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

50. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 3 June 1793] ⁠* 

Balliol Oxford.

The first of June

Hail merry month beneath whose smile
Expanding Nature spreads her charms
On every tree, on every flow’r
That decks the varied field.

Hail Summers eldest born. no more
Hoar white with chilly Winters breath
Obscurd, the sparking stubble round
Gleams on the smarting sight.

No more the bleak blasts biting sway
Sweeps oer the hills — the peasant stands
With chattering teeth, or swings his arms
With forceful stroke around.

No more swift gliding oer the ice
Unsteady surface skims the youth,
Perhaps amid Ambitions path
More dubious ground to tread.

Hail June. expectant of the gifts
Pomona [1]  from her viney bower
Benign pours forth, a bloodless feast
We hail thy wisht return.

We look for fiercer suns — whose rays
Beaming intense oer Ceres’ [2]  plain,
Gold-tip the harvest & prepare
For man the winters store

We look amid the woodbine shade
Where breathe around all Natures sweets
Artless & chearing, for the fare
Thy hand benign matures.

But past is spring & soon the year
On waining to its end, shall sink
Thro fruitful Autumns mellowing shades
To Winters dreary gloom

Soon shall the ruthless hand of Time
Unsparing, sear with jaundiced touch
The forest top, & soon to earth
Each sapless leaf must fall.

Soon the rough blasts arising sweep
The falling grove — no shade remain
From mid-day sun, nor mid-day sun
The cooling grove require.

And hark. Reflection from yon beam
Transparent calls — “tho’ Summer now
With sultry step & ruddy cheek
Stalks oer the varied plain,

Soon like the Spring — his sway shall pass
Soon Autumns mellowing hand shall paint
The plain — soon Autumns tinctures fade
In Winters shivering sway.

Let then o Man all Nature speak.
Let Meditation seize the hour
Deep to impress on Reason ear
The lesson all must learn.

Thy spring must pass: perhaps ere long
The blighting blast shall nip each bud
Of promise — or the canker worm
Corroding slow consume.

Or if prolonged to summer days
The flower shall bloom, the fruit mature —
Soon Autumn comes — soon Winters storms
Must blast the annual plant.

So Heaven decrees all wise all good
Amid the season changing year
Writes legible — the hour must come
Prepare o Man for Death.

this was begun when the clock struck the ten & now it is transcribed it is striking eleven. let this plead in excuse.

Seward after taking his degree left Oxford yesterday. I accompanied him with Burnet twelves miles on his road & there took leave of a man with whom I have past some part of every day since the 30th. of January. as we past by a church Burnet mentioned that the Sexton had been a soldier. I replied by an easy transition — he — has spent one half his life in murdering his fellow creatures & the other in burying them. — the circumstance appeared odd & whilst considering in what mould some peoples hearts were cast I fell into a reverie or waking dream if you like the term better, for which you will the better or the worse as it may please your fancy. when any thing strikes me I always think of a paper.

I was wandering in the store house of Nature & wondering at the various strange objects that presented themselves to me. (fill up the antichambers & rooms as you will for this must one day make a paper give me likewise whom you please for a guide) at length I reachd the laboratory where the several guides of man were fashioning hearts. a stern broad figure whom we knew for Ambition was hewing some out of marble. & near him stood a little haggard wretch busily employed in melting gold for the same purpose yet much alloyed by Lead. Caprice was moulding hearts of clay in a thousand different forms. painting butterflies — genealogies — coins — mutilated statues — & monsters — one figure I observed endeavouring to form some of sponge — but these were no sooner filld with wine than they lost all resemblance to the human heart. in a dark corner of the room sat a sullen sad faced figure with a broad phylactery a large band & an immense wig. as this workman had just begun with infinite pains to form a heart I had an opportunity of observing the whole process. it was a block of black marble & the figure of a mitre most indelibly impressd in various parts of it. the gibbet the rack & the scourge were plentifully pourtraied on it. imagining this was almost finished I was about to have retired when my conductor stopt me to see the conclusion — for added he this heart is by no means yet compleated. the workman casd over this innermost block with a kind of plaister & upon this I saw paper Lexicons & Scholiasts. over this was a thin viel inscribed moderation fatherly love affection, liberality. to whom this belongs I think Bedford you will want no information. opposite this figure Liberality & Genius were busied in tempering the finest earth of Paradise with the milk of human kindness. science was polishing & true religion adding the last refinement. perhaps Bedford the Modesty with which it was mixed will tempt you to disown this heart. but Truth & Experience both toldaffirmed it & Reason & Friendship were too well convinced even to doubt. here said Nature taking down an urn is a heart upon which I bestowed more than ordinary pains. Parnassus [3]  furnished the clay & the font of Helicon [4]  tempered it — {with} dew from the violet that grew upon the grave of Sappho. [5]  but I instilled too much Sensibility the heart was too yielding — it was too much my own, & Rousseau was unhappy. here is another too with materials equally good but unhappily the due mixture of Piety was forgotten & the fatal draught chilled the heart of Chatterton. [6]  here is a heart composed with wonderful skill but for want of sufficient moist the pores are always thirsty & incapable of retaining any thing else — as fast as friendship makes an impression Intemperance blots it out. you have known the owner said Reflection. are you acquainted this said Nature. shewing me one of Plaister of Paris in its pulverized state. this was easily impressed & easily lost the impression but look how changed — in a moment it was grown hard & she held it out — as I gazed upon the impression — I recollected & began to feel if my own heart was in my bosom.

when once Bedford you begin to reflect rationally a reverie is over. Reason has clipped the wings of Imagination. I was jogging along the road & forgetting the hearts looked for a milestone.

I have walked to and from Cambridge since last I wrote to you. we made Stowe in our way — & passed thro Bicester — Buckingham — Old Stratford — Stoney Stratford Newport Pagnel. Bedford. Buckden. Huntingdon — Godmanchester & Fen Stanton in our road there. this route made the walk exactly one hundred miles which we performed in two days & a half. 33 the first. 41 the second & 26 the other half. from Cambridge we went by water to Ely (where I had a most strange adventure) & returned the same {way} rowing almost 40 miles in one day. we returned through Royston Baldock Hitchen Dunstable Tring Aylesbury & Thame 83 miles & reachd Oxford on the twelfth day from our departure in as good health & better spirits than we left it.

Bunbury passed me once or twice & looked the other way. at length we met by a gate way & he was obliged to speak but so confounded he was that I pitied him. our conversation lasted about one minute & I relieved him of my presence. I saw Rough there & he wished much to engage in a periodical paper saying that he would manage the printing at Cambridge & did not doubt its succeeding there. I told {him} that provided a good plan was laid down & we had enough to undertake it I had no objection & indeed rather wished it than otherwise. I likewise promised to mention it to you. are you Bedford any ways inclined once more to venture in such unlucky company? I will not pretend to manage the helm in so perilous a sea but I can tug at the oar & sing as I pull till my arms drop off with fatigue. tho’ I have still some little cacoethes remaining I hope I have lost much of those sanguine expectation with which Vanity had once so inflated me. not that the failure of the Flagellant damped them for of that I am still proud — but to my ideas the pleasure of gratifying a few friends with those productions which partiality will make them esteem is infinitely more delightful than the applause of critics or the echo of popular praise. will you write soon upon this subject & believe {me} semper paratus [7]  — either boldly to launch the bark with full sails or creep along the coast in search of the bay of contentment — perhaps in danger of splitting upon a hidden rock.

C Collins & I have arranged matters thus. you if you {so} please are my guest the Doctor to whom I beg to be remembered, is his & if any of your friends like to come we can quarter a whole regiment upon young Wynn. he is now in Devonshire swallowing down lessons of politeness which his brother [8]  has learnt in Russia, but returns in a few days. concerning your horse I will enquire. but installation will be difficult to procure {for} him & you had better either coach or walk it. were your resolution either as firm as your head or as strong as your legs you might do wonders. but last night Burnet (about the Doctors size) walked 25 miles with me & stopt an hour upon the road in 6 hours & 3/4. this I call exercise & this is the best preservative against the hip. this brings Health.

I am much obliged to mine for your ode which to praise were needless & to blame could only be the task of Malevolence or Momus. [9]  your next must bring me some more verses or I stop my current. & this I am vain enough to think may induce you to write. my adventure in Ely cathedral will I think make a good tragical kind of tale in the true ditty metre set to the tune of Chevy Chace. [10]  I assure you you were within an inch of reading.

on Wednesday the 22nd of May a melancholy accident happened at Ely. three young gentlemen who had ascended the tower having broke their necks in attempting to descend. or being lost in the passages & starved to Death. per varios casus per tot discrimina rerum.  [11] 

believe me yrs sincerely.

RS.


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: CJU/ 3/ 93
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath and figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd. June 3d 1793
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 23–27 [in part; verse not reproduced; where it is dated [1 June 1793]]. BACK

[1] The Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards. BACK

[2] The Roman goddess of fertility. BACK

[3] Mount Parnassus, mythical home of the Muses. BACK

[4] In Greek mythology, the waters of mount Helicon were sacred to the Muses. BACK

[5] The lyric poetess Sappho (b. c. mid C7 BC). BACK

[6] Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘always ready’. BACK

[8] Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1772–1840; DNB), elder brother of Charles Watkin Williams Wynn. BACK

[9] A Greek god who was famed for being critical of anything and anyone. BACK

[10] ‘The Ballad of Chevy Chace’. BACK

[11] Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 1, line 204. The Latin translates as ‘through so many sorts of disaster and so many crises’. BACK

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March 2009