2761. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 18-[19] April 1816

2761. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 18-[19] April 1816⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

Wherefore do I write to you? – Alas because I know not what to do. [1]  Tomorrow perhaps may bring with it something like the beginning of relief. Today – I hope I shall support <myself> – or rather that God will support me, for I am weak as a child, – in body even more than in mind. My limbs tremble under me, – xxxx long anxiety has wasted me to the bone & I fear it will be long before grief will suffer me to recruit. I am seriously apprehensive for the shock which my health seems to have sustained. Yet I am wanting in no effort to appear calm & to console others & those who are about me give me credit for a fortitude which I do not possess. Many blessings are left me – abundant blessings, – more than I have deserved, more than I had ever reason to expect, or even to hope. I have strong ties to life, & many duties yet to perform. Believe me I see these things as they ought to be seen. Reason will do something, Time more, Religion most of all. The loss is but for this world; – but should I as long as I remain in this world I shall feel it

Some way, my feelings will out themselves. – I have thought of endeavouring to direct their course, & may perhaps set about a monument in verse for him & for myself which may make our memories inseparable. [2] 

There would be no wisdom in going from home, – the act of returning to it would undo all the benefit I might receive from change of circumstance for some time yet. Edith feels this, – otherwise perhaps we might have gone to visit Tom in his new habitation, [3]  – Summer is at hand – while there was a hope of Herberts recovery this was a frequent subject of pleasurable consideration – it is now a painful thought, & I look forward with a sense of fear to the season which brings with it life & joy to those who are capable of receiving them. You more than most men are aware of the extent of my loss & how as long as I remain here every object within & without, & every hour of every day must bring it fresh to recollection. Yet the more I consider the difficulties of removing, the greater they appear, & perhaps by the time it would be possible I may cease to desire it.

Harry will give you Edmondsons account of the dissection. Do with the paper what you please. I would not have it returned, – you may destroy it, or lay it among the papers belonging to our correspondence. – Whenever I have leisure (will that ever be?) I will begin my own memoirs, to serve as a post-obit for those of my family who may survive me. [4]  They will be so far provided for as to leave me no uneasiness on that score. My life insurance is £4000. My books, for there is none to inherit them now, may be worth 1500, – my copy rights perhaps not less, & you will be able to put together letters & fragments which when I am gone will be acceptable articles in the market. Probably there would on the whole be 10,000 £ forthcoming, – the whole should be Ediths during her life & afterward divided equally among the surviving children. I shall name John May & Neville White for executors both men of business, & both my dear & zealous friends. But do you take care of my papers & publish my remains. I have perhaps much underrated the value of what may <will> be left. A selection of my reviewals may be made reprinted with credit to my name & of with profit. [5]  – You will not wonder that I have fallen into this strain. One grave is at this moment made ready, – & who can tell how soon another may be required? I pray however for continued life. There may be, – probably there are – many afflictions for me in store, – but the worst is past. I have more than once thought of Mr Roberts, [6]  – when he hears of my loss it will for a moment freshen the recollections of his own.


It is now clear that there were two distinct diseases, – the collection of matter in the pericardium which proved fatal, & a suppression in the biliary passages during the progress of the other disease, which was removed, but left a severe fever behind it, & it was when that fever disappeared that I wrote to you saying there were marks of amendment. – You will learn from the deranged or deformed structure of the colon that he never could have been a healthy man

It is some relief to write to you, – after the calls which have this day been made upon my fortitude. I have not been found wanting, – & Edith throughout the whole long trial has displayed the most exemplary self-controul. We never approached him but with composed countenances, & words of hope, – & for a mother to do this hour after hour & night after night while her heart was breaking – is perhaps the utmost effort of which our nature is capable. Oh how you would have admired & loved him had you seen him in these last weeks! But you know something of his character. Never perhaps was a child of ten years old xxxx so much to his father. Without ever ceasing to treat him as a child I had made him my companion as well as playmate & pupil, – & he had learn to interest himself in my pursuits, & take part in all my enjoyments.

I have sent Edith May to Wordsworths. poor child she is dreadfully distressed, & it has ever been my desire to save them from all the sorrow that can be avoided, & to mitigate as far as possible what is inevitable. Something it is to secure for them a happy child hood. Never was a happier than Herberts. He knew not what unkindness or evil were except by name. His whole life was past in chearful duty, & love & enjoyment. If I did not hope that I have been useful in my generation, & may still continue to be so I could wish that I also had gone to rest as early in the day. But my childhood was not like his

Let me have some money when you can, that these mournful expenses may be discharged. For five weeks my hand has been palsied, – & this brings with it a loss of means, an evil inseparable from my way of life. Tomorrow I shall endeavour to resume my employments. You may be sure also that I shall attend to my health, as xxxx nothing which exercise & diet can afford will be neglected, – & whenever I feel that change of air & of scene could benefit me, the change shall be tried. I am perfectly aware of the <how> important the an object this, – the fear is lest my sense of its moment should produce an injurious anxiety.

God bless you


You would save me some pain by correcting the remaining proofs, – for the sight of that book must needs be trying to me. [7]  Alter the two last lines thus

Hold fast the faith which animates thy mind
And in thy song proclaim these hopes for humankind. [8] 

Line 2 of this stanza – read vision for prospect, & in the preceding stanza read – As the best prospects of mankind are dear [9] 


* Address: G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 22 AP 22/ 1816
Endorsement: 18 & 19 April 1816/ Recd. 22d
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 161–165 [dated 18 April 1816]. BACK

[1] Southey’s son, Herbert, had died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[2] Southey began, but did not finish, such a poem, entitled ‘Consolation’. Sections were published after his death as ‘Fragmentary Thoughts Occasioned by his Son’s Death’ in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 93–95, and ‘Additional Fragment, Occasioned by the Death of his Son’, Poetical Works of Robert Southey. Complete in One Volume (London, 1850), p. 815. BACK

[3] Tom Southey had rented a farm at Warcop in Westmorland. BACK

[4] Southey did not write his memoirs. The closest he came was in the seventeen autobiographical letters he wrote to John May in 1820–1825, published in Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 1–157 [in part]. BACK

[5] Southey himself later edited such a collection, Essays, Moral and Political (1832). BACK

[6] The father of Bedford’s cousin Barré Charles Roberts, who had died in 1810 aged 21. Bedford had published Roberts’s Letters and Miscellaneous Papers … With a Memoir of His Life (1814) and Southey had then composed a poetical tribute, ‘Written in the Volume of Letters & Miscellaneous papers by Barrè Charles Roberts’. The latter was unpublished until it appeared as ‘Written in an unpublished Volume of Letters, and Miscellaneous Papers, by Barré Charles Roberts’, Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 157–159, where it is mis-dated ‘Keswick, 1814’. BACK

[7] The proofs of The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), which was painful to Southey because the ‘Proem’ contained an account of his joyful homecoming in December 1815 from his journey to the Low Countries. BACK

[8] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 4, ‘The Hopes of Man’, stanza 63, lines 5–6. ‘[V]ision’ replaced ‘prospect’ in the line ‘The vision of thy Country’s bliss is given’, stanza 63, line 2. In stanza 62, line 5 ‘As to the best prospects’ replaced ‘Even as the best hopes’. BACK

[9] ’You would … dear’: inserted at the top of fol.1r. BACK

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