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

89. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 11 [–18] May 1794 ⁠* 

Balliol. May.11. 1794.

Thank you for your letter & its contents. & thank you likewise for your offer. should chance or business lead you towards Doctors Commons the information you may there receive will perhaps have some weight in my scales of destiny. it rests partly on the will of John Cannon Southey [1]  who died in 1768. hope & fear have almost lost their influence over me. if my reversion can be sold for any comfortable independance, I am sure you would rather advise me to seize happiness with mediocrity than lose it in waiting for affluence. my wishes aspire not above mediocrity. they are superior to the desire of tinsel appearances. to look forward to taking orders is but a miserable prospect — tis a profession against which all my principles militate most strongly — but no choice is left me. I am dependant upon my relations for daily bread, & every day do I repine at the education that taught me to handle a lexicon instead of a hammer — & destined me for one of the drones of society. add to this that had I a sufficiency in independance, I have every reason to expect happiness. the most pleasing visions of domestic life would be realized. knowing this I may be allowed sometimes to repine at the situation which debars me. do not show this to any one you know not how dull & inanimate this collegiate life appears. poor Wynn too is lamentably in the dumps. he has left his heart in London possibly you may know with whom — but do not mention this to any one, not even to himself. I never laugh at well placed affection. & I know you too well to be apprehensive of ridicule. — should not you be sorry to see me one of an order which I believe pernicious. preaching a religion which I cannot comprehend & earning a scanty subsistence at the expence of integrity? should you not despise me? you ought to — & if such must be my fate I shall despise myself. I shall lose that high sense of integrity & justice & sink even below my own contempt. you see how much of my future tranquillity depends on selling this reversion — yet I am so much in the dark about it that I dare not place any hope where disappointment would wound so severely. tis now three years since a man applied to my father to purchase it. the offer was made at such a time & in such a manner as to rouse his feelings (naturally strong) & he turned the man out of the house. I have since regretted my absence at the moment, as it might have procured me much information on the subject. when I think on this topic tis rather to cool myself with philosophy than indulge in speculation. twenty is young for a Stoic you will say — but they have been years of experience & observation. they have shown me enough of what is insolently calld the world to disgust me with it — they have shown me that happiness is attainable but withal taught me by repeated disappointments never to build on so sandy a foundation. twill be all the same a hundred years hence is a vulgar adage which has often consoled me. now do I execrate a declamation which I must make. oh! for emancipation from these useless forms this useless life these haunts of intolerance vice & folly!


Saturday. May. 17. So long have various circumstances debarred the conclusion of your letter. in the first place my vile declamation interfered. & then the unexpected arrival of John Seward in his way to Hatthouse. our wishes & intreaties were vain to keep him longer than two days. I rather expect Lovell tomorrow. but my disappointment at not hearing from him this morning rather cools my expectation. we lose Lightfoot very soon. Act term begins the 18th of June. he may take his degree immediately & depart — but if you will come about that time Nicholas will delay a week or fortnight with pleasure on that account. in the course of twenty days I depart to visit Edmund Seward & my friends in Worcestershire.

You ask me who is the translator of Anacreon. [2]  his name is Allen. he is of University College & I introduced myself to him at the Anatomy school because I much liked his physiognomy. you will be much pleased with him upon all subjects but one where he coincides with my heterodox principles. — what — abuse Lavater! [3]  my good friend Grosvenor, Mans countenance may be reduced to rule. the use of the muscles determines their character; hence the sneer of the satirist & the corrugated brow of the philosopher. the face is the exact map of the mind. but it is the best way rather to draw theory from practice than practice from theory in this peripatetic branch of philosophy. Your Anacreon & Æschylus [4]  please me much — unluckily I have neither the one nor the other in the original — & let me add do not want them with such spirited translations. I will however read them as you desire. in your lines ‘Harder than the pointed spear’ the word harder strike me as inappropriate. does the Greek signify the same? something like resistless as the pointed spear, would be more consonant to the intended meaning — your ode Quique pii vates [5]  is with me but would be unfair to fill up my letter with transcribing your verses. you shall copy it when you visit Balliol. the Elegy I send you was occasiond by a walk with Wynn. after strolling beyond our knowledge we saw an old mansion house of the most melancholy appearance. the window shutters broken — the walls slimmed & mouldering — the court pavements overgrown with weeds. in short every thing in excellent repair for a Ghost — & the jack daws who had taken possession. enquiry was made — & we learnt it was the celebrated habitation of old Elwes of miserable memory. [6]  the Elegy will give you more particulars. Lovell is writing a companion to it upon a ruined farm house [7]  which you shall see almost as soon {as} I do myself. — have pity upon me for no sooner does the clock strike eleven then up I must go to my mathematical A.B.C. tis very extraordinary but angles & squares & circles always soporificate my senses. if you’ll believe I am yawning at the very idea this moment. the next letter I write will be to Horace. I am tired with wishing him at Balliol.

The Misers Mansion

Thou mouldering mansion whose embattled side
Shakes as about to fall at every blast,
Once the gay pile of splendour wealth & pride
But now the monument of Grandeur past.

Falln fabric pondering oer thy time traced walls
Thy mouldering mighty melancholy state,
Each object to the musing mind recalls
The sad vicissitudes of varying fate.

Thy huge towers tremble in the touch of Time
The rank weeds rustle thro thy spacious courts —
Filld are thy wide canals with loathly slime
Where battening undisturbd the foul toad sports.

Deep from her dismal dwelling yells the owl —
The shrill bat flits around her dark retreat —
And the hoarse daw when loud the tempests howl
Screams — as the wild winds shake her secret seat.

Oer thy sad ruins Memory loves to pause
Wrapt round in Contemplations shadowy pall
She loves in musing mood to mark the cause
Whose slow effects defacd thy splendid wall.

Twas here Avaro dwelt — who daily told
His useless heaps of wealth in selfish joy
Who loved to ruminate oer hoarded gold,
And hid those stores he dreaded to employ.

In vain to him benignant Heaven bestowed
The golden heaps to render thousands blest
Smooth aged Penury’s laborious road
And heal the sorrows of Afflictions breast.

He never stretchd the bounteous hand to save
When hardly struggling with a world of woes
Young Genius sunk in sorrow to the grave
And rushd to Deaths dark mansion for repose.

But like the serpent of romance he lay
Sleepless & stern to guard the golden sight
Watchd with unceasing toil his heaps by day
And agonized with causeless fears by night.

Ye honest rustics whose laborious toil
Enrichd the ample fields this churl possest —
Say ye who paid to him the annual spoil
In all his riches was Avaro blest?

Rose he like you at morn devoid of fear
His anxious vigils oer his gold to keep
Or sunk he when the noiseless night was near
As calmly on his couch of down to sleep?

Thou wretch thus curst with poverty of soul
What boots to thee the blessings Fortune gave?
She gave thee wealth above the worlds controul
Yet made thee to that useless wealth the slave.

Chilld at thy presence grew the stately walls
Nor longer echoed to the song of Mirth —
The hand of art no more adornd thy walls
Nor blazed with hospitable flames the hearth.

On well-worn hinges turns the gate no more
Nor social friendship hastes the friend to meet —
Nor when the accustomd guest draws near the door
Run the glad dogs & gambol round his feet.

Sullen & stern Avaro sat alone
In anxious wealth amid the joyless hall
Nor heeds with moss the chilly hearth oergrown
Nor sees the green slime mark the mouldring w[MS torn]

For Desolation oer the fabric dwells
And Time on restless pinion hurried by
Loud from her chimneyd seat the night bird yells
And thro the shattered roof descends the sky.

Thou melancholy mansion! much mine eye
Delights to wander oer thy ruind state —
And mark the daw from yonder turret fly
And muse upon the various turns of Fate.

For here had Justice reignd — had Pity known
With genial power to sway Avaros breast
These treasurd heaps which Fortune made his own
By aiding Misery might himself have blest.

And Charity had oped her golden store
To work the gracious will of heaven intent —
Fed from her superflux the craving poor
And paid Adversity what Heaven had lent.

Then had thy turrets stood in all their state
Then had the hand of art adornd thy wall
Swift on its well-worn hinges turnd the gate
And friendly converse cheerd the echoing hall.

Then had the village youth at vernal hour
Hung round with flowery wreaths thy friendly gate
And blest in gratitude that sovereign power
Who made the truly good the truly great

The traveller then to view thy towers had stood
Whilst grateful children lispt the owners name —
And calld on Heaven to give thee every good
And told abroad thy hospitable fame.

Yet much I gather from thy fallen fate —
I learn tho Heaven with golden heaps should bless
Tho Fortune doom to lordly wealth & state
That only Virtue leads to happiness. [8] 

————

I feard your acquaintance with the fair Gypsey would end as suddenly as it begun. the little obscurity your letter throws upon the subject confirms me in this opinion. if your paper will admit it xxxx begin the subject next time before the end of your letter. you & I ought to have no secrets — & in truth I believe we have none. CC told me to day that Wynn was in love. I smild at his giving me the information who knew so much of Wynns sentiments from himself. three years hence Grosvenor I hope we shall all be settled — except I should visit Botany Bay before that time.

“now could I write a great deal more but my paper is out.” [9]  there is room however for my remembrances to all friends — & to desire a letter from you as soon as business and indolence will permit you to write. take Doctors Commons at your leisure when no other employments of a more agreable nature chances. thank you for a seat in Bedlam.

Robert Southey.

Sunday afternoon.

Lovell comes to night. I can tell ABCDEF &G on the pianoforte!!!


Notes

* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single Sheet
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: OMA/ 19/ 94
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: 11 May 1794
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 205–206 [in part; where it is dated 11 May 1794]. BACK

[1] Southey’s distant cousin, he was the son of John Southey and the heiress Mary Cannon. Southey’s long-held hopes of inheriting a substantial sum from the estate were in vain. BACK

[2] The Greek lyric poet Anacreon (fl. C6 BC). For Allen’s translation, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 13 April 1794 (Letter 86). BACK

[3] Johann Kasparr Lavater (1741–1801), Swiss poet and physiognomist, whose Essays on Physiognomy appeared in English from 1789. BACK

[4] Æschylus (525–456 BC), Greek tragic dramatist, reputedly killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head, mistaking it for a stone. BACK

[5] The title of the ode is taken from Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 6, line 662. The Latin translates as ‘good bards, whose songs were meet for Phoebus’. BACK

[6] John Elwes (1714–1789; DNB), a noted miser. BACK

[7] Published in Southey and Lovell’s Poems (1795). BACK

[8] Thou mouldering ... happiness: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[9] As was his habit, Southey is probably quoting a letter sent to him by Grosvenor Charles Bedford which has not survived. BACK

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March 2009