1871. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 February 1811

1871. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 February 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 16. 1811.

My dear Grosvenor

If I had not heard of you from Gifford at the beginning of the month I should have been very uneasy about you. Thank you for your letter, & for your serviceable interpolation of the review, [1]  which is just what it should be, – that is to say, x just what I would wish it, only I wish you would expunge the not call me the most sublime poet of the age, [2]  – because in this point both Wordsworth & Landor are at least my equals. You will not suspect me of any mock-modesty in this. On the whole I shall have done greater things than either, – but not because I possess greater powers.

My xxx abode under Skiddaw will have been more unfavourable to my first years annals [3]  than to any other, because I had fewer xxxx channels of information opened, & because <of> home politics I was very ignorant, never liking them well enough to feel any interest beyond that of an election feeling. Now that it becomes my business to be better informed I have spared no pains to become so, – & the probability is that I learn as much political news to my purpose by letter as I should do by <that> intercourse x which would be compatible with my way of life. – Of three points I have now persuaded <convinced> myself, – that the great desideratum in our own government is a Premier instead of a Cabinet, – & that a regular opposition is an absurdity which could not exist any where but in an island without destroying the government, – & that parliamentary reform is the shortest road to anarchy.

I am sincerely obliged to Gifford for his desire to serve me, & sincerely glad that I stand in need of no services. Not that I am by any means above being served, or feel any ways uncomfortable under an obligation. On the contrary I should <hold> myself in the highest degree obliged to any person who would promote Tom for my sake, – but for this we must wait till the First Lord is in power. [4]  For myself I am in a fair way of wanting nothing, & if great men will but give me their praise, they may keep their promises for others; – their praise would prove actual pudding, – let them only make it the fashion to buy my books, & in seven years time I will purchase a house & ground enough for the use of a dairy, within a days journey of London. Scott had 2000 guineas for the Lady of the Lake. [5]  – If Canning would but compare Buonaparte to Kehama in the H of Commons, – I might get half as much by my next poem.

I am reviewing Pasleys book, [6]  – the most important political work that ever appeared in any country. The minister who shall first become a believer in that book, & act upon its unanswe unanswerable principles will obtain a higher reputation than ever statesman did before him. My review will be conciliatory towards the husbanding politicians [7]  – that is – it will endeavour to make them ashamed without feeling irritated <making them angry>. The blistering plaister for Whitbread & Co goes all into the Register, which is designed to be a perpetual blister for that Devil’s Advocate. [8] 

We start in May for the South. My work at present stands thus 256 pages of the Register printed, about four sheets more in readiness, leaving yet another full sheet before the Parl. Proc. of the year are compleated, – including however the D of York’s business [9]  which has swoln it to this unmerciful length. [10]  Flushing [11]  is done, & 65 pages of Spain, – there remains to write the Austrian war, [12]  the American & Baltic affairs [13]  & <the change of ministry cum Duello> [14]  about as much more of Spain, [15]  – so that April will begin before all this can be compleated. There is little Appendix for the year – my pa & this makes room for my own overgrown Annals which I think will exceed the bulk of the former by nearly one third; in remuneration for which <this> I have – my labour for my pains. However it is well paid. Abella supplies me well with Spanish papers, – something he has got me concerning Zaragoza [16]  from D Pedro Maria Rio, [17]  now Deputy for Aragon in the Cortes, I have found him excellently useful. He writes to me in – issimos – of esteem & I am in return outstep a little the usual pace of English compliments in return, & am his friend & servant in superlatives – With a good conscience believe me, for I really like him, & am very sensible of his services. Of course I have sent him my best works, & no doubt my name will soon be in high odour in the Isle of Leon. It was a mortification to me to hear he was about to return, before I could xx see him in London. We have dispeeded ourselves of each other in the most cordial terms, & are to continue frequent correspondents.

I have again taken to Pelayo, [18]  after a long interval, & the third section is nearly finished – it will bring me into busier scenes & the story will begin to open. I am afraid that having thus begun ab ovo  [19]  I must change the title & call of the poem & call it Spain Restored, – for Pelayo cannot appear till xx I have got on a thousand lines. If I cared about xxxx xx rules this would be a fault, but the structure must depend upon the materials, & I have not too much of Roderick in the beginning, considering the part he has to play in the end. – I have conceived of another poem, – upon that Philips War [20]  which you may see struck in the review of Holmes’s American Annals [21]  impressed me some time ago. I have a strong conception of grand possibilities in this story, – & you will be amused to hear that the hero is to be a Quaker. There was one person you know Grosvenor who could make an epic poem with such a hero, – nay with a Jack-pudding for the hero, or what was <is> more wonderful still – himself, – but tho I am not the Butler, [22]  I think I can succeed in the attempt.

Have you paid Rickman for shoeing me, & his Honour for the Books? [23] 

Xxxxxx Remember me to your father & mother, – the former I hope is well recovered from his illness. – Sarsaparella for your worshipful self, is I think one of the medicines which had better not be forgotten – for without knowing what it is good for I have some faith in it as xxx being adopted from savage herbary; – a good school of medicine. – The Capture of the Isle of France [24]  is a good thing – but We must now look to the Persian Gulph & the Red Sea, – & take especial care to keep the French out of those important points, – important as to the means they afford of annoying us in their hands, – or of spreading civilization in ours. Next year I purpose to give a whole chapter to the French xxxxx intrigues with Persia [25]  & their views in that quarter: I have neither time nor room for it in the present volume. Farewell send me all the news you know, & continue to tell me you are mending – which is the best news of all you can send.

I most heartily rejoice that the Outs are Outs still. [26] 


Not a line from Coleridge yet. Tom & his wife are at Durham – He waits for her delivery, which is expected late in March, & then goes to sea. Our household is in good order once more [27] 


* MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 302–305 [in part]. BACK

[1] Bedford’s interpolations in Walter Scott’s review of The Curse of Kehama (1810), Quarterly Review, 5 (February 1811), 40–61 (esp. 55–56). See also Southey to Grosvenor Charles Beford, 1 January 1811, Letter 1848. BACK

[2] The offending phrase did not appear in the published version, which, instead, paid ‘our highest tribute of praise … to Southey as a poet and a man’, Quarterly Review, 5 (February 1811), 55. BACK

[3] i.e. Southey’s work for the historical section of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[4] Possibly a reference to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), First Lord of the Admiralty 1804–1805. BACK

[5] Scott’s The Lady of the Lake (1810). It sold over 20,000 copies in the year of its publication. BACK

[6] Sir Charles William Pasley (1780–1861; DNB), Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810). Southey’s article was deemed by Gifford to be ‘perfectly incorrect and dangerous’. The version published in the Quarterly Review, 5 (May 1811), 403–457, was, therefore, much altered by Croker, in consultation with Gifford and Murray; see Jonathan Cutmore, The Quarterly Review Archive. BACK

[7] Those politicians who wished to conserve Britain’s resources and not commit money and men to the war in Spain. BACK

[8] The radical MP Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815; DNB). For an example of Southey’s comments: ‘Mr Whitbread rose, as usual, to play the part of advocate for Buonaparte, and to revile the allies of England’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 303. BACK

[9] In 1809, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), had been forced to resign as commander-in-chief of the British army in the wake of allegations that he had profited from office trafficking. After a lengthy investigation, the charges were found to be unproven. It had, however, become apparent that his former mistress Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852; DNB) had received money from individuals keen for her to use her influence with the Duke, and that the Duke himself had known of her actions. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 109–301. BACK

[10] Ballantyne was concerned enough about the length of the historical section to insist that Southey explained himself to the readers in a prefatory note; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), [v]–vi. BACK

[11] The siege and capture of Flushing by British troops, part of the ill-fated Walcheren campaign of 1809. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 660–692. BACK

[12] See chapters 24–27 of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 575–659, dealing with the defeat of Austria by France in 1809. BACK

[13] Chapters 15 and 16 of the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 405–469. BACK

[14] Spencer Perceval had become Prime Minister on 4 October 1809. The duel, on 21 September 1809, was between the feuding Cabinet members Canning and Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822; DNB); Canning was wounded in the thigh, his opponent lost a button from his coat; see Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 788–792. BACK

[15] Southey underestimated: events in Spain and Portugal occupied the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 470–574 and 633–786. BACK

[16] The Spanish city of Zaragoza had been besieged in 1808 and 1809. It fell to the French after an outbreak of disease. For Southey’s account of the second siege see, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. BACK

[17] Pedro Maria Ric y Monserrat, Baron de Valdeolivos (1776–1831), Spanish aristocrat and politician. BACK

[18] What became Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[19] ‘from the beginning’. BACK

[20] King Philip’s War, or Metacom’s Rebellion, 1675–1676. An armed conflict between English colonists and the native American inhabitants of New England. Southey’s poem was ‘Oliver Newman’, left incomplete at his death. BACK

[21] Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 (1808). For Southey’s appraisal see Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[22] Southey and Bedford had a long-standing private joke about ‘the Butler’, a mythological hero of extraordinary powers. BACK

[23] See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 December 1810, Letter 1839. BACK

[24] The French territory of Île de France had been captured by British troops in December 1810. It was renamed Mauritius (the name by which it had been known until 1715). BACK

[25] In fact the French embassy to Persia only received a passing mention in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), 300, though Southey did insist on the importance of defeating French plans in the Indian Ocean as ‘our possession of Mauritius may be as beneficial to East Africa, as the British conquests in Asia have been to the people of Hindostan’. BACK

[26] The Regency Act of 1811 did not produce a change of ministry. BACK

[27] Not a … more: Written at top of fol 1r. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)