2836. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 September 1816

2836. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 September 1816⁠* 

Sunday morning. 8 Sept. 1816

My dear Grosvenor

I have seldom taken up a pen with so little knowledge of what was to proceed from it as on this occasion, – for after sleeping upon your letters, [1]  & thinking upon them, – breakfasting upon them I am at a loss how to reply, or how to act. – If it be necessary I will certainly go to London, – do you xx after what I may say, xx talk with Herries, with my Uncle & with the Docstor, & determine whether it be so. I shall mention the affair to no person but Edith in this part of the world, – & my Uncle & Harry are the only persons who need know it any where else, but xxxx & Rickman <But> If I go to London I shall make Rickman of my privy Council.

It is very obvious that a sense of danger has occasioned this step. Look at my fiparst paper upon the Poor in the 16th. Quarterly, [2]  – had the Ministry opened their eyes four years ago, or rather had they not had they seen what was passing before their eyes, – the evil might have then been checked. The event of a successful war would have enabled them to pursue a vigorous policy at home. It will be more difficult now & requires more courage. And less is to be done by calling in administering antidotes, than by preventing the distribution of poison. Make by all means the utmost use of the press in xxxx directing the public opinion, – but impose some curb upon its license, or all efforts will be in vain.

In any way that may be thought advisable I will do my best, – but alas Grosvenor what can I do more than what I have been doing? – A journal with the same object in view as the Anti-Jacobine, [3]  but conducted upon better principles, might be of good service. I could contribute to it from a distance. – But to you it must be obvious that as my head & hands are not like Kehamas [4]  multipliable at pleasure, I can exert myself only in one place at a time: & Government would gain nothing by transferring me from the Quarterly to any thing else which they might be willing to launch. It may be said that that Q R. is established, – that this Engine is at work & will go on, & that it is desirable to have more engines than one. – I admit this. And if there be a Journal started which admits of it I will read lectures in live anatomy upon Jeffrey & Hunt & Sir Richard Phillips. In short, whether openly or covertly as may be deemed expedient, whatever ought to be done I am ready to do, & to do it fearlessly. The best thing seems what I stated last night, – to write a small book or large pamphlett upon the State of the Nation. [5] 

In all this I see nothing which would require a change of residence, – that measure would induce a great sacrifice of feeling, – of comfort, & of expence, – & draw on a heavily increased expenditure. The advantage to myself might perhaps consist They would provide for this, – but in what manner? A man is easily provided for who has a profession, or is capable of holding any official character; this is not my case – & such things as might be given me, from the Lottery or stamp office [6]  for instance which would require me to live near London, would not be so des more advantageous on the whole, as a mere point of income, – & in all other respects far less desirable than an increase of my pension to half the amount of such a situation as might be thought of. – To you I write without reserve. Perhaps they would give me a situation of 7 or 800 £ a year: – it would serve me more effectively if what comes thro your hands were made a clear xxxx five. [7] 


I was going to send Jehephary [8]  to the Courier, – or to enlarge it & let it off thro the Grand Murray in a small pamphlet, but it shall lie by for the present in case a newspaper <journal> be started in which it might find place. Woe be to him, if this be! I will handle him in a severer stile than ever he be such a scoundrel was handled yet.

No Lady has appeared with a letter from you, & the review of M. with the half dozen initials has never been inserted; [9]  – you fancy so because you read the proof sheets I consider its rejection as a great piece of incivility & disrespect.

You will understand that I will hasten to London if it be thought necessary, – but that I in my own calm judgement it is quite unnecessary. – I even believe that any conversation which the men in power might have with me would operate to my disadvantage. I should appear confused & visionary, – an impracticable sort of man. – On the whole too I do not think I could leave this country, where I am now in a manner attached to the soil, by a sort of moral & intellectual serfage which I could not break if I would, – & would not if I could. And Edith is to be considered even more than myself. Would that it were in my power to buy this property, – which I dare say might at this time be purchased, – for we have a needy Landlord, in suspicious circumstances. [10] 

It is better that I should write either to you or to Herries xxxx a letter to be shown, than that I should show myself. Good may undoubtedly may be done by exposing the anarchists, & awakening the sound part of the country to a sense of their danger. This I can do; but it will be of no avail unless it be followed by <an> effective measure, – by appointing a punishment for sedition (such as Hunts & Cobbetts) [11]  which shall prevent a repetition of the offence: – transportation is that punishment. Unless this is done, or something which shall produce the same salutary effect, I do not think it possible [12]  that we shall escape from a Bellum Servile. [13]  – The immediate distress can best be alleviated by finding employment for the poor, – & one easy mode of doing this <to a great extent> is to form raised foot paths beside our horse paths roads, wherever the soil does not render them unnecessary. – And I am very desirous that Mr Owens plan for employing paupers in agriculture should be tried; [14]  – he writes like a madman, – but his practice ought [15]  not to be confounded with his metaphysicks; the experiment is worth trying – I do not doubt its success, – & the consequences which he so foolishly anticipates with triumph should be regarded as the dreams of an enthusiast, – not as reasons to deter Government from the most feasible means of abolishing the poor rates which has been (or in my judgement can be) proposed. I have seen Owen, & talked him at great length.

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ 9. Stafford Row/ Buckingham Gate/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 11 SE 11/ 1816
Seal: black wax, with ‘S’, ‘In Labore Quies’ motto below
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. 202–204 [in part]. BACK

[1] Bedford had written transmitting ministerial proposals that Southey edit a journal supporting the government. BACK

[2] Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356 (this was issue no. 16). BACK

[3] The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, or, Monthly Political and Literary Censor (1798–1821). BACK

[4] The supernatural anti-hero of Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[5] Southey considered writing, but never wrote, this book. BACK

[6] Southey suggests he might be offered a post in the Board of Stamps, which administered stamp duty on a range of items; or the Lottery Office, which ran the 126 state lotteries authorised between 1769 and 1826. Both organisations employed a large number of officials and appointments could be used to reward supporters of the government; Wordsworth had been appointed Distributor for Stamps in Westmorland in 1813 at a salary of £400 p.a. BACK

[7] Southey had received a government pension of £200 p.a. since 1807, but tax reduced this to £144. He also received £100 p.a. as Poet Laureate, which tax reduced to £92. Here he asks for £500 p.a. ‘clear’ i.e. after tax, more than double his government income in 1816. BACK

[8] Southey’s parodic attack on Francis Jeffrey, the ‘Book of the Prophet Jehephary’, was, on the advice of his friends, not published in his lifetime. It appeared in John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 35–42. BACK

[9] 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), dealing with the French Marshal, André Massena’s (1758–1817), campaign in Portugal 1810–1811. This review was not published in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[10] Greta Hall suffered from the complicated financial and legal entanglements of its owner, Samuel Tolson, Junior (dates unknown), Southey’s landlord, who was, by April 1817, in Carlisle jail for debt. BACK

[11] Leigh Hunt was imprisoned for two years in 1813 for libelling the Prince Regent; Cobbett received two years in prison in 1810 for treasonous libel for criticising the flogging of local militiamen at Ely. BACK

[12] Initially ‘possibly’. BACK

[13] A civil war between classes. BACK

[14] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), the humanitarian industrialist, who provided improved living conditions for the workers at his mills at New Lanark, Scotland. Owen had visited Southey in August 1816 and the two men had discussed Owen’s plan to house the poor in groups of 500–1,000 people, each with access to 1,000–1,500 acres of land. Owen explained his ideas in Report of the Committee of the Association for Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor (1817). He hoped these plans might lay the basis for a future utopia. BACK

[15] Initially ‘might’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)