29. Robert Southey to Thomas Phillipps Lamb, 28 October [1792]

29. Robert Southey to Thomas Phillipps Lamb, 28 October [1792] ⁠* 

Sunday. October 28.

an ugly cold & cough has delayed my journey to Oxford which was fixed for to day. I wish it were over. tho these huge wigs have nothing really in them they look very formidable.

My dear Sir —

I am less grieved at my disappointment than for the occasion of it — that vile old grey was only foaled for mischief

Ille & nefasto te posuit die,
Quicumque primum, & sacrilega manu
Produxit, arbos, in nepotum
Perniciem [1] 

so said Horace to the tree that fell upon him — if you like to look at the original it is the 13th ode of the 2nd book.

if the Baron of Thundertentroncks castle had not been destroyd (said Dr Pangloss to Candidus) if Miss Cunegonda had not been ript up alive by the Bulgarian soldiers — if I had not been hung, if you had not killd an inquisitor & been burnt by the inquisition, we should not have been now eating pistachio nuts. alls for the best.  [2]  according to this mode of reconciling grievances, if the grey had not nearly broke your neck & your sons (not to mention how I seated myself) I should never have imitated this ode of Horace

Unlucky was (I ween) that dolt
Old Grey, who reard thee from a colt —
Oft from thy dam (unlucky jade)
He in the mire & dirt was laid —
Nor he alone, for one & all
Who rode have met with many a fall.
Unlucky too the grooms who deck
The horse to break the riders neck.
For Memory pictures in my mind
That hour when I got up behind —
Some evil Daemons envious power
Presided at thy natal hour
Some evil Daemon sure thee sped
To pitch thy master on his head
And turnd thy wandering eyes about
To fall & fling poor Tom Lamb out.

Your Bessey [3]  still will dread that day
That saw her midst old Oceans sway
Resolvd to tempt his rage no more
She fears but for her friends on shore.
The German hireling  [4]  dreads to fight
Exposd to France & Freedoms might —
Proud Prussias disciplind hussar
Trembles again to meet the war
France only dreads the Despots chain
And chuses Death or Freedoms reign.
Death unprovokd & unforeseen
Stalks sternly oer the smiling scene
He grasps his unsuspecting prey
And sweeps whole nations in his sway.

Well nigh my friend in Plutos reign [5] 
Hadst thou beheld the dark domain
Well nigh hadst seen in sable row
The well [MS torn]ggd justices below
And stalking thro the realms of night
Unlucky Gualbertus [6]  sprite
Where fearless he complains to Jove [7] 
How stupid boys are floggd above.
There Milton [8]  might he hear thy lyre
Pour forth the flow of godlike fire
And rear thy Cromwells [9]  praise & sing
How fallen how mean a tyrant King
Whilst listning crowds in silence hear
And Truths unheard before appear
But chief to hear thy patriot song
Hampden & Sidney [10]  move along
And Brutus [11]  bends thy voice to know
And Nature listens in Rousseau.
What wonder when the Cherub choir
From their celestial song respire
And bend their piniond heads to hear
And more exalted strains revere
The very ghosts forget their woe
So grand thy godlike numbers flow
Een I oer whose ill fated head
Has Fate her dreary mantle spread
Amid dark Fortunes sharpest shower
Forget that Fortune for an hour
And lost amid thy blaze of day
Forget my very woes away.


You ask me where Tom can be safe on the continent. I answer in no one place. insurrections are frequently announced at Brussels & at Berlin & tho’ the intelligence has been always contradicted it is still more than probably that it will soon happen. never was there a period more eventful or more astonishing. Dumourier [12]  promises to winter at Brussels. he talks like Brunswick did & may perhaps act in the same <manner>.

is xx the report of the secret treaty between France & Prussia very probable? if it be so I shall despise his Prussian majesty [13]  more than I formerly detested him. he leads on his desperadoes when there was little to fear & abandons his allies when there is little to hope!

the French have rid themselves of a while of foreign enemies they will now quarrel among themselves. I long to see their new Constitution. I beg my best respect to Mr L. & Mrs Lamb.

your humble servant

Robert Southey


* Address: Thomas Philips Lamb Esqr/ Mountsfield Lodge/ Rye/ Sussex
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] OC/ 92
Endorsement: Southey
MS: Duke University Library, Southey papers. ALS; 4p. (c).
Previously published: John Wood Warter, Selections From the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 10–13 [where it is dated ‘Bristol, Dec. 1792.’]. BACK

[1] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 2, no. 13. The Latin translates as: ‘It was a godless man who planted you upon a lawless day, pernicious tree, bequeathing ruin to his offspring.’ BACK

[2] A paraphrase of events in Voltaire (1694–1778), Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759). BACK

[4] Hesse Cassel, a German state notorious for hiring out its troops as mercenaries, and an ally of Prussia and Austria during their invasion of France in 1792. BACK

[5] In Roman mythology, Pluto was the god of the underworld. BACK

[6] John Gualbert (c. 995–1073), founder of the Vallombrosian order. The pseudonym ‘Gualbertus’ was used by Southey for his controversial attack on flogging as an invention of the devil in the fifth issue of The Flagellant (29 March 1792). BACK

[7] In Roman mythology, the king of the gods. BACK

[8] John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), poet and polemicist. His works in praise of Oliver Cromwell included ‘Sonnet 16. To the Lord General Cromwell’ (1652). BACK

[9] Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; DNB), parliamentary general and Lord Protector (1653–1658). BACK

[10] John Hampden (1594–1643; DNB), parliamentarian and opponent of Charles I (1600–1649; reigned 1625–1649; DNB). He died in a skirmish at Chalgrove Field. Algernon Sidney (1622–1683; DNB), politician and republican, executed for his alleged involvement in the Rye House plot. BACK

[11] Either Lucius Junius Brutus, the man credited with expelling the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, in 510 BC, or Marcus Junius Brutus (85–42 BC), assassin of Julius Caesar (100/102–44 BC). BACK

[12] Charles-Francois du Perier Dumouriez (1739–1823), French general, victor at Valmy on 20 September 1792. In 1793, he switched allegiance to Austria and her allies. BACK

[13] Frederick William II (1744–1797; reigned 1786–1797). BACK

People mentioned

Lamb, Thomas Davis (1775–1818) (mentioned 4 times)