The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

176. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 September 1796 ⁠* 

Friday — September 9th. 1796. Bristol.

Grosvenor — stand Godfather to this Ode & give it what name you please. it was designed for your birth day — & might as well have been designed for any thing else.

————

And wouldst thou seek the low abode
Where PEACE delights to dwell?
Pause Traveller on thy way of Life —
With many a snare & peril rife
Is that long labyrinth of road!
Dark is the Vale of Years before —
Pause Traveller on thy way!
Nor dare the dangerous path explore
Till Old EXPERIENCE comes to lend his leading ray.

Not he who comes with lanthorn light
Shall guide thy groping pace aright
With faltering feet & slow;
No — let him rear the torch on high
And every maze shall meet thine eye,
And every snare & every foe;
Then with steady step & strong
Traveller! shalt thou march along.

Though POWER invite thee to her hall
Regard not thou her tempting call
Her spendour’s meteor glare;
Tho courteous FLATTERY there await
And WEALTH adorn the dome of State,
There stalks the midnight spectre CARE —
PEACE Travelller! does not sojourn there!

If FAME allure thee, climb not thou
To that steep mountains craggy brow
Where stands her stately pile;
For far from thence does PEACE abid,;
And thou shalt find FAME’S favouring smile
Cold as the feeble Sun on Hecla’s [1]  snow-clad side.

And Traveller! as thou hope’st to find
That low & loved abode,
Retire thee from the thronging road
And shun the mob of human-kind!
Ah hear how Old EXPERIENCE schools
“Fly fly the crowd of Knaves & Fools
“And thou shalt fly from woe!
“The one thy heedless heart will greet
“With Judas smile, & thou shalt meet
“In every fool a foe!”

So Traveller safely mayest thou pass from these
And reach secure the home of PEACE
And FRIENDSHIP find thee there.
No happier state can mortal know —
No happier lot can Earth bestow
If LOVE thy lot shall share.
Yet still CONTENT with him may dwell
Whom HYMEN [2]  will not bless —
And VIRTUE sojourn in the cell
Of hermit HAPPINESS. [3] 

———

There Grosvenor is one of the best Odes I have ever written. it is too general for the occasion that gave it birth. I shall therefore print it with my other lyrics — & supply its place among the birth day Odes by when I shall find more leisure

Where you will be on the eleventh I know not. wherever you are I wish you {I} were with you. Friendship has its red-letter days as well as Superstition & perhaps hereafter we may keep them as holy days. it is but three years since I was at Brixton — an interval crowded with events! & here am I writing verses with the same delight as ever. & whoever loves Poetry as sincerely as I do will agree with me that it is a pity I should ever do any thing else. however I have done enough — if ever I can honestly get enough by the blackguard rascally Law to retire into the country & write over my door

Inveni portum — Spes et Fortuna valete — [4] 

Why then Grosvenor will I take the old harp from the wall — [MS torn] if I have forgotten to strike its strings aright.

farewell — write to me — it is some weeks since I have heard[MS torn] you — & I want a report on the state of the sky light. now must I — write letters from Portugal.

Yrs.

Robert Southey.


Notes

* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand]: For/ G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard {Hastings}/ Westminster {Sussex}/ Single {Saturday}
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmarks: DSE/ 10/ 96; ASE/ 10/96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1795
Endorsement: 9 Septr 1796/ B. day Ode
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Mount Hecla, a volcano in Iceland. BACK

[2] In classical mythology, god of marriage. BACK

[3] A revised version, entitled ‘Birth-Day Ode, 1796’, appeared in Southey’s Poems (1797). BACK

[4] ‘I have reached the port, hope and fortune farewell’; a Latin version of a Greek original and in this form used in Alain-Rene Lesage’s (1668–1747), Gil Blas (1715–35), Book 9, as the inscription over the hero’s door on his retirement. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2009