3379. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 November 1819

3379. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 November 1819⁠* 

My dear G.

Thank you for reminding me of my Xmas Task. I think of an Ode upon these ugly times, resembling in structure that with which the second volume of my Minor Poems concludes. [1]  This is a subject upon which I feel that I could write well in prose, – but cui bono? – Cui malo [2]  is very obvious, for it would be to the consumption of time which ought to be more profitably employed. And yet my fingers itch to begin a series of letters under some nom de guerre in the Courier. [3] 

The ‘rejected address’ was printed in the London papers as read by Brougham at the Kendal meeting, & commented upon by him. [4]  If a letter of mine upon those comments should be inserted in one of the Kendal papers I will send it for your perusal. [5]  – The danger is from the imbecillity of the Administration. Lord Sidmouth [6]  I know saw the danger clearly in 1817, & was disposed to act resolutely, but Lord Liverpool, tho I verily believe him in ordinary times to be the best statesman we have, is of all men the most unfit for a time of danger, for he is timid irresolute & cold as an icicle. Things therefore must be worse before they are better. And that they will be worse appears so likely that were it not for I so circumstanced as to be able to transplant omnia mea mecum, [7]  I should think seriously of moving into Switzerland, xx <that being> the country which let what will happen to the rest of Europe, is likely to be disturbed the least: & the distance so easy that it would be always in our power to return.

Meantime I do as the people did before the flood when the Ark was on the stocks, [8]  eat, drink, x go on with my usual employments, & sleep – as if things were to last my time. If the Radicals bring the matter to blows soon, they will be put down, & we shall be left no worse than we were, with a great advantage for Government if it knew how to profit thereby. But the longer revolutionary principles are allowed to be disseminated, the greater will be the danger, – for in the end they will make it a struggle between youth & age, & then the weakest must go to the wall. Upon this subject I think I could write in a way which would raise Lord Liverpools pulse, & make the Prince rub his eyes.

Let Osiris order Henry not to go to the Office. The Admiralty has no right to xxxxx <expect> Martyrdom from any of its civil servants.

You have by this time received my third Volume. [9]  I hope the Reviewer into whose hands Gifford consigns it will not so carefully pass over every thing characteristic of the work as he did in his account of the second. [10]  And I wish he may discover how much more the book <it> resembles Herodotus than the work of any other historian. [11]  You will like the conclusion, which is in the spirit of an ancient. [12] 

God bless you


St Guy-Faux’s day. 1819.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer
Endorsement: 5. Novr. 1819; 5. Novr. 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s duty as Poet Laureate was to produce a New Year’s Ode for 1820; his ode was later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383. Here Southey compares this poem with his ‘Ode, Written in December, 1814’, published in Minor Poems, 2 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. This poem had proved too controversial to serve as the New Year’s Ode for which it was intended. BACK

[2] ‘To whose benefit?’ and ‘To whose harm?’ BACK

[3] Southey did not write these pseudonymous letters. BACK

[4] A County Meeting for Westmorland was held at Kendal on 21 October 1819 to protest against the authorities’ actions at the ‘Peterloo’ meeting in Manchester on 16 August 1819, which led to eleven deaths. Brougham was present, and read out and denounced the rival pro-government Loyal Address which Southey had written (though Brougham was unaware of its author). He remarked that the Address ‘is very long indeed, and extremely dull’, and described its authors as ‘fawning sycophants’ who had produced a ‘slavish’ document, Morning Chronicle, 26 October 1819. The entire address had been leaked to, and printed by, the Morning Chronicle, 23 October 1819. BACK

[5] Southey responded to Brougham’s speech with his, [Robert Southey] to Henry Brougham, [before 6 November 1819], Letter 3381, published in the Westmorland Gazette, 13 November 1819, signed ‘VINDEX’. BACK

[6] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), Prime Minister 1801–1804, Home Secretary 1812–1822. Southey had met him on 26 April 1817 at the house of Robert Harry Inglis. BACK

[7] ‘All things with me’. BACK

[8] Genesis 6–8 in which the patriarch, Noah, was instructed by God to build an Ark to preserve life on earth from a devastating flood. BACK

[9] The third and final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[10] The second volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) was reviewed in Quarterly Review, 18 (October 1817), 99–128, by Reginald Heber. The third and final volume was not reviewed in the Quarterly Review. BACK

[11] Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), whose The Histories are often considered to be the first work of history. BACK

[12] The final sentence of Southey’s work expressed indifference to its ‘immediate reception, in full reliance upon the approbation of those persons for whom it has been written, and of those ages to which it is bequeathed’, History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, p. 879. BACK