1054. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 April 1805

1054. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 April 1805 ⁠* 

Dear Grosvenor

He of the long hands tells me the printers have ‘returned to their duty.’ [1]  – that he shall see you shortly, – & will proceed with all dispatch in the specimens, – tidings very agreeable. – Make a Mem. that from the poem of Robert Ferguson, born at Edinburgh 1750–1774 Hyems [2]  transcribes the poems ‘Against repining at Fortune, – Ode to the Gowdspink, & The Farmers Ingle. [3]  I would say of him that – of one who died so young it would be hard & unjust to judge xxxxx severely. that there would have been no lack of talents if his moral stamina had been sounder, & that Burns’s admiration for him & Allan Ramsay seems to have been taken up like his attachment to the Stuarts, as a national prejudice, in this instance strengthened by a natural feeling for the unhappy fate of one whose faults so nearly resembled his own. [4] 

I have some brief things to say about Scotch poetry as to the Language, which will best come in under Allan Ramsay. [5]  the language is no more spoken there than here it is a sort of Rowleyism, composed of all the Scotch words they can collect – as Chatterton raked in glossaries, [6]  – which has this advantage that it passes for wit if you see the author meant to be witty, – because you cannot tell whether he is or no, & allow him to introduce all the beastliest phrases & images in cant language, for which, if they had been in plain English or plain Scotch the book would have been deservedly thrown behind the fire.

Mr Bedford I saw your pamphlet, your secret was kept Sir, but yet it did not escape me, a simple man, living among the mountains – yet one who has intelligences Mr Bedford xxxxx <from quarters> Mr Bedford, which Mr Bedford does not suspect. It is good sense well put. But you did not go the right way to make it produce an effect. there are two ways – that of writing shortly & stingingly in a newspaper – which is the best if followed up, – & that of making a volume with a parody of knowledge, & an ostentation of secret information – of being <behind> the curtain. A pamphlet is lost from its form, tis a child in a crowd. By this time Mr Bedford will perceive that when I publish any thing my bookseller is instructed to forward a copy. But Sir I have the Letter to Mr Pitt on the success of his political experiment. [7] 

Tom has had another escape, having changed his Captain the ship was watering at St Kitts when he wrote instead of at Dominica. [8]  had he been there instead of writing to me on the 19th of Feby he would have been that very day made prisoner by the French fleet! [9]  – And now shall I be anxious till that cursed fleet is blocked up safely or demolished. I have a sort of faith that Tom will get on after all, & be Sir Thomas yet before he dies. I have promised him when he is an Admiral & wins a victory that he shall have the best poem made to his praise & glory that ever Admiral xx yet had.

We go on badly in the East, badly in the West & badly in the at home. Grosvenor that same Minister whom you talked civilly to is a cursed Charlatan. the difference between him & Addington [10]  is that he is bottled small beer – & the other was draught small beer this <the> brisker & frothier – but <both> the same meagre & miserable stuff. And what think you of Mr Trotter? & my Lord Brazenface? [11]  – We ought to take the Cape, [12]  & to take Egypt, for unless we have both France will. we ought to colonize both with Sepoys [13]  & Chinese – & to fight garrison the West Indies with Sepoys also. We want ports in the Mediterranean & ought to reclaim Tangiers, & to take Ceuta [14]  – for if Gibralter be besieged it is not to be supposed that Lisbon will be left open to us. [15]  but first & foremost we ought to boot out the miserable dogs of administration who do nothing but disgrace the country, & exhaust the purses & patience of the people. It frets me at the core when I think what England could be if only governed with plain good straight-forward good sense, & that this prate-apace should pass for a politician. [16]  Whoever takes him for a great man – need never laugh at the Egyptians for worshiping a monkey as a God.

You have got Madoc. [17]  the books about Llewelyn – the disinterment of Owen – & the Snake-God, are in their different ways the best parts. [18]  The pervading merit of the second part that while the Aztecas are not made individually hateful, such a general feeling of abhorrence against them is excited as to reconcile the mind to the catastrophe. Perhaps if it reach a second edition, of which the price makes me doubtful, I shall brighten it up with occasional similes. [19]  – I am now correcting Joan of Arc for a third edition a mortifying task to find how much is incorrigibly bad. [20] 

God bless you –


April 6. 1805.

Let me see the first proof [21]  before it be struck off as that will [MS torn] pattern sheet. the Emperor of the Franks will may be called upon for his sign manual.


* Address: To/ G.C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [illegible]
Endorsement: 6 April 1805
MS: Bodleian Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 378–380. BACK

[1] Southey’s and Bedford’s jointly-compiled anthology Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807) was in production after the printers’ strike of early 1805 had ended. BACK

[2] A Latin soubriquet of John Winter (dates unknown), a printer who frequently worked on books published by Longman. BACK

[3] Robert Fergusson (1750–1774; DNB), an Edinburgh poet and pioneer of Scots verse, whose collected poems were published in 1773. His poetry was not included in the Specimens. BACK

[4] Fergusson’s untimely death occurred after a period of suffering from melancholy, in which he sustained a head injury that led to his committal to an asylum. He was a formative influence on Robert Burns (1759–1796; DNB), who paid for a headstone to be erected over his grave. BACK

[5] Allan Ramsay (1686–1758; DNB), a poet and editor of poetry who established the first major body of verse published in the Scots dialect. Ramsay’s work was not included in the Specimens. BACK

[6] Thomas Chatterton wrote many poems in a pseudo-medieval English that he purported to be the genuine verse of Thomas Rowley, a fictitious fifteenth-century monk. Chatterton is thought to have concocted his medieval diction by reading John Kersey’s (c.1660–c. 1721) Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708). BACK

[7] William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), Prime Minister 1783–1801, 1804–1806, the subject of Bedford’s pamphlet, A Letter to the Right Hon. William Pitt on his Political Experiments (1804). BACK

[8] The captain of Thomas Southey’s ship HMS Amelia was William Charles Fahie (1763–1833). The previous captain, William Allen Proby, Lord Proby (1779–1804), died on 6 August 1804 at Surinam, from yellow fever. BACK

[9] Dominica, in British possession since 1763, was invaded by France early in 1805. The British retained possession and made the island a colony. BACK

[10] Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth (1757–1844; DNB), who was Prime Minister until forced from office in May 1804 by a coalition of his former enemies. BACK

[11] Alexander Trotter (dates unknown) was the Navy Paymaster under ‘Lord Brazenface’ or Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville (1742–1811; DNB), Secretary of State for War 1794–1801 and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1804. During 1802–1805 Melville’s use of public funds when Treasurer of the Admiralty (1782–1800) was investigated by a Royal Commission. It found that Melville had allowed Trotter to divert government funds to his personal accounts and on 9 April 1805 Melville was censured in the House of Commons for allowing Trotter to misuse public funds. Melville resigned and impeachment proceedings were commenced against him. BACK

[12] Britain did indeed occupy the Cape Colony in Southern Africa in 1806. BACK

[13] Indian soldiers in the service of Britain. BACK

[14] Britain did not take Ceuta, a Spanish town on the African side of the Straits of Gibraltar. BACK

[15] Britain did not conquer Tangiers or take over Cintra, Southey’s favourite Portuguese town. However it did retain Gibraltar, the victory of its fleet over the Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar in October 1805 securing it from blockade by sea. BACK

[16] Presumably Southey refers to Addington’s successor, Pitt (1759–1806; DNB), whom he consistently disliked. BACK

[17] Complimentary copies of Madoc (1805) had been sent by Longmans on Southey’s behalf, at the end of March 1805. BACK

[18] Madoc (1805), Part 1, Book 8; Part 1, Book 15; Part 2, Book 7. BACK

[19] Madoc was published by Longman in 1805, in a luxurious quarto, costing two guineas. The second edition, more cheaply produced and priced, was published in 1807 with little alteration. BACK

[20] The third edition of Joan of Arc was published by Longmans in 1806. For the alterations, see Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004), I. BACK

[21] Of Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). BACK