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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

927. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 23 April 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

damn the pen!

but in so swearing I recollected that you would say, Southey you had better mend it – & so I did. & so once more

Dear Grosvenor.

I thought to have seen you before this time. – & am daily – indeed hourly in expectation of being enabled to say when I set out – but as this expectation may last yet some days I may as well write meantime.

You know that I design to take up with me the first part of Madoc & leave it with the Printer. [1]  Now have I been thinking that your worship might perhaps be not unwilling to stand man-midwife upon the occasion, & be appointed Grand Plenipotentiary over commas semicolons & periods – I except the colons as no man can manage his own. My books have all suffered by misprinting. – In fact there is a lurking hope at the bottom of this request, that when you have once been brought into a habit of dealing with the Devil on my account, you may be induced to deal with him on your own. You shall – i.e. if you will – do for Madoc what you have done for Kehama, [2]  & find fault while those faults be may be amended in time. I will put the copy into your hands, & when you have examined it at your pleasure, you shall some day give me a beef-stake tete-a-tete– & we will lay our two tetes together & I will alter all the passages that I cannot on some fair ground defend.

I shall bring up with me as much towards the Specimens [3]  as can be supplied by Andersons Collection, [4]  Cibbers Lives, [5]  & an imperfect series of the European Magazine. [6]  The names omitted in these may beyond all doubt be supplied from the Obituary in the Gentlemans Magazine [7]  – alias the Old-womaniana, a work which I have begun to take xx here at Keswick to enlighten a Portugueze-student among the mountains, & which does amuse me by its exquisite inanity, & the glorious & intense stupidity of its correspondents. It is in truth a disgrace to the age & the country. My list of names is already long enough to prove that there will be some difficulty in getting at the volumes requisite, not that it is or can be a matter of conscience to read thro all the dull poetry of every rhymester. If a dog be decidedly dull – mark him with a DD for damned dunce, & put in the shortest specimen. the language of vituperative criticism has not yet been so systematized as to afford terms for every shade of distraction. I had an idea of applying the botanical nomenclature to novels & dividing them into mongynia – monandria, cryptogamia [8]  &c. but for the poems the pun will not hold good.

Meantime if they fall in your way, or you fall in theirs take in hand Sir C. Hanbury Williams, [9]  Anna Williams the pensioner of Johnson [10]  – Colley Cibber, quote one of his Laureate Odes & notice the infinite absurdity & unapplicability of Popes xxx attack in the Dunciad, [11]  & Hall Stevenson, Sternes Friend who wrote the Crazy Tales, if it be possible to gather a weed from that dung hill which does not stink, & also without dirting ones fingers. [12]  My plan in London will be to go to Stationers Hall [13]  with my list in my pocket. there to finger-read what are to be found, which may be done by a score in a morning, – carry a list of extracts to Longman, & let him send an amanuensis to take off the manual part of the labour. – Where the volumes are only to be found in private collections I must of course transcribe myself. There is one curious part of the subject for which it would gratify me to find xxx materials in any quantity. I mean popular songs or ballads, no matter how bad (if decent in a moral sense) provided they have actually been popular, that is the poetry of the people, the genuine successors of the old Ballads. Unless they are upon real subjects it is almost impossible to guess even at their age, for whatever is obsolete slips from the memory, or is omitted in a new impression. Still some will be found. I have from the European Magazine, one upon Prince Eugenes victories over the Turks, [14]  & from oral tradition one upon Lord Derwentwater which I sent Wynn, [15]  & he has a Privy-Gardener upon Lord Mohoun. [16]  indeed I expect to find some at Privy Garden.

Tis a long way to London! I wish all were well & I were on my way – & then shall I wish myself arrived – & then be wishing myself back again, for compleat rest, absolute, unprospective – rooted rest is the great object of my desires. Near London must be my final settlement, unless any happy & unforeseen fortune should enable me to remove to the South, & then take a longer lease of Life. in fact – if I could afford the money-sacrifice I would willingly make the offer, & keep my History unpublished all my life – that I might pass it in Portugal. [17]  society – connections – native language – all these are weighty things – but what are they to the permanent & perpetual exhilaration of a climate, that not merely prolongs life – but gives you double the life while it lasts. xx xxxx xxxx I have actually felt a positive pleasure in breathing there & even here, in this magnificent spot, the recollection of the Tagus & the Serra de Ossa of Coimbra & its cypresses & orange groves & olives, its hills & mountains, its venerable buildings & its dear river, of the vale of Algarve, the little islands of beauty amid the deserts of Alemtejo, & above all of Cintra, the most blessed spot in the habitable globe [18]  – will almost bring tears into my eyes.

Vale!

RS.

April 23. 1804.


Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ APR 26/ 1804
Endorsement: 23. April 1804
MS: 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. 281–283. BACK

[1] Madoc (1805), which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and was revising for publication, was in fact printed by James Ballantyne in Edinburgh. BACK

[2] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama was published by Longman in 1810. BACK

[3] Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), which Southey jointly edited with Bedford. BACK

[4] Robert Anderson (1749–1830; DNB), The Works of the British Poets (1792–1795), which included biographical and critical articles. The work consisted originally of thirteen volumes, to which a fourteenth was added in 1807. BACK

[5] Colley Cibber (1671–1757; DNB), The Lives of the Poets (1753). BACK

[6] The European Magazine, and London Review, which was established as the mouthpiece of the Philological Society of London in 1782, until its cessation in 1826. BACK

[7] The Gentleman’s Magazine was founded in London, in 1731, by Edward Cave (1691–1754; DNB). Published monthly, its intention was to provide news and commentary for the educated classes, and often contained quotations and extracts from other published sources. BACK

[8] Monogynia: a Linnæan order of plants, including those which have only one style; monandria: a Linnæan class of plants embracing those having but a single stamen; cryptogamia: plants that do not bear seeds: ferns, mosses, algae, fungi. BACK

[9] Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (1708–1759; DNB): diplomat, wit, satirist, author of Isabella, or the Morning (1740), The Country Girl (1742), Lessons for the Day (1742), and Letter to Mr Dodsley (1743). Extracts of his poetry feature in Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), II, pp. 279–283. BACK

[10] Anna Williams (1706–1783; DNB): poet and translator who, impoverished by blindness, lived as the companion of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB) for over thirty years. She was the author of Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1766). Williams is not included in Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[11] Colley Cibber (see note 5): Poet Laureate, playwright and actor-manager, ridiculed by Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) in The Dunciad (1728–1743) for his vanity and for the dullness of his verse. His laureate odes on royal birthdays were often parodied in his lifetime, not least, according to Cibber’s autobiography, by Cibber himself. Cibber is included in Specimens of the Later English Poets, II, pp. 251–254. BACK

[12] John Hall Stevenson (1718–1785): poet and satirist, friend of Laurence Sterne (1713–1768), who devoted his residence, Skelton Hall in Yorkshire (or as he called it, Crazy Castle), to roistering with a circle of licentious friends. His satirical verse acquired a ‘lurid reputation for licentiousness and blasphemy’ (DNB): Crazy Tales (1762) adapts Rabelais (c. 1494–1553) and Chaucer (c.1340–1400; DNB) to fictionalise members of Hall-Stevenson’s circle. He was not included in Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[13] Near Ludgate Hill, in the City of London: a repository for old books because the Stationers’ Company, whose headquarters it is, had a royal monopoly on book production in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. BACK

[14] The European Magazine and London Review, 39 (1801), 47–48, printed a ‘Ballad, translated from the German’ celebrating the exploits of Prince Eugene (1663–1736) against the Turks, which included victories at Vienna and Belgrade. BACK

[15] For this ballad; see Southey to Charles Watkin WilliamsWynn, 4 February 1804 (Letter 893) and [c. 18 February 1804], (Letter 898). BACK

[16] By ‘privy-gardener’ Southey means a ballad pasted up on the wall of the former Privy Garden of the King, an area by St James’s Park just off Whitehall in London. It was commonplace to daub slogans and hang up sheets of ballads for sale there. The ballad was perhaps the mid-eighteenth century broadsheet on the death in a duel of Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun (c. 1675–1712; DNB), An Excellent Ballad of the Lord Mohun and Duke Hamilton. With an Exact Account of their Melancholy Deaths. Mohun’s opponent James Douglas-Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton and 1st Duke of Brandon (1658–1712; DNB) was also killed in the fight. BACK

[17] Southey’s projected ‘History of Portugal’ was indeed never published. BACK

[18] For Southey’s delighted response to living at Cintra; see Southey to Margaret Southey, 22 August 1800, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 542. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013