2355. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 December 1813

2355. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 December 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. Dec 26. 1813.

My dear Grosvenor

When my Carmen comes to you in its hot pressed state you will be pleased in the first instance to scratch out the word Triumphale, & substitute for eit it either Castratum, or Damnatum, [1]  – whichever you like best; – & then in the second place please to efface the words Robert Southey, that the line in which <so little to their credit> they are unworthily introduced, may run thus by ‘Squire Poet-Laureat’, & in the third place, slit <separate> the leaves by slitting them at the back, & cut them in <across> the middle into an octavo form, & then deposit them in the Sacellulum  [2]  x under your steps for use. For a Carmen is κακον [3]  deserves to the Carmen is, & cacandum  [4]  it deserves to be.

I believe if your letter had come sooner I should have followed my own inclination, – it came only in time to make me doubt whether I had not unnecessarily given away way to a needless scruple. All would have been well if I had at first desired you to take Giffords opinion upon the temper of the verses. Croker has written me three sheets of criticism good & bad; – he advised the omissions – having called in Barrow [5]  upon the case, – you may guess the result, – it is no wonder that an attempt to cut down a good base voice so as to make it into a treble [6]  should spoil it in the operation.

My sole consolation is comfort is that the castrations will with a little additional trouble will make a good ode by themselves.

In the notes you will <see> one, or two, choice passages from the Edinburgh Review I have them him upon the hip. [7] 


So Mr Bedford you are not sure whether you shall not advise me to omit the whole 11th book! [8]  – I am not sure, if you do, whether I shall not advise you to cut the nose out of your face; inasmuch as the black patch wh with which you would cover the citatrice might be much more naturally accounted for than the hiatus in my poem. – Alphonso [9]  is a great name in Spanish history, – as great as Pelayo. [10]  He married Pelayos daughter & reigned after his brother in laws [11]  death, & fought the Moors successfully as long as he lived. I think his arrival well managed, & the character of Pedro & Favinia well contrasted with Pelayo & Gaudiosa.


7 o clock.

So we are actually negociating with the Tyrant! [12]  who holds his authority & his life not so much by his own strength as by our weakness pusillanimity. For if this country had acted upon my principles his he would have been put to death by the French long since. But if Burke [13]  could not convince the generous native <ministry> of this country <his day> of the necessity of acting upon a high & dignified principle if they would bring any thing to a good end, & I verily believe that they are incapable of learning it. Every thing which is fashionable in England tends to dwarf the intellect, & de to deaden the feelings, & debilitate the race. We have three things in our favour, classical education, Shakespere, & the Bible, – but the first is so directed as to produce what you have heard called Virgilian taste [14]  instead of Greek & Roman elevation of character, – the second breeds commentators as a dead Lion breeds maggots, & the third God help us, has given rise to a sect of Bibliolaters. These however are the things which keep alive in the spark alive amid the smother & refuse of our philosophy, our ca criticism, political-craft, & religious cant.

I am more grieved than surprized, & it is no consolation to think that they who are acting upon this suicidal policy will dearly repent it.


It is well you remind me of Greens five shillings. [15]  And thus remind me of requesting that you will pay Mrs Rickman a sum somewhere about twenty shillings for certain implements of idleness known by the name of waste-paper.

What news of the Bust? [16]  You may add one more to the list, for which I am responsible; – it should be bronzed, & directed to Samuel Castle Esqr [17] – Old Elvet, Durham, for Capt Southey.

Remember me at home. A merry Xmas to you – I shall soon have another book of Roderick [18]  for you

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 29 DE 29/ 1813
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s first Laureate poem, Carmen Triumphale. Five stanzas were considered by Croker and Rickman to be inflammatory. Southey bowed to pressure and deleted them from the version published as Carmen Triumphale in a quarto of 30 pages on 1 January 1814. He incorporated the deleted stanzas into an ‘Ode Written During the Negotiations with Bonaparte’, published in the Courier, 3 February 1814. BACK

[2] A diminutive of ‘sacellum’, meaning a small, unroofed shrine, so, by implication the lavatory as ‘the smallest room in the house’, where the ‘Carmen Triumphale’ could be used as lavatory paper. BACK

[3] ‘excrement’. BACK

[4] ‘excrement’. BACK

[5] John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), promoter of exploration, author and contributor to the Quarterly Review. He worked with Croker at the Admiralty, where he was Second Secretary 1804–1806, 1807–1845. BACK

[6] i.e. to castrate the poem. BACK

[7] In Carmen Triumphale, the sixth, seventh and fifteenth stanzas were adorned with notes attacking the Edinburgh Review’s criticism of the war in Spain. BACK

[8] Of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814); Bedford had been reading the MS. BACK

[9] Alfonso I, ‘the Catholic’ (before 739–757). King of Asturias, 739–757. He is said to have married Emesinda (dates unknown), daughter of Pelayo [Pelagius] (d. 737; reigned 718–737), founder of the Kingdom of Asturias. BACK

[10] Pelayo is credited with beginning the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. BACK

[11] Favila (d. 739), King of Asturias 737–739, son of Pelayo. BACK

[12] Napoleon had agreed to negotiations on 2 December 1813, though talks were stalled until a senior British diplomat arrived. They resumed at Chatillon in February-March 1814 and continued until Napoleon’s final defeat and abdication. The negotiations reflected the divisions among the allies and their uncertainty about France’s fate after the war: but they did not stop the Sixth Coalition invading France. BACK

[13] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB). Southey may be referring to his advocacy of negotiations with America during the War of Independence 1775–1783, rather than unrestrained war with France after 1793. BACK

[14] i.e. excessive attention to refinement and grace in composition, rather any attention to the morality of the Roman Republic. BACK

[15] An unidentified debt. BACK

[16] The bust of Southey sculpted earlier in 1813 by James Smith (1775–1815). BACK

[17] Tom’s father-in-law, Samuel Castle (d. 1815), a Durham solicitor. BACK

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

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)