75. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 22 December 1793

75. Robert Southey to Nicholas Lightfoot, 22 December 1793 ⁠* 

Bristol. Dec. 22nd. 1793

In various scenes & ways six months are past
Since you & I dear Lightfoot parted last.
Twas then in sultry Summers genial reign
When blazing Sirius scorchd the arid plain,
To Isis minstrelld banks we bade adieu
For Bristol I for plains Danmonian [1]  you
We left old Pompey [2]  tottering to its fall
And aged Cæsars stronger neighbouring wall [3] 
We fled from quadrangles & duty prayer
To health & exercise & country air.

Now Summer burns the arid earth no more
Now haly Autumns fruitful reign is oer
Stern Winter comes & rarifies the air
And Balliol aged matron calls us there.

Tis said that Oxfords genius will inspire
With heaven taught strains the youthful minstrels <lyre>
That as the Bard shall wander oer that grove
Where musing Addison [4]  was wont to rove
Or stroll where Isis rolls along the plains
Or Cherwells murmurs found in Wartons [5]  strain
The local power shall give the kindling flame
And Inspiration point the path to Fame.

Vain dreams are these as you & I can tell
No meditation fills the students cell
Of Helicon [6]  the Genius scorns to taste
And lets the insipid waters run to waste
For Helicon has lost its power divine
And Oxford rather loves inspiring wine —
For Aganippes font [7]  experience tells
They rather go to Godwin Joyce or Wells [8] 
The virgin Muses too have had their day
So Oxford courts Sal Draper or Sue Gray. [9] 

Where wizard power enthralld the sacred <ground>
The weird dames their cauldron circled round
As round & round in mystic wise they go
Each various seed of magic ills they throw
Rites that appal all Hells affrighted ear
And even Demogorgon [10]  owns with fear.
Yet be the magic sisters might forgot
Since Science Lightfoot owns thy mystic Pot.

Methinks I see thee now the closet shut
Down at thy mighty incantations set.
The gown of flannel wraps thy limbs around
Abominations Pot is on the ground.
Each dire ingredient flung each morning there
The dry old thumb preservd with curious care
The shavings — cucumber & soap & blood
And water of all sorts compose the flood.
Down on thy table lies the flute whose sound
Shall call the magic powers of Taste around
Till thy whole soul fulfilld with feard rage
Turns to the good Lactantius’ [11]  pious page
Or casts oer Hutcheson [12]  the moral eye
Or reads & uses famous Calliepi. [13] 

There as you sit in slippers loose alone
Falls full & banging on the door the stone
Like hail they come — you need not look to see
Such folly only can proceed from me.
No modest lie is this tis plain & true
For I must have my turn as well as you.

No magic cauldron does your friend require
You stir the Pot & S — --y stirs the fire —
If his dull Reason fails to understand
Up goes the restless poker in his hand
Or should his intellect more bright appear
Why tis but just the fire should burn as clear.
Then up I set the loud harmonious roar
Not bottle when hes drunk can bellow more

Sit down again to study at my ease
And eat some solid feet of toasted cheese
And then for exercise & change of air —
I quit the sofa for the great armd chair.
At chapel too I sleep or talk each day
Laugh — read — in short do any thing but pray
For when Devotions fervor strongest glows
Comes the curst twang of Ginger kennel nose.
And then I feel a strange & wicked whim
And hope the Cherubims dont sing like him
Then comes a laugh — so Satan is so strong
That I must sleep to save from doing wrong.

Tis true that every day your friendly care
Would drag me out to catch a breath of air.
Perhaps at last I sally forth — but then
Old Nick himself cant get me back again.
Thus obstinately mulish & perverse
I grow each day dear Lightfoot worse & worse.

For other task at home my time employs
I neither stir the fire or keep a noise
But quit my bed & then take up my pen
Quit that at night & go to bed again.

But Term approaching bars my longer stay
Time Inclination call me hence away
With pleasure I once more my friends shall view
Our Seward Burnett Collins Pot & you.
Already dinging donging on my ear
That most abominable bell I hear
Already Gingers snaffles service oer
You seem to pray & I most truely snore.
Already you to play the flute begin
Burnett to fiddle & your friend to sing
Already will my Fancys eager eye
Look on to Summer & the gooseberry pye
And ten o clock I seem to hate een now
That calls me up to lecture & Tom Howe
Tis true. for him a very due respect stirs
God bless my tutor — but Duce take his lectures

The name composes me so if you please
My good friend Shad Ill have my toasted cheese


now in plain prose my dear Lightfoot I write to settle our journey to old Ball Coll. come to Bristol Tuesday Wednesday. Thursday we will see all the seeables & Friday off. I wish it were in my power to offer you a bed but you will take inclination for ability. we have much to be seen so come earlier if you can. but write & let me know all the whens &c.

you see I must this term. E Seward cannot be ordaind till Trinity he will spend the intermediate time with us at Ball.

poor Burnett has been alone. they all got drunk in the Batchelor’s common room on the Gaudy except our friend who went to Lewis. they broke all his windows forced thro the wainscott & flung all the chairs out of window. his absence was most fortunate as they brought a bottle of wine to pour down his throat by force. execrable blockheads twas well both for me & for them that I was absent for had my passions been stirrd I should have used my leveller & got beat. Phelpss [14]  adventures that night will amuse you another time. now time presses. so believe me

most sincerely your


direct to Miss Tylers



* Address: Nicholas Lightfoot/ Moreton/ near/ Exeter./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Watermark: J. LARKING
Endorsement: 5
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng Lett. c. 453. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Devon and Cornwall. BACK

[2] A building in the grounds of Balliol College, Oxford. It derived its name from the fact that it was opposite a college house known as ‘Caesar’. BACK

[3] A house in the grounds of Balliol College, Oxford. It was named after Henry Adelmare Caesar (1564/5–1636; DNB), who had lived there in the 1590s whilst studying for his D.D. BACK

[4] Joseph Addison (1672–1719; DNB), a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. The footpath around Magdalen deer-park is known as ‘Addison’s walk’. BACK

[5] Thomas Warton (1728–1790; DNB), The Triumph of Isis, A Poem ([1749]) and ‘The Complaint of Cherwell’ (1777). BACK

[6] A mountain in Greece, reputed to be the home of the Muses. BACK

[7] The fountain of the Muses, at the foot of Mount Helicon. BACK

[8] Favourite haunts of Oxford students, probably the coffee-houses run by Mary Goodwin and Joyce and Hayes, and the liquor-merchants run by Edward Wells. BACK

[9] Names (possibly generic) of Oxford prostitutes. BACK

[10] A god whose very name was meant to terrify. BACK

[11] 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

[12] Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746; DNB), moral philosopher. His Latin works included Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria, Ethices et Jurisprudentiae Naturalis Elementa Continens (1742). BACK

[13] This may be a reference to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. BACK

[14] Thomas Spencer Phelps (d. 1856), a student at Balliol College, Oxford, BA 1797. BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 3 times)