3064. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 January 1818

3064. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 January 1818⁠* 

Tuesday night. 6 Jany 1818.

My dear G.

I have two things to say to you, which would be reason enough for beginning a letter, even if I were not rather disposed at this time to pen-gossip with your worship than to go on working.

First then, an accident (which tho it would not require much time to tell it, would yet take up rather too much to be told just now) induces me to resume my Inscriptions. [1]  You I believe did not much like what you saw of them, – but I am persuaded that as pieces of composition they will more compleatly show exhibit my skill as an artist than any other of my poems. Charles Taylor whom I remember at Westminster was killed at Vimeiro. [2]  I knew nothing of him & never exchanged a word with him, – but he is the only Westminster man who comes in my way, & for that reason has a <sort of> double claim to be in t a place in the series. He was a Reading man, – you have friends at Reading, – can you by their means learn what his services had been, – the Sepulchral inscriptions are of course epitaphs, – & the epitaph should be a brief notice of all in a mans life which is worth noticing on his monument. – My intention is not to be in any hurry with these poems, but to correct them at leisure, as severely as possible, & print them after the history [3]  is published, as an accompaniment in the same form.

Secondly. I learn from Westall that his brother [4]  has a great desire to make drawings from my operas, more especially from Thalaba. [5]  However much I might like this, my liking can be of no avail, and the matter of course must rest between him & the Longi Homines, who I suspect will be like deaf adders. They will object that the poems are not new, & have no great sale. And perhaps the size in which they are printed would be a serious objection to the artist. What the Longi Homines should do, if they listened to him, should be to print an edition of my poetical works collectively in octavo, with the prints ad libitum [6] ; – & to have in future the separate edition of each in a smaller size, without notes, – so as to get into circulation among cheap books which are found in every country shop – a four shilling Roderic [7]  for instance. This would never interfere with the sale of the costlier form, & would get into circulation when even the xxxx current editions cannot. But the Longi Homines do not understand their own trade. The Grand Murray does. Nevertheless I like the long man better than the great man.

Yet between ourselves I cannot help suspecting something very like a trick about the sale of Moores poem, & the suspicion is not a comfortable one. A sixth edition of Lalla Rookh [8]  is advertised in the course of eight months, Roderick in three years is only on the fourth. Now I am perfectly certain it is no feeling of vanity (& you know how I feel upon such subjects well enough to believe me) which makes me think there cannot possibly have been this difference in the sale. How then do I explain the fact? By an apprehension that there is a ruse de guerre in it, – a stratagem of that war which bookseller carries on against another: – that if I were to ask as large a sum for a poem as Moore has obtained, they might reply to me there xxx is not the same sale to be expected, – & for this they <would> apparent <support> by title pages putting probably a new the & name of a new edition to every 500 or possibly a smaller number (for Lalla Rookh cannot by possibility have had such a sale as is pretended) to his poems, – while the first edition of Roderick was 500 only at a time; but the second 1500, the third 2000 & the fourth 2000.


You will do me a service if you will get from the Review-Gelder as many more of my old manuscripts [9]  as you can, & in future secure from him a set of proof sheets in their first state, because the paper is always printed before he sets about the work of emasculating it. It is very easy for him to have an additional proof struck off in that state, & then what I have xxxx taken the trouble to write & he has been <is> obliging enough to strike out afterwards, will be preserved for use hereafter. I make as large allowances as can be required for the management to which Editor & Publisher may feel or fancy themselves bound, – but the striking out a sentence or a paragraph because Mr Gifford does not like it, & the putting in one of his words or phrases where he happens not to like one of mine, – has the effect of putting my forbearance to the proof. Once or twice I have written to him pretty strongly in remonstrance, – then he flatters & promises, & next time goes to work again like a butcherly review-gelder as he is.

If you happen to see Murray I wish you would say this to him – he sent me in his last parcel Le Genie de la Revolution, considerée dans l’Education in two volumes. It promises a third which xxx was to include all that related to Buonapartes reign, – & was to be published in November last. [10]  This third volume is precisely the thing I want for filling up the picture of France in the introductory chapter of the Peninsular War, [11]  – & the sooner I can have it for that purpose the better, – for I really long to be in the press. – You can tell him this when you chance to see him, – which will be better than my writing just now, when I am not in good humour with him, feeling myself scurvily treated about the last number, in more respect than one. [12]  But I do not mean to give the slightest intimation of this displeasure either to him or the Gelder, – for however much they may look upon me as their tool, I shall make use of them as mine.

God bless you – I am in excellent condition for work


Wednesday evening.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer./ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 10 JA 10/ 1818
Endorsement: Recd/ Recd 10 Jan 1818 pd
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 85–88. BACK

[1] Southey’s ‘Inscriptions Triumphal and Sepulchral Recording the Acts of the British Army in Spain and Portugal’. He had planned thirty of these poems, but only sixteen were completed in 1814–1815. They were not published together until they appeared (with two later compositions) in Poetical Works, 10 vols (London, 1837–1838), III, pp. 122–156. BACK

[2] On 21 August 1808 British forces defeated a French army at Vimeiro, Portugal. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Taylor (1772–1808) was killed leading a charge of the 20th Light Dragoons. He was the son of John Taylor (c. 1742–1825), a well-known physician in Reading. Southey did not complete this epitaph. Southey mentioned Taylor’s death in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 363, and History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 558–559. BACK

[3] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[4] Richard Westall (1765–1836; DNB), William’s elder brother and mentor, a popular artist whose drawings would illustrate Southey’s A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[5] Westall did not publish illustrations of Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[6] ‘At one’s pleasure’. BACK

[7] Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). It did not appear in this format. BACK

[8] Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh (1817). It was published by Longman, the sixth edition appearing in 1817. The fourth edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths appeared in 1816 and the fifth in 1818. Longmans were convinced Lalla Rookh would be a great success, paying Moore £3,000 before it was even completed; whereas Southey earned little more than £700 from the sales of Roderick. But Longman’s judgement was correct; Lalla Rookh sold 9,000 copies in the six editions published in 1817, despite Southey’s scepticism about its sales. BACK

[9] Southey’s articles in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[10] Murray had sent the first two volumes of Jean Baptist Germain Fabry (1770–1821), Le Génie de la Révolution Considéré dans l’Education ou Mémoires pour Servir a l’Histoire de l’Instruction Publique, Depuis 1789 jusqu’à Nos Jours (1817–1818). The third volume did not appear until 1818, dealing with the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[11] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 3–61. BACK

[12] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 December 1817 (Letter 3048): he was annoyed because he had recently completed an article for the Quarterly Review on Lord Holland, Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro (1817). This was held over and not published until 21 February 1818, when it appeared in the Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 1–46. In its place in the Quarterly Review, 17 (July 1817), 369–403, was a review by John Bird Sumner (1780–1862; DNB), entitled ‘Malthus on Population’ and far more favourable to the ideas of Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB) about the poor than Southey had been when he discussed Malthus in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

People mentioned

Murray, John Samuel (1778–1843) (mentioned 2 times)
Moore, Thomas (1779–1852) (mentioned 2 times)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 2 times)
Westall, William (1781–1850) (mentioned 1 time)