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744. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 December 1802 ⁠* 

Kehamiana 2d


Invent me a name instead of Book [1]  – or Canto. instead of 10 – or 12 books I shall find it convenient to divide the poem into shorter portions. Scene will not do, because progression from one scene to another is often part of the poem. Chapter & Section are ugly words. & Song – which else were the best of all – is abused for what was never intended to be sung. Fit & Rhapsody are affected & loathsome. Part. is good English but I likes it not. Canticle would be better than Canto – but then you know the Song of Songs [2]  has but that modest title, & it would not be modest to imitate Solomon.

However I object to Fit – by fits the poem will be written – & I am glad to feel a fit coming on. weak eyes will force me to poetry, yet in truth a certain dissatisfaction at what I have done has been the main cause why Kehama has lain so long on hand. there is a piece-meal-ness of plot – it is federal plot instead of being one & indivisible – & unity is my creed in all things. I have planned how to make the Curse operate in each & every part to Kalyals preservation xx as it relates to Water – Fire & Death. that with respect to food & sleep it should not quadrate is no fault. it need not fit like your

[Southey draws a mock, scrawled signature]

upon a bankers check or a Consuls testimonial.


Your first objection – to ‘obedient to the call’ – is not valid – have the goodness to all my is’s & is nots – to affix an I think or an in my opinion subintellecto modestiæ gratia? [3]  a man goes to the gallows obediently, for {then} as the learned Prelate [4]  who is about as orthodox in his politics as his religion observes – he has nothing to do with the law than but to obey it. Shrieking – I cannot judge of that for blockhead like I forgot to correct my own copy by yours & that passage was altered –but I see you would drive my poor metre mad by putting shrieking at the end of a line & make it no metre at all. sprung – clung – hung – the rhymes have a merit, & one might fancy in them a sameness of feeling & action. Of the passage you have written you will see lines & phrases whenever I recopy the book. but its too apostrophical. that note of interrogation must be sparingly handled, it is playing with an edge tool to use it too often. I reverse the as if despair & –. scratch out ‘the crime is his’ & Laderlad speaks to your feeling & quite enough for mine. Kehamas eye must not fascinate – you will see why at the end of the second book. the Kehama reigns below is but rhyme & shall go out – I want however a rhyme or two in his place – they ought to ding-dong in a curse till the ears ring again.

You do not make out At fits to short convulsive starts was stung – it is the pain & shooting thrill of recovery in a dead limb. the pain of drowning is nothing, except when wilful and accompanied with strong mental agitation: recovery on the contrary is very painful, I knew a man who had experience & told me this. Laderlad could not bear a hand on his head because it was throbbing in a high fever. – did you ever come near your fathers hand when it was gouty?

And now for the rest of the poem you may have it in what shape you will – but in truth I think letters better – because if you think proper to bind the whole the letters may come in as interludes between the acts, being all of one size – & so you will have the hints & the poem & the criticism – the meat & the sauce, the egg & the chicken all together. But this is as you please – & the sooner you let me know the sooner you will have the second book for I am now half way thro the third.

You know the Vedas are the Brahminical bibles. now one of these Vedas has been translated into French, [5]  & if you could get it for me you would be my magnus Apollo. [6]  Horace will perhaps have the goodness to enquire at the foreign bookseller when he goes there. The only writer of late years who has at all methodised the system is Sonnerat [7]  – from Sir W Jones [8]  you learn little unless you previously have read much. his information is scattered & execrably arranged. Some of the old Dutchmen give a far clearer account. I have sent to Italy for the fullest & last work the Systema Bramanicum of Fra. Paolo de San Bartolomeo. [9]  with these helps I shall do something – & am killing two birds with one stone, for all the knowledge I acquire for Kehama will be necessary for the Oriental part of my history.

Have you seen the Scotch Review of Thalaba? [10]  of which is good what is good is not about Thalaba, & what is about Thalaba is not good. the Critic says there is no invention in Thalaba. now Grosvenor I will tell you what I think of the Critic – to speak mildly of him – as one always should in these cases he is a damnd lying Scotch son of a bitch.

Eyes better. but I cannot have the Welsh house & that is a sore disappointment for I made sure of it. Margaret well. oh I had almost forgot a poem

Grosvenor has a dog & his dogs name is Snivel

I have a daughter & my daughters name is Drivel.

Vale vale me sodali – [11] 

R Southey

Tuesday 21. Dec. 1802.


* Address: To/ G C Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] 122/ DEC; B/ DEC 22/ 1802
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (6)
Unpublished. BACK

[1] This letter is a response to Grosvenor Bedford’s criticism of the final part of Book 1 of an early version of the Curse of Kehama (1810), which Southey had sent to him on [c. 30 November 1802], Letter 738. Bedford’s critique has not survived. BACK

[2] The Book of the Old Testament usually known as the Song of Songs. It is sometimes called the Canticle, a shortened version of the Latin Canticum Canticorum. The alleged author is Solomon (c. 1011-c. 932 BC, King of Israel 971-932 BC). BACK

[3] The Latin translates as ‘unintelligently for the sake of modesty’. BACK

[4] Possibly Richard Watson (1737–1816; DNB), Bishop of Llandaff. BACK

[5] Guillaume de Clermont-Lodeve, Baron Sante-Croix (1746-1809), Ezour-Vedam (1778), though this was not in fact an authentic translation of a Sanskrit work. BACK

[6] The Latin translates as ‘great Apollo’, Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), Eclogue 3, line 104. BACK

[7] Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814), Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine (1782). BACK

[8] Sir William Jones (1746-1794; DNB), Britain’s foremost orientalist. BACK

[9] Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo (1748-1806), Systema Brahmani, et Liturgicum Mythologicum (1791), no. 2143 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] Edinburgh Review, 1 (October 1802), 63-83, carried Francis Jeffrey’s hostile review of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[11] The Latin translates as ‘farewell, farewell, my friend’. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2011