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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1320. Robert Southey to Sir Egerton Brydges, 10 May [1807] ⁠* 

Keswick, 10th May, 1809. [1] 


I hold myself greatly indebted to you, not only for the list of authors, but for the very gratifying manner in which you have introduced my name in the ‘Censura Literaria.’ [2]  That list, with another of equal length, for which the selections were prepared for the press, but omitted during the course of publication by the friend who undertook to superintend it, will enable me, in an additional volume, to supply the bibliographical defects of the work. [3]  It gives me great pleasure to hear that ‘Bampfylde’s Remains’ are to be edited. [4]  The circumstances which I did not mention concerning him are these. They were related to me by Jackson of Exeter, [5]  and minuted down immediately afterwards, when the impression which they made upon me was warm.

He was the brother of Sir Charles, [6]  as you say. At the time when Jackson became intimate with him, he was just in his prime, and had no other wish than to live in solitude, and amuse himself with poetry and music. He lodged in a farm-house near Chudleigh, and would oftentimes come to Exeter in a winter morning, ungloved and open-breasted, before Jackson was up, (though he was an early riser,) with a pocket full of music or poems, to know how he liked them. His relations thought this was a sad life for a man of family, and forced him to London. The tears ran down Jackson’s cheeks when he told me the story. ‘Poor fellow,’ said he, ‘there did not live a purer creature, and, if they would have let him alone, he might have been alive now.’

When he was in London, his feelings having been forced out of their proper channel took a wrong direction, and he soon began to suffer the punishment of debauchery. The Miss Palmer, to whom he dedicated his ‘Sonnets,’ [7]  (afterwards, and perhaps still, Lady Inchiquin,) was niece to Sir Joshua Reynolds. [8]  Whether Sir Joshua objected to his addresses on account of his irregularities in London, or on other grounds, I know not: but this was the commencement of his madness. He was refused admittance into the house: upon this, in a fit of half-anger and half-derangement, he broke the windows, and was (little to Sir Joshua’s honour) sent to Newgate. Some weeks after this had happened, Jackson went to London, and one of his first inquiries was for Bampfylde. Lady Bampfylde, [9]  his mother, said she knew little or nothing about him; that she had got him out of Newgate, and he was now in some beggarly place. ‘Where?’ ‘In King Street, Holborn, she believed, but she did not know the number of the house.’ Away went Jackson, and knocked at every door till he found the right. It was a truly miserable place: the woman of the house was one of the worst class of women in London. She knew that Bampfylde had no money, and that at that time he had been three days without food. When Jackson saw him, there was all the levity of madness in his manners; his shirt was ragged, and black as a coal-heaver’s, and his beard of a two months’ growth. Jackson sent out for food, and said he was come to breakfast with him; and he turned aside to a harpsichord in the room, literally, he said, to let him gorge himself without being noticed. He removed him from hence, and, after giving his mother a severe lecture, obtained for him a decent allowance, and left him, when he himself quitted town, in decent lodgings, earnestly begging him to write.

But he never wrote: the next news was that he was in a private madhouse, and Jackson never saw him more. [10]  Almost the last time they met, he showed him several poems, among others a ‘Ballad on the Murder of David Rizzio.’ [11]  ‘Such a ballad!’ said he. He came that day to dine with Jackson, and was asked for copies. ‘I burned them,’ was the reply. ‘I wrote them to please you; you did not seem to like them, so I threw them in the fire.’ After twenty years’ confinement he recovered his senses, but not till he was dying of consumption. The apothecary urged him to leave Sloane Street, (where he had always been as kindly treated as he could be,) and go into his own country, saying that his friends in Devonshire would be very glad to see him. But he hid his face, and answered, ‘No, Sir; they who knew me what I was, shall never see me what I am.’ Some of these facts I should have inserted in the specimens, had not Coleridge mislaid the letter in which I had written them down, and it was not found till too late

[MS missing]

He read the preface to me. [12]  I remember that it dwelt much upon his miraculous genius for music, and even made it intelligible to me, who am no musician. He knew nothing of the science; but would sit down to the harpsichord, and produce combinations so wild that no composer would have ventured to think of, and yet so beautiful in their effect that Jackson (an enthusiast concerning music) spoke of them, after the lapse of twenty years, with astonishment and tears.

You have noticed the death of Henry Kirke White of Nottingham, [13]  whose ‘Remains’ I have prepared for the press. [14]  Should the enclosed specimens of his poetry please you, as I think they cannot fail to do, you will perhaps give them a place in the ‘Censura.’ [15]  They have never been printed. Had he lived, I am persuaded that he would have placed himself in the first rank of English poets.

There is a class of books, of which as yet you have taken no notice—the prose romances. They have had a greater effect upon our literature than has been supposed. In reading ‘Amadis of Greece,’ I have found Spenser’s ‘Mask of Cupid,’ Sir Philip Sydney’s ‘Zelmane,’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Florizel.’ [16]  The latter, by name, going to court a shepherdess, who proves, of course, a princess at last. Was ever any single work honoured with such imitators? The French romances which followed (those of Calprenade, [17]  the Scudery’s, [18]  &c.) were the great storehouses from whence Lee, [19]  and the dramatists of that age, drew their plots. These considerations may induce you to give some attention to them in your very useful work.

I am, Sir, with many thanks,

Yours respectfully,

Robert Southey.

To Samuel Egerton Brydges, Esq.

Denton Court, near Canterbury.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges, 2 vols (London, 1834)
Previously published: The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges, 2 vols (London, 1834), II, pp. 257–261.
Dating note: This letter is misdated 1809. From the internal evidence of the letter which relates to Southey’s sending of Kirke White’s poems to Brydges that were published in 1807, the letter has been redated to that year. BACK

[1] A misdating for 1807. BACK

[2] Southey is described as being ‘one of the most beautiful writers perhaps, which this nation ever produced’ in Egerton Brydges, ed., Censura Literaria: Containing Titles, Abstracts, and Opinions of Old English Books, with Original Disquisitions, Articles of Biography, and other Literary Antiquities, 10 vols (1805–1809), IV, p. 95. Brydges also wrote an article on the poet John Codrington Warwick Bampfylde (1754–1796; DNB) after Southey published three of Bampfylde’s sonnets and his ode ‘To the River Teign’ in Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), III, pp. 434–437. The article, including two of Bampfylde’s poems, appeared in Censura Literaria, IV, pp. 301–303 A subsequent article discusses William Jackson (1730–1803; DNB), musician, painter, and author, whose relationship with Bampfylde is recounted in this letter. See Censura Literaria, IV, pp. 303–307. These articles are presumably what prompted Southey to write to Brydges concerning Bampfylde, including material that he had recounted to Coleridge previously; see The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 3 October 1799, Letter 440. BACK

[3] The Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), jointly edited with Grosvenor Charles Bedford. Although planned, an additional supplementary volume was never issued. BACK

[4] Brydges’s friend Thomas Park (1758/9–1834), published The Poetical Works of John Bampfylde in 1808. BACK

[5] William Jackson (1730–1803; DNB), musician, painter, and author, whose relationship with Bampfylde is recounted in this letter. BACK

[6] Sir Charles Warwick Bampfylde, 5th Baronet (1753–1823). BACK

[7] Sixteen Sonnets (1778). BACK

[8] The niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) was Mary Palmer (1750–1820) who inherited most of his fortune. In 1792 she married Murrough O’Brien, 5th Earl of Inchiquin, later 1st Marquess of Thomond (1726–1808). BACK

[9] Lady Jane Bampfylde (née Codrington; 1720–1789) wife of Sir Richard Warwick Bampfylde, 4th Baronet (1722–1776). BACK

[10] Bampfylde spent the last twenty years of his life in an asylum. BACK

[11] David Rizzio (1533–1566; DNB), an Italian courtier of Mary Stuart (1542–1587; Queen of Scotland 1542–1567; DNB). He was stabbed to death in the Queen’s presence at Holyroodhouse Palace, Edinburgh. BACK

[12] Jackson’s projected edition of Bampfylde’s poetry for which he wrote the preface never appeared. BACK

[13] A short obituary for Kirke White appeared in Brydges, Censura Literaria: Containing Titles, Abstracts, and Opinions of Old English Books, with Original Disquisitions, Articles of Biography, and other Literary Antiquities, 10 vols (London, 1805–1809), III, p. 424. BACK

[14] Southey’s edition of The Remains of Henry Kirke White with an Account of his Life (1807). BACK

[15] The poems of White’s that Southey sent to Brydges appeared in the Censura Literaria: Containing Titles, Abstracts, and Opinions of Old English Books, with Original Disquisitions, Articles of Biography, and other Literary Antiquities, 10 vols (London, 1805–1809), V (dated 1807), pp. 84–86, with acknowledgement of Southey’s role in supplying previously unprinted verses. BACK

[16] Southey had borrowed from Heber, Feliciano de Silva (1491–1554), Noveno libro de Amadís de Gaula, Crónica del muy Valiente y Esforzado Príncipe y Caballero de la Ardiente Espada Amadís de Grecia, hijo de Lisuarte de Grecia, Emperador de Constantinopla y de Trapisonda, y rey de Rodas (1530). He found it to be a source for stories and characters in Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), The Faerie Queene, Book III, canto xii, Philip Sidney (1554–1586; DNB), Arcadia (1593) and Shakespeare. Florizel, whom Shakespeare dramatised in the Winter’s Tale, is the subject of de Silva’s Don Florisel de Niquea (1532). These borrowings were noted by Southey in his Preface to Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (London, 1807), pp. xliv-xlv. BACK

[17] Gauthier de Costes, Seigneur de la Calprenède (1609/10–1663) was a French novelist and dramatist who published several long heroic romances. BACK

[18] Georges de Scudéry (1601–1667) and his sister, Madeleine (1607–1701), whose name he lent to her romances. BACK

[19] Nathaniel Lee (b. between 1645 and 1652–1692; DNB), poet, who wrote extravagant, heroic plays. BACK

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August 2013