149. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 February - 2 March 1796

149. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 February – 2 March 1796 ⁠* 

Wednesday. Feby. 24. 1796. Lisbon from which God grant me a speedy deliverance!

I am bitterly disappointed in not finding the Flagellant [1]  here. of which I sent my only copy to my Uncle. twas my intention to have brought it home again with me. you see Grosvenor this relic is already become rare. have you received the original Joan of Arc [2]  as written at Brixton, bound decently — &c? I left it with Cottle to send with your copy; he has the transcript [3]  of it himself, which he begged with most friendly devotion & I believe values as much as a Monk does the parings of his tutelary Saints great toe nail. is not the Preface a hodge podge of inanity? I had written the beginning only before I quitted Bristol. — the xxxx on the latter days of my residence there were occupied by concerns too nearly interesting to allow time for or collectedness for composition — & you will believe that after quitting Edith on Sunday evening, I was little fit to write a preface Monday morning. I never saw the whole of it together, & I believe that after making a few hasty remarks on epic poems I forgot to draw the conclusion, for which only they were introduced. n’importe, the ill-naturd Critic may exercise malignity in dissecting it, & the friendly one his ingenuity in finding out some excuse. by the by add the Reviewer to your portraits in the celeberrimated G Clavis, [4]  tis not the worst of his characters.

What has all this to do with Lisbon — say you. take a sonnet for the Ladies imitated from the Spanish of Bartolomè Leonardo,  [5]  in which I have given the author at least as many ideas as he has given me.

Nay cleanse this filthy mixture from thy hair
And give the untrickd tresses to the gale!
The Sun as lightly on the breeze they sail
Shall gild the bright brown locks. thy cheek is fair —
Away then with this artificial hue
This blush eternal! Lady to thy face
Nature has given no imitable grace.
Why these black spots obtruding on the view
The lilly cheek? & these ear jewels too
That ape the barbarous Indian’s vanity!
Thou needest not with that necklace there invite
The prying gaze — we know thy neck is white —
Go to thy dressing room again — & be
Artful enough to learn simplicity.  [6] 

Could not you swear to the author if you had seen this in the newspaper? you must know Bedford I have a deadly aversion to any thing merely ornamental in female dress. let the dress be as elegant (i.e. as simple) as possible — but hang on none of your gewgaws eye traps.

Do write to me. & promise me a visit at Bristol in the summer — for after I have returned to Edith I will never quit her again — so that we shall remain there till xx I settle doggedly to law, which I hope will be during the next winter.

I wrote to you & Wynn by the last packet. do write to me & very long letters. for the greatest pleasure I have is in finding the wind fair for Lisbon. when I set foot again on English ground! — Bedford I would lose a finger for the luxury of shaking off your hand at that moment — I am afraid I shall hug one of the boatmen for joy.

I am unchristian enough to wish all the Portugueze were converted to the Jewish faith — for a reason which you may find in the twenty third chapter of Deuteronomy & the thirteenth verse. [7]  the half that are Israelites live in such fear that they not only eat pork to avoid suspicion but even <live> like pigs. & as for washing themselves — what Catholic is Turk enough to perform the ceremony of ablution!

Friday 26th . Timothy Dwight [8]  (— Bedford I defy you & Mr Shandy [9]  to physiognomize that mans name rightly —) (what historian is it who in speaking of Alexanders feast says they listened to one Timothy a musician? [10] ) Timothy Dwight an American publishd an heroic poem on the Conquest of Canaan in 1785. [11]  I had heard of it & long wishd to read it in vain — but now the American minister [12]  — (a good humourd man whose poetry is worse than any thing except his criticisms) has lent me the book. there certainly is some merit in the poem — but when Colonel Humphreys speaks of it he will not allow me to put in a word in defence of John Milton. if I had written upon this subject I should have been terribly tempted to take part with the Canaanites, for whom I cannot help feeling a kind of brotherly compassion. there is a fine ocean of ideas floating about my brain pan for Madoc — & a high delight do I feel in sometimes indulging them till self forgetfulness follows. truely Grosvenor if heaven be only that hymn psalm singing place that some have supposed it I should like to make interest for the laureates place & write a few hymns occasionally for the Cherubim & Seraphim that continually do cry. [13]  strange concatenation of ideas! when we meet I will shew you a most elegant piece of latin on the eternity of future punishment extracted from Thomas Burnett — Author of The Theory of Earth [14]  a book which equals Milton in sublimity, & which for ingenuity never perhaps was equalled. I heard Crowe [15]  in a sermon speak of heaven as a state of continual progression — & if it were not it would cease to be heaven — but of all these things Grosvenor we shall know <more> when we have passed thro the gates of the grave. I was at the funeral of a young man last Sunday — & funerals make me very melancholy — nothing is so gloomy as to contemplate the ravages Death makes among the little circle of our friends — do you remember an alcaic ode [16]  I sent you one New Years day — “that soon thy pious grief” may wail &c? these ill looking lines very often occur to me — perhaps the most striking & eloquent passage I ever wrote is the declamation on Suicide in the 9th book of Joan. [17]  — & the answer to it will shew — how tame is Reason when compared with Feeling. Grosvenor keep all these things for your own eye only — perhaps you can follow the chain that connects them.

Tis a vile kind of philosophy that for tomorrows prospect glooms to day — apropos — sit down when you have no better employment & find all the faults you can in the Retrospect [18]  against I return — it wants the pruning knife before it be republishd.

Another mountain yet! I thought this brow
Had surely been the summit. but they rise
Cliff above cliff amid the incumbent skies
And mock my labour. What a giddy height!
The roar of yonder stream that foams below
Meets but at fits mine ear: ah me my sight
Shrinks from this upward toil, & sore opprest
Sad I bethink me of my home of rest.
Such is the lot of man! up lifes steep road
Painful he drags beguiling the long way
With many a vain dream on the future day
With Peace to sojourn in her calm abode.
Poor fool of Hope — that day will never come
Till Time & Care have led thee to the tomb.  [19] 

there is a melancholy sonnet Grosvenor. composd on the mountains of Galicia when my mind & body were equally fatigued.

last night — nay I must mend the pen — last night I was at the Tonkins. [20]  the room is a very large one & I walked up & down it thinking of my play — till I got at last into the high Tragedy trot (much about the same pace with Horace’s march up school after breakfast on Monday mornings — with his weekly note) — never was place so infested with boobies as Lisbon. I always think of the Lady at Collins’s when I hear one of these fellows talk nonsense to a woman.

Ερως δ’κ ηρκεσε Μοιρας [21]  — so said the Sphinx in the last letter I received. & if I had been Oedipus [22]  & as puzzled then as I am now I would have saved Sphinx the guilt of suicide by launching her down the rock. Grosvenor Bedford how many letters have you written to me without once mentioning the name of M— shall I go on? if I had Carlisles wings I would cross the damned Bay of Biscay — & tell show you all the ways & windings of the female heart — you must however, as I am <a> poor unfledged biped, come to Bristol in June, & there take a brothers place in one of the best. twould be disagreabell to be taken prisoner on my return & still more so to be drowned. under which last apprehension I did grievously suffer on coming to Corūna. remember Grosvenor to pay the English postage when you write otherwise the letter will be detained. direct with the R. Herbert Hill Lisbon.

if Joan of Arc reaches a second edition — & I have reason to believe it will — I shall make considerable alterations.

What think you of xxxxxxx the xxxxxx the School for Scoundrels xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx of a newsworthy sergeant? xx xxxx xxx xx xxxxx xxxxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx <xxxxx> xxxx xxxxxx xxxx the xxxx of xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx <xx xx> — xx xxxx in xx xxxxxx xxxx xxxx xx xxx And xxxxx a xxxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxx. Let the xxxx x xxx xx xxxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxx.

March 1st

I was going to finish the letter & bid you remember St Davids day 1792 — our birth day of authorship [23]  when your letter came. is it right to encourage Hope when Disappointment is possible? without answering the abstract & useless question I will venture to say that (if there be no previous attachment) you have no cause to doubt success. men of the world — those gay empty braind & empty hearted coxcombs for whom I have something like a natural antipathy, make acquaintance more easily than you & I should do. xx they will play with a Ladys fan & converse with her with an ease that you & I wonder at — but when we require more than acquaintance — more than friendship — then we have all the advantage. I never found it difficult to become intimate with any woman except Edith & then in her company I experienced always that unquiet state of delight which made me embarrassd & sometimes made me wish myself away: yes Grosvenor, it is very easy to resolve to speak — but the minute before guillotting is luxury to the opening the mouth on such an occasion. one of these days we will walk round the garden at Brixton & talk of this. no resolution of celibacy (except in the disappointed) can be stable. if there be another candidate be you more earnest — for her sake as well as you own for with no one will she be so happy as with you. make her acquainted with you, & it is impossible that you should not succeed. I am glad you have seen Tom — the facts you corrected for him I can not conjecture. if Tom had had a good education he would have made no small progress — he is now too good for a sailour — I offered my Uncle to fit Tom for taking orders, & his living, & urged arguments for it, which my Mother as well as myself thought sufficiently strong. my interference was of no avail. & I had prudence enough to say nothing of the matter to my brother. —

& so you really think notes ought to have some connection with the text? I could laugh at you in some moods, but the book must be its own advocate, & you do not remark faults (as you think them) only. if you read Joan a second time, keep a little book by you & make all your objections I hope to spend three months in correcting it for another edition. I heard nothing from you at Madrid — & know nothing of the Letters you mention but that I am equally obliged as if they had arrived. —

have you not sometimes read as M A— ? Nebuchadnezzar [24]  will slip out by & by — take some opportunity of doing this & then you will may find out — that comments may wander a good way from the text, & yet lead to good. if I was in London you should introduce me. but this execrable ocean is between us & tho I long to mount the vessel I almost turn sick in anticipation. I have run on before your letter came, in such a strange manner that I have no room to tell you a very melancholy story — n’importe Ill een begin another sheet. heigh ho! Grosvenor — I am a very solitary minded animal — & should <have> no one of my own species to speak to — had I not made my <a> female friend [25]  — with whom I can talk of Edith till “I play the woman” [26]  — which some people would call playing the fool. At the posada where we slept at Villa Franca was a young woman whose short & melancholy history affected me very much. she was the daughter of the host (you know how very miserable a Spanish inn is — infinitely worse than the worst English alehouse) a young man with property enough for all the comforts of life, but which went away at his death, married this girl, & they were as happy as bxx we can imagine two people united solely from affection. he died & left her with two very young children; totally destitute she returned to the wretched home of her parents, where hard labor hardly procures a miserable existence. I saw her — she was about three & twenty, & even if I had not known her story I should <have thought> her face the most beautiful I had seen in Spain. there was a melancholy in her dark eyes beyond any description. her dress was suitable to her situation yet her manners indicated one accustomed to better scenes; & a clean white stocking displayd that shaping of the foot & ancle which may be deemd the general distinction of the class who do not work. within a very few weeks after her husbands death an Irish man offered to take this woman into keeping. I can conceive her look when she answered him “you say you love me Senōr — & yet you can insult me by this wicked offer.” Ld Butes chaplain who travelled to Madrid with us, was present, & from him I learnt the anecdote. you know not the impression all this made upon me. my next mornings walk produced these lines — I am ill satisfied with them

And does there then Teresa live a Man
Whose tongue unfaltering could to such foul thoughts
Yield utterance? — tempt thee to the hireling bed!
Buy thee Teresa to anothers arms —
Thee sufferer — thee forlorn & wretched one,
Ere yet upon thy husbands grave the grass
Was green! oh is there one whose monstrous heart
Could with insulted Modestys hot blush
Make crimson the poor widows woe pale cheek!
Was this thing of my species? shaped in the mould
Of Man, & fashiond to the outward show
All human? did he move aloft — & lift
On high his lordly face? & formed of flesh
And blood like mine meandering thro his frame!
I blush for human nature, & would fain
Prove kindred with the brutes. she raisd to heaven
Her dark eyes with a meek upbraiding look
And felt more keen her loss & dropt a tear
Of aggravated anguish. I almost
Could murmur at my lot assigned by Heaven.
And covet wealth, that from the bitter ills
Of Want, I might secure thee, & provide
Some safe asylum for thy little ones.
And from the blasting wind of Poverty
Shield their young opening Reason. I would be
Even as a brother to thee! sit by thee
And hear thee talk of days of happiness
How fast they fled, & of the joys of youth
And Hope — now buried in the grave of Love —
Oh I would listen to thy tale, & weep,
And pour upon Affections bleeding wounds
The balm of pity. — Sufferer fare thee well.
God be thy comforter, & from a world
Of woe, release thee soon. I — on my way
Journeying, remember thee, & think of HER
In distant England; grateful to that power
Who from the dark & tempest-roaring deep
Preserved a life SHE renders doubly dear.  [27] 


This intermediate person. of course I can hardly form a conjecture who she is. yet you want an intermediate, whose age being of the same age with yourself may more readily enter into all your feelings — if what you conjecture be true — I know how to pity you on that score. the most painful feelings that ever harrowd my bosom (& I have had my share of painful ones) were when after I had engaged the affection of my heart — xx <an> amiable xxxxxx girl spoke to me in language too plain to be misunderstood. I cannot tell you the acute pain I felt at being obliged to assume a cold indifference of manner, & in shunning one whom I would have chosen for a sister, only because she honord me by deeming me worthy of a dearer connection. once only have we met since that day. I was hurrying along the street & passed her, but immediately turned. — she did the same, & recognised me in a manner of such chastened esteem — that I arrived still melancholy to pass the evening with my Edith. I have nothing wherewith to accuse myself — yet I have from that time indulged a natural reserve, & behaved distantly to those young women who knew not my attachment. I did not dare become the friend of Ann Tonkin [28]  before she knew I was the husband of another.

You Grosvenor have but to win the affections of YOUR M. & to be happy. I hope — that I have only to return & be happy — & for what is past — I will use the experience & little regard the price it has cost. my existence is now linked to my Edith. her face will teach you to expect the gradual developement of every good quality; & in proportion as you know her will you love her. how do I long to see M. — ah Grosvenor! will the days ever arrive that we dream of? yet you carry them but half way when you talk of hardy honest boys — dream of a few girls too — & then see what admirable inhabitants we have found for some of our castles. for me — I have only the Bay of Biscay to cross <pass> — but you have not yet crossed the Rubicon. “Ye Gods — annihilate but space & time!” [29]  pestilence on the cold blooded cool headed fellow who found out that that was a rant. I honor Dryden [30]  for dashing at such natural absurdity. certainly Time & Space are too very detestable obstacles — porci maximi. [31]  six months hence & Time will fly too fast for me — alas — he creeps with me now as slow & as wearying as a Spanish coach & six.

This foul place! they empt all their filth into the streets at night. “methinks I smell it now. in my minds’ nose Horatio!” [32]  that ought to have been said to your brother. by the by where is he? & what does he mean to do with himself?

when I correct Joan I shall call you in. not as plenipotent amputator — but you shall mark what you think the warts wens & cancers, & I will take care you do not cut deep enough to destroy the life. the fourth book is the best. do you know I have never seen the <whole> poem together. & that one book was printing before another was begun? the characters of Conrade & Theodore are totally distinct & yet perhaps equally interesting. there is too much fighting — I found the battles detestable to write — as you will do to read. — tho there are not ten better lines in the whole piece — than those “Of unrecorded name” “Died the mean man, yet did he leave behind &c.” [33] 

Do you remember the day when you wrote No 3 [34]  at Brixton? we dined on mutton chops & eggs. I have the note you wrote for Dodd among your letters. I anticipate a very pleasant evening when you shall show the cedar box [35]  to Edith — & Joe Phillimores verses to Louisa. “oh pleasant days of fancy!” [36]  by the by if ever you read aloud the any that part of the 5th book mind that erratum in the description of the Famine. with jealous eye Hating a rivals look the husband hides His miserable meal.” [37]  after I had corrected the page & left town poor Cottle whose heart overflows with the milk of human kindness, read it over; & he was as little able to bear the picture of the husband, as he would have been to hide a morsel from the hungry. so suo periculo [38]  — he alterd it to “each man conceals” & spoilt the climax. I was very much vexed yet I loved Cottle the [MS obscured]tter for it.

this goes by the Magician frigate to Portsmouth. have you received a letter that left Lisbon Feby 20th?

No Grosvenor you & I shall not talk politics. I am weary of them & little love politicians. for me I shall think of domestic life & confine my wishes within the little circle of friendship. the rays become more intense in proportion as they are drawn to a point. heigh ho! I should be very happy were I in England — with Edith by the fire side — I could listen to the pelting rain with pleasure — now — it is a melancholy music yet fitly harmonizing with my hanging mood.

farewell. write long letters — & remember me to all friends. <& to Harry.>


March 2nd. 1796.

once more — be assured that attention from a good man can not fail. you know your own definition of politeness. — oh if I were the intermediate friend! — is it not strange to look back on our own minds — from the history of Martin Schram [39]  — to all the anxieties of life? & who was Martin Schram says Boswell [40]  if he catches this letter. “I have determined that all the powers on earth shall never wrest that secret from me.” [41]  Qy — were the Leanders [42]  of the Heroic race?

In many parts of Spain they have female shavers. the proper name of one should be Barbara.

Read this first.

Why is Love like the small pox xxx in when the procured by art?

because it comes by in-oculation.

Oh execrable conun-drummer!

Why am I having the Pleasures of Imagination like a man with a broken rib?

because I have an Akenside. [43] 

Why is a man who plays the fiddle badly like a mischievous school boy?

because he is apt to get into a scrape.

the common people believe here that Jews have tails. if young Thorp ever talks of coming here give him a friendly hint of the Inquisition. [44] 


* Address: For/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster
Postmark: AMR/ 17/ 96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; J LARKING
Seal: Red wax [design illegible; trace of crest]
Endorsement: 24 Feb. to 2. March 1796
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 8p.
Previously published: Adolfo Cabral, Southey e Portugal (Lisbon, 1959), pp. 424–429 [in part]; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 267–271 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey’s first publication, the schoolboy magazine The Flagellant (1792). BACK

[2] The manuscript of the first version of Joan of Arc, begun at the Bedfords’ home in Brixton in summer-autumn 1793. It is now in the Houghton Library, MS Eng 265. BACK

[3] The fair copy of Joan of Arc, which Southey made in late 1793 and presented to Joseph Cottle. The manuscript is now in the University of Rochester Library, AS727. BACK

[4] Possibly a reference to something Grosvenor Charles Bedford was writing, but which has not survived. BACK

[5] Bartolomè Leonardo de Argensola (1561–1631), priest, poet and historian. BACK

[6] A revised version of this translation appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[7] ‘And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee’, Deuteronomy 23: 13. BACK

[8] Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), poet, leader of the Hartford Wits and President of Yale (1795–1817). BACK

[9] Walter Shandy, father of the eponymous hero of Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[10] The legend that Alexander the Great (356–323 BC; reigned 336–323 BC) was moved to burn the city of Persepolis in 330 BC after listening to music played at a feast, was best known through John Dryden’s (1631–1700; DNB) Alexander’s Feast: The Power of Music (1697). It seems to originate with Dio Chrysostom (c. AD 40–120), Orations. BACK

[11] Timothy Dwight, The Conquest of Canaan (1785). BACK

[12] David Humphreys (1752–1818), American minister to Portugal (1791–1796) and Spain (1796–1801). A soldier and poet, he was a member of the Hartford Wits. He was later responsible for importing Merino sheep into America. BACK

[13] Isaiah 6: 3. BACK

[14] Thomas Burnet (c. 1635–1715; DNB), The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684–1690). However, this is probably a reference to a passage in Burnet’s De Statu Mortuorum (1720). BACK

[15] William Crowe (c. 1745–1829; DNB), clergyman and poet, he held the post of public orator at the University of Oxford from 1784 until his death. BACK

[16] See Southey’s letter to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 December 1793 (Letter 77). The poem was published in a revised form as ‘Ode Written on the First of January, 1794’ in Poems (1797). BACK

[17] Southey, Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. 322–325. BACK

[18] ‘The Retrospect’ had been published in Southey’s and Robert Lovell’s Poems (1795). BACK

[19] A revised version appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[20] Friends of Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, and residents of Lisbon. Southey was also on good terms with their daughter Ann. BACK

[21] A quotation from Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), The Loves of Hero and Leander. The Greek translates as ‘passion as allotted was quite sufficient’. Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of the poem was published in 1797. BACK

[22] In most versions of the Greek legend, when Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx, she committed suicide. BACK

[23] The first issue of The Flagellant, a collaboration between Southey, Grosvenor Charles Bedford and other school friends, appeared on 1 March 1792. BACK

[24] The reference is obscure. Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon (605–562 BC). BACK

[25] Unidentified, though this could be Ann Tonkin, the daughter of friends of Southey’s uncle, Herbert Hill, who is mentioned later in this letter. BACK

[26] An adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, scene 2, line 47. BACK

[27] And does ... dear: Verse written in double columns. A revised version appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[28] The daughter of Lisbon-based friends of Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill. BACK

[29] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), ‘Martinus Scriblerus on the Art of Sinking in Poetry’, reprinted in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse... by Jonathan Swift, D.D. and Alexander Pope, Esq., 2nd edn, 2 vols (Dublin, 1728), II, p. 115. BACK

[30] John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB), Of Dramatick Poesie, An Essay (1668). BACK

[31] The Latin translates as ‘very big pigs’. BACK

[32] An adaptation of Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2, line 185. BACK

[33] These lines appeared in Southey’s Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), pp. 236–237. BACK

[34] The third issue (15 March 1792) of The Flagellant, a schoolboy magazine devised by Southey and his friends, which was forced to cease publication after nine issues. BACK

[35] According to Charles Cuthbert Southey, a box which contained all the contributions to The Flagellant. BACK

[36] This appears to be a quotation from an unpublished poem (to Louisa) by Southey’s contemporary at Westminster School, Joseph Phillimore. Phillimore was an aspiring poet, though on a somewhat different model to Southey, and in 1793 won a college prize for his Latin verses. BACK

[37] These lines appeared in Southey’s Joan of Arc, An Epic Poem (Bristol and London, 1796), p. 182. BACK

[38] At his own risk BACK

[39] Possibly a reference to a story or character invented by Southey and his friends at Westminster School. BACK

[40] James Boswell (1740–1795; DNB), biographer of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK

[41] A paraphrase of Mrs E. M. Foster (dates unknown), The Duke of Clarence. An Historical Novel, 2 vols (Dublin, 1795), I, p. 280. BACK

[42] The family of Leander, a figure from Greek mythology and subject of Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s translation of Musæus (fl. c. early 6th century), The Loves of Hero and Leander. BACK

[43] Mark Akenside (1721–1770; DNB), The Pleasures of Imagination (1744). BACK

[44] In many ... Inquisition: Postscript written on fol. 2 v, section originally reserved for address. BACK

Places mentioned