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389. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 March 1799 ⁠* 

Westbury March 14 – 99 –

Certainly Grosvenor you cannot be more pleg phlegmatic than I am at this present writing. the great business of my life now is blowing my nose, & I have blown it so long & so hard & so often as to have deranged something in its internal structure. my pocket-handkerchiefs – alas my pocket-handkerchiefs! – Sunday ones & all – are in the foul-bag. & still the cursed the secretion goes on.

You tell me a sad story about a schoolfellow of ours & never mention his name. who was it?

The song you mention is I suppose the same as I saw on the Courier of Tuesday – written for the Princes Catch Club, by Robert Southey Esqr. [1]  what squire Southey may have written, I know not, but the Robert Southey that I am acquainted with certainly never wrote a song for the Prince’s Catch Club & certainly never will. if the song was anonymous & its burden Fight for the Good Old Customs & the Cause of Religion & Order, such a song of mine is about the world & from its complexion may likely enough be said to be mine.

That I could write a good play I think my volume [2]  proves – not in the Ballads (which only prove pantomime abilities) but in the Eclogues, where I think the dialogue dramatically true to Nature. Of late I have written many light little pieces, of which the following may amuse, the imitation of my own language & style of thought is compleat.

Inscription under an Oak [3] 

_______

Here Traveller pause awhile. this ancient-oak
Will parasol thee if the sun ride high,
Or should the sudden shower be falling fast
Here mayst thou rest umbrellaed. all around
Is good & lovely; hard by yonder wall
The Kennel stands, the horse-flesh hanging near
Perchance with scent unsavoury may offend
Thy delicate nostrils, but remember thou,
How sweet a perfume to the hound it yields
And sure its useful odours will regale
More gratefully thy philosophic nose,
Than what the unprofitable violet
Wastes on the wandering wind, nor wilt thou want
Such music as benevolence will love.
For from these fruitful boughs the acorns fall
Abundant, & the swine that grub around,
Shaking with restless pleasure their brief tails
That like the tendrils of the vine curl up,
Will grunt their greedy joy. dost thou not love
The sounds that speak enjoyment? oh if not –
If thou wouldst rather with inhuman ear
Hark to the warblings of some wretched bird
Bereft of freedom, sure thine heart is dead
To each good feeling, & thy spirit void
Of all that softens or ennobles man.

_____

Eke do I send you a very passionate & pretty

Love Elegy. [4] 

_____

The Poet relates how he obtained Delia’s pocket-handkerchief.

Tis mine! what accents can my joy declare!
Blest be the pressure of the thronging rout -
Blest be the hand so hasty of my fair
That left the tempting corner hanging out!

I envy not the joy the Pilgrim feels
After long travel to some distant shrine
When to the relic of his Saint he kneels
For Delias pocket-handkerchief is mine.

When first with filching fingers I drew near
Keen hope shot tremulous thro every vein
And when the s[MS torn]hd deed removed my fear
Scarce c[MS torn]ld my bounding heart its joy contain.

What tho the 8th commandment [5]  rose to mend,
It only served a moments qualm to move,
For thefts like this it could not be designed, –
The 8th commandment was not made for Love.

Here when she took the macaroons from me
She wiped her mouth to clean the crumbs so sweet –
Dear napkin! yes she wiped her lips in thee –
Lips sweeter than the macaroons she eat

And when she took that pinch of Mukkebaw  [6] – how the Devil do you spell that?
That made my Love so delicately sneeze,
Thee to her Roman nose applied I saw –
And thou art doubly dear for things like these.

No washerwomans filthy hand shall eer –
Sweet pocket-handkerchief! thy worth profane –
For thou hast touchd the rubies of my fair
And will I kiss thee oer & oer again.

______

Of my next publication [7]  the intent is this. I have a swarm of little poems crowding my desk to which I would not affix my name, yet which I would not burn. it was mentioned to me as a matter of surprize that none of our Poets published an annual Anthology like the French & German Almanacs of the Muses, works of much celebrity on the continent in Germany Burger, Voss, & Schiller [8]  each edited one. I took the hint. many of my friends write well – & would like me be glad of a respectable repository for their second-rate pieces. some write but little – yet will like to see that little in print. the merit of the first volume & its popularity, of which I entertain no doubt will attract shoals of unknown contributions for the succeeding years. the task of editing will be always an amusement for me, & in the succeeding years the profit something. my name appears not – except to one or two of the best pieces I insert, to give respectability to the collection. [9]  I believe after all the nasty original title must be kept, that it may start as a parallel work with the foreign ones. it will be better to admit no translations, judging from myself they disappoint one – we look in a book for something new – & see a poem in its hundredth dress.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

R. Southey

I shall be in town on or before May day, & will pass as many days with you as you like.


Notes

* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ London/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] OL/ 14 99; [partial] 15/ 99
Endorsement: 14 March 1799
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23
Unpublished. BACK

[1] ‘On a Golden Cup, with Embossed Figures, Dedicated to the God of Mirth by the Harmonic Club’, Courier, 11 March 1799. BACK

[2] Southey’s Poems (1799). BACK

[3] Published anonymously in the Morning Post, 27 February 1799. BACK

[4] Published anonymously in the Morning Post, 4 April 1799. BACK

[5] ‘Thou shalt not steal’, Exodus, 20: 15. BACK

[6] A type of snuff. BACK

[7] Southey’s Annual Anthology, the first volume of which appeared in 1799. BACK

[8] Gottfried August Burger (1747–1794); Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826); Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805). BACK

[9] In the Annual Anthology (1799) Southey only gave his name to seven ‘Inscriptions’, and to ‘The Holly Tree’, ‘Eclogue. The Last of the Family’ and ‘The Soldier’s Funeral’. BACK

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August 2011