3395. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 December 1819

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, Part Six

3395. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 3 December 1819⁠* 

My dear G.

Thank you for the bills. – I must trespass on you farther, & request that you will seal up ten pounds, & leave it with Rickman directed for Charles Lamb Esqr – from R.S. – It is for poor John Morgan, whom you may remember drawing, some twenty years, as an imp volant in embroidered pantaloons, in a certain tail piece, still carefully preserved, & designed to represent Biggs & Cottle on St Augustines Back. This poor fellow whom I remember <knew> at school, & whose mother [1]  has ask sometimes asked me to her table when I should otherwise have gone without a dinner, was left with a fair fortune – from 10 to 15000£. & without any vice, or extravagance of his own, he has lost the whole of this <it> by the knavery of his wifes relations. A stroke of the palsy has utterly disabled him from doing any thing to maintain himself; – & his wife – a good natured kind-hearted woman, whom I knew in her bloom, beauty & prosperity, has accepted a situation as mistress of a charity school with a miserable salary of 40£ a year, & this is all they have. In this pitiable case Lamb & I have promised him ten pounds a year each, as long as he lives, I have got five pounds a year for him from an excellent fellow [2]  whom you do not know, & who chuses on this occasion to be called A.B. – & I have written to his Bristol friends, who are able to do more for him than we are, & on whom he has stronger <personal> claims: [3]  So that I hope we shall secure for him the decencies of life. – You will understand that this is an explanation to you not an application. In a case of this kind contributions become a matter of feeling & duty among those who know the party, but strangers are not to be looked to.

The death of the King, [4]  whenever it happens, will annoy me more than any other of his subjects, inasmuch as it will impose upon me the task of a Birthday Ode. Should it happen just now, it will be very unlucky – when as you see I have just finished my imposition, – & when I have really t no time to spare without a great sacrifice both of convenience & money. <For> However much these paltry task-verses go against my stomach, I am, as you well know, never disposed to be silent, upon proper occasions, – & the Kings death is certainly one of those occasions, on which I ought to produce something better than stuff for the fiddlers. [5]  It will be expected, – & what is of more consequence, it will be wished, by those whose wishes I should be sorry to disappoint. Since your letter arrived last night I have formed a plan. [6]  – Of the sort of mould in which it is to be cast I shall say nothing till I can send you a specimen. And I will begin at once – in the hope that I may not be hurried, but have time to proceed leisurely & be ready before hand. Meantime let Shields befiddle what he likes of the inclosed, if the alarm should pass over. And say something civil to him on my part. – Of course I shall make a point of calling on him when I come to town.

You are quite right not to buy the Squib you speak of, – there would be fewer such things if men considered the mischief they did by buying them. I suppose it is by Hone himself, – a fellow whose acquittal I consider as one of the most disgraceful things that ever occurred in this country. [7] 

A youth [8]  for whom I am interested wants to purchase a commission in the army; – & in these times it requires interest to effect this. His mother applies to me, & asks if I can procure a letter for him to Sir H. Torrens. [9]  Can Herries assist me here? It is for George Vardon, a quondam pupil of Knox’s [10]  at Westminster, & since that time he has been at Sandhurst, – on the score of breeding therefore nothing is wanting, & nothing on the score of personal qualification, for he is a fine, manly, spirited youth. – George Maule married his Aunt. [11] 

The Opps seem to be behaving with even more than their wonted villainy, for by God their conduct deserves no farther danger qualification. [12] Xxxxxx xxx Never was there a party in the state whose conduct was so thoroughly base & injurious <as besotted>. If a Revolution, by their help, were ever to be effected, oh what a precious mixture of gall & blood would even-handed Justice administer to their lips! For they are hated by the Radicals as much as they are despised, & if once the work of proscription were begun, Brougham, Bennet [13]  & Co would not survive me a fortnight. Broughams attack upon Wynn was thoroughly Broughamish, – it was coarse, insolent, & nothing to the purpose. [14] 

God bless you

RS.

Keswick 3. Dec. 1819

Ode [15] 

1.

Take up thy prophecy,
Thou dweller in the mountains, [16]  who hast nurs’d
Thy soul in solitude.
Holding communion with immortal minds,
Poets, & Sages of the days of old,
And with the sacred food
Of meditation & of lore divine
Hast fed thy heavenly part, -
Take up thy monitory strain,
O Son of Song, a strain severe
Of warning & of woe.

2.

O Britain, O my Mother-Isle,
Oceans imperial Queen,
Thou glory of all lands!
Is there a curse upon thee, that thy sons
Would rush to ruin, drunk
With sin, & in infuriate folly blind?
Hath Hell enlarged itself,
And are the Fiends let loose
To work thine overthrow?

3.

For who is She
That, on the many-headed Beast
Triumphantly enthroned,
Doth ride abroad in state,
The book of her enchantments in her hand?
Her robes are stained with blood,
And on her brazen front
Is written Blasphemy. [17] 

4.

Know ye not then the Harlot? Know ye not
Her shameless forehead, her obdurate eye,
Her meretricious mien,
Her loose immodest garb, with slaughter red?
Your fathers knew her, when delirious France,
Drunk with her witcheries,
Upon the desecrated altar set
The Sorceress, & with rites
Inhuman & accurst,
Oer all the groaning land
Perform’d her sacrifice. [18] 

5.

Your fathers knew her; when the nations round
Received her maddening spell,
And call’d her Liberty,
And in that name proclaim’d
A jubilee for guilt, -
When their blaspheming hosts defied high Heaven,
And wheresoe’er they went, let Havoc loose.
Your fathers knew the Sorceress; they stood firm,
And in that hour of trial faithful found
They raised the Red-Cross flag.

6.

They knew her, & they knew
That not in scenes of rapine & of blood,
In lawless riotry,
And wallowing with the multitude obscene,
Would Liberty be found.
Her, in her form divine,
Her genuine form, they knew;
For Britain was her home, -
With Order & Religion there she dwelt,
It was her chosen seat,
Her own beloved Isle.
Think not that Liberty
From Order & Religion ere will dwell
Apart, companions they,
Of heavenly seed connate.

7.

Woe, woe for Britain, woe!
If that Society divine,
By lewd & impious uproar driven,
Indignantly should leave
The land that in their presence hath been blest!
Woe, woe! for in her streets
Should grey haired Polity
Be trampled under foot by bestial force;
And ruffian Murder to the noon-day sky
Lift his red hands, as if no God were there!
War would lay waste the realm;
Devouring fire consume
Temples & Palaces;
Nor would the humblest cot,
Escape that indiscriminating storm,
When Heaven upon the guilty Isle poured out
The vials of its wrath.

8.

These are no doubtful ills!
The unerring voice of Time
Warns us that what hath been again shall be;
And the broad beacon flame
Of History, casts its light
Upon Futurity.

9.

Turn not thy face away,
Almighty! from the realm
By thee so highly favoured & so long!
Thou who in war hast been our shield & strength,
From famine who hast saved us, & hast bade
The Earthquake & the Pestilence go by,
Spare us, O Father! save us from ourselves!
From insane Faction who prepares the pit
In which itself would fall,
From rabid Treasons rage,
The lurking Atheists wiles,
The mad Blasphemers venom, . . from our foes
Our errors & our sins,
Save us, O Father! in thy mercy save!

Notes

* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer
Stamped: [partial] Unpaid
Postmark: 2 o’Clock/ 6 DE/ 1819 ANn
Endorsement: 3 Decr. 1819. with ode; 3 Decr. 1819; [on enclosed ‘Ode’] In Lre of 3 Decr 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 8p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 361–362 [in part]. BACK

[1] Unidentified. BACK

[2] Possibly John Kenyon, who had been staying with Southey and was known for his generosity. BACK

[3] See Southey to Joseph Cottle, 26 November 1819, Letter 3394. BACK

[4] George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB) died on 29 January 1820. Southey feared the succession of the Prince Regent would require him, as Poet Laureate, to produce an annual Birthday Ode as well as a New Year’s Ode. BACK

[5] The annual New Year’s Ode that Southey was required to write as Poet Laureate, verses of which were set to music to be performed at court – though no such performance had taken place since 1810. BACK

[6] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[7] Hone was acquitted at three successive trials, 18–20 December 1817, of blasphemous and seditious libel. The ‘squib’ referred to here was Hone’s famous The Political House that Jack Built (1819). BACK

[8] George Tarbutt Vardon (b. 1803). In August 1817 Southey had returned to Britain from his continental tour with Vardon, before the latter enrolled at Sandhust. Vardon emigrated to Canada in 1832 and held various posts in the Indian Department until forced to resign in 1851. BACK

[9] Major-General Sir Henry Torrens (1779–1828; DNB), Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief 1809–1820, and thus ultimately responsible for all personnel matters in the Army. BACK

[10] John William Knox (1784–1862), clergyman, scholar and usher at Westminster School. BACK

[11] George Maule (1776–1851), Solicitor to the Treasury and friend of Southey’s at Oxford, married Mrs Vardon’s sister, Caroline Forsyth Tarbutt (dates unknown), in 1810. BACK

[12] The Whig opposition was consistently critical of the ‘Six Acts’ to suppress radical agitation that the government introduced on 29 November 1819. BACK

[13] Henry Grey Bennet (1777–1836), Whig MP for Shrewsbury 1806–1807, 1811–1826 and prominent critic of the government. BACK

[14] Probably a reference to Brougham’s remarks on Wynn in the House of Commons on 24 November 1819, which had made fun of Wynn’s devotion to the Commons’s dignity, precedents and procedures. BACK

[15] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1820; this was later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383. BACK

[16] Southey, whose home was Keswick, in the Lake District. BACK

[17] Blasphemy was a serious common law offence, for which a number of British radicals were prosecuted. Richard Carlile (1790–1843; DNB) had been sentenced to three years imprisonment on 16 October 1819 for blasphemous libel. BACK

[18] The French Revolution became increasingly hostile to the Catholic Church and Christianity generally in 1793–1794, with some revolutionaries attempting to replace the Church with an atheist ‘Cult of Reason’. The day of 10 November 1793 was declared the ‘Festival of Reason’ and ceremonies were held in churches all over France, including Notre Dame, where the altar was replaced by an Altar to Liberty and the Goddess of Reason was celebrated. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)