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

91. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 June 1794 ⁠* 

Balliol. June 1st 1794

My dear Grosvenor

Your letter reached me this morning. before I proceed to reply to the objections you raise, tis necessary to mention my reasons for for wishing a situation apparently so opposite to my education & temper. To the church I have many & insuperable objections. upon every religious system I deny the necessity of an etablished faith, & of a religious establishment. upon my own principles I doubt (to say the least) the system my friends destine me to support. & the hope of content in life would induce me to avoid a prospect which leads to starving in creditable celibacy upon 40 pounds a year. such are the reasons that militate against my taking orders. to this I am destined. but two years & a half must intervene before I could forfeit my integrity & self applause for so paltry an income — & two years of dependance to one who already feels & knows himself burthensome to his relations is a long & dreadful period — in no other profession is there a possibility of my engaging. one only way remains to rid myself of such a melancholy view — by procuring some certainty in London which may afford a plausible cause for my residence there & enable me by my own efforts to exist in expectation of future affluence. Grosvenor I will be sincere. there is no alternative I will not prefer to taking orders. I may forfeit happiness but God forbid that I should ever cease to deserve it.

the obstacles you alledge have in no ways altered my determination. is it better that I should suffer inconvenience myself or let my friends suffer it for me? is six hours misery to be preferred to wretchedness of the whole 24? Grosvenor I have only one alternative. some such situation or emigration. tis not the sally of a momentary frenzy that says this. either in six months I fix myself in some honest means of living or I quit my country — my friends — & every fondest hope I indulge, for ever. I may be wretched but never will I be a villain.

what Wynn can do for me he will. he approves most highly of the system I have adopted. the official situation is more an object of temporary convenience than future necessity. I want an obvious reason for abandoning Oxford & a certainty of existence till my own ability allow me to marry. till I have a compentency twere absurd to think of marriage — when I have it twere criminal to think otherwise. my dear friend I both hope & fear that the destiny of another depends on mine. tis easy to live on hope. but if despair be my food I will feed on it in a country where neither my name nor life can be known & where in the society of mechanics I may gradually forget that I was ever qualified for or accustomed to a higher situation.

were I once settled in London I have not the smallest doubt of success. my abilities are only fixd in the principle of Justice. in application they are versatile. I can turn them from one species of composition to another & experience tells me that my success is the same in all. I am above vanity — but I despise the affectation of modest Falshood. — pause for one moment & reflect on my situation. I am {at} present burthensome to my friends & weary of my own reflections — worn out with anxiety & sensibly impaired by the ceaseless agitation that preys upon me. this state can only end in taking orders. on the contrary I have a possibility (& but a possibility) of enjoying the company of my dearest friend & by following my favourite pursuit of ultimately attaining my fondest wishes. the alternative is labour obscurity & emigration. a solitary life embittered by remembrance — & a premature death unalleviated by one comfortable reflection.

do not believe that I can shrink from even this prospect. & do not my dear friend be sorry that I express myself so strongly. you see how I am situated & tis yours to judge how I should act. I know my existence here distresses my relations. think Grosvenor on the hours of anguish which that knowledge must occasion — & judge if any alternative be not preferable.

Wynn has seen your letter. we are neither of thus alterd by its perusal. he will thro his mother apply to Ld Grenville. [1]  I have little expectation therefrom. less indeed than I like to allow even to myself. but my determination is made & while that determination appears founded upon Justice & Integrity no affection however fond — no tie however rivetted to my heart shall prevail against it.

I have not told Wynn the alternative remaining. I will not. already is every prejudice & every affection of the human heart against me. but Justice must & shall prevail.

Grosvenor the perusal of this will give you pain. I know it will. but reflect that it is my duty so to act & if I rightly appreciate your character you will be more pleased to see me {your friend} cursed with integrity x than lingering out in negative sufficiency or rioting in affluence which {he} had lost the wish to possess & the power to enjoy. if Wynn can procure me the situation I wish he will.

God bless you my dear friend. when I think of the happiness I might enjoy in your society — & hereafter, in that of her whose happiness must constitute mine — when I think how little would render me so happy — & how probable it is that the very reverse must happen — my soul saddens at the prospect.

no more of the subject. what Wynn can do he will. write to me soon as usual. forbear this topic & believes me however my affections are concenterd there — I can still sufficiently command every passion to philosophize & reason upon indifferent topics.

most sincerely your

RS.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: EJU/ 2/ 94
Endorsement: Recd. June 2d./ 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. 53–56; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 207–208 [in part; 1 paragraph]. BACK

[1] Charlotte Wynn (1754–1832) was the sister of the Foreign Secretary, William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Lord Grenville (1759–1834; DNB). BACK

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March 2009