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

53. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14–21 July 1793 ⁠* 

College Green Bristol. Sunday 14th July. 1793.

ditto. 21

travelling in a stage coach my dear friend is not the way to meet with adventures. you may sometimes fall in with striking characters but if you go from Oxford they will in general be strikingly bad. Radford [1]  of Exeter the man with the large tuft was as good as the rest so you may guess the capacities of my fellow travellers. in short the journey was hot & unpleasant. the horses were obliged to be bled & I was brute enough to remain in the coach.

in the evening I walked round Bath in hope of meeting one whom I earnestly wishd to see [2]  — my hopes were raised to the highest pitch when I thought I recognised the dress but disappointment soon checked them & the rest of the evening passed heavily & sadly. the next morning I rose at five & walked thirteen miles home to breakfast. here I am the most insulated being existing with the most unbounded continental views.

the militia are here & the crowd of dissolute people continually about them inspire me with ideas which I wish to moralize upon with Edmund Seward. I cannot see so many children of both sexes wasting away their youth or abusing it in learning every vice without experiencing some sensations too Rousseau-ish to be practicable & I almost fear, too good to be general. yesterday night I saw a woman digging a grave & every hour I see others, like so many furies occupied, reeking with the sulphur of Phlegethon, [3]  hanging upon the soldiers — oh Bedford the red robes of slaughter militate very strongly against my ideas. when I see men at least negatively good & certainly useful taken from the plough to learn the trade of murder I wonder where the thunder sleeps —

Joan of Arc continues to occupy my thoughts — I have rudely ran over a plan & probably by the end of this month you will see part of the first book, with me. the magnetic powers of the natale solum [4]  act only repulsively towards me, & I shall quit Bristol as soon as possible. I look forwards with much pleasure to the days I shall pass at Brixton. my Uncle is at present at his living in Herefordshire — & soon after his return my travels commence. from hence to Brixton — to Rye & home.

The most tiresome part of Joan is finished — collecting & arranging materials to this method of proceeding I had been little accustomed but now that done nothing but straight-forward work remains. the blank verse flows easily from the pen — as for machinery there was no ready made to assist me — so I een people the airy vast with unembodied sprites & allot the Genius of Liberty to defend the French from Ambition — Hatred — Slaughter & England. no railing Bedford — — Ambition Hatred Envy Slaughter Injustice & England — were they not allied in Henrys [5]  time? but when the honest man names a halter, thieves will rub their necks.

take my sketch

Dunois after his defeat by Fastolffe is carried off much wounded by his horse. Joan (what a poetical name!) heals him. account of her mission. as they journey to Charles Dunois relates the transactions of the war. meeting of the friendly fiends of England. danger of the travellers. temple of Liberty. vision of days unborn. interview with Charles. doctors of theology examine her. miracles at the tomb of Orlando. consecration of her banner &c. the dreadful situation of Orleans related by a female fugitive. Joan enters Orleans in triumph. strong sallies. death of Salisbury & the Talbots. Joan wounded. story of Theodore her lover. the Genii send Love to annoy Joan. love of Dunois. Theodore slain in defending her. Fastolffes defeat. {Talbots slain} coronation at Rheims.

You knows the little regard I pay to the despotism of Aristotle — yet this plan is pretty regular. some critic (is it not Addison?)  [6]  observes that an Epic poem ought to be national — with all due deference the nationality is of much the same use as a tolling bell or a storm of thunder & lightning upon the stage — a trick to catch the vulgar. the business of an Author should be to write deserve popularity — if undeserved it is only disgraceful. I am well convinced that if my Joan of Ark possesed the fire of Homer the judgement of Virgil & the sublimity of Milton, it would still be neglected. but what should Diogenes regard out of his tub?  [7]  the approbation of a few friends contents me & for the rest whether the libraries or Posteritys favour rewards or Posteritys posteriors disgrace me will be equally indifferent.

will you favour me with some verses on my birthday August 12th? this is not modestly begging a compliment. they are too stale upon such occasions. turn prophet & describe my behaviour on the bench or the scaffold in the pulpit or the cart. you may felicitate me on being born on the Prince’s birthday [8]  as you know how proud this trifling alliance with Royalty gmakes me. but this is carrying coals to Newcastle. say what you will only spare compliments as I have begged the verses.

I shall perhaps soon try an ode on Beauty. from the sentiments upon this head which you think I entertain, you will not expect much. but remember Bedford the shallower the brook, the greater the noise. in treating of general Beauty I shall certainly have particular in my eye but for Sacharissas Laura’s Geraldines Myras &c go to those who talk more & mean less.

this is a very author-like letter — & should I die before my plans were compleated would cause perhaps some speculation

what would not that man deserve who should invent a camera obscura to retain every {idea} as it is formed — you would have had a quire of letters from me had I been possessed of it before now — I had so much to say upon the lower classes of life lost to society by the total neglect of education — upon hope & disappointment — authors — travelling Tristram Shandy [9]  &c — but this world of ideas is dissolved — or at least so scattered as to require preternatural power to congregate the scattered atoms — (to corporate the skattered apples Mr T. would call this.)

I hope soon to hear of the fall of Marat [10]  Robespierre [11]  Thuriot [12]  & David. [13]  the fall of Condè [14]  vexed me but they are only tenants for half a year & must pay dear rent. vivè La Republique! — my Joan is a great democrat or rather will be.

did you ever read Harriss life of Cromwell? [15]  I am idiot enough sometimes to think of Milton as a republican as well as poet. then in comes Vanity fills up the outline & draws two as pretty companions as any in Campione’s window [16]  when Reason snatches the brush & daubs over the picture.

I wonder if Mr Nichol [17]  would print a few odes for me? he is very welcome to half a dozen if they are worthy of handing down to our posteriors —

I want Collins to pun with sadly — here I waste my punning on the desart air. three weeks ago what a party we were — now here there & every. some few years hence it will be so in life. you scribbling law. CC preaching declaiming upon musty statutes — Seward practising religion. & for me — sailing with every wind along the ocean of life without helm pilot victualling or port —

remember me to your brother

{Quo me cum que ferit &c.  [18] }

I will write to him soon.



let me hear soon from you.

I must fold my letters before I write for the future this is so ungēnteel a shape. [19] 


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ single sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] AJY
Watermark: G R in a circle and figure of Britannia
Endorsements: Recd. July 23d. 1793; wrote to R.S./ July 21st./ 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. 27–30. BACK

[1] Arundel Radford (d. 1824), a student at Exeter College, Oxford, BA 1796. BACK

[2] Possibly Southey’s first reference to Edith Fricker, his future wife. BACK

[3] In Greek mythology, Phlegethon was one of the five rivers of the underworld. BACK

[4] The Latin translates as ‘place of birth’; in Southey’s case, Bristol. BACK

[5] Henry V (1386/7–1422; reigned 1413–1422; DNB). BACK

[6] Joseph Addison (1672–1719; DNB). Southey is paraphrasing ideas found in Addison’s Notes Upon the Twelve Books of Paradise Lost (1719), a collection of essays originally published in The Spectator. BACK

[7] The Greek philosopher Diogenes (c. 400–325 BC), founder of Cynicism. He allegedly lived in a tub. Southey used the pseudonym ‘Diogenes’ in a letter published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (December 1796); see Letter 177. BACK

[8] Southey shared a birthday with George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV), who was born on 12 August 1762. BACK

[9] Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[10] Jean Paul Marat (1743–1793), Swiss-born French revolutionary. He was stabbed to death in his bath on 13 July 1793. BACK

[11] The French Jacobin leader Maximilien François Marie Odenthalius Isidore de Robespierre (1758–1794), whose downfall did not occur until 26 July 1794. BACK

[12] Jacques Alexis Thuriot de la Rozière (1753–1829), French revolutionary and Jacobin who turned against Robespierre in July 1794. BACK

[13] Jacques Louis David (1748–1825), French artist, revolutionary and friend of Robespierre. BACK

[14] Condè and Valenciennes had been captured by allied forces in July 1793. BACK

[15] William Harris (1720–1770; DNB), The Political Beacon: or the Life and Character of Oliver Cromwell (1770). BACK

[16] The Oxford book and print seller Aboadio Campione (fl. 1777–1796). BACK

[17] George Nicol (1740–1828; DNB), printer and bookseller. BACK

[18] Southey is adapting Horace (65–8 BC), Epistles, Book 1, no. 1, line 15. The Latin translates as ‘wherever [it] strikes me’. BACK

[19] I must ... shape: Inserted next to the address on fol. 2 v. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

March 2009