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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

977. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 25 August 1804 ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

Such another semi-letter as yours which arrived this evening has been lying some time in my desk unanswered – for what with supplying a Scotch printer, [1]  attending on Lakers, nursing my little girl, writing history, correcting my poem, [2]  & occasionally getting out for exercise I never felt myself so little at leisure. But in that first letter you say you wish me to write to Horace – now long before that letter of yours could have been indited I had written – indeed written a fortnight or three weeks after my return, chiefly to the purport of persuading him to visit Keswick. the letter required no answer & received none. [3]  perhaps he was disappointed at perceiving how resolutely I avoided those idle & worthless speculations to which he seems to have abandoned himself. I only refer to it to let you see that there was no neglect on my part. his company would have been pleasant to me, – that mine would have been useful to him I see little reason to believe.

Now to the second letter & to business. [4]  I design to prefix some preface – precious tautology – that is, to write a sketch of the history of our poetry from the Restoration, its progression decline & corruption, to what length this will extend above six or eight pages must depend upon the humour in which it is undertaken, my then state of leisure, & whether it trickles from heart to head & thence to the fingers & thence dribbles onto the paper daintily, or not. But there will be nothing intermediate more than those scraps of notices. – As soon as you have enough for three or four sheets put to press the haunting of a Printers Devil will be an excellent stimulus. needs must go when he drives. but seriously begin as soon as you can for – for even if you should be obliged sometimes to stop the press, it will be an advantage to clear off as you go on & the desiderated are not so many as to occasion any material delay – especially if you apply to Heber. the Devil must be in the poor author who is not be found either with him, Isaac Reid [5]  or Hill. their collections are perfect hospitals.

I am mistaken if you do not feel more interest than you expect when you look at our lucubrations in printers ink instead of the best Japan [6]  or Record, [7]  which wants the unction of the typographical. You need no directions, only in your brief prolegomenas round your sentences, or point them if there be little information to communicate & never let slip a joke if it lies in your way. People like to be amused, & where the poetry be dull we ought to make the prose its antidote, & be sure none of the specimens be the same as Ellis  [8]  has given of those few authors whom we also are obliged to introduce. by the by I should be glad if you could send me my copy of Ellis from Rickmans by Duppa.

Now good Grosvenor or bone Bedford which means the same thing or has the same alliterative excellence, – do set soon to work. when your shoulders are to it it is nothing. remember what we got thus at Hills. Get Isaac Reid to fill up the list to the best of his recollection, & never mind if two or three or half a score ragamuffins be omitted now – let them wait for the second edition, to make such a work perfect at once is impossible. London printers make quick work. It may be ready during the winter with no exertion, with great ease during the spring.

I am neger-ring [9]  at Madoc – you will like the story of the Great Serpent & the way in which he is killed. [10]  & I must neger at my history. for go abroad I will in the autumn of next year if possible. this Scotch printer does his work most excellently for accuracy & beauty. It will be ready for Xmas.

Wynn is coming next week. my brother Harry is here – a very promising young man. I am going to set up a Jack Ass for Edith. & there is all the news. unless I spoke ill of my Kidneys. Was I born under Aquarius or Orion? & are the stories of nymphs converted into rivers only allegories of diabetes. diabetes quase diaboletes. [11]  a devilish bad pun upon a devilish bad thing –

God bless you. I would fill the sheet if I could save the post.

Write – if but to tell me how your mother is –

yrs affectionately

RSouthey.

Aug. 25. 1804.


Notes

* Address: To/ G.C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ AUG28/ 1804
Endorsements: 25 August 1804; Friday morn at 6/ Saturday Do 4/ up all Suny night/ Monday morng 4½/ Monday night 12/ Wednesday morng 4½/ Thursday morn 5
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23
Unpublished. BACK

[1] James Ballantyne, whose printing house printed Southey’s Madoc (1805). BACK

[2] Southey’s ‘History of Portugal’ was never completed. He was correcting proofs of Madoc even while still revising the sections of the manuscript not yet sent to the printer. BACK

[3] This letter has not survived. BACK

[4] Southey proceeds to discuss the anthology of minor verse on which he and Bedford were engaged. It was published by Longman in 1807 as Specimens of the Later English Poets. BACK

[5] Isaac Reed (1742–1807): a conveyancer, editor and literary historian, author of Biographia Dramatica, or, a Companion to the Playhouse (1782) and editor of Shakespeare’s plays. The fifth edition of his Plays of William Shakespeare was published in 1803. BACK

[6] Japan ink, like Indian ink, made from lampblack and used with a quill pen. BACK

[7] A kind of ink sufficiently durable to be used for record-keeping. BACK

[8] George Ellis, Specimens of the Early English Poets (1790, 2nd edn 1801, 3rd edn 1803), the anthology on which Southey’s own was modelled. BACK

[9] That is, slaving. BACK

[10] The snake god features in Madoc, Part 2, books 6 and 7. BACK

[11] Meaning ‘diabetes as if devils’. BACK

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August 2013