136. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1-10 October 1795

136. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1–10 October 1795 ⁠* 

October 1st. 1795. Bath.

I have been living over three years & a half in your letters Grosvenor. with what variety of reflections you may imagine. from the date of the Flagellant thro many a various plan! you asked Collins when you first saw <him> after his residence at Oxford if I was altered — & his “no” gave you pleasure. I have been asking myself the same question — & alas — in truth must return the same answer. no I am not altered. I am as warm hearted & as open as ever — Experience never wasted her lesson on a less fit pupil — yet Bedford my mind is considerably expanded — my opinions are better grounded & frequent self-conviction of error has taught me a sufficient degree of scepticism upon all subjects to prevent confidence. the frequent & careful study of Godwin was of essential service — I read & all but worshipped — I have since seen his fundamental error — that he theorizes for another state — not for the rule of conduct in the present — I despise the man — I can confute his principles. but all the good he has done me remains. tis a book [1]  I should one day like to read with you for our mutual improvement, — when we have been neighbours six months our opinions will accord. a bold prophecy — but it will be fulfilled.

my poetical taste was much meliorated by Bowles, & the constant company of Coleridge. he did me much good — I him more. for religion — I can confute the Atheist & baffle him with his own weapons — & can at least teach the Deist that the arguments in favour of Xtianity are not to be despised. metaphysics I know enough to use them as defensive armor, & to deem them otherwise difficult trifles.

You have made me neglect necessary business. I was busy with this huge work of mine — when your letters tempted me, & they gave me an appetite for the pen. Somehow they have made me low spirited — & I find a repletion of the lachrymal glands. apropos — do kill some dozen men for me anatomically any where except in the head or heart. damn all wars! I am as much puzzled to carry on mine at Orleans — as our admirable minister [2]  is to devise a plan for the next campaign. it is not possible to express the contempt & abhorrence I feel for that man. pardonnez moi! my republican royalist! my philantropic aristocrat.

I am obliged to Nares for a very handsome review. it is my intention next year to write a tragedy. the subject from the Observer. the Portuguese accused before the Inquisition of incest & muder. read the story. [3] 

last night in returning from Bristol (on foot) I for the first time saw the whole process of the moon rising — & very lovely it was. an accurate observation of the appearances of nature, has improved me much in description. a gooseberry eyed Scotch methodist schoolmaster rankd <ranks> me the next to Thomson! [4]  by the by take Coleridges character of this informis canis. a man with thick legs & apple-dumpling toes. his flabby squabship looks as if he had come hot & sweating from the Devils foul-cloathes-bag.

Madoc is to be the pillar of my reputation. how many a melancholy hour have I beguiled by writing poetry!

I have got an old translation of Montaignes essays [5]  & hugely delighted am I with this honest egotism! buy Cottles poems for the mans sake — I love him so well that I would have you love whatever comes from him — read nothing but the monody — omne ignotum pro magnifico [6]  — & you will think him a first rate poet. it is a most masterly composition.

curious beginning of an alchemistical receipt. “In the name of God! take an urinal.

I have a thousand things to show you & say to you. but dinner disturbs me — I cannot write during the preparations — & so for Tristram Shandy — God bless you. [7] 

nine o clock

The rain it is coming fast down fast
I have a long walk tomorrow
And therefore I hear it
With sorrow!

Friday October 9th

I found your letter on my arrival to day. my Uncle writes not to me — & I begin to think he is so displeased at my rejecting a good settlement for the foolish prejudice I have against perjuring myself that he gives me up. aussi bien! so be it. any thing but this terrible suspense — Zounds Grosvenor — suspense shall be the object of my tragedy. — indeed indeed I have often the heart ache.

cannot you come to Bath for a week? I have so much to say to you — & I will never quit Edith. xx every day endears her to me — I am as melancholy here at Bath as you can imagine — & yet I am very little here — not two days in the week. the rest I pass with Cottle that I may be near her. Cottle offered me his house in a letter which you shall see when we meet — & for which he will ever hold a high place in your heart. — I bear a good face & keep all uneasiness to myself — indeed the port is in view & I must <not> mind a little sickness on the voyage.

xxxx xxx the tempest tho the smile
The wretchd dexxxxx hxxx xxxxxxxx
Wxxx xxxxxxx

your stanza on Hope may be made excellent. your translation I have not yet compared with the Greek — when I have you shall have my remarks. you should study Pope [8]  & Dryden more for your versification.

thank Harry for me with all affection. he has given me clear ideas upon the subject.

Bedford I have beheld that very identical tyger
there’s a grand hexameter for you!
Bedford I have beheld that very identical tiger

who stopt the mail coach on the Kings high way, not having the fear of God & the King before his eyes — no — nor of the Guard & his Blunderbuss. what a pity Grosvenor that that Blunderbuss should be levelled at you! how it would have struck a Democrat! never mind — tis only a flash — & you like a fellow whose uttermost upper grinder is being torn out by the roots by a mutton fisted barber — will — grin & endure it.

Gaiety suits ill with me. the above extempore witticisms are as old as six o clock Monday morning last — & noted down in my pocket book for you. — God bless you — Good night.

I visited Hannah More at Cowslip Green on Monday last — & seldom have I lived a pleasanter day. she knew my opinions & treated them with a flattering deference. her manners are mild — her information considerable & her taste correct — there are five sisters & each of them would be remarkd in a mixed company. of Lord Orford [9]  they spoke very handsomely. & gave me a better opinion of Wilberforce [10]  than I was accustomd to entertain. they pay for & direct the education of 1000 poor children. & for aristocracy — Hannah More is much such an aristocrat as a certain friend of mine.

if you print your Musæus print the Greek likewise. [11]  for my own part — I think the poem of too immoral a nature ever to advise its circulation — & this fault no excellence of diction or splendor of imagination can ever atone for. I believe you differ from me on these subjects — you did at least with respect to John the second. [12] 

I have written my letter to Ld Carysfort — thank God! — & Carlo is bit! I almost doubt the fact — he perhaps believes it himself. in truth Grosvenor most men pursue the ignis fatuus. by the by I feel some curiosity to know if the Miss Whitman or Whitbourne [13]  has bit him — who so charmed you & Horace & Miles [14]  two years ago? remember me to Horace & “all your good family.” & write to me as soon & as often as you can. by the by you one day owe me the explanation of a mystery — I burnt the letter — & so made a chasm in our correspondence. hiatus valde deflendus [15] 

God love you my dear friend

Robert Southey

Sat. Oct. 10th. tea time.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: [partial] 13/9
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1794
Endorsements: Recd. Octr. 13. 1795; Ansd. Oct. 16. 1795/ & sent Oct. 19th
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 247–250 [in part]. BACK

[1] William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Southey borrowed the first volume from the Bristol Library Society between 25–28 November 1793 and the second between 9–18 December 1793. BACK

[2] The Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger (1759–1806; DNB). BACK

[3] Richard Cumberland (1732–1811; DNB), The Observer (London, 1785), no. xxx, pp. 293–303. The story was of a Portuguese gentleman who committed incest with his half-sister and murdered his father. BACK

[4] This must be a reference to something Southey had heard, as none of the reviews of Poems (1795) compared him to James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB). BACK

[5] Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533–1592), Essais, first published in 1580. BACK

[6] A commonplace, taken from Tacitus (c. AD 56–117), Agricola, Book 30, no. 4. The Latin translates as ‘anything unknown is treated as grand’. BACK

[7] ‘God bless you’ is a common phrase in Laurence Sterne’s (1713–1768; DNB) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[8] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB). BACK

[9] Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–1797; DNB), author, politician and patron of the arts. BACK

[10] William Wilberforce (1759–1833; DNB), politician, philanthropist and abolitionist. BACK

[11] A reference to Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century) published as The Loves of Hero and Leander (1797). Bedford did print the Greek text alongside his translation. BACK

[12] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses), published in 1541. BACK

[13] Unidentified, a friend of the Bedford family. BACK

[14] A friend of the Bedford family, he lived at Vanbrugh Fields, Greenwich. His first name is not recorded. BACK

[15] A common saying; the Latin translates as ‘a gap greatly to be deplored’. BACK