2813. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 June [1816]

2813. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 22 June [1816]⁠* 

22 June.

My dear G

Tho there is a very good reason why my unlucky poem (which after miscarrying in 1814, might have met with a more irreparable mischance now) should not be published in London till it hath been presented, [1]  there is no reason why its publication at the Ant-Hill [2]  should be delayed on that account; & therefore I should like to have the copies which are destined for this quarter, without delay. Moreover, if the copy for Hartley be not dispatched, it need not go to him, as I have just learned that he is coming here for the Long vacation, by an injudicious arrangement of his mothers, instead of accepting an invitation from his fathers brothers [3]  in Devonshire, with whom on every account it was highly proper that he should have become acquainted on the first possible opportunity.

The agricultural riots in the Eastern counties, [4]  & the hooting down of the Kent address ought to open the eyes of government as to the real state of feeling in the populace, [5]  – a subject upon which they are strangely ignorant, or inexcusably careless. They seem never to dream that revolutions in the state are like the eruption in the small pox – the consequence of the <disease> prexistent in the system, – the disease exists, & the body politic has been successfully inoculated for it, & the inoculation has taken; – the disease exists; & if it should not run the same course as in France, it will be because Government can depend upon the army, & the Gentry of the country, Whigs & all, would rally round it in danger. But as far depends upon the opinion of the multitude, the work is done. What they ought to do is to make transportation the punishment for seditious libel, – had this been done seven years ago, the country would have been rid of Cobbett [6]  & the Examiner, [7]  – one or other of which are read in every pot-house. And Government should recollect that if a Review has done them good service, newspapers are capable of acting <act> upon a much more numerous public. Wynn talks about a standing army, the old opposition language of sixty years standing growth, but with the new opposition spirit. There is no danger from any arbitrary disposition in the Crown, – but there is a mortal danger of seeing the liberties of the country destroyed by the abuse of them, – a tremendous probability that the attempts which are making designedly by such men as Cobbett & Burdett & ignorantly by others, to make the people discontented & excite a bellum servile, [8]  will end in a military government.

If Courtenay is as great a personage at the Board of Controul [9]  as Croker is at the Admiralty, he might gain great credit for the Board, & to the service of do no little service to humanity, by urging the Directors to take measures for preventing the burning sacrifice of widows in our Indian Empire. It will be even easier to abolish this abominable practise than it was to abolish infanticide: for the Bramins do not defend it as enjoined by their scriptures; it did not exist when their sacred books were written, & nothing would make the British Government so popular among the Women in that country, as its interference x on their behalf. Albuquerque made himself exceedingly popular by this means. [10]  I have no doubt but that there will be petitions to Parliament upon this subject ere long, – but I should like to see some measures of this kind originate with Government, – & if Courtenay had the merit of it, – there will come an hour when he might look back upon this part of his political life with a feeling which political life does not always xxxx bestow. Human sacrifices ought not to be tolerated by a Christian Government, – but this is an interference to which the Priests would submit without reluctance, & for which the people would be thankful.

Nash is on the way, & so are six bottles of Shiraz wine which he had sent me. [11]  I wish you could come & taste them, & bring the Magister Rotulorum with you. How is your Mother?? Remember me to her & Miss Page

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 25 JU 25/ 1816
Endorsements: 1816; 22 June 1816
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 4p.
Dating note: Year from endorsement BACK

[1] Southey had begun composing celebratory verse in March–June 1814 when Princess Charlotte had been engaged to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (1792–1849; King of the Netherlands 1840–1849). When that engagement was broken off, he had laid the verses aside, only to reuse them in 1816 in an epithalamion, The Lay of the Laureate. Carmen Nuptiale celebrating Princess Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1790–1865; King of the Belgians 1831–1865) on 2 May 1816. Publication was delayed until Southey received formal permission to dedicate his poem to the Princess. BACK

[2] A nickname for Greta Hall deriving from the presence there of three aunts – the Fricker sisters Edith, Sarah and Mary. BACK

[3] The surviving brothers were: James (1759–1836), Edward (1760–1843) and George Coleridge. The family was centred on Ottery St Mary, Devon. BACK

[4] The Ely, or Littleport, riots of 22–24 May 1816, caused by high unemployment and bread prices. Trials of those accused took place at Ely 17–22 June; five men were hanged on 28 June. BACK

[5] A meeting at Maidstone on 17 June 1816 rejected, with jeering and hissing, proposed loyal addresses of congratulation from the county to the royal family, on the occasion of the marriage of the Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold. Objecting to the expenditure the government proposed making on the royal couple, the meeting called for money to be spent to help unemployed agricultural workers. BACK

[6] The Weekly Political Register, written and published 1802–1835 by William Cobbett, was the radical paper the government most despised; it had increased stamp duty on newspapers partly in order to make them expensive and restrict their circulation. In November 1816 Cobbett began publishing a shorter version, shorn of news but retaining comment, for 2d., thus boosting circulation to an estimated 40,000. Cobbett had been imprisoned for two years in 1810–1812 for seditious libel. BACK

[7] The Examiner was a weekly opposition paper run 1808–1821 by James Henry Leigh Hunt and his brother John Hunt (1775–1848; DNB). It sold c. 7,000–8,000 copies per week, but its readership was much wider than these figures suggest. Both brothers had been imprisoned for seditious libel 1813–1815. BACK

[8] A civil war between classes. BACK

[9] Courtenay was Secretary to the Board of Control of the East India Company 1812–1828. Croker was Secretary to the Admiralty. Here Southey joins an evangelical-led campaign against sati in Britain’s Indian colonies that was also fought by Bengali intellectuals who denied its vedic standing. Sati was not, however, legally prohibited in British-controlled India until 1829–1830. BACK

[10] Afonso de Albuquerque (1453–1515), Governor of Portuguese India 1509–1515, banned sati in the Portuguese colony of Goa. BACK

[11] Wine (mainly white) grown near Shiraz in Persia. It was imported into India by English merchants and, as Nash had been based in Bombay 1801–1810, he would have had easy access to shipments. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)