59. Robert Southey and Grosvenor Charles Bedford to Nicholas Lightfoot, 27-30 September 1793

59. Robert Southey and Grosvenor Charles Bedford to Nicholas Lightfoot, 27–30 September 1793 ⁠* 

Brixton Causeway. Saturday. Sept. 27. 1793


Dear Lightfoot before me my pen & ink lay
In all I’m prepard but in what I’ve to say,
But now the beginning before me is done
The ready remainder will merrily run —
Like a huge heavy windmill not easy to raise
When once set a going most rapidly plays —
Or more like myself sitting snug in my room
Wrapt up in the mantle of dull college gloom
Now list to the lay of the bold Grecian lyre
Then eat toasted cheese & heap coals on the fire
Loll along on the sofa or fill the great chair
Whilst you vainly persuade me to walk for the air —
But if your good eloquence move me — why then
The Devil himself cannot stop me again
Over hills dales & vallies as swift as the wind
I run & leave College & Folly behind
Free & wild as the breezes that wave my colts mane
Or like Moscow the mastiff let loose from his chain.

No more mathematical figures I plan
Which leave you more puzzled than when you began
Nor talk of Lactantius [1]  Pomatum [2]  & Pot
Belteshazzar [3]  — Knife — Ortho dogs — Mushroom what not
Since our Prose was run mad in that whimsical letter
Let us try if our verse can succeed any better
And as smooth run the verse in soft well measurd time
If you cannot find reason you’re sure to find rhyme.

Regularity Lightfoot’s the soul of inditing
And with all Regularity I will be writing
So behold the whole stock of this long letters’ riches
The wasps nest — the midnight alarm & the breeches —
Behold my dear Lightfoot the wasps nest imprimis
To describe which more gravely most certainly time is —
At Bristol by night the mail coach I me fixt on
I arrivd in the morn snug & safely at Brixton
Twas just half past 7 or a few minutes more
Up I went & heard Bedford most merrily snore
So I set up a hallo — for you know I such can
And wak’d him from out of his dream of a Dutchman
A more senseless vision can never be had
For he really dreamt of a Dutchman run mad!
On a subject like this I no longer will keep
Nor dream oer his dream till I lull you to sleep —
After breakfast — my not-able shoes I put on
And away for a walk to Carshalton am gone
Where young Bedford declard I a river should find
Fit to bathe as the Isis so late left behind.
I believd him — nor ever supposd like an ass
That young Bedford saw thro a magnifying glass.
So I walkd seven miles out & about me I look
And discover three inches in depth a foul brook
Cabbage leaves — broken eggs floating merrily down
Cats & dogs — the Pactolus [4]  of Carshalton town.
Nor felt I inclind in the streetway to strip
To lay down on my face flat & so take a dip —
We repaird to an alehouse there sat at our ease
Drank a bottle of cyder & eat bread & cheese —
Nescia mens hominis fate sortisque futuræ! [5] 
Most true wrote the Mantuan bard [6]  I assure ye
I laugh — talk — cut my crust & my carving knife grasp — just
As if the world had no such thing as a wasps nest.

Off we set — slow & gently as homeward we walk
Now merrily laugh & now soberly talk —
When all of a sudden I felt such a twitch work
As if Nicholas Senior had heated his pitch fork
Then thrust in my legs this infernal hot lance
On purpose to see me cut capers & dance —
As I jumpd roard & ran & cryd louder & bolder
I felt such another curst twitch in my shoulder
Saw the wasps by ten thousands about me appear
And crusht one preparing to sting my left ear.
I ran like a tyger — I caperd like Vestris [7] 
At last a small house my asylum of rest is
Were I murderd what wasps were shut in with the door
And told my sad story & left off to roar.
My poor legs they smarted — yet as I advancd
I could not help laughing to think how I’d danced.
Of this wasps nest enough — for one day shall the lyre
Tell how we destroyd a whole nation by fire
Their citadel stormd with each hot kind of evil
Smoakd roasted & fireworkd the wasps to the devil.

Secundo — the midnight alarm — my dear Lightfoot
God grant you may never partake such a night-bout —
Or if ever you should God grant I may be there
To see how you’ll shiver & sweat — wink & stare —
At half past ten o clock I repaird to my bed
Snug & warm on my elbow I pillowd my head
Forgot all the toils I encounterd before
And laid down with composure to sleep & to snore
But here as the subject is graver you know
Let us alter our verse to the measures of woe.

Twas at the dark drear hour of night
Twas Nights tremendous noon —
Still was the earth save where some dog
Bayd at the dim seen moon.

Save where the leathern bat flits by
Or shrieks the lonely owl
Or hoarse from distant yard was heard
The angry watch dogs howl.

Save where the haggard witch appalls
The listning ear of night
And circling round her mystic fire
Invokes the hell born sprite.

Save that — Lightfoot my labor Ill save if you please
I was so fast asleep that I heard none of these
And in one line the business is just as well done
The clock on the stairs had but lately struck one.

Sleep in his downy fetters bound
My Reason willing slave
Till burst by terrors which had broke
The fetters of the grave.

Along the passage soft I hear
The passing footsteps go
As lightly with a cautious pace
They traversd to & fro.

And thro the crannies of the door
Appeard a glancing light
Anon twas still & darkness reignd —
I trembled with affright.

Then low I heard a murmuring voice
Unable to hear more
I start affrighted from my bed
And Grosvenor taps my door —

Southey arise — haste quit your bed
For John has just now seen
Five men prepard to rob the house
Upon the garden green.

My night shirt half way down my legs
In snowy folds hung loose
I slipt my dark brown breeches on
And Mr Bedford shoes.

Then my far famd great coat flung on
So like a Russian bear —
My night cap helmd my head — my hand
Displayd a broad swords glare.

Grosvenor a dreadful halbert wields
No hand a weapon lacks —
And Horace had to treat the men
A pistol chargd with tacks

John loads again the gun in hast
Then to the window ran
Takes aim & fires — anon he cries
“There there Ive hit the man.

And now in battle rank we pass
And now we march down stairs
And each in fearful hope looks round
And each for fight prepares.

Twas silent all. the men are gone
Thus each well weening said
Upstairs we go pull off our cloaths
And get again to bed.

But Sleep my pillow had forsook
I turn & toss in vain
Again I hear the same alarm
I hear the steps again.

Once more equippd I quit my bed
And to the window ran —
There as I lookd I thought I saw
Upon the green a man.

The poultry cackled as disturbd
By midnight robbers hand —
Again I grasp the shining sword
I rear the biting brand.

And now we pull our nightcaps off
And now we hide the light
And anxious from the window seek
To see amid the night

There there (says John) behold the men —
And one of them just said
I heard him — as he saw the light —
God — d-n them not in bed.

And there they are five men — now mind
For Gods sake now take care —
And two Welch women standing by
A singing I declare!

What (Mr Bedford says) can you
See two Welch women John?
Yes — see them Sir & hear them sing
A terrible bad song.

We listend now with all our ears
To hear this song so bad —
And Lightfoot we at last found out
John was a little mad.

To bed we went — next morn we rise
And laugh at what we’d dreaded
But John poor fellow lay upstairs
Most sure enough light headed

For now he saw all Brunswicks troops [8] 
Against the house advance
And now he heard the women sing
And now he saw them dance.

Now let us sing God save us all
From such tremendous harms
And may we never more be wakd
At night by such alarms.

Now the midnight alarm my dear Lightfoot you’ve heard
Act the second is done & now comes act the third
And this twelve-footed verse like the chorus comes in
To keep up some connection against I begin —
The Chorus — an excellent thought my dear friend
And you’ll learn something from it if you will attend —
Suppose then that I am a dozen old boys
Or so many young maids whom the Poet employs
To moralize gravely & make a great noise.

Οιμοι οιμοι!
Οτοττοτοι! [9] 

O mortals short sighted
So subject to harms
How soon you’re affrighted
At midnight alarms.

Thro Nights dull silence burst the sound
Terror wavd her torch around —
The black Erinnys [10]  rose
Each viper hair points forth a venomd tongue —
Tremendous the dissonance rung —
So by their giant foes
Affrayd when huge Briareus [11]  stormd the sky —
In many a lurking form the trembling Godheads fly.
One was an owl & another an ass
One like a cow fell to tucking in grass.
Till Reason came. Minerva [12]  rose —
Phœbus [13]  felld his giant foes

Οιμοι οιμοι
Οτοττοτοι!  [14] 

But never shall pale fear —
So scare the listening ear
So make the palsied limbs afraid
If Pallas [15]  mighty Goddess lend her aid.

Daughter of Jove [16]  to thee we raise
The never dying song of praise.
Child of no mother born — thy influence lend
Come thou our Goddess & our friend.
List to our suppliant sound
Illume our darkend eye —
Come from that mournful ground
Where Athens now one heap of ruins lies!
Quit thou the dreary spot
Where Freedom is forgot
Where stern Oppression firms his iron chains
And Folly fills the soul & Superstition reigns.

The chorus is finishd you see my good friend
And the tale of my breeches comes in at the end.

Temples & towers & palaces decay
Times mighty hand unsparing levels all
No relic now of mighty Carthage stands
And my canary breeches are too small!

Whilome in Virtues proudest state upreard
Minervas city [17]  reard its laurelld head
Now hurld in ruins by the hand of Time
The broken battlements on earth are spread

Mid Tadmors waste [18]  exposd to many a storm
Wild as his desart home the Arab strays
And sees the mighty ruins towering bulk
And lost in wonder casts the musing gaze.

Whatever mans vain hand uprears, decays —
Time heeds nor beauty wisdom power or riches
Lays low the stately temple on the earth
And makes me grow too big to fit my breeches.

Oh I remember well my friend that hour
When hot with expectation forcd to wait —
I deemd each passing man my breeches brought
For much I dreaded they would come too late.

For to a ball me Fate inforcd to go
Fate whose strong power all mortal force surpasses
In the new rooms at Bath she made me sit
An untam’d colt amid a herd of asses.

Yes my canaries came & I rejoicd
For much I loved the friends with whom I went
And in my new canaries neat & fine
Tho’ at the ball a pleasant night I spent.

But never did I put those breeches on
Breeches & waistcoat & exult the same —
Since that rememberd Monday — till the hour
When Grosvenor Charles Bedfords birth day came —

Not quite two years had past — & now with pain
Scarce could I on the pretty breeches haul
Scarce could I button them around my waist
For I was grown too big & they too small!

What a sad story there is!
O my breeches my canaries!

Now Lightfoot my tragic adventures you’ve heard
You have seen all the acts, the first second & third —
And now I had thought — thought alas found unable
To shut my poor Pegasus up in the stable
After galloping walking & trotting so fast
Now relapsd as you see to a canter at last —
Tis an excellent beast — tho most fiery most humble
Who never endangers my neck by a tumble —
Far better — believe me for truth I declare
Better mouthd better paced than my late mounted mare
A mare whom I rode for a very long way
Tho never to Sapey as you Lightfoot say —

News Lightfoot news news — news most mighty & big
Mr Bedfords old sow is just ready to pig —
And as I was proceeding the Hereford way
He stopt & desird that I thus much would say —
And so if you please we’ll lay by a while now
And just write a Pindaric to this famous sow.

Poor Sow — full many a peril hast thou past —
Een at thy natal hour
Thou scapedst the Parsons power
When the tenth lot for Sunday meal was cast.

Poor Sow — for Lightfoot Death scarce mist her
When Doctor Halfpenny [19]  gave a clyster
Oh she was very very very bad —
So bad the case appeard
That much we feard
No succour could be had
No skill could save
Hapless Susina from the grave.

But now by hap came
The famous Dr Halfpenny from Clapham.
Her pulse he felt —
He shook his head
And sighing said
For Pity the Physicians heart could melt.
Alas alas
All Pork is grass
(And here he heavd a sigh)
All sows are born to die
(Yes Sow the she —
And Southey me!)

The Doctor shook his unwiggd head
The Doctor sighd — the Doctor said —
Poor Sow — Death clasps with eager fist her —
I must administer a clyster —

Did you dear Lightfoot ever see
Upon fair day
A Scotchman on his bagpipes play
Tweedle dum & tweedle dee?
Just so Id have you know
The Doctor plac’d the bladder twixt his knees —
The Patient sow was held & he began to squeeze.

Scard by the clyster
Death releasd her
This Lightfoot was the sow
That in the straw is lying now.

Hail noble progeny I hear
Your squeaking music in my ear —
Most noble pigs for ever to be boasted!
Hark — excellent sound
The jack twirling round —
I see the young pig ready roasted
The Pruin sauce fills the dish up
Oh Pig fit for a Bishop.


And now I’ve finishd this Pindaric ode
Once more I journey on my road.

With my Uncle I went all the country across
To Hereford Gloster & Kington & Ross.
From Bristol alone I to join him set out
A journey — ah would I could say; ills without —
For once quite astray in the cross roads we ran
Once my breeches were wet as a sop in the pan.
At Ledbury I calld — most unfortunate call
For at home my dear friend I found no one at all
This perhaps Seward mentioned & this you mistook
When you thought that a journey to Sapey I took.
To Sapey my friend we will journey together
When Easter comes next spite of wind or of weather
Or if lazy as usual you linger at home
Alone oer the high hills to Sapey Ill roam.
What is toil when it meets with so joyous an end
What is labour that leads us to meet such a friend.
As for Oxford — dear Lightfoot I cannot affirm
Whether I shall or shall not reside the next term
To me it appears that most probably not
And if so — why your letter shall not be forgot.
Like a tempest torn ship on the billows of strife
My little weak bark skims the ocean of life —
Turns to each friendly haven with each friendly gale
And before every wind spreads the full bellying sail
And as Interest has placed no set market in view
Inclination will pilot the vessel to you.

Robert Southey.

[remainder of the letter in the hand of Grosvenor Charles Bedford]

Dr Lightfoot

Southey has but half told his tale, & left me to finish it so if you have patience you may read the sequel in the following Pindaric.

Pindar says
Αριςογ μεν υδωρ. [20] 
say I
Αριςογ μεν κλυςωρ [21] 
With art unknown before
Susina was cured of the gripes
Descend oh muse & say
How in a happy day
The Κλυςωρ [22]  heal’d her tripes

But not as when from Chaos brought
This earthly ball arose
And sprung obedient quick from nought
As the 1st Chapter in the book of Genesis shows.

When blew the loud blast in the air
So shrill so full of woe
Unable such a noise to bear
Down fell — Jericho [23] 
(And so would I if such a clang
In a Parenthesis
I put you see this,
Through either of my ears had rang
For I thank God have two
And so I hope have you)

Not quite so quick the κλυςωρ [24]  cured
The pig who pain endured
For several times the Doctor strove
Without success the ill to move
Here might be seen
Dr Halfpenny Green,
(For either name
Means just the same)
And here the patient beast
Who did not wish
Of such a dish
To give her tail a feast.
For though, if a sow has her belly well cramm’d.
She cares not if every young pig should be damn’d,
And her food she be ne’er seen to waste it,
Yet Lightfoot you’ll find
Amongst the pig kind
That they’ve great inclination to taste it.
Which she could never do my friend
If she was fed at the wrong end.
And sows have not the power of Goût
All the way through
Any more than you.
As once the Glutton prayed to have
Whose greedy stomach so did crave.
That tho’ replete
With savoury meat
His sumptuous supper done
His relish yet remain’d the power to eat was gone.

When lowring low the tempests move
And East & West the shrill winds rove
The smoking rain descends
Flash the Lightening’s forky fangs
The yellow harvest bends
Then sullen hoarse the Clouds among
In interrupted peals the Thunder rolls along
And in the Echo lingering the faint vibration hangs. [25] 

Then rushing from on high
Uniting sea with sky
Bursts forth the water spout
Just like the snout
Of some huge elephant who sucks up
The waters far & near & drinks the lowly brooks up

Lightfoot have you ever seen
This spout so curious
Foaming furious?
No — you reply I ween.
But you must know what sort of Gent
It is that’s meant
If not — do look
Into some book
Of natural History
Lightfoot indeed you
May take the Cyclopaedia
Or Chambers’s Dictionary. [26] 

Just such a row
Made our old sow
For when the Dr. had done squirting
Susina’s bowel
Not liking Gruel
The joke resolved upon retorting
To finish his work
By way of a cork
He clapt his thumb
On the sows ————
And there for an hour he stood
Applying his force
To stop up the course
And the flux of the flood
But all would not do
For as soon as he stir’d
A dire rumbling was heard
In a minute or two
Out flew
Why all that was pent up
And couped in her went up
Piping hot.
This retort from the rear
Could the Doctor scarce bear
So sudden so fierce the attack
All over his cloaths
His eyes mouth & nose:
He was thrown in the fright on his back.
So perfumed so sweet
He then went to meet
His sweet heart our maid
For this great son of Galen [27] 
Did not mind such a failing —
These things being common in trade
The next time however
More handy more clever
His measures were taken
The work was soon done
And without any pun
The sow sav’d her bacon.

Now comes the last act
Of this marvellous fact
The Doctor was willing
This bill should be paid
And the charges he made
Good leech! amounted to thirty shilling.


There Lightfoot is a bellyfull
For you as well as the sow
God grant you patience & good
Health prays yours

G. C. Bedford.

Sept. 30. 1793.


* Address: Nicholas Lightfoot/ Moreton/ near/ Exeter/ Devonshire./ Single
Postmark: OC/ 2/ 93
Watermark: [Illegible]
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng Lett b. 4. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius (c. 240–320), early Christian rhetorician and philosopher. Latin tutor to Crispus, son of the Emperor Diocletian (245–313; reigned 284–305). BACK

[2] A dressing for hair made from perfumed oil. BACK

[3] Belshazzar, King of Babylon 545–539 BC; see Daniel 5. BACK

[4] A river, now in Turkey. It was said to contain golden sand, produced when King Midas divested himself of his golden touch by washing his hands in its water. BACK

[5] Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 10, line 501. The Latin translates as ‘O mind of man, knowing not fate or coming doom’. BACK

[6] Virgil, who was born near Mantua. BACK

[7] Marie-Jean-Augustin Vestris (1760–1842), a dancer, famous for his interpretation of the gavotte. BACK

[8] Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1735–1806; reigned 1780–1806), commander of the forces that invaded revolutionary France in 1792. BACK

[9] The Greek translates as ‘O me, o me, lackaday’. BACK

[10] In Greek mythology, the goddess of vengeance, one of the Furies. BACK

[11] In Greek mythology, one of the three Hecatonchires, the offspring of Gaia and Uranus. During the war of the Titans, the Hecatonchires sided with Zeus. BACK

[12] The Roman goddess of wisdom. BACK

[13] Epithet of Apollo, the sun god. BACK

[14] The Greek translates as ‘O me, o me, lackaday’. BACK

[15] Pallas Athene, another name for Minerva the goddess of wisdom. BACK

[16] In Greek mythology, the king of the gods. BACK

[17] Athens. BACK

[18] The ruined ancient city of Tadmor (Palmyra), Syria. BACK

[19] An unidentified person brought in by the Bedfords to treat their animals. BACK

[20] The Greek translates as ‘best is water’, the opening words of Pindar (522–443 BC), Olympian 1, line 1. BACK

[21] The Greek represents Bedford’s variation of the opening of Pindar’s Olympian 1, line 1 (‘best is water’) and translates as ‘best is clyster [i.e. a syringe for administering an enema]’. BACK

[22] The Greek translates as ‘clyster’. BACK

[23] Joshua 6: 20. BACK

[24] The Greek translates as ‘clyster’. BACK

[25] Bedford adds note at bottom of fol. 2v: ‘Turn the 2d. Page.’ Remainder of Bedford’s postscript written on fol. 1r. BACK

[26] Cyclopaedia, or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, founded by Ephraim Chambers (1680?–1740; DNB). BACK

[27] Claudius Galen (c. 129–c. 216), Greek physician. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Sapey (mentioned 4 times)