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415. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 June 1799 ⁠* 

Wednesday June 5. 99.

My dear Grosvenor

Heer is de koele June. [1]  we have a March wind howling & a March fire burning. it is a diabolus diei. [2] 

My journey was like the new method of cutting for the stone, memorized in my Letters. [3]  but I learnt one piece of information which you may profit by – that on Sunday nights they put the new horses into the Mail always – because as they carry no letters, an accident is of less consequence as to the delay it occasions. this nearly broke our necks for we narrowly escaped an overturn. so I travel no more on a Sunday night in the Mail.

I found Edith better – but my Mother is very unwell, so as to give me serious apprehensions.

Carlisle came Saturday afternoon & went away Sunday. he brought with him such trout! tell Horace such trout!

I am the better for my journey, & inclined to attribute it to the greater quantity of wine I drank at Brixton than I had previously done. therefore I have supplied the æther by the grape-juice – & exchanged the table-spoon for the corkscrew.

I find Printers faith as bad as Punic faith. [4]  new types have been promised from London for some weeks & are not yet arrived – therefore I am still out of the press. I pray you forget not to send me the old man woman who was circularized

[Southey inserts sketch of a large O]

who saw her own back, whose head was like the title page of a Jews prayer book, who was an emblem of eternity, the Omikron of old women. [5]  you will make a good ballad of this quaint tale. it is for subjects allied to humour or oddity that you possess most powers. witness the Barbers [6]  & Pretty Grange. [7]  find such subjects & you will find pleasure in writing in proportion as you feel your own strength. I will at my first leisure transcribe for you St Anthony & the Devil. [8] 

The time of removal is so near at hand that I begin to wish every thing were settled & over. this is a place which I leave with some reluctance, after taking root here for 25 years, & now our society is so infinitely mended. Davy, the Pneumatic Institution [9]  Experimentalist is a first rate man, conversible on all subjects & learnable-from, (which by the by is as fine a Germanly compounded word as you may expect to see. I am going to breathe some wonder-working gas [10]  which excites all possible mental & muscular energy & induces almost a delirium of pleasurable sensations without any subsequent dejection.

We had a rare tempest yesterday in honour of his Majestys birth day, [11]  & I thought of you & your Horse & the Grand Review. I will get the Fox Glove receipt for you, which I forgot to ask for when last I saw Davy. remember me with all thankfulness for three weeks hospitality to your father & mother. – & to your brothers both. Snivel [12]  is not susceptible of a compliment or I would not forget her because she did not forget me.

I was fortunate enough to meet Sharpe of whom you said so much on the Sunday that I left Brixton. I was with Johnson in the Kings Bench [13]  when he came in; I mist his name as he entered but was quite surprized at the novelty & good sense of all his remarks. he talked on many subjects, & on all with a strength & justness of thought which I have seldom seen found. this meeting pleased me much – & I wish much to see more of Sharpe. he seems a man whom it would be impossible not to profit by. he talked of Combe [14]  – who is in the Kings Bench. you said that Combe wrote books which were not known to be his. [15]  Sharpe mentioned as his – Lord Lyttletons Letters. [16]  many of Sternes Letters. [17]  & Æneas Andersons account of China. [18] 

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer / London
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ JUN 5 99; B/ JU/ 6/ 99
Endorsement: 5. June 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. 18–20 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Dutch translates as ‘June here is cool’. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘devil of a day’. BACK

[3] Robert Southey, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal, 2nd edn (Bristol, 1799), p. 203. BACK

[4] i.e. a promise you cannot trust. BACK

[5] The fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to the English ‘o’. Bedford had written a ballad about an old woman, ‘The Hag’s Disaster’; see Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 14 October [1799], Letter 446. BACK

[6] Bedford’s ‘The Rhedycinian Barbers’, published in Southey’s Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 44–47. BACK

[7] For Southey and Bedford’s co-authored ‘Pretty pipe, and pretty grange’, see their letter to Charles Collins, 16 September 1793, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part 1, Letter 56. BACK

[8] Southey’s eclogue ‘The Devil and St. Anthony’; see Robert Southey to William Taylor, 18 March 1799, Letter 391. BACK

[9] The Pneumatic Institute, Dowry Square, Bristol, had opened earlier in 1799. It was devoted to using gases to treat illness. Humphry Davy was Thomas Beddoes’s deputy at the Institute. BACK

[10] Nitrous oxide. The effects of the gas on Southey were described in Thomas Beddoes, Notice of Some Observations Made at the Medical Pneumatic Institution (Bristol, 1799), p. 11; and Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and Its Respiration (London, 1800), pp. 507–509. BACK

[11] 24 May, the birthday of George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[12] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[13] Joseph Johnson (1738–1809; DNB) had been sentenced in February 1799 to six months incarceration in the Kings Bench prison for publishing Gilbert Wakefield’s A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Landaff’s Address to the People of Great Britain (1798). BACK

[14] The writer William Combe (1742–1823; DNB) had been arrested and imprisoned for debt in May 1799. BACK

[15] i.e. Combe worked as a ghost-writer. BACK

[16] Combe had ghost-written Letters by the Late Thomas Lord Lyttelton (1780). BACK

[17] Combe’s Sterne’s Letters to His Friends on Various Occasions. To Which is Added, His History of a Watch Coat (1775) and Letters Supposed to have been Written by Yorick and Eliza (1779), combined authentic with invented correspondence. BACK

[18] Aeneas Anderson (fl. 1795–1802), A Narrative of the British Embassy to China, in the Years 1792, 1793, and 1794 (1795). BACK

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August 2011