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770. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 April 1803 ⁠* 

Sunday. April 3. 1803.

I have been thinking of Brixton, Grosvenor, for these many days xx past – when more painful thoughts would give me leave. an old Lady, whom I loved better than any other woman, & have for the last eight years regarded with something like a filial veneration, has been carried off by this damnd influenza. [1]  she was mother to Danvers with whom I have so long been on terms of the closest intimacy. I could say much about this – but there is no propriety in talking to you about strangers. –

your ejection from Brixton has very long been in my head – as one of the evil things to happen in 1803 xxxxxx tho it was not predicted in Moores Almanach [2]  – however I am glad to hear you have got a house (for I was fearful you would have been obliged to go into lodgings for want of one) & still more glad that it is an old house. for I love old houses best, for the sake of their odd closets & cupboards, & good thick walls that do not let the wind blow in, & little out-of-the wayx rooms polyangular rooms with great beams running across the cieling – old heart of oak that has out lasted half a score generations. & chimney pieces with the date of the year carved above them, & chimneys that huge fire places that xxxx warmed the shins of Englishmen before the house of Hanover [3]  came over. The most delightful associations that ever make me feel & think & fall a dreaming are excited by old buildings – not absolute ruins – but in a state of decline. Even the clipt yews interest me, & if I found one in any garden that should become mine, in the shape of a peacock I should be as proud to keep his tail well spread as the first man was who first carved it. in truth I am more disposed to connect myself by sympathy with the ages that are past, & by hope with those that are to come, than to vex & irritate myself by any lively interest about the {existing} generation.

Your letter was unusually interesting & it dwells upon my mind. I could & perhaps will, one day write an Eclogue upon leaving an old place of residence. [4]  what you say of yourself impresses still more deeply upon me the conviction, that the want of a favourite pursuit is your greatest source of discomfort & discontent. It is the pleasure of pursuit that makes every man happy – whether the merchant – or the sportsman or the collector, xxxxxx, the philobibl. or the readerobibl. like me & makerobibl like me. pursuit at once supplies employment & hope. This I have often preached to you, but perhaps I never told you what benefit I myself have derived from resolute employment. When Joan of Arc [5]  was in the press I had as many legitimate causes excuses for unhappiness as any man need have, uncertainty for the future, & immediate want, in the literal & plain meaning of the word. I often walked the streets at dinner time for want of a dinner, when I had not eighteen pence for the ordinary, nor bread & cheese at my lodgings. but do not suppose that I thought of my dinner while I was walking – my head was full of what I was composing – when I lay down at night I was planning my poem, & when I rose in the morning the poem was the first thought to which I was awake. the scanty profits of that Poem I was then anticipating in my lodging house bills for tea bread & butter & those little &cs that amount to a formidable sum when a man has no resources. but that Poem, faulty as it is, has given me a Baxters shove [6]  into my right place in the world.

So much for the practical effects of Epictetus, [7]  to whom I hold myself indebted for much amendment of character. Now when I am not comparatively but positively a happy man, wishing little, & wanting nothing, my delight is the certainty that while I have health & eye sight I can never want a pursuit to interest. subject after subject is chalked out. in hand I have Kehama – Madoc & a voluminous history. [8]  & I have planned more poems & more history, so that whenever I am removed to another state of existence – there will be some valdi lacrymablis hiatus [9]  xx xxx in some of my posthumous works.

We have been all ill with this La Gripe – but the death of my excellent old friend is a real grief, & one that will long be felt. the pain of amputation is nothing. it is the loss of the limb that is the evil. She influenced my every day thoughts & one of my pleasures was to afford her any xxxx of the little amusements which age & infirmity can enjoy. death is made an evil by all its details. of the old εοδαυαια [10]  the corruptions & vices of society have deprived us, disease does the work of decay, we sink under our sufferings indeed if going to sleep. I speculate too much upon futurity, & hope too much & believe too much to fear death – but I do fear the Death bed, & would rather crawl into a corner like a dying beast. Burial is a vile custom. the eye knows where to follow the body – & how to represent it but burning scatters it to the elements, & the little heap of ashes that can be preservd can excite no horror or disgust. It is my opinion that all our xxxxxx worst associations respecting death originate from the custom of interment.

When do I go to London? if I can avoid it, not so soon as I had thought. the journey & some unavoidable weariness in tramping over that overgrown metropolis half terrify me. & then the thought of certain pleasures – such as seeing Rickman, & Duppa, & Wynn {& Carlisle} & Grosvenor Bedford & going to the old book shops half tempts me. I am working very hard to fetch up my lea-way, that is I am making up for time lost during my opthalmia. 54 more pages of Amadis [11]  & a Preface – no more to do. huzza! land! land!

Will you at your leisure pack up my set of the Poets & send them off by waggon. I have hardly an English Poet in the house, & I ought to be reading Spenser & Milton sometimes. but this at your leisure.

God bless you. Margaret in spite of a snub snout is grown out of her ugliness. & has as good a face as one could wish for a child of 7 months. take my last poems upon her. N.B. I call them all Effusions of a Father.

D.D. stands for Daughter Drivel

M.S. for Margaret Snivel. – but that was written when she had a cold. my compliments to her namesake. [12] 

RS.

Pray remember me thankfully to Mr Smith [13]  & tell me of Mrs Smith health when you write.


Notes

* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] BRISTOL/ APR; [partial] B/ APR/ 1803
Endorsement: 3. April 1803
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. 204-207 [in part]. BACK

[1] The European-wide influenza epidemic of 1803. BACK

[2] Old Moore’s Almanack, a best-selling almanac, published every year since 1697 and containing predictions for the year ahead. BACK

[3] Before 1714, when the Stuart dynasty was succeeded by the House of Hanover. BACK

[4] Southey did not carry out this intention. BACK

[5] Joan of Arc (1796), which was printed in the latter half of 1795. BACK

[6] Slang, derived from An Effectual Shove to the Heavy-Arse Christian (1768), wrongly attributed to Richard Baxter (1615-1691; DNB). The pamphlet’s author was the Welsh minister William Bunyan (fl. 1760s). BACK

[7] Epictetus (AD 55-135), Greek Stoic philosopher. BACK

[8] Southey was working on Book 2 of The Curse of Kehama (1810). He had completed a fifteen-book version of Madoc in 1797-1799 and was revising it for publication, though it did not appear until 1805. His ‘History of Portugal’ remained uncompleted. BACK

[9] ‘Very lamentable gap[s]’. BACK

[10] Euthanasia; literally ‘dying well’. BACK

[11] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[12] Bedford’s dog, Snivel. BACK

[13] Thomas Woodroffe Smith (c. 1747-1811), a wealthy Quaker merchant, who lived at Stockwell Park, Surrey. In 1789 he married, as his second wife, Anne Reynolds (dates unknown) of Carshalton. The Smiths were friends of Bedford and his family. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2011