14. Robert Southey to Thomas Phillipps Lamb [c. mid June 1792]

14. Robert Southey to Thomas Phillipps Lamb [c. mid June 1792] ⁠* 

Bristol, 1792.

Over hills, towns, and valleys, go, letter, and fly
To my good host and friend at the old town of Rye,
Where some noble fat sheep, to one acre nineteen,
In vain looking round for more pasture are seen;
Where with Squirrel, two fine Guinea horses are tied,
And corruption is rattling in Frisky’s inside:
There stop, for your journey must there find an end,
And give my best thanks to my very best friend.

Pheasant, partridge, and hare are all now out of season,
And you know, my dear sir, I could never write reason.
But reason, like brandy, will soften in time,
And so, stead of reason, I send you some rhyme.
Three brace of fine odes on your worship attend,
For you cannot want game, and I cannot send —
Besides, the warm weather, and very long roads;
And game would not keep half so well as my odes.

I own I am vain; but permit me to say
I ride Pegasus better by half than the Gray.
No matter to me if I get up behind,
On we go, wild and lawless, and rough as the wind,
Till reason and friendship in vain would restrain,
When madness and vanity loosen the rein.
Over rods, wigs, and doctors like furies we ride, [1] 
For needs he must go whom the Devil will guide;
Till anathemas meeting, we fall at the end,
I pull in pretty sharply, and slowly descend.
The horrible mischief and uproar I find,
And repentance and reason come lagging behind.

May all Doctor Slops [2]  curse the rude critic goad
Who shall dare to find fault with my wonderful ode!
Come tooth-ache and gout, come combine all your pains
In his head, stomach, feet, body, bowels, and brains.
May horrors rheumatic the criminal seize,
In his head, in his feet, in his hams, in his knees, —
Of breakfast, or supper, or dinner partaking,
Or walking or riding, or sleeping or waking!
May the scab seize his sheep, and the murrain his kine,
And all his old hock turn to bitter bark wine
Unfriended, unpitied, let him howl, rage, and moan,
Till like Obadiah [3]  repentance atone.

Sure dulness may fence them like armour of steel,
For Smedley [4]  the sharp shafts of Pope could not feel.
In vain all his shafts might the angry bard hurl,
While sense shielded Bentley, [5]  and impudence Curl. [6] 

To reason and mercy, let critics attend,
But never find fault if they cannot amend.
You complain of the bells at Portslade, dingdong spot,
But talk of amending! who’ll listen to that?

Full plenty of compliments I send to you,
And I hope you will give them, sir, where they are due.
May I beg you will write on receipt, and pray tell
If the sheep and the corporal [7]  both are quite well,
If Mr. Matthews prevailed on his lady to call,
And if poor Obadiah got well of his fall.

Some account, too, pray send if hostilities stop,
Or if Widow Wadman [8]  has won Doctor Slop.
And I beg my best wishes and hopes you’ll express
To commend the King Harold to care of Queen Bess.

I heard lately from Tom; he was then very well.
And so, my dear sir, I will bid you farewell.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Warter
Previously published: John Wood Warter, Selections From the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 8–10. Warter, I, p. [1] n. * implies that his text was taken not from the original MS but from a set of ‘copies’ of Southey’s letters to Lamb that ‘came into my possession amongst the MSS. of the late Mrs. Southey [ie. Caroline Bowles]’. Although many of the inherited MSS are now in the British Library, these papers are not included.
Dating note: The letter is dated from internal references to warm weather and to pheasant, partridge and hare being out of season, which places it before 1 September. Southey’s mention of ‘three brace of fine odes’ tallies with a reference in a letter to Thomas Davis Lamb [c. 18 June 1792] (see Letter 15), in which Southey asks if the odes he has sent to the Lamb family have arrived yet. BACK

[1] A reference to Southey’s continued anger at his expulsion from Westminster School in 1792 for authorship of an essay, published in fifth edition of The Flagellant (29 March 1792), which claimed flogging was an invention of the devil and parodied the Athanasian creed. BACK

[2] Doctor Slop, a character in Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[3] In Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767), Obadiah is the servant of Tristram’s father, Walter Shandy. BACK

[4] Jonathan Smedley (1670/71–1729; DNB), Irish whig clergyman, satirised by Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB) in The Dunciad (1743), Book 2. BACK

[5] Richard Bentley (1662–1742; DNB), philologist and classical scholar, attacked in Alexander Pope, The Dunciad (1743). BACK

[6] Edmund Curll (d. 1747; DNB), bookseller and butt of Alexander Pope’s satire in The Dunciad (1743). BACK

[7] In Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767), Corporal Trim is the manservant of Tristram’s Uncle Toby. BACK

[8] In Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767), Widow Wadman is the object of Uncle Toby’s affections. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Mountsfield Lodge, Rye (mentioned 1 time)