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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1703. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 26 October 1809] ⁠* 

I called Captain Bligh [1]  notorious as the only way in which I could imply that he was a thorough rascal. It was an act of much self-controul not to accompany the sentence with a bitter sarcasm, saying the Missionaries had a lucky escape, for his unendurable tyranny might have driven more Christians to desperation. [2]  I know a great deal of that affair of the Bounty from James Losh who with Professor Christian [3]  (poor Fletcher C.s [4]  brother) went to the mutineers that were brought home, & collected their testimony concerning all the circumstances which led to it. I know too, or rather have every reason to believe that Fletcher C. was within these few years in England & at his fathers house, – an interesting circumstance in such a history, & one which I hardly ought to mention, – so do not you let it get abroad. [5]  For xxx xxx {tho} the Admiralty would be very sorry to hang him, some rascal or other would gladly enough apprehend him for the price of blood, & hung of course he would be; tho {but} if every man had his due Bligh would have had the halter instead of the poor fellows whom we brought from Taheite. Is not that a sad story of Stewart & the Taheitian Girl?– the verses are by a young banker of Birmingham by name James, [6]  who sent me some of his first attempts for the intended third vol. of the Anthology. [7]  By that circumstance I discovered them to be his, & as I really admired them very much inserted them in the Quarterly [8]  partly for the sake of giving him & his friends a very unexpected pleasure, for which they do not know to whom they are obliged.

You will really do me some service by lending his Majestys my quarters pension. Mea negotia sunt mala ad hoc tempus, erunt melioria mox. Sum valde pono manum cum Longo Homine. Scribo – scribo – scribo quid hunc? populus non emit. Ego abstergam meum tergum-latus cum Thalabâ, cum Madoco, cumque Kehamâ nil dubito – idem est (quod equidem miror) cum nobilissimo Campedatore. Iste Campedator dormitxx tam profundi in vico Patrum Nostrum quam in sepulchre suo ad S. Petri Cade Cardinesis. Ego haurio & haurio super Longum Hominem. Longus Homo est bonus homo ille sinit me haurire, nil contradicens. Habet satis in manibus suis omne liquidare ad finem. Hoc vero inconveniens est, quod credo alii bibliopolæ darent me bonum summum pecuniae pro pro quolibet opere novo, et ego non possum ire ad eos, quia hoc modo obligatus sum ad Hominem Longum. [9] 

Now as some comfort after this Exposè – I believe this engagement with Ballantyne for his Annual Register [10]  will if it continues for two or three years, set me fairly above water again. I am to have 400 £ for it. Now my yearly drafts upon Longman have never reached 300, – rarely more than {as much as} 250. Immediately therefore on coming into the receipt of this I shall be enabled to let my copyrights, which are held in his hands, as a joint concern, xxx xxx xxx {rest &} pay off the balance against me. As for any thing from the Powers above, that is to say the earthly Powers, – my creed about them is a little like that of Capaneus; [11]  if my own right hand does not uphold me, – I may fall to the ground for them: {yet I believe that} Canning was probably in earnest xxx in his professions, for he could have had no motive in making them, except the intention of carrying them into effect.

I am doing nothing for the Quarterly which is Murrays fault. Had he sent me the Methodistical book which I wrote for, before he left town, that article would have been written by this time, or far advanced, [12]  – for I am yawning over the parliamentary part of this Register work, & should have been glad to have roused myself at intervals with work of a more awakening character. Gifford says he shall send me some books – I wish he would, –

I also looked at the use which the Butler made of the Cohora, – tho I did not laugh till I came to it, – for want of a key to the jest.  [13]  By the bye I really envy the man who made the son of God save John Bull [14]  for Covent Garden, – that uproarious rhyme ought to have been mine

You forgot to inclose the receipt. When it goes back the cohora shall go also, together with another book of Kehama. That which you received last ought to please you. The story of Veeshnoos incarnation as the Dwarf is told with lucky facility of language. [15]  & the passage of Ladurlads descent into the sea, [16]  – & his daughter forgetful of the Curse recalling him, [17]  is in my judgement one of the best things in the poem. It is not yet finished, – for I never write a line of it except before breakfast, – & if my rest be broken I cannot rise for this employment. But it is very-very-near the end – I have reached the part which requires most fire & fury, & it is like yeast in the aorta to only to think of it.

I have made an attempt to get Tom promoted, which cost me no little effort, & my hopes of its succeeding are not very strong. It is thro Sir G Beaumont, [18]  – & he has promised to ask Ld Mulgrave [19]  to make him Commander. If Ld Mulgrave were at the Admiralty, Scott I think would serve me there.

God bless you

RS.

Oct 29. 1809.


Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr./ Exchequer/ Westminster.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: E/ OCT 26/ 1809; [partial] OCT 26/ 1809 EV
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 519–521.
Dating note: Southey dates the letter ‘Oct 29. 1809’ but this must be an error as it is postmarked 26 October 1809. BACK

[1] William Bligh (1754–1817; DNB), naval officer, and later colonial governor, who was captain of HMS Bounty when the ship’s crew mutinied off Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1789. BACK

[2] Southey made reference to Bligh in his review of Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61 (25): ‘A mission to these islands was proposed; adventurers volunteered for the service; the notorious Capt. Bligh, who was then about to return to Taheite for the bread-fruit-tree, offered to take them out gratuitously, and the Lords of the Admiralty gave their consent: but when it came to the point, they who had offered themselves to the work, and been a year under tuition for the purpose, shrunk back.’ BACK

[3] Edward Christian (bap. 1758–1823), jurist and magistrate, who published the minutes of the court martial of the recaptured Bounty mutineers in 1794, in which he presented their motives sympathetically, so provoking a public debate with Bligh (DNB). BACK

[4] Fletcher Christian (1764–1793?; DNB), mutineer considered the ringleader of the rebellion on HMS Bounty. BACK

[5] There were several rumours that Fletcher Christian had returned to visit his relatives in Cumberland after the mutiny, but the account of John Adams (alias Alexander Smith; 1768?–1829; DNB), the only surviving mutineer, that he died on Pitcairn Island where the Bounty finished its voyage, is the generally accepted one. BACK

[6] Paul Moon James, whose poem ‘The Otaheitean Mourner’, recounting the fate of George Stewart (1766?-1791) and his Tahitian ‘wife’ was published in the Monthly Magazine, 26 (December 1808), 457–458. Stewart, a midshipman on the Bounty, had been forced to join the mutiny. At Tahiti he lived with ‘Peggy’, a Tahitian woman until in 1791 he was arrested there and confined on HMS Pandora, sent to bring the mutineers back to Britain for court martial. Imprisoned in a cell on deck, Stewart was killed on 29 August 1791 when the Pandora foundered on the Great Barrier reef. The Monthly Magazine article described Stewart’s parting from Peggy: ‘Peggy Stewart was the daughter of an Otaheitean Chief, and married to one of the Mutineers of the Bounty. On Stewart’s being seized and carried away in the Pandora Frigate, Peggy fell into a rapid decay, and in two months died of a broken heart, leaving an infant daughter, who is still living’. BACK

[7] Southey edited two volumes of the Annual Anthology in 1799 and 1800; the third never appeared. BACK

[8] Southey included two stanzas from James’s poem in his review of the Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61 (50). BACK

[9] Kenneth Curry translates this passage as ‘My business affairs are bad at this time, but they will soon be better. I am working very hard for Longman. I write – write – write – to what end? The public did not buy. I’ll no doubt wipe my backside with Thalaba , Madoc, and Kehama [Southey’s poems Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Madoc (1805) and The Curse of Kehama (1810)] – it is the same (as to that I likewise wonder) with the most noble Knight [Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid (1808)]. This Knight sleeps as deeply in the office of Our Fathers [the publisher Longman and Company] as in his tomb in San Pedro at Cardeña [his original burial place was the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña in Castile]. I borrow and borrow from Longman. The Long Man is a good man, he allows me to borrow, denying nothing. He has enough in his hand to settle everything at last. It is certainly inconvenient, but I believe that other booksellers would give me a good sum of money for any new work, but I am not able to go to them because I am obligated in this way to the Long Man’, New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 519–520. BACK

[10] From 1810 to 1812 Southey contributed to the ‘History of Europe’ for 1808–1810 in James Ballantyne’s Edinburgh Annual Register. BACK

[11] Capaneus was an immensely strong mythological warrior who was killed by a bolt of lightning when he scoffed at Jupiter, the Roman king of the Gods. BACK

[12] Southey reviewed [James Sedgwick (1775–1851; DNB)], Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in the Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. The request to Murray for this book was made on 4 August 1809 (see letter 1664 of this edition). BACK

[13] The key is now lost. The Butler was the compendium of whimsical stories that Bedford and Southey elaborated at school; Southey wished Bedford to develop them for publication. This Bedford never did. A cohora was a mortar used for firing grenades. BACK

[14] A comic version of the national anthem, sung by the Old Price rioters at Covent Garden theatre, as part of their protests at new increased ticket prices imposed when the theatre reopened in 1809 after a fire:

God save great Johnny Bull,
Long live our noble Bull,
God save John Bull!
Make him uproarious,
With lungs like Boreas,
Till he’s victorious,
God save John Bull!

O Johnny Bull, be true,
Oppose the prices new,
And make them fall!
Curse KEMBLE’S politicks,
Frustrate his knavish tricks,
Confound them all!

No private boxes let
Intriguing ladies get –
Thy right, John Bull!
From little pigeon-holes,
Defend us jolly souls
And we will sing, by Goles,
God save John Bull!

‘Memoranda Dramatica’, Monthly Mirror (October 1809), 243.

BACK

[15] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 15, lines 69–87. BACK

[16] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 16, lines 1–135. BACK

[17] The Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 5, lines 132–154. BACK

[18] See Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 12 October 1809, Letter 1692. BACK

[19] Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831; DNB): diplomatist and politician, appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1807. BACK

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August 2013