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

93. Robert Southey to Horace Walpole Bedford, 7 June 1794 ⁠* 

Balliol. June 7. 1794.

———

In return for your ode to Indolence I know nothing better than these strains to her eldest born. they immortalize a man who is the ne plus ultra of folly. one who in the midst of a moral argument when the principles of morality were discussing by one of most extraordinary merit, declared himself to be a very moral man “for by Gd I have not prostituted my body these six months!” as if (said Lovell) such a body could be prostituted! the first ode is by Lovell. the second my own.

Ode to Griggin

How shall the Muse — oh Griggin! say
Awake her lyric numbers?
Her song would wake thy drowsy soul
From Follys stupid slumbers.
But Truth inspires & I will sing
My bosom feels her fullness —
The Muse now hails thee in her song
The eldest-born of Dullness.
Thy form is like a wig box old
Unfit to put a wig in
And only fit for vacancy
Or for the soul of Griggin.

The Muses office is designd
To teach mankind their duty,
To lead from Dullness & from Vice
And point to Truth & Beauty.
The good man well deserves the song
To speak his godlike merit
And so dost thou deserve it too
To show thy grovelling spirit
For thou art like a crazy hulk
That is not worth the rigging —
And Toil & Care & Hope are lost
If spent on thee oh Griggin!

Thou famous son of all thats dull
Most assish & most mulish
Above thy fellows thou art raisd
For thou’rt supremely foolish!
Thrice blest art thou I do aver
And happier far than many
Madness cant make thee lose thy wits —
For thou hadst never any.
Some lose their sense by potent wine
But thou’rt not hurt by swigging —
For thou hast got no sense to lose
Oh happy happy Griggin!

The Sons of men degrade their minds
Their foolish deeds debase em.
But sure thy senses ca’nt be lowerd
For every act must grace em.
Of this secure mayest thou repose
I never can forget thee
Thy stupid Face must oft present
To all who ever met thee.
And I’ll pourtray thy vacant soul
With Joy & Folly jigging
And all I see thats mad or dull
Shall make me think of Griggin.

Thy life can never tend to good
Then take advice so civil,
Dispatch thyself in cheapest way
And make terms with the Devil.
Thou eatest corn & earnest none
Thou canst be useful never
And if thou livest to get a child —
Then Folly lives for ever.
Such sad such hopeless case as thine
I would not keep a pig in —
Then die as tis thy duty to
And rid the world of Griggin! [1] 

Valentine

————

Ode to Griggin. [2] 

———

DIGNUM LAUDE VIRUM MUSA VETAT MORI. [3] 

———

Griggin — already famed in ode
Behold again on thee bestowed
The generous Muses song.
Nor let the wise contemptuous view
Strains o Griggin pourd to you
For strains to you belong.

That farmer most would I commend
Who bids the yellow harvest bend
Oer what was once a bog —
That artist praise who shapes with care
A table or an elbow chair
From some unshapen log.

With ease the storied Bard may sing
Of stoic sage or laurelld King
Or hero slaughterd throng —
With joy the glowing Minstrel moves
The speaking lute to her he loves
And hands her charms to song.

Nor undelightful sounds the lay
Of rural sports at close of day
Or ruddy rustic digging.
Pig muck [MS obscured] ass the lyre might grace
But tell me o Pierian race
What can be said of Griggin!

The labouring ox will plough the soil
The patient ass submit to toil —
The pig will make good bacon.
But Griggin never can produce
Ought or from hind or hand for use —
Or I am much mistaken

Well Griggin did they judge for you
Thy vacant intellect who knew
How innocent of knowledge!
Unfit for every scene of life
For fear that thou shouldst take a wife
They sent thee here to College.

And wise it was to tie thee down
In Fellows sable cap & gown
To spend thy life with books —
Or else upon thy wedding day
T’had been the nations wisest way
To build a new St Lukes

Here thou canst study how to dine —
Consult who sells the best port wine
To make thee brisk & mellow —
Constant at chapel & thy glass
Altho a most egregious ass
A very decent FELLOW.

Since thou canst eat & drink & snore
(And many a Parson does no more)
And buy whateer you preach,
A Parson thou at last mayest turn
Altho too ignorant to learn
Quite wise enough to teach!

Thus never curst with too much knowledge
Each vile & various vice of college
Thou’lt wallow like a pig in —
No serious thought disturb thy breast
But Folly sooth thy soul to rest —
Oh happy happy Griggin!

Orson. [4] 

————

[MS missing] has stolen it who knew not half its value. that night [MS missing] of Helicon. [5]  I wish the person who sleeps in it may find it hot as Lukes iron crown. [6] 

Your verses are good but incorrect. the more you write the better will be your verses. send me some more — & write oftener. I am much in the mood for versifying that I was at Brixton. continually at it & satisfied with all.

talking of Helicon I am longing for spruce beer. but between you & I, have a pretty good succedaneum in some strong beer. of which I will lay in another stock against your arrival.

Lightfoot departs on Friday week. alas poor Nicholas! but he lends me his rooms so you {may} wail for him over the pot. I have quarrelld with Jerry Collins. when you & your brother come I shall ask him to meet you some day. if he has sense enough he will come. if he does not ‘his crime will be his punishment.’ [7]  aussi bien — n’importe on l’un ou l’autre [8]  as a frenchman said in a good story. I will admit any conversation in my company except smut. but where I go — there shall be serious conversation — there shall be opportunity for improvement. on this head we quarrelld — but revenge & malice cannot exist with my principles & when you come I shall ask him with the usual familiarity.

I am sitting without a fire for no other reason but because tis June. tis a bad reason — my legs & hands ache & my fire shall blaze tho twere the Dog days. what think you of Polish politics. [9]  (remember calling Levett badger to mob Doyly?) do you not feel interested for Kosciusko? [10]  & does not every feeling of Nature militate against — Russia — & Frederic William? [11]  [MS missing]

write soon. friends fall off & Oxford grows duller. Seward is gone. & Lightfoot going. so Burnett & I {shall} have only a great unlickd Welch boy [12]  for a constant visitor. one with good sense & good nature but like a fresh whelpd cub unlike any thing & who is not included in the second commandment.

one hour to dinner! & I have the voracity of ten tygers. Horace I have foresaid (not foresworn for I swear not) sugar. & my mouth is a stranger to gooseberry pye! never again shall the delicacies which human slavery & human misery produce, pollute the lips of

Robert Southey.

when you sweeten your tea think of this — in my next — more on this subject.


Notes

* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand]: Horace Walpole Bedford — Esqr/ New Palace Yard Edward Roberts Esqr./ Westminster Ealing Middlesex/ Single Sheet./ Post Paid
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmarks: [two partial] AJ/ 9; 2 OCLO/ 11 JU/ A
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd. June. 9th. 1794
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] How shall ... Griggin: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[2] A heavily revised version, retitled ‘On a Dull Fellow being Elected to a College Fellowship’, was published anonymously in the Morning Post, 21 March 1798. BACK

[3] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 4, no. 8, line 28. The Latin translates as ‘the Muse forbids a man to die who deserves praise’. BACK

[4] Griggin ... Orson: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[5] Mountain in Greece sacred to the Muses. BACK

[6] A symbol of political tyranny. See Oliver Goldsmith (1728?–1774; DNB), ‘The Traveller, or a Prospect of Society. A Poem’ (1764), line 436. George and Luke Dosa were the leaders of an unsuccessful rebellion in Hungary in 1513. As a punishment for proclaiming himself king, George (not, as in Goldsmith’s poem, Luke) had a red-hot iron crown placed on his head. BACK

[7] A paraphrase of John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB), Secret Love, or the Maiden-Queen (1668). For the text, see Secret Love: or, the Maiden Queen (London, 1735), p. 47. BACK

[8] The French translates as ‘very well — it’s not important one way or the other’. BACK

[9] An armed uprising against the partition of Poland between Prussia and Russia had started in March 1794. BACK

[10] Thaddeus Kosciusko (1746–1817), Polish patriot and leader of the uprising of 1794. BACK

[11] Frederick William II (1744–1797; reigned 1786–1797), King of Prussia. BACK

[12] Unidentified. BACK

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March 2009