64. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, 30 October-7 November 1793

64. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, 30 October–7 November 1793 ⁠* 

Bristol. College Green. Wedn. <October> 30. 1793.


To those sage banks where lay-hymnd Isis glides
Where sober Science in each dome presides
With virtuous Wisdom loves the cell to share
And trim the midnight lamp with studious care —
Where mighty Taste despotic Genius rules
And monkish Aristotle curbs the schools
Unworthy offering to his X church friend
The Balliol truant this presumes to send
These lines produced by Indolence & Haste
Formd by no rules & fashioned by no Taste —
Like the new spring whose waves along the mead
Meandring gayly on their course proceed
Paint with springs earliest flowers the moss mixd <grass>
And owe their beauties to the scenes they pass.

No more my friend shall Fancy range
To pretty Pipe & pretty Grange
Nor sportive Folly shall beguile us
To liken you to little Hylas [1] 
Nor warn you of the dolphins dwelling
Or the mandrake hideous yelling
Or Fashions rage that you bewitches
To wear those beastly black silk breeches
Nor since our cautions are not reckond
Will I declaim on Jack the Second. [2] 

No no my friend in serious mood again
Gently I take the unoffending pen
Believe me Collins I will laugh no more
At X church taste or Oxfords monkish lore
But humbly gaze at distance & adore —
So Egypts pious children bow the knee
And own the presence of their deity
Give the good priest the destind price of sin
And fear the Monkey or the ass within.

Will you my friend one hour so idly waste
So deign to spend the time designd for taste
So from your learned lofty height descend
To write a line to please a Balliol friend —
Tell Wynn that I can now at last remind
A book he left at Westminster behind
The Gesta Romanorum [3]  — nor neglect
To make to Majesty my dear respect
Say to the King thus says his subject now
(But first bend down & make a duteous bow)
I wrote to him a very long epistle
And shall be glad to hear from him at Bristol.

Of such nonsense enough — to a metre more gay
Less absurd must I bend my unsettled wild way
I cannot stalk on in so serious a stile
And with nonsense & folly the moments beguile —
Tell the King he must write & acknowledge my letter
Tell Wynn of the book. & remain not my debtor
But spread on the table your pretty casette
Shake your hands shrug your shoulders & <pay the due debt.>
And moreover tell Wynn — but stop — let me see
Ευργκα Ευργκα [4]  — a good simile

As the smith in his furnace throws in the old metal
Nails pot hooks swords razors pot gridiron & kettle
Whatever lies near they melt up in one stew
And make what went in old — come out neat & new —
So tell my good friend I have melted my odes
But as they are now coming on on the roads
I can send none to Oxford — nor indeed were they <here>
That I should transcribe them to him is quite clear
Since he’s grown wise & prudent & like not to write
To old correspondents & friends
But to one who has never been blest with his sight
Each week an epistle he sends.

Tis a fortnight ago since from Brixton departed
I trudgd on my way quite dismayd & dishearted
Unwilling to go yet unable to stay
To Bristol I bent as commanded my way
And doubtful of loitering this term thus in waste
Was obliged to mount coach & put on in great haste.
Since that period my baggage is kept on the roads
All my cloaths — Joan of Arc [5]  & my excellent odes
And should some nasty beast whose taste is not quite ripe
With my valued productions first read & then wipe
I shall lose all my senses — run stark staring mad
At his usage so vile & my fortune so bad
O Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan
Thy loss sure would melt een a hard heart of stone
To lose thee when finishd — to think that a rascal
So vilely should use my delectable task all.
Wear my cloaths — in his pockets should carry my Joan
And read it & use it when he is alone —
And moreover — oh pity the sorrowful notes
I shall soon — very soon be un vrai sans culottes!
Such misfortunes are mine such sad Fate me bewitches
You go without linings — but yet you have breeches
But for me — sad to say — as my brogues are wore out
I both breeches & linings shall soon be without
Alas Alas
All breeches are but grass
So enough of my sorrows & follies God knows
(Tis a rhyme of your own) & I’ll now write in prose
But remember my friend — you have once used your pen
And I beg you will send me some verses again.

Thurs. Nov. 7.

a long time my dear friend has elapsed since I began my letter with those villainous verses which can only amuse you from their badness. you know me too well to suspect me of dispraising myself to gain a compliment. the lines are bad & I can write better. but Nemo omnibus horis &c.  [6]  I wrote them with agreable company in the room to whom most of my attention was diverted & C Collins will excuse the faults occasioned by politeness.

in this interval however my baggage has arrived & no poor devil at the foot of the gallows was more overjoyd at a reprieve than I was at the recovery. I have begun to transcribe Joan of Arc — read Enfield History of Philosophy. [7]  Gillies History of Greece [8]  V.2nd & begun Adam Smith [9]  since my return so you see Bristol does not make me idle. I may not form a taste here but I can increase a stock of useful knowledge and you know the prettiest nosegays are formed of various flowers. Oxford would have been very dull this term to me as none of my Balliol friends reside & it <is> with them that I mostly live. we shall meet again in January & college will have something like novelty to recommend it. with my friends at Christ Church I could not have lived always — they are but very few & have numerous acquaintance so this term must have past mostly in solitude. at Bristol I can be as well employed, at least in my own opinion & you know, to me, that is the most material.

Time passed pleasantly at Brixton. the last Sunday Grosvenor went with me to Maize Hill intending to breakfast with your good family. I rose in time but you know our friends invincible indolence. he never left Brixton till near nine & then with mulish obstinacy would go wrong & put up the chaise a mile out the way, so that we found your father & mother drest for church & troubled them for a second breakfast. we returned to dinner in spite of the friendly intreaties of Mr & Mrs C & indeed of <our> own wishes but Grosvenor had promised to return & as I had prophesied, repented of his promise. the Doctor was not with us.

I am in hopes to see Horace at Balliol the next term — he seems to have fixd his choice unalterably. in fact for what profession is he fit but the church? at Brixton he is ruining himself as you well know — contracting habits peevishness & particularities all which a little society would cure him of. I want to rub him down — you to perform the same friendly office upon me & Grosvenor upon you — each sees his neighbours mote — thus wags the world away. when you write to himself <touch> upon this subject & tell him what service a few years at college would do him. he will sweat away his consitution & abilities in the collection room unless he very soon is settled.

if you should happen to meet Burnet I will be much obliged to you to enquire if any letters are expecting me at Balliol. I expect one which I wish much to receive. will you be good enough if you chance to see him, to take the letters & direct them — scratch out the old direction & put Miss Tylers Bristol.

remember me to Wynn & tell him of the Gesta Romanorum which I will bring to Oxford next term. I have much for his perusal. perhaps all my writings are owing to my acquaintance with him he saw the first & I knew the value of his praise too much to despise it — for head & heart I do not know his equal. Wynn will like many parts of my Joan but he will shake his head at the subject, with propriety if I had designd it for publication — but as the amusement of my leisure I heeded no laws but those of inclination. he will be better pleasd to hear I have waded thro the work of correcting & expunging my literary rubbish. there is something very vain in thus writing of myself, but I know the regard which Wynn entertains for me whilst he sees the vanity will make him pleasd with the intelligence.

is Lamb arrived at Oxford — desire his Majesty to give me a little information relative to our friend Tom. I wrote the King a long letter but whether he ever receivd it I know not. his Highness will honour Bath with his presence at Xmas I suppose if so we may perhaps meet. & now when I have enquired for Peckwell & Martin Butt I have run thro the list of my friends

let me hear from you as soon as you can spare time. you have at last if not a rational certainly a harmless letter, & did you know the self satisfaction we felt at our joint production you would certainly endure a little horse raillery for the sake of so delighting your friends.

Grosvenor & I used to fall out about politics (that is quarrel amicably) he is as visionary as I am & the old fable of the pot & the kettle may well be applied to us. as for the Doctor he would stare thro his spectacles in silence. I must laugh at him upon the subject & you know how he dreads my raillery — Southey Southey for Gods sake dont put that in the life &c &c — o nunquam reditura dies! [10]  but I <shall> grow as learned as you & quote scraps like Grosvenor.

Horace means to leave off spectacles if he comes to Oxford — he now understands the theory of shortsightedness & talks of it most eruditely — of course we laugh at him — then comes pish fool blockhead contemptible stuff, & I laugh the more. but Horace has a thousand good qualities to counterbalance a few failings occasiond by seclusion. do you know I have almost cured him of rhapsodizing — now you will exclaim Physician cure thyself — I am dosing myself with philosophy & calculations to get rid of the rhapsody fever — & you will see some of this is written in a lucid interval — I am now going out & must dress — laugh at the expression in me — but I must change my cloaths so farewell.

yrs most sincerely


<write in verse since you can no longer>

<plead inability.>


* Address: X post/ Charles Collins Esqr-/ Christ Church/ Oxford/ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Endorsements: Nov 9. ——; Answered Dec 23
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44802. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 276–280 [prose in full, but the verse in part]; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 188–189 [in part; one paragraph from 7 November 1793 section, which is misdated 30 October 1793]. BACK

[1] In Greek mythology, Hylas was one of the Argonauts. He was dragged into a spring by a water nymph, who had seen and fallen in love with him. BACK

[2] Johannes Secundus (1511–1536), whose Liber Basiorum (Book of Kisses) was published in 1541. BACK

[3] A collection of Latin anecdotes and tales, probably compiled in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries. The book referred to is likely to be the 1703 edition listed in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, gen. ed. A. N. L. Munby, vol. 9 Poets and Men of Letters, ed. Roy Park (London, 1974), p. 56. BACK

[4] The Greek can be translated as ‘I’ve found it, I’ve found it’, recorded by Plutarch as Archimedes’ cry upon discovering the formula for displacement of bodies in water. BACK

[5] The first version of Southey’s epic had been written at the Bedford family’s home in Brixton in summer-autumn 1793. BACK

[6] Part of the commonplace ‘No man is wise at all times’. BACK

[7] William Enfield (1741–1797; DNB), History of Philosophy, From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century, 2 vols (1791), was an abridgement and translation of Johann Jacob Brucker’s Historia Critica Philosophiae. Southey borrowed both volumes from the Bristol Library Society, volume one between 22–25 October 1793 and volume two between 25–28 October 1793. BACK

[8] John Gillies (1747–1836; DNB), The History of Ancient Greece, 2 vols (1786). Southey borrowed volume two from the Bristol Library Society between 28 October and 4 November 1793 and volume one between 29 January and 10 February 1794. BACK

[9] Adam Smith (c. 1723–1790; DNB), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols (1776). Southey borrowed volume one from the Bristol Library Society between 4 and 18 November 1793 and volume two between 18 and 25 November 1793. BACK

[10] The Latin translates as ‘O day never to return’. BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 4 times)
College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)