2736. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 March 1816

2736. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 March 1816⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

I shall attend to your remarks always, & profit by them where I can – as for party you need not fear that, – I have even done some little injustice to some of my own political views <apprehensions> in putting them into the Old Mans mouth. [1]  But you will see that all this is subordinate to the philosophical views developed at the conclusion.

It will perhaps be convenient to prefix something like an analysis of this fact – in the way of an [2]  argument to the poem. The Tower upon the sand [3]  – is not emblematic of ambition, – but of philosophy built upon false principles. The principles of the revolutionary leaders are broadly stated in this part, [4]  as avowed by most of them, & consistently acted upon by Buonaparte; [5]  – & in this canto they are contrasted with the principles of duty. In the next canto [6]  those arguments are advanced which would prove that no good has resulted from the contest, & that our victory has left the world worse than it found it, & with these arguments as rela relating to Italy & Spain, & to domestic dangers, [7]  the old Gentleman takes his departure, leaving me more impressed by them than it would have been agreable to acknowledge to him <one> upon whom who if he had been closely examined might have been found guilty of cloven feet & a tail. In the third canto [8]  which is far more visionary, the purport is that religion must be the foundation of philosophy, which can never judge rightly of human affairs unless the nature & destination of man be felt & understood: the two points upon which I rest are, that imperfection or disease in our nature, which is called original sin, (which I am very far from understanding in a Calvinistic sense [9] ) & the immortality of the soul. Upon these data whatever relates to individual man becomes clear & satisfactory. And in the last canto [10]  this is applied: I then look at the general course of history, & consider the question of national degeneracy; & show that the degradation of Europe – that is of the only progressive part of the world, would have resulted from Buonapartes success. Thence the immeasurable importance of this Victory. All this ought to be perspicuous, if I have explained myself properly. I then proceed to show what England may be, taking the fair side of the picture, – & then in a series of shifting pictures looking on for centuries, far & wide, & taking care to say that it depends upon herself whether they be realised or not. Then I shall wake & conclude with a L’Envoy of rejoicing in which the bonfire upon old Skiddaw is not to be forgotten. [11]  I have got on 26 <32> stanzas at the last canto, & heartily glad shall I be to see the end.

The plan is now before you, – it is precisely the outline which I formed when my determination of writing upon the subject was first made, – in the execution it has extended further than I expected, & after all may very probably not be worth the time which it has cost. The subject certainly would never have occurred to me as one of choice. However I am not out of humour with it upon the whole; & shall be in great glee when the pictures arrives.

What has Gifford done with my Article about the French man with half a dozen initials? He does not mention it in his note; – hecannot can never imagine that I take it for granted that it stands over for the next number, [12]  & as he has chosen that Alfieri shall stand over two, [13]  I shall do the less for the number in consequence. If they go wrong about Lord Elgin it is not my fault; I suspected a design of washing the blackamoor white, & cautioned them against it. [14] 

Thank you & your Richmond Herald [15]  for your enquiries, which promise to be of some service. I stand in special need of a supporter to keep company with the British Lion. [16] 

Cyril Jacksons good word is worth something if it gets abroad. I am greatly indebted to Cyril Jackson, – to no man more. He refused to admit me at Christ Church, as doubtless you remember, & this was the most fortunate event in my life. [17]  Grosvenor, there were more wigs than brains laid together about that poor number of the Flagellant.

God bless you


15 March 1816.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer
Endorsements: 15. March 1816; 15. March 1816./ Analysis of Pilgrimage
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 19–21. BACK

[1] In The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 2, ‘The Evil Prophet’, an Old Man who the poet encounters puts the case for the futility of the war against France in 1803–1814 and 1815. BACK

[2] Changed from ‘arg’. BACK

[3] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 1, ‘The Tower’, stanza 9, line 1. BACK

[4] Particularly The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 1, ‘The Tower’, stanza 17, line 6, ‘Live whilst thou livest, for this life is all!’; and stanza 22, line 6, ‘Pleasure is the aim, and Self the spring of all’. BACK

[5] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[6] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 2, ‘The Evil Prophet’. BACK

[7] The continued division of Italy after 1815 and its dominance by Austria and reactionary rulers; the restoration of absolutist government in Spain in 1814; and the danger of revolution in Britain 1816–1819. BACK

[8] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 3, ‘The Sacred Mountain’. BACK

[9] That all people, other than the elect who are saved by Christ’s death, are predestined to damnation from before birth, because of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3); as in the teachings of the French theologian, Jean Calvin (1509–1564). BACK

[10] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 4, ‘The Hopes of Man’. BACK

[11] Though no formal envoy was included in the published poem, the Skiddaw bonfire that Southey organised on 21 August 1815, to celebrate the victory at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, is described in The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 4, ‘The Hopes of Man’, stanzas 26–28. BACK

[12] André Delagrave (1774–1849), Campagne de l’Armée Francaise en Portugal, dans les années 1810–11, &c. par Mr A. D. L. G., Officier Supérieur employé dans l’État-Major de cette Armée (1815). This review was not published in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[13] Quarterly Review, 14 (January 1816), 333–368, Vita di Vittorio Alfieri, &c. Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Victor Alfieri, Written by Himself (1815); and The Tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri, Translated by Charles Lloyd (1815). This number of the Quarterly was published in May 1816. BACK

[14] Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (1766–1841; DNB) had removed in 1801–1803, and then brought to Britain, marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. Finding himself in debt, he sought to sell them to the British Museum. Considerable controversy ensued about their worth, artistic and monetary, and a parliamentary committee decided in 1816 that they should be purchased for £35,000. The controversy was compounded when the Edinburgh Review (25 (October 1815), 285–310) published accusations that Elgin had, when Ambassador Extraordinary in Constantinople in 1799–1803, appropriated the papers (and valuable artefacts) of the classicist John Tweddell (1769–1799; DNB), after his death in Athens. The accusations were criticised in the Quarterly Review, 14 (October 1815), 257–273. In 1816, Elgin was defended by his chaplain in Constantinople, Dr Philip Hunt (1772–1838), who published a Narrative of What is Known Respecting the Literary Remains of the Late John Tweddell. Southey may have heard of or met Tweddell through his friend, James Losh. BACK

[15] Richmond Herald is an official of the College of Arms. The holder of the office at this time was Joseph Hawker (c. 1766–1846), Richmond Herald 1803–1838, Norroy King of Arms 1838–1839, Clarenceux Kings of Arms 1839–1846. His day job was as a Clerk in the Bank of England 1792–1834 and this may be how he encountered Grosvenor Bedford. BACK

[16] On 2 May 1816. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) married Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent. The Prince’s arms are described in the epithalamion Southey wrote for the wedding, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale (1816), ‘The Dream’, stanzas 19–21. Southey was particularly concerned about the Prince’s arms because he wanted to reuse sections of the poem he had initially drafted in 1814 for the Princess’s engagement to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). The sections in question included stanzas in which Princess Charlotte appeared with the lion who is one of the supporters of the British Royal Coat of Arms and Prince William with the lion who is a supporter of the Netherlands Coat of Arms. Comparing the published text with this draft in Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, Box B/414, shows that Southey was fortunately able to change Prince William’s ‘Belgic’ lion into Prince Leopold’s ‘Saxon’ lion, as the lion was also a supporter on the coat of arms of the House of Saxe-Coburg. BACK

[17] Cyril Jackson (1746–1819; DNB), Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, refused to admit Southey as an undergraduate because he had been expelled from Westminster school for writing, in the fifth issue of a school magazine The Flagellant (29 March 1792), an article against flogging. BACK

People mentioned

Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)