3616. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 January 1821

3616. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 January 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 26 Jany. 1821

My dear G.

Yesterday evening I received Roderic Dernier Roi de Goths, Poeme traduit de l’Anglais de Robert Southey Esqre. Poete Laureat Par M. le Chevalier xxx. [1]  Printed at Versailles & published at Paris by Galignani. [2]  It was accompanied by a modest & handsome letter from the translator the Chevalier de Sagrie, & by another from Madame St. Anne Holmes the Lady to whom it is dedicated. This Lady has formerly favoured <me> with some letters & with a tragedy of hers, printed at Angers. [3]  She is a very clever woman, & writes almost as beautiful a hand as Miss Ponsonby of Llangollen. I should like to know the whole mystery of her wonderful history. She is rich & has lived in high plac life, – & writes a great deal about Sheridan [4]  as having been very intimate with him in his latter years. Her father [5]  lives in Mansfield Street, &, in the course of the last two years, she has contrived I know neither how nor why to be dismarried, &, from having been called Mrs Attersoll, to become Madame St. Anne Holmes. Holmes being her fathers name. – Me, Mr Bedford, unworthy as I am this Lady has chosen for her poeta favouri, & by her persuasions the Chevalier has traduced Roderick in French. – This is not all, – there is a part of the business which is so truly booksellerish in general & French in particular that it would be a sin to withhold it from you – & you shall it in the very words of my correspondent St Anne

“There is one part of the business I cannot pass over in silence, it has shocked me much & calls for an apology, which is – The Life of Robert Southey Esqre P.L. [6]  It never could have entered my mind to be guilty of, or even to sanction such an impertinence. But the fact is this. The printer & publisher Mr Le Bel [7]  of the Royal printing press in Versailles (Printers by the bye are men of much greater importance here than they are in England) insisted upon having the life. He said the French know nothing of M. Southey & in order to make the work sell it must be managed to interest them for the Author. To get rid of his importunities we said we were not acquainted with the life of Mr Southey. Would you believe it? this was verbatim his answer. “N’importe! Ecrivez toujours, broder! broder un peu, que ce soit vrai ou non ce n’y fait xxxx rien: qui prendra la peine de s’en informer?” [8]  Terrified lest this ridiculous man should succeed in his point, I at last yielded: & sent to London to procure all the Lives, & from them, & what I had heard from my dear departed friend Richard Brinsley Sheridan, we drew up the memoir.”

Grosvenor, whoever writes my life when the subject has an end as well as a beginning, & does not insert this biographical anecdote in it, may certainly expect that I will pull his ears in a true dream & call him beast & jack ass.

The Notice sur M. Southey which has thx been thus compounded has xxxx <scarcely> one single point accurately stated, – as you may suppose, & not a few which are ridiculously false. N’importe as M. Le Bel says. I have laughed heartily at the whole transaction, & bear the translation with a magnanimity which would excite the astonishment & envy of Wordsworth if he were here to witness it. I have even gone beyond the Quaker principle of bearing injuries meekly. I have written to thank the inflictor. Happily it is in prose & the Chevalier has intended to be faithful, & has I believe actually abstained from any interpolations. But, – did you ever hear me mention a fact worthy of notice which I observed myself, – that wherever a breed of peacocks is spoiled by mixture with a white one, birds that escape the degeneracy in every other part of their plumage show it in the eye of the feather, – the fact is very curious, where the perfection of natures work is required, there it fails. Xxxx This affords an excellent illustration for the version now before me, – every where the eye of the feather is defective. It would be impossible more fully to exemplify how compleatly a man may understand the general meaning of a passage, & totally miss its peculiar force & character.

The name of M. Bedford appears in the Notice, with the error that he was one of my college friends, – & the fact that J of Arc was written at his house. [9]  The dedication to him is omitted.

God bless you.


What a grand bespattering of abuse I shall have when the Vision appears! [10]  Your walk at the proclamation [11]  was but a type of it, – only that I am booted & coated, & proof xxxx xxxx xxxxxxx <of more convenient stature for the service.> Pelt away my boys, pelt away! If you were not busy at that work, you would be about something more mischievous. Abusing me is like flogging a whipping post. Osiris says I have had so much of it that he really thinks I begin to like it, x.This is certain that nothing vexes me except injudicious & exaggerated praise, e-g- when my French friends affirm that Roderic is acknowledged to be a better poem than the P. Lost!! [12] 


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/29 JA 29/ 1821
Endorsement: 26 Jany. 1821/ French translation/ of Roderick
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 26. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, pp. 59–61 [in part]. BACK

[1] Pierre Hippolyte Amillet de Sagrie (1785–1830), Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (1821), no. 2700 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[2] The Paris-based firm of publishers in English, run by Giovanni Antonio Galignani (1757–1821). BACK

[3] Peter the Cruel King of Castile and Leon: an Historical Play in Five Acts (1818), no. 22 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[4] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816; DNB), playwright and Whig politician. Ann Attersoll probably knew Sheridan through John Attersoll (c. 1784–1822), merchant and banker, and MP for Wootton Bassett 1812–1813, to whom she was not married, though she probably passed as his wife; John Attersoll had certainly been involved in unsuccessful negotiations to return Sheridan for Wootton Bassett in 1812. BACK

[5] Thomas Holmes, later Hunter (1751–1827), of Beoley Hall, Worcestershire. He was an East India merchant, who changed his name to Hunter on inheriting the Gobions estate in Hertfordshire in 1803. BACK

[6] ‘Notice sur M. Southey’, Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (Paris, 1821), pp. xix–xxviii. BACK

[7] Jacques-Auguste Lebel (1781–1825), printer and publisher, based at Versailles. BACK

[8] ‘It doesn’t matter! write always, embellish! embellish a little whether it is true or not. That’s neither here nor there. Who will take the trouble to find out about it?’ BACK

[9] ‘Notice sur M. Southey’, Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (Paris, 1821), pp. xxi–xxii. The first draft of Joan of Arc (1796) was written in 1793 at Bedford’s home in Brixton. Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) was dedicated to Grosvenor Bedford. BACK

[10] A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[11] The accession of George IV had been proclaimed at various traditional places in London on 31 January 1820. The immense crowds had no doubt led to Grosvenor Bedford’s ‘bespattering’ on his walk. BACK

[12] Roderic, Dernier Roi des Goths (Paris, 1821), p. xiv, which asserted the superiority of Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)