1129. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 December 1805 

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1129. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 December 1805 ⁠* 

Williams [1]  iron gray had his advantages & disadvantages. He never required shoeing – for as the hoof is harder than the flesh, so in just proportion to his metallic muscles he had hoofs of adamant, – but then he was hard mouthed. There was no expence in feeding him but he required scouring least he should grow rusty. – Instead of spurs William had a contrivance for touching him with aqua-fortis. [2]  It was a fine thing to hear the rain hiss upon him as he gallopped. William has a way of cooling him by affusion, but it was only a temporary relief at the expence of his asbestos breeches.

The Butler wore a chest of drawers, sometimes a bureau.

Recipe for the Readers of your Book if they cannot see its meaning. Euphrasy & rue [3]  may fail, or may not be at hand or they may not exactly understand the mode of applying them – but Zibethum Occidentale, dried & pulverized & blown into the eye, is a sovereign remedy for film, & the medicine every man can make for himself. [4]  Tis John Wesleys prescription. [5]  If you did not know what Zibethum Occidentale is, go to your apothecary, if he cannot supply you – (for it as antiquated as a drug) – ask a physician. You may if baffled there insert a query in the Gentlemans Magazine [6]  – But if you are willing to be spared all this trouble go to the necessary & you may nose it.

Bedford I will break off all acquaintance with you if you do not publish the Butler. [7]  Who the Devil would keep a Phoenix with a spaniels ears, a pigs tail, Combes nose & Wingfields wig, all naturally belonging to him – in a cage only for his own amusement, when he might show it for five shillings a piece, & be known all over the world as the man who hatched it himself!

You shall send it me in Letters & I will return my comments. It is not in my way to help you in your own, for your way is your own exclusively & pre-eminently. But now & then I can perhaps fling in a stroke of politics, & give a seasoning of out-of the way erudition which will make the learned stare.

Hints for the Butlers descent into Hell where he went to learn what was the best way of dressing soles. The Devil received him in full dress – that is he had put his tail in a bag, & he entertained him with a concert in which every man played upon his neighbours fistula. Scotchmans corner I believe you know – it is that part of Hell where there is all fire & no brimstone. [8] 

The By the first January send me the first chapter – being the Mythology of the Butler – or else by the Lord I will for ever more call you Sir when I speak to you & Mr Bedford when I speak of you, – & moreover will always pull off my hat when I meet you in the streets.

I wish I could see the European critique. [9]  Hang all the others! – that xx really may be of some importance to me. – By certain phrases you seem to imply that I ought to have profited by the reviewals of Thalaba, [10]  for xxx of which I never xxx {entertained} any thing other feeling than that of a very thorough contempt. If you had them to refer to you would perceive that they imagine xxxx absurdities in the story which only existed in their misapprehension {of it}, & that they object to the metre, not upon any principle, not for any defects real or supposed, but merely because it is not what they had been used to. Saving in the Critical (which Wm Taylor wrote) there was not a single remark {among them} which originated in thought, or could lead to anything. I perceive also that the reviewals of Madoc have in a certain degree influenced you, which they will not do if you look at them when they are three months old, or if you recollect that a review is the opinion of one man upon the work of another, – & that it is not very likely that any man who reviews a poem of mine should know quite so much of the mechanism of poetry, or should have thought quite so much upon the nature of poetry as I have done. The Monthly [11]  is mere malice & beneath all notice – but look at the Edinburgh & you will perceive that Jeffrey himself does not know what he is about. [12]  He talked of Virgil & Pope & Racine [13]  as the opposite to xx the poetry of Madoc {what I have set up against}. I told him Pope was a model for satire, – that, he said, was a great concession – no, said I, if his stile be a model for satire how can it be for serious narration? & he did not attempt to hold up his Homer [14]  for imitation, but fairly & unequivocally declared he did not like it. And yet Jeffrey attacks me for not writing in Madoc like Pope! – The passages which he has quoted for praise or for censure may just as well change places – they are culled capriciously, not with any sense of selection. The real faults of Madoc have never been pointed out. – Wm Taylor has criticised it for the Annual, [15]  very favourably & very ably. there are remarks in his critique to set one thinking & reconsidering, – but Wm Taylor is a man who fertilizes every subject he touches upon.

Don Manuel. [16]  How could you not understand it was a secret? do you not remember how covertly I enquired of you the text in Fields Bible? [17]  & was not my very phrase that they were to be shown to you under the seal of silence? – The use of secresy is to create curiosity, – & perhaps to pass thro the reviews under cover. Rickman particularly commends the foreign cast of remarks thro the whole of the journey. thus do Doctors differ. I make blunders sometimes, but am cautious of overdoing it. Do you make more, & if they do not suit my conception of the Spaniards character they can be omitted or modified. [18]  On many subjects you will know necessarily more than I can do, & I shall expect some whole letters & many interpolations from you. You see the plan admits of every thing. I get bravely on with it, & feel no doubt of producing a book which will be thought very amusing now, & very valuable hereafter when I & the author of the Butler shall be considered as antients. – Have you ever been to Margate? I want much to have a journey into Kent for him. [19]  – As for the queerities let them stay – it is only they who know me pretty nearly, know what a queer fish I am. The world conceives me to be a very grave sort of person. Besides I have not the least intention of keeping the thing concealed, after the purpose of secresy has been answered.

That wretch Mack [20]  – who must be the veriest wretch that ever tainted Gods air, as he has not blown out his own brains, – has very likely spoilt my voyage to Lisbon. If there be not peace Bonaparte will show himself master of the continent & turn us out of Portugal if only to show that he is as {more} powerful in that peninsula than Charlemagne [21]  was – I am afraid of peace, & wish for single-handed war carried on steadily & systematically. we ought to have Egypt, Sicily & the Cape, if we do not France will. But nothing good ever will be done while that wretched minister is at the head of affairs. [22]  In my conscience I do not think him capable of one good feeling, or one grand conception.

Write me the first chapter of the Butler. Once begin – & the whole will be done in six weeks.

tui favoris studiossimus [23] 


December 6. 1805


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: 6 Decr 1805
Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), II, pp. 355–357. BACK

[1] William is a fictional character, one of Southey’s and Bedford’s comic inventions, originating in schoolboy stories at Westminster. BACK

[2] Aqua fortis is a corrosive solution of nitric acid in water. BACK

[3] In John Milton’s (1608–1674; DNB), Paradise Lost (1667), the angel Michael purges Adam’s eyes, which have been blinded by the ‘false fruit that promis’d clearer sight’ with ‘euphrasy and rue’ (Book 11, lines 413–414). BACK

[4] Because it is dried human excrement. BACK

[5] John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB), Primitive Physic: Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases, 21st edn (London, 1785), p. 55. BACK

[6] The Gentleman’s Magazine was founded in London, in 1731, by Edward Cave (1691–1754; DNB). Correspondents frequently posted factual queries in the magazine. BACK

[7] Though urged on by Southey, their comic inventions were never published by Bedford. However they provided the hint for Southey’s comic novel/miscellany The Doctor (1834–1847). BACK

[8] A joke about the Scots’ lack of cleanliness: brimstone (sulphur) was used for fumigating rooms to kill fleas and lice. BACK

[9] Southey was hoping that Madoc (1805) would be reviewed in the European Magazine, because his wealthy uncle, John Southey, would see it there and it might benefit him financially. BACK

[10] Reviews of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) were: British Critic, 18 (September 1801), 309–310; Monthly Mirror, 12 (October 1801), 243–247; Francis Jeffrey, Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63–83; Monthly Review, 39 (November 1802), 240–251; Anna Seward, The Poetical Register, and Repository for Fugitive Poetry, for 1801 (London, 1802), pp. 475–486; William Taylor, Critical Review, 2nd series, 39 (December 1803), 369–379. BACK

[11] John Ferriar (1761–1815; DNB), Monthly Review, n.s. 48 (October 1805), 113–122. BACK

[12] Francis Jeffrey, Edinburgh Review, 7 (October 1805), 1–29. BACK

[13] Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 BC), author of the Aeneid (19 BC); Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB); Jean Racine (1639–1699), French dramatist. BACK

[14] Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad (1715–1720) and Odyssey (1726). BACK

[15] Taylor reviewed Madoc in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 604–613. BACK

[16] Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[17] John Field (dates unknown) printed a pocket-sized edition of the Bible, known as the ‘Pearl Bible’ due to its diminutive size, but also referred to as ‘Field’s Bible of 10,000 Errors’ (1653) owing to the number of misprints in it. One of the most famous errors was in 1 Corinthians 6.9: ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous [instead of ‘righteous’] shall inherit the kingdom of God?’ Field was rumoured to have accepted a bribe from the Presbyterians to alter Acts 6.3 to read ‘Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we [instead of ‘ye’] may appoint over this business’, so that it confirmed men’s right to choose their own priests. Biblical translations are discussed in Letter 54 of Letters from England, but there is no reference to Field. BACK

[18] Bedford had suggested that ‘the remarks did not seem foreign enough’; see Southey to John Rickman, 28 November [1805], Letter 1128. BACK

[19] Southey’s fictional traveller does not go to Kent in Letters from England. BACK

[20] Lieutenant Field Marshal Mack von Leiberich (1752–1828), commander of the Austrian forces defeated and captured by the French army at the Battle of Ulm in October 1805. BACK

[21] Charlemagne (742–814) was King of the Franks 768–814 and Holy Roman Emperor (800–814). BACK

[22] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806. BACK

[23] Meaning ‘most eager for your goodwill’. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013