeing it represented if it were all upon the stills of tragedy. excuse one bit of democracy. Kings & Queens not only engross the world but almost the stage too. yet domestic distress goes nearer the heart. empire overthrown & monarchs dethroned excite astonishment — but the wife weeping over the crimes or the misfortunes of her husband & alive to every transport & feeling of maternal heart, rouses all the finer feelings of the heart.

I have ventured upon the drama at last. & chosen for my subject that memorable passage in Tacitus which struck me so powerfully on the first perusal & which I pointed out to you at Brixton. possibly you may have forgotten it. if so turn to the fourteenth annal & read the murder of Pedanius Secundus & the execution of four hundred slaves. [14]  tis a bloody tale. with what success I manage it you will judge hereafter.

remember me to Mr & Mrs Deacon. I thought I saw Mr D in Bristol but was mistaken. how is your fathers gout?

the ligament which suspends my liver is undergoing an unpleasant extension owing to the vacuity of my intestines. the gastric juice is devouring my stomach for want of other food. Grosvenor I am ravenous. but dinner is not yet ready & I have about time to give you some rhyme in the fag end of the sheet. I shall soon write to Horace.

yrs sincerely

Robert Southey

To a College Cat [15] 

—— (how Strachey would like the subject

Friend & companion of my lonely room,
(For why should Truth the name deservd refuse?)
To thee the associate of collegiate gloom
Her tuneful tribute hymns the grateful Muse.

And thou hast much about thee worthy praise.
Thy well streakd fur of many a varying hue,
Thy emerald eyes long light retaining rays
Thy legs so powerful & so slender too.

Thy tail with intermingled stripes bedight,
Oft stretchd in threatning playfulness thy claws,
Thy death-denouncing fangs so sharp so white
And this soft murmur that bespeaks applause

Nor does thy Beauty only serve to please
The vagrant glance that leaves no trace behind.
For much of moral drawn from scenes like these
Fill & improves the philosophic mind.

For what thou fairest of the tabby race
Has saved thee from the ill that race pursues
What but thy finishd form of strength & grace
What but all powerful Beautys pleasing hues?

For tho the Sage in musing moral hour
May scorn bewitching Beautys chain to wear,
Tho much he talks how fading Youths gay flower
How frail how empty all that Man thinks fair

Yet when the soft enchantress languid eye
Beams on his sight & thrills thro all his frame
How soon he find each serious maxim fly
And cynic Reason but an empty name.

Tho lives its Beauty but a little hour
Tho Time shall steal the fading charm away,
Yet is the short lived spell of mighty power
Yet when we see the charm, we must obey.

For even in thee Grimalkin Beautys spell
Commands protection & applause from all —
Gives thee on this forbidden ground to dwell
Range round the kitchen & parade the hall.

Even the stern fellow little usd to know
How mighty is the power of Beautys spell
Knows not in wrath to bid Grimalkin go
But breaks the statutes — for he loves thee well.

And hence it is that thus domestic grown
Thou comest familiar at the friendly call,
And hence it is that every fear unknown
From none you fly — but sport & play with all.

Stern tho thy nature savage tho thy kind
Insidious bloody resolute & wild,
Thee far remote from cruelty we find
Familiar gentle playful meek & mild.

And hence the moralizing mind may learn
How pleasing yet how strong affections band —
And hence the philosophic eye discern
Mightier than strength affections gentle hand.

That gentle hand of power enough to draw
The large-limbd elephant by one small hair
Might well supply Oppressions tyrant law
Redress Affliction & prevent Despair.

Hadst thou been kickd & beat wheneer in sight
If dogs when worrying thee had found applause
Would it be strange if thou hadst learnt to bite
Would it be strange if thou hadst not thy claws?

————

Orson.

when Lightfoot told Thomas Howe x that Powell courted Miss Hornsby, [16]  Thomas replied “Ah Sir they will say so when Men do visit houses where such things be.”


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: AP/ 29/ 94
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Recd. Apl. 28. 1794; Ansd. May 1
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] An adaptation of Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 1, no. 22, line 1 and Book 2, no. 4, line 22. The Latin translates as ‘you’re free from praise — don’t be suspicious’. BACK

[2] Lais of Hyccara (d. c. 340 BC) was a famous courtesan in ancient Greece. The philosopher who resisted her was Xenocrates (396–314 BC). BACK

[3] The Greek philosopher Diogenes (c. 400–325 BC), founder of Cynicism. He allegedly lived in a tub. Southey used the pseudonym ‘Diogenes’ in a letter published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (December 1796), see Letter 177. BACK

[4] Peter the Hermit (d. 1115), religious fanatic, instrumental in preaching the First Crusade. The pseudonyms ‘St Peter’, ‘Peter’ and ‘P.H.’ were used by Grosvenor Charles Bedford in the schoolboy magazine The Flagellant. BACK

[5] John Gualbert (c. 995–1073), founder of the Vallombrosian order. The pseudonym ‘Gualbertus’ was used by Southey in the schoolboy magazine, The Flagellant. BACK

[6] The wife of the ‘old Welshman’ mentioned earlier in the paragraph. The Denhams first names are unknown. BACK

[7] Distant cousin of Southey’s, he was the son of John Southey and the heiress Mary Cannon. Southey’s long-held hopes of inheriting a substantial sum from the estate were in vain. BACK

[8] Ralph Churton (1754–1831; DNB), a Church of England clergyman and philosophical writer. BACK

[9] Thomas Morton (c. 1764–1838; DNB), Children in the Wood (1793), a two-act musical entertainment. BACK

[10] Martin Luther (1483–1546), religious reformer. BACK

[11] The Latin translates as ‘it is certain that of learned men in all today’s universities, Aristotle is more dead and damned than Christ’. Southey is paraphrasing Luther’s answer to Ambrosius Catharinus, a translation of which was included in William Dell (d. 1669; DNB), The Tryal of Spirits Both in Teachers & Hearers Wherein is Held Forth the Clear Discovery and Certain Downfal of the Carnal and Antichristian Clergie of These Nations Testified From the Word of God to the University-Congregation in Cambridge (London, 1660), pp. 141–152. BACK

[12] William Dell, educational reformer and Puritan minister, who regarded himself as the spiritual heir of the early reformers John Huss (1369–1415), Jerome of Prague (1379–1416) and Martin Luther. Dell’s The Doctrine of Baptisms (1652) was especially popular with Quakers. BACK

[13] The Latin translates as ‘There is no other Antichrist in the world, nor will there be, than priests’. BACK

[14] Tacitus (AD 55–117), Annals, Book 14, chapters 42–45. Secundus was City Prefect of Rome during the reign of Nero. In AD 61, he was murdered by one of his slaves and, in accordance with Roman law, all 400 of his house slaves were executed. If Southey did write a drama on this subject, it has not survived. BACK

[15] A revised version was published in the Annual Anthology (1799). BACK

[16] Unidentified. BACK

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Published @ RC

March 2009