81. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 2 [-5] February 1794

81. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 2 [–5] February 1794 ⁠* 

Balliol. Feby. 2d 1794 — Sunday. 1/2 past 4.

At last the date is prefixed. I left J Collins this morning soon after nine to write to you. returned to my rooms began some verses & from that hour to this have undergone a perpetual routine of interruptions. Lovell wrote to me Monday last to say that circumstances oblige him to reside in Bristol — much to his advantage, & I believe more than to his inclination. tis unlucky on account of our volume. will you be good enough to convey or cause them to be conveyed to Bell? [1]  I would not ask this if I knew an alternative but if you dislike the job (& I think you will) say so freely. of the plan to be pursued I will say no more now. your answer will let me know if you can convey them to Bell & if that can be done, poems plan & preface shall reach you immediately together.

Monday morning — A female scout at Christ Church, only fifteen, has lately delivered herself & strangled the child. what adds to the horror of the circumstance is that her own mother is the only witness. the girl they say is remarkably handsome. I heard this story related at dinner yesterday, & you cannot imagine the effect it had upon me. the situation of the father immediately occurred; for surely one whom the fear of shame carried to such dreadful lengths could not easily have been seduced. nothing is more astonishing to me than that a virtue so rigidly demanded from woman should be so despised among men. Gillies [2]  & poor Gibbon [3]  have displayed their usual liberality upon this subject in a very few words. here (as almost in every thing else) Europe must shrink from comparison with antient Greece — & hence as from every thing else ten thousand forcible arguments arise against the present state of things. “all seems yellow to the jaundiced eye.” [4]  you can apply the line.

Wednes. 5 o clock. morning . surely at last I have chosen a quiet hour when there is no fear of interruption from college. Grosvenor I purpose studying physic. innumerable & insuperable objections appeard to divinity — surely the profession I have chosen affords at least as many opportunities of benefitting mankind. Lightfoot says no & spoke of the efficacy of prayer. suppose you & I Lightfoot resided in the same village as priest & apothecary. a labouring man with a wife & family is dangerously ill. who renders him the most essential service — you in talking of heaven & closing his eyes in peace, or I in restoring him to the world & giving him time to prepare for death?

in this country a liberal education precludes the man of no fortune from independance in the humbler lines of life — he may either turn man butcher, or embrace one of three professions in all of which there is too much quackery — Law is of all others the most unpleasant — the lawyer lives by the vices & follies of his neighbours, blows up the coals of discord, & when the fuel is spent is paid for quenching it. a honest well-minded attorney might be of service to mankind, but he must be independent of his profession in order to be honest & well-minded, & must consider it his duty rather to reconcile enemies than to provoke friends. but before Law can become justice — a mighty change must be effected in order to simplify it — the voluminous lumber of tautology must either be burnt or shut up in some sepulchre, a monument of human folly, & the few eternal & immutable laws of justice, with the few that originate from society be collected in one volume that every individual may carry the law of his life in his pocket, & judge for himself.

in all this Bedford I see nothing very visionary, or indeed anyway impossible. the absurd custom of paying attorneys in proportion to the number of words & lines, has introduced that tautology & barbarism so disgustingly perplexing — Law as it is disgraces justice — as it should be & as it may be it becomes simple & useful.

it were easy to point out innumerable objections to divinity, — but there is one sufficiently obstinate at the threshold. the oaths of this you will form a proper estimate, & tell me whether or no with my principles it were just to enter into orders — to undertake teaching morality & virtue & begin my pastoral charge by perjury.

in fact there was no alternative when these ideas had weight. the army I never thought of. to physic I see no objection. the study itself enlarges the mind & the practice affords more opportunities of serving society than any other profession. very soon shall I commence my anatomical & chemical studies. when well grounded in these, I hope to study under Cruikshanks [5]  to perfect myself in anatomy — attend the clinical lectures & then commence — Doctor Southey!!!

the only circumstance any ways unpleasant is that I shall be constrained to mix more with this world more than is agreable to my wishes & perhaps to my natural disposition, & that I must conform more to its manners. but these imaginary inconveniences are amply balanced by the various agreable circumstances.

this resolution has relieved me from a weight that hung heavy upon my mind & embittered many hours. I am inclined to think morality & active virtue will do — nor were it difficult to prove this — but the human mind is as yet incapable of the pure speculations of philosophical justice.

now then for Balliol. I have changed my rooms very much for the better. do you recollect a door in the grove which opened to St Giles? near the temple of A? my rooms are nearer the new buildings & the study window looks to Cæsar. [6]  the fellows seem resolved to benefit my situation as they are planting a shrubbery in the grove — so when you visit us at the Commemoration you will find me much more agreably situated. you must have heard of C Collins famous rooms, of which he talked so much. in his best room they have lowerd half the cieling above a foot much to the injury of its appearance. tis astonishing what enemies he makes by that overbearing manner in conversation & front of adamant. common observers will not look deep enough to discover his virtues & he takes care to display all his faults. Wynn says he wishes rather to astonish than to please. in proportion as Wynns good opinion is valuable his censure is to be feared; nor would he wish so earnestly to reclaim Collins did he not regard him.

Jer. Collins is with us good humoured as usual & tho laid up with a sore heel, his wit by no means halts. punning is certainly infectious & I am inclined to think that the very air of Oxford gives the disorder for when he & I (we travelled together from Bath) got within ten miles of the place puns began to drop, faster & faster till we arrived at my rooms & found Lightfoot Burnett bread cheese & a bottle. but Balliol has met with an irreparable injury — it has lost the fiddle with one string so oft responsive to the gentle touch of harmony. in its place Burnett has a piano forte,to which I sing discordant. the Pot has not attained that ripe rank perfection of impurity which Summer gave it, & the weather is yet too cold for Lightfoot to sit & stew over its vapours.

Tom Lamb is at Christ Church. his Majesty well & young Wynn sports Claret. next Friday however he drinks port with me & much do I wish that you could join our party. Elmsley Wynn Peckwell C Collins Combe & Lamb. Horse Campbell sleeps every night with a stinking dog which Dr Pegg gave him & which report says he feeds at the anatomy school. the Doctors room may be smelt at Woodstock whiffing the accumulated stinks of <the> dead bodies the Dog & the Doctor himself.

of myself one piece of news — my beard was black I borrowed Lightfoots razor with which I scraped & scraped without effect & was at last obliged to finish with the scissors! ten pages of Demosthenes [7]  must I read for lecture to day, so thank me for this letter & expect a better at leisure. remember me to all enquiring friends & particularly to Harry. Wynn & I conversed about him. he is the most wonderful child I ever saw, said Wynn.

will Horace come to Balliol? at Ch Ch they come to me to know. I wish him here much for both our sakes. tell him I have begun a letter, which I will finish as soon as possible. now Grosvenor write as soon as you can & tell me if you can get the papers conveyed to Bell. then I write to Lovell — & then — make my appearance as Orson. [8] 

I have made a valuable friend at Corpus. his name Horseman. C Collins knows him.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ New Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: [partial] FE
Watermarks: G R in a circle; figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Recd. 6th Feby. 1794/ Ansd. 11th
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 48–51; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, p. 204 [in part; undated]. BACK

[1] John Bell (1745–1831; DNB), a London printer and bookseller. BACK

[2] John Gillies (1747–1836; DNB). Southey had borrowed the first volume of his History of Ancient Greece (London, 1786) from the Bristol Library Society on 29 January 1793, and here cites I, p. 56. BACK

[3] Gibbon: Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 12 vols (London, 1788), III, p. 239. BACK

[4] A paraphrase of Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), ‘An Essay on Criticism’ (1711), line 559. BACK

[5] William Cumberland Cruikshank (1745–1800; DNB), anatomist. BACK

[6] A building in the grounds of Balliol College, Oxford. BACK

[7] The Greek orator Demosthenes (384–322 BC). BACK

[8] In medieval romance, ‘Orson’ was the brother of ‘Valentine’. A version of this legend appeared in Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1767), III, pp. 279–295. In 1794, Southey and Robert Lovell were planning to publish a joint volume of poems under these pseudonyms. The collection never appeared. BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 3 times)