167. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 July 1796

167. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 July 1796 ⁠* 

Tuesday. July 26.  [1] 

My dear Grosvenor

Why is your letter delayed? I am anxious & apprehensive. it is nearly a week since you told me to expect it in four & twenty hours.

Allen is at the Hot Wells with his wife who is consumptive. she understands French & Italian — & has the manners of the world — but her physiognomy is not good & whether or no she may be pleasing in health, I cannot determine in sickness. to me — she never would. Allen is the same as when I left him, except that he is now a confirmed Atheist, & to my great surprize tells me Carlisle is so.

I am sorry for this, not that I think any error in judgment criminal, nor do I think the Atheist necessarily a fool & necessarily unhappy. I am a very tolerant man, even to indifference. but certainly he loses the highest source of happiness.

tell me Grosvenor the state of your mind upon religion. but tell me the state of your body first.

Allen agrees with me that Man is a Beast. he verges towards misanthropy & says that a years crusade to benefit mankind will cure any man of his prejudices in their favor. so say I — for I have been a Crusader. & so say you who have the benefit of my experience.

but of Carlisle. you have given me a very good opinion of him, for your applause is a ticket of admission to mine. NOW I do not like him a whit the less for his Atheism, but I have forsworn all metaphysics, from my soul abhorring so barren a study. now if the majority of your club are necessarians materialists & atheists (as I believe they are) I, who am neither the one or the other, have no inclination to be in a state of continual argumentation. to tell you the truth, I dislike periodical engagements. I love to pass my evenings at home with Edith, & methinks no other company can make me happier or better. besides I am become a very reserved man, never unbending except to those whom I love, consequently to any but my friends I am not an agreable companion.

Grosvenor I despise the world. I hate the mob — I do not love the soi-disant Philosophers — & I have a thorough contempt for the aristocratical part. I shall mingle in the world, but it will be only with the view of enabling myself to get out of it. I must pass a very dirty road to get into the path of quiet life. now with these intentions — being without ambition, & alike indifferent to applause or abuse — why should I make acquaintance? I have a few friends but they xxxxx <are> enough. you & Wynn — & your brother & Robert Allen. then I will have Elmsley for my philosopher. xxx Carlisle may be my surgeon. & Allen is to be my physician & I shall be my own lawyer. now I want only an apothecary — & then what the Devil do I want to make more acquaintance for?

as for Charles Collins my opinion of him is settled. & his opinion of me will be determind by my success in life, & the his conduct by my appearance. he is one of the many men of whom I have thought too well. but he has no heart.

no Grosvenor when I come to London I will live to myself & to you. I will enter into no clubs, no literary societies — I will use no literary arts. when I have done with the world I will give Madoc to posterity. I shall get the applause of the present generation which I care not for — but I believe that I may benefit the future.

things will be better in another world. tell me Grosvenor is there not more real pleasure in that belief — more consolation in that little sentence <than> in all the systems & maxims of Philosophy?

I am become melancholy in writing upon this subject. for to own the truth tho I laugh at all systematizers, when I look at the world I am more inclined to cry with Heraclitus. [2] 

Tom desires to be remembered to you & Miles. [3]  there is a worthy lad in a very unworthy situation. he is as much too good for a Sailor as I am for an Officer or a Pimp or a Hangman or any office equally honourable. tis well I am not the Exterminating Angel!

I saw five or six men on Sunday stoning a dog to death — & I heard the dog’s cries — & I wishd I had been the Exterminating Angel. alas — how are we hurried into vice by the indignation of virtue!

I cannot tell how I got here. for certainly I am made of very different stuff from the mob of ma human beings. perhaps I was created in some better planet & kicked out for sedition. this I am very sure of — that I feel out of my element in this.

Now I must give <you> a few very beautiful lines, translated from the Spanish. they were uttered by Luis de Leon when after an unjust imprisonment of five years in the inquisition, he was releasd.  [4] 

Adieu dark dungeons! many a wearying year
Envy & Falshood have confind me here.
Ah happy he who truly wise as good
From a bad world retires to Solitude!
For sure Content shall bless his humble fare —
The poor his cottage Peace shall sojourn there.
Unenvying & unenvied pass his days
“Prayer all his business — all his pleasures praise.”  [5] 

Grosvenor I shall never like Richard Roe [6]  ever <half> so well as Luis de Leon!

I like no trade because in all of them you must mingle too much with this cursed race. I like no profession. the church is the best — but to me Perjury is the porter. physic requires study that I am afraid — hardens the heart. Grosvenor I now think so. as for Law — cætera desunt. [7] 

hiatus valde lacrymabilis! [8] 

What a comfort it is that you & I can keep one another in countenance — & “throw meta-physics to the dogs” tho no doubt Σνιφελ [9]  likes the <your> conclusion better. Poor Σνιφελ did not like physic when I was at Brixton.

Some James’s powder mixt in butter
Poor Snivel took to make her ——

Were we not very very happy then Grosvenor? & shall w[MS torn] as happy again?

Would I had time to finish my sheet. but [MS torn] going out to dinner — & I must not lose this post — for indeed I am very anxious for your answer.

God bless you

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

remember me to all “your good family.


* Address: For/ G C Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Postmark: AJY/ 27/ 96
Watermarks: Figure of Britannia; COLES/ 1795
Endorsement: 26. July 1796
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 112–115. BACK

[1] July 26: Possibly inserted in another hand. BACK

[2] The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (540–475 BC), who was often called ‘the mourner’, due to his habit of weeping at the follies and frailties of mankind. BACK

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

[4] The Spanish humanist and poet Luis de Leon (1527–1591), who was imprisoned by the Inquisition from 1572–1576. BACK

[5] This translation of Luis de Leon’s ‘Aqui la embidia y mentira’ appeared in Southey’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (Bristol, 1797), p. 184. The final line is a quotation from Thomas Parnell (1679–1718; DNB), ‘The Hermit’ (1722), line 6. BACK

[6] A fictitious character, often used to signify the defendant in a law suit. BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘the rest is wanting’. BACK

[8] The Latin translates as ‘a truly lamentable gap’. BACK

[9] The Greek translates as ‘Snivel’, the name of Grosvenor Charles Bedford’s dog. BACK

Places mentioned