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373. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 January 1799 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

You ask me why the Devil rides on horseback – “The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman. & that would be reason enough. but moreover the history doth aver that he came on horseback for the Old Woman, [1]  & rode before her, & that the colour of the horse was black. should I falsify the history & make Apollyon a pedestrian? besides Grosvenor, Apollyon is cloven footed, & I humbly conceive that a biped – & I never I understood his damnable majesty to be otherwise – that a biped I say would walk clumsily upon cloven feet. neither hath Apollyon wings according to the best representations & indeed how should he? for were they of feathers like the Angels – they would be burnt in the everlasting fire. & were they of leather like a bats they would be shrivelled. I conclude therefore that wings he hath not. yet do we find from sundry reputable authors & divers histories that he transporteth himself from place to place with exceeding rapidity. now as he cannot walk fast or fly, he must have some conveyance stage coaches to hell there are none tho the road be much frequented. balloons would burst at setting out, the air would be so xxx rarified by the heat. but horses x he may have & of a particular breed.

I am learned in Dæmonology & could say more but this sufficeth. I should advise you not to copy the ballad because the volume will soon be finished. I expect to bring it with me on Ash Wednesday [2]  to town. Wynn furnished me with the subject of an excellent parody. [3] 

I know not whether I should say any thing or not upon the first part of your letter. it was never my intention to give you pain. I saw you was offended by the note that accompanied Berchtold’s book [4]  but noticed it not, thinking it would pass away. forget it.

I am better – but they tell me that constant exercise is indispensable – & that at my age & with my constitution I must either shake off the complaint now, or it will stick to me for ever. Ediths health requires care, our medical friend dreads the effect of London upon both. when my time is out in our present house (at Midsummer) we must go to the sea awhile. I thought I was like a Scotch fir – could grow anywhere – but I am sadly altered & my nerves in a vile state. I am almost ashamed of my own feelings – but they depend not upon volition. these things throw such a joy over the prospect of life! I cannot see my way – it is time to be in an office – but the confinement would be ruinous. you know not the alteration I feel. I could once have slept with the seven sleepers [5]  without a miracle – now – the least sounds wakes me & with alarm. however I am better.

I should like to pass a day with you when I come to town. Thursday Fr. & Sat. I dine at the inn. if you are in town Saturday I will walk over with you after dinner – & return with you Monday & to Bristol that night. otherwise I will leave town by Saturdays mail. let me know where you shall be then. is Duppa in town? –

Ediths remembrance.

God bless you

yrs affectionately

R Southey.

I had almost forgot. do you know anything of [MS torn] Alfred? [6]  what progress he has made in it? & what metre? perhaps Miss Miles [7]  knows. I am curious – because I think, in spite of the sack & the laurel [8]  – that our Bristol poem will be the best. this I know, that it will be the better for competition. [9]  the Naucratia [10]  is very heavy, & Pye too old to improve.

Monday 21 Jany 1799.


Notes

* Address: To/ G C Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ London/ Single
Postmark: [partial] B/ JA/ 99
Endorsement: 21 Janry 1799
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. 8–9 [in part]. BACK

[1] ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’ and an accompanying engraving published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]-160. BACK

[2] 6 February 1799. BACK

[3] ‘The Surgeon’s Warning’, published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [161]–173. BACK

[4] Leopold, Graf von Berchtold (1759–1809), Nachtrict von dem im St Antons-Spitale in Smirna mit dem allerbesten Erfolg gebrauchten einfachen Mittel (1797). Southey had presumably returned the copy he had requested Bedford to send him on 26 August 1798 (Letter 343) with a note that offended his friend. The note has not survived. BACK

[5] The seven sleepers of Ephesus, who, according to Christian legend, slept for over a century. BACK

[6] Joseph Cottle’s Alfred, An Epic Poem, in Twenty Four Books (1800); an example, like Southey’s Joan of Arc (1796), of a Bristolian-produced epic. BACK

[7] Unidentified; probably a friend of the Bedford family. BACK

[8] The laurel wreath and a butt (108 gallons) of sack per annum were rewards associated with the Poet Laureate; at this time the ex-politician Henry James Pye (1745–1813; DNB). BACK

[9] Cottle’s epic had competition in the form of Henry James Pye’s Alfred, an Epic Poem in Six Books (1801). BACK

[10] Henry James Pye, Naucratia; or, Naval Dominion (1798). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011