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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1562. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 January 1809 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

You make a confession respecting Milton which 999 persons out of the thousand would make if they were honest enough, – for his main excellencies are like M. Angelos [1]  only to be thoroughly appreciated by an artist. This however by no means incapacitates you from reviewing Hayleys book, [2]  in which your business lies with Cowper & with his biographer –one of whose works (his Animal Ballads) [3]  I once reviewed [4]  by quoting from O Keefes song – Hayley-gaily gamboraily higgledy piggedly galloping draggletail dreary dun. [5]  Hayley as Miss Seward has just remarked to me in a letter is perfectly insane upon the subject of Cowpers resemblance to Milton, [6]  – there is no other resemblance between them than that both wrote in blank verse, – but blank verse as different as possible. You may compare Cowpers translations (which I suppose are very bad, as many of his lesser pieces are, & as Miss Seward tells me) with Langhornes, [7]  – & you may estimate Cowper himself as a poet, as man of intellect & as a translator of Homer, showing that he is not overvalued, – but that his popularity is owing to his piety – not his poetry, – & that that piety was craziness. I like his Letters, [8]  – but think their so great popularity one of the very many proofs of the imbecillity of the age. By the by a very pretty fam piece of familiar verse by Cowper appeared about two years ago in the Monthly Magazine. [9] 

I thank you for pointing out a blunder of which I am not in the least sensible, & will thank you to correct it in the MS. lest it should be repeated in print. The length of my Mission Article will not exceed that of Sidney Smiths in the Edinburgh upon the same subject, & I believe not quite equal it. [10]  I measured by it, & scarcely allowed myself any extract, – I do not think you will find the same thing said twice, except it be as summing up, – for this reviewal was written with great care, – the history of the Mission is as brief as possible, entering into de no detail except upon those circumstances which occasioned an appeal to the civil power, & which therefore have been made of importance to the question.

Ah Grosvenor – the very way in which you admire that passage in Kehama [11]  convinces me that it ought not to be there! – Did I not tell you it was a clap trappish & – you are clapping as hard as you can to prove the truth of my opinion. That it grew there naturally is certain, but does it suit with the poem? – is it of a piece or colour with the whole? Is not the poet speaking in himself – whereas the whole character of the poem requires that he should be out of himself! I know very well that three parts of the Public will agree with you in calling it the best thing in the Poem, – but my Poem ought to have no things which do not necessarily belong to it. There will be a great deal to do to it, & a good deal is already done in the preceding parts.

I have long expected a schism between the Grenvilles & the Foxites. [12]  Jeffray has been trying to unite the opposition with the Jacobines as they are called – he hurts the opposition & he wrongs the Jacobines, – he hurts the former by associating them as unpopular a xxx xxx with a name that is still unpopular, & he wrongs the friends of liberty by supposing that they are not the deadliest enemies of Bonaparte. Walter Scott xxx xxx, whom I look upon as as compleat of an Anti-Jacobine as need be, does not ring out more loudly Fight on my merry men all, than I do. – General Moore [13]  must feel himself stronger than we have supposed him to be, or he would not advance into the plains of Castille. If he have 40,000, he will beat twice the number & for my own part, superior as he is in cavalry & artillery (ours being the best in the world) I do not see what xxx we have to fear from numbers against him, for nothing can withstand our cavalry in a flat country. You know Grosvenor I never felt a fear till it was said he was retreating, – & now that he is marching on, all my apprehensions are over. Huzza it will be Rule Britannia by land as well as by sea.

I have had a grievous cold which has prevented me from rising as soon as it is light, & thereby for a while stopt Kehama. – This evening I have corrected the fourth sheet of Brazil, the volume will be ready in the spring [14]  – I am now busy in filling up some skeleton chapters in the middle of the volume. This will be as true a history, & as industriously & painfully made as ever yet appeared, yet I cannot say that I expect much present approbation for it. It is deficient in fine circumstances, & as for what is called fine writing, the Public will get none of that article from me, – sound sense, sound philosophy, & sound English I will give them.

I was beginning to wonder what was become of Wynn. – Can you procure for me a copy of the Report of the Court of Inquiry, [15]  or will you ask Rickman if he can, – I do not write to him till the season of franking returns. I shall want it hereafter as one of my documents. Lord Moira [16]  has risen in my estimation, – he is the only person who seems to have had any thing like a feeling of the moral strength which was on our side, & which we compleatly gave up by the Convention –

God bless you

RS. Jany 6. 1809.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr./ [in another hand] Exchequer / J C Herries
Endorsements: 6 Jany 1809; Jany 6 1809
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. 204–207 [with omissions].
Note: ‘J C Herries’ (John Charles Herries), who used his parliamentary privilege to frank the letter for Southey, was Bedford’s friend, was employed as private secretary to Spencer Perceval. BACK

[1] The Renaissance painter and sculptor, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475–1564), more commonly known as Michelangelo. BACK

[2] Letters by William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB) were published in William Hayley (1745–1820; DNB), The Life and Posthumous Writings [chiefly Letters] of W. Cowper (1803–1804), of which a new edition of this work, The Life and Letters of William Cowper Esq., was published in 1809. Bedford does not appear to have reviewed this work. BACK

[3] Ballads; Founded on Anecdotes Relating to Animals, with Prints, Designed and Engraved by William Blake (1805). BACK

[4] Southey reviewed Hayley’s Ballads in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 575–576. BACK

[5] The original lines of the song ‘Pedrillo’ are: ‘With a haily gaily, gambo raily,/ Giggling, niggling,/ Galloping galloway, draggle tail, dreary dun’, from the comic opera by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB), entitled The Castle of Andalusia (1782). See The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), I, p. 119. BACK

[6] For instance in Hayley’s The Life and Letters of William Cowper Esq., 4 vols (Chichester, 1809), IV, pp. 443–444. BACK

[7] John Langhorne (1735–1779; DNB), poet and translator. BACK

[8] See note 3. BACK

[9] Cowper’s ‘The Distressed Travellers, or Labour in Vain’ appeared in the Monthly Magazine, 24 (1807), 566. BACK

[10] Sydney Smith (1771–1845; DNB), ‘Indian Missions’, Edinburgh Review, 12 (April 1808), 151–181. Southey reviewed the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807), in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[11] From Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama (London, 1810), Book 10, lines 150–171. The lines were published as ‘Love’ in English Minstrelsy: Being a Selection of Fugitive Poetry from the Best English Authors (Edinburgh, 1810), II, pp. 236–237, and The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), xxxi. BACK

[12] Factions within the Whig party who were followers of the policies of Charles James Fox or William Wyndham Grenville. BACK

[13] Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), Scottish General with a long and varied military career. He was also MP for Lanark Burghs 1784–1790. After the controversial Convention of Cintra (1808), Moore was given the command of the British troops in the Iberian peninsula. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna. BACK

[14] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[15] Southey wished his friends with influence in parliament to send him a copy of the report of the Court of Inquiry into the conduct of the generals who signed the Convention of Cintra, on 30 August 1808. Through this agreement, the French army commanded by Jean-Andoche Junot (1771–1813) and defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the 1st Duke of Wellington) (1769–1852; DNB) at Vimeiro on 21 August, was allowed to retreat intact, with its weapons, from Portugal. Wellesley, who did not sign the Convention, had been superseded in command by two veteran generals, just arrived in Iberia, who were content to make peace: Sir Harry Burrard (1755–1813; DNB) and Sir Hew Dalrymple (1750–1830; DNB). The Court of Inquiry failed to punish Burrard and Dalrymple, but they never took command again. BACK

[16] Francis Rawdon Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings and 2nd Earl of Moira (1754–1826; DNB), army officer and politician. On taking his seat as Baron Hastings in the House of Lords on 19 January 1809, he blamed the faulty planning of British ministers for the Convention of Cintra. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013