34. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 December 1792

34. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 December 1792 ⁠* 

Thursday evening. College Green. Dec. 6. 1792.

The heat of temper occasioned by political madness must plead in excuse of my last letter — never will I venture in writing upon the subject again. vox audita perit litera scripta manet [1]  — & so if you will burn my paper upon suicide you will destroy the only monument of your friends sophistical impiety. tomorrow sees the rough copy demolished — I should be glad the one you have were to meet the same fate but perhaps you may like to keep it as a memento of my boyish faults & a check upon future vanity — when some over officious friends put a Doctor of Divinity [2]  to argue me into quitting the Flagellant — after I had answered all he could say his last resource was to mention the uneasiness my relations would feel at the continuance. I instantly yielded though not without observing that no self-motive should ever have prevailed — the Reverend Doctor sneered at the romantic affectation of a boy. till that moment I had only felt the character with pleasure — I then owned it with pride.

the same boyish sentiments made me forget Strachey & myself when I last wrote —. there was a time when I loved Strachey as if he had been my brother but it was when the natural purity & sensibility of <his> character were neither obscured by vanity nor hardened by his wish for the applause of those whom he despised. at that period he entertained the same sentiments for me. but when G S was willing to do every idle blockheads exercise & contented himself with doing good exercises & neglecting every other study, the applause of the Doctor & the Dunces made him above that friend who was always friendly enough to tell him of his faults. Grif Lloyd [3]  thought him the cleverest fellow in school — Jack Shepherd [4]  lookd up to him as an oracle & the Kings Scholars with the virtuous Hook made him their confident — (by the by I have a story of Hook presently.) the only notice he had for some time taken of me was his contemptuous jests till the commencement of the Flagellant. [5]  his behaviour then is well know to you your brother Collins Combe Lamb & Rough. what a character Stracheys would make for a number said I to Lamb one night — talking to him the next day upon <the subject> L repeated what I had said. S immediately comes to me glowing with anger. (it was in school) I understand said he you intend drawing my character for the Flagellant — if you do I only say that I will immediately send your name to the <news>paper & act up the work. I was hurt & could not help telling him that if he had been as much my friend as formerly he never could have believed my intentions were such. “but Strachey do not think I am intimidated by your threats. whatever you can do in injury of the Fl. I can despise.” I felt afterwards angry with myself & was more than once upon the point of apologizing — but it would have looked like fear. after my retreat from Westminster his significant smiles & shrugs might have intimated the real cause to anyone — that however was of no object to me the expulsion was a thing I could only glory in. after this I did wrong ever to write to Strachey — still however if you think my letter wrong I will apologize for it — I will own myself to blame but never never desire his correspondence. I have not answerd his letter — the destined answer lies in my portfolio to prove perhaps one day that it was not conscious faultiness that held me silent. if the same fortune hitherto attendant upon me & mine, should every bring this head to the block, some hireling scribbler in ripping up my faults & follies will not pass over this.

I have been reading Eheu fugaces [6]  & your translation this moment together. the three last stanzas are certainly best but altogether it is in my opinion very good — tho ‘th’unpardoning God’ I do not like the epithet is rather prosaic — (you see I will point out what appears to me as faulty) a better may easily be found. & now as I have picked your bone take mine to pick cum notis Sancti Basilii. [7] 

Ille & nefasti te posuit die &c [8] 


Unlucky was I ween that dolt
Old Gray [9]  who reard thee from a colt —
Oft by 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. [10] 
Some evil Dæmons envious power
Presided at thy natal hour
Some evil Dæmon sure thee sped
To pitch thy master on his head [11] 
And turnd thy wandring eyes about
To fall & fling poor Tom Lamb out. [12] 

Your Bessey [13]  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  [14]  fears 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 Deaths 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 [15]  nigh my friend in Plutos reign [16] 
Hadst thou beheld the dark domain
Well nigh hadst seen in sable row
The well wiggd Counsellors below
And stalking thro the realms of night
Hadst seen poor Gualbertus [17]  sprite
Where fearless he complains to Jove [18] 
How stupid boys are floggd above
There Milton might he hear thy lyre
Pour forth the flow of godlike fire
And rear thy Cromwells [19]  praise & sing
How falln 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 [20]  move along
And Brutus [21]  bends thy soul to know
And Nature listens in ROUSSEAU.
What wonder? when the Cherub quire
From their celestial song respire
And bend their frenzied 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
Her deepest viel has Sorrow spread
Amid dark Fortunes sharpest shower
Forget that Fortune for an hour
And lost amid the blaze of day
Forget my very woes away. [22] 


I have neither <heard> of or from Lamb since & am much alarmed at a silence so very uncommon. [23] 


the classics will soon by published Lucan [24]  particularly I suppose in usum republicæ. [25] 

Hook has been standing candidate for the gallows at Oxford — he attempted a rape upon a servant girl at a time when he owns himself clapped. her master heard her cries & rescued her but for two days she remained dangerously ill. Hook gave her a new gown by way of recompense when had they acted justly it would have given him a chance for a halter. I always disliked him for his impudence this brazen faced endowment however carries him thro every thing.

— I have read 12 Satires of Juvenal [26]  with a vast deal of pleasure — the 8th is the only one which my head (desirous of levelling all to my system) has imitated — but as I have no wish to fall under the inquisitorial jurisdiction of our new Star chamber — to lose my hand nose & ears like Lilburne [27]  or the Englishman whom Elizabeth punishd for writing against her intended marriage with Anjou [28]  — or to run away like Ridgeway [29]  — my poor imitation must lie in my desk. however this hand may dabble in politics for my own private satisfaction it shall fill no more letters with it & if you see any production of mine upon the subject it will only be an ode to the shade of Milton which I have in embryo. Juvenal is a grand nervous Satirist — your refined criticks prefer the sneering strokes of Horace [30]  — for me I think otherwise — Johnsons London & Vanity of Human Wishes [31]  are two of the noblest compositions in our language — the satire of the first is already become obsolete & some centuries hence posterity will believe the supple French Fop only a creation of some drunken Englishmans brain. the last will retain its original beauty even if 1600 years hence some future Bard should imitate Johnson in some future language.

You say there is some grief & some anger in Stracheys letter — the grief has escaped my search though I read it more than once — to use your own expression I must look upon him as a faded flower & regret most the loss of its worth.

I much fear my intended journey to Rye will be very unpleasantly set aside — my fathers health is very precarious & in spite of the hopes with which I have long imposed upon myself I cannot help seeing that he declines rapidly. whether it be apathy or philosophy I know not, but some such passion it must be that enables me to turn from domestic distress & look on to happiness as well private as public. Reflection however will intrude sometimes


there Bedford — my defence of suicide is flaming


Robert Southey.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr./ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single Sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: CDE/ 8/ 92
Watermark: G R in a circle and figure of Britannia
Endorsement: 6 Decr 1792
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A commonplace saying, which translates as, ‘The spoken word perishes, but the written word remains’. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] Griffith Lloyd (d. 1843), educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1797). BACK

[4] Richard John Stracey Shepherd (dates unknown), educated at Westminster School (admitted 1785) and Trinity College, Cambridge (adm. 1792). BACK

[5] A schoolboy magazine devised by Southey and his friends, it was forced to cease publication after nine issues. BACK

[6] Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 2, no. 14, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘Alas [the years slide by] so fleetingly’. BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘with notes by St Basil’. St Basil (c. 330–379), founder of eastern monasticism. Basil was a pseudonym used by Southey, particularly in his writing for The Flagellant (1792). BACK

[8] Horace, Odes, Book 2, no. 13, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘He planted you on an evil day’. BACK

[9] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘1 a Gray horse of Mr Lambs.’ BACK

[10] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘2 once upon a time the author in mounting was by a sudden jerk thrown upon this grays rump. this said gray had been taught to rear whenever the rump was touchd so Gray pranced — Poet leaped forward & Fortune jumpd him into the saddle. every Bard cannot ride the great horse at Hughes’s as well as Pegasus.’ BACK

[11] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘3 alluding to a very dangerous fall of Mr Lambs.’ BACK

[12] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘4 Tom was driving this horse in a gig when owing to his stumbling he was thrown out & much bruised.’ BACK

[13] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘5 Mr Ls eldest daughter. very ill in a sea party.’ BACK

[14] 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

[15] Southey adds note in right hand column: ‘6 after his fall from the gig T D Lamb was put in damp sheets at an inn.’ BACK

[16] Pluto, Roman god of the underworld. BACK

[17] 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

[18] Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods. BACK

[19] Probably John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), Sonnet XVI, ‘To the Lord General Cromwell’ (1652). BACK

[20] 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

[21] 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), the assassin of Julius Caesar (100/102–44 BC). BACK

[22] Unlucky … away: Written in double columns, with the verse in the left hand column and Southey’s notes in the right. BACK

[23] I have ... uncommon: Inserted in the right hand column. BACK

[24] Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39–65), author of the Pharsalia, forced to commit suicide when his involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy against the Emperor Nero was discovered. BACK

[25] The Latin translates as ‘advantage of the republic’. BACK

[26] Decimus Junius Juvenalis (fl. AD late C1 and early C2), satirist. BACK

[27] John Lilburne (1615?–1657; DNB), Leveller and Republican. In 1638 he was brought before the Court of the Star Chamber for distributing unlicensed literature, whipped and put in the pillory. BACK

[28] In 1579, negotiations were under way for Elizabeth I (1533–1603; reigned 1558–1603; DNB) to marry Francois, Duke of Anjou (1555–1584), heir-presumptive to the French throne. The proposed marriage was deeply unpopular and John Stubbe (c.1541–1590; DNB) denounced it in The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereinto England is Like to be Swallowed by Another French Marriage (1579). As a punishment, his right hand was cut off. BACK

[29] James Ridgway (1755–1838), well-known publisher of pamphlets, with a shop in York Street, St James’s Square. In 1793, he was fined £200 and imprisoned for publishing the works of Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB). In 1794, he agreed to publish Southey’s Wat Tyler. In fact, the play was not published until 1817, when it appeared without Southey’s consent. BACK

[30] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC). BACK

[31] Samuel Johnson’s (1709–1784; DNB) ‘London’ (1738) was a version of Juvenal (fl. AD late C1 and early C2), Satire 3, and ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ of Juvenal, Satire 10. BACK

Places mentioned

Mountsfield Lodge, Rye (mentioned 1 time)