1309. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 April 1807

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1309. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 April 1807 ⁠* 

21 April 1807

Whether Grosvenor you will ascribe it to the cut of my nose, I cannot tell, nor whether it be a proof of the natural wickedness of the heart, but so it is that I am less disposed to be very much obliged to the Treasury for giving me 200 a year, than I am to swear at the Taxes for having the impudence to take 56 of it back again. And if it were a pull Devil pull Baker [1]  between that loyalty which, as you know has always been so predominant in my heart, & that jacobinism of which you know how vilely I have been suspected, I am afraid the fifty six would give a stronger pull on the Bakers side than the 144 on the Devils. Look you Mr Bedford of the Exchequer it is out of all conscience. Ten in the hundred has always in all Christian states been thought damnable usury, & to say that a man took ten in the hundred was the same as saying that he would go to the Devil – but this is three eight & twenty in the hundred; – for which may three <eight> & twenty hundred Devils, _______

O Grosvenor Grosvenor if old John Southey had let a part of his property devolve upon me, instead of giving it to a clown because his father used to ear-wig him, – I should have curst the tax gatherer then, but I should have had no occasion to growl at the want of punctuality in the Exchequer, which you tell me I shall have now. [2] 


I am a little surprized to find you speak so contemptuously of modem poetry, – because it shows how very little you must have read, or how little you can have considered the subject. The improvement during the present reign has been to the full as great in poetry as it has in the experimental sciences, or in the art of raising money by taxation. What can you have been thinking of when you wrote that sentence? had you forgotten Burns [3]  a second time? had you forgotten Cowper? [4]  Bowles? Montgomery? Joanna Baillie? Walter Scott? – to omit a host of writers names which tho inferior to them are above those of any former period except the age of Shakespere, & not to mention Wordsworth & another poet who has written two very pretty poems in my opinion, called Thalaba & Madoc. [5]  – The truth is that you have a bad taste, because you have never taken the trouble to form a good one, & having no principle of judgement in your own mind, you praise & blame almost at hap-hazard, according to the humour you are in. Indeed to speak plainly I think you want that tact or peculiar frame of mind – be it what it may, without which it is impossible ever really to understand in what the essence of poetry consists, or to distinguish between what is gold & what is only glittering. Strong humour is your gift, – the sublime of nonsense, in that you might stand unrivalled & become a <another> Cervantes [6]  of a xxx in a way as original as the Spaniard – But you will not be persuaded, – tho I would risk any thing which I possess that in the space of ten weeks you might produce a book which would make more noise than any thing which has appeared in our day, get you a first rate reputation immediately, & bring you greater profits in one year than I have been able to earn in twelve.


I am as busy in my household arrangements as you can be. Will you some day send what books of mine are in your possession to Rickman to be by him shipped off with the rest of the family by sea. My tent is pitched at last, & I am thankful that my lot has fallen in so goodly a land.

Politics are very amusing, & go to the tune of Tantara-rara. [7]  The King has been fighting for a veto upon the initiation of laws & he has won it. – & the people will very soon be taught that the Constitution is every thing or nothing just as he & his ministers please. I had got into good humour with the late ministry because of the Limited Service Bill – the Abolishment of the Slave Trade & their wise conduct with regard to the continent. [8]  As for their successors – they have given a pretty sample of their contempt of all decency by the reinstatement of Lord Melville, [9]  the attempt at giving Percival the place for life, & the threat held out by Canning of a dissolution. The Grenvilles [10]  now find the error of their neglecting Scotland at the last election, an error which I heard noticed with regret at the time. What is it has made them so unpopular in the city? It is to me incomprehensible for what <why> the memory of Pitt, [11]  which ought to be stinking above ground, as stink it will to the latest posterity, should be held in such idolatrous reverence! A man who was as obstinate in every thing wrong as he was ready to give up any thing good, & who, except in the Union, & in the scarcity, was never by any accident right during his long administration.

Do you see Longmans or Dr Aikins Næum? some people hearing it called the Naeum confounded the article with the word & called it a Thenæum, & then the same mistake taking place again, it got to be called the Athenæum, [12]  & this I take to be the etymology of the word, tho I have not yet discovered what Næum is derived from. – That Mr Bedford I take to be a specimen of simply playing the fool. – there are however in this Næum certain of my lucubrations, very edifying if they fall in your way.

I finish poor Henry Whites papers tomorrow. [13]  One volume of Palmerin [14]  still remains to do & then there will be nothing to impede my progress in S. America [15] Our Fathers wrote to me about the same time that you did – they were then in vigorous pursuit of the culprits Hinchcliffe & Gildon. [16]  I’ll tell you what I would have done had I been in town, & could not have found them. – I would have made them a present of verses of my own just enough in number to fill the gap, & dull enough to suit them. Nobody would have suspected it, & it would have been a very pious fraud to save trouble. – It consoles me a little when I think of the reviewing which is to take place how much more you will feel it than I shall. I am case-hardened – but you – oh, Mr Bedford how your back & shoulders will tingle! how you will perspire! how will bite your nails & gnash your teeth! how you will curse the reviewers, & the printers, & the poor poets, with now & then a xxxxx remembrance of me & of yourself. why man there never was so bad a book in the world before. If I were to take any twenty pages & enumerate all the faults in them – do you remember Duppa when he came from the Installation at Oxford – all piping hot? – even to that degree of heat would this bare enumeration excite you, & your shirt would be as wet as if you had tumbled into a bath. I tell you my opinion as a friend, just to prepare you for what is to come – & am actually laughing at the conceit of how you will look when you take up the first review!




* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ APR 21/ 1807
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 80–83 [in part]. BACK

[1] An old English proverb meaning they are both as bad as each other. BACK

[2] Southey’s uncle had died the previous year and left nothing to his nephews. BACK

[3] Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB). BACK

[4] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB). BACK

[5] Southey’s own poems, Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) and Madoc (1805). BACK

[6] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616) author of Don Quixote (1605–1615). BACK

[7] Southey’s disparaging term for the noisy MPs in the House of Commons. Tantara-rara, Rogues All was the title of a 1786 play by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB); see The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), III, pp. 349–90. ‘Tantara-rara, Fools All Fools All’ was also a popular song from Henry Fielding’s (1707–1754; DNB) play The Lottery (1732). BACK

[8] By the first of these measures the government of William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville limited the term for which soldiers could enlist; the second was passed into law in March 1807. BACK

[9] Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. From 1802–1805 Melville’s use of public funds when Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800), was investigated by a Royal Commission. On 9 April 1805 Melville was censured in the House of Commons for allowing the misuse of public funds. He resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him, but he was cleared of nearly all the charges in June 1806. BACK

[10] William and his brother Thomas Grenville (1755–1846), First Lord of the Admiralty. BACK

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

[12] The Athenæum, a Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous Information, edited by John Aikin and published by Longmans. BACK

[13] Southey was editing The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807). BACK

[14] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[15] Southey had begun work on his History of Brazil, the first volume of which appeared in 1810. BACK

[16] William Hinchcliffe (1692–1742); Charles Gildon (1665–1723; DNB). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013