1066. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 May 1805

1066. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 May 1805 ⁠* 

Mr Editor [1] 

Be pleased in the account of John Browne – who cut his throat 1766 – to say that when he was a young man he projected an epic upon the story of Brutus, the Trojan, considerable fragments of which are supposed still to exist. [2]  His father was of opinion that the intense earnestness with which he applied to this favourite subject, occasioned the derangement of intellect, which even then began to show itself.


Isaac Reid was certainly connected with the European Magazine [3]  – I know this by much of the dramatic matter there which I could swear to, & by a print of some acts &c from the original in the possession of Charles Bedford Esqr (N.B. this x was added in proof of my own sagacity–) – but the object of xx this is that if you, via Isaaci, could get into that Magazine, a complimentary review of Madoc, short as it needs must be & useless in other respects it would might be of more use than any other kind of commendation. [4]  because my Uncle John Southey reads nothing but the European Magazine – & if he could thro that channel be persuaded that I was a great man, it might have considerable effect in inducing him to make me a rich one.

I am working at a very wearisome job – that of correcting Joan of Arc. [5]  to attempt to alter the poem to my present taste would be ridiculous – it is impossible that I should feel or think at one & thirty as I did at nineteen, when the character was moulded. the conception therefore such as it is must remain unaltered. I can only weed out the vicious language & feebleness which occur perpetually, & sometimes rewrite a paragraph. but this is laborious work – weary, stale, flat & unprofitable. [6]  If it were Thalaba [7]  I should fall to con amore, [8]  & take it up in the very spirit & feeling with which I went thro it.

Wynn will show you half the first book of Kehama [9]  berhymed. see how you like the change. for probably before the year be out I shall get into a humour for poetry, & this has the earliest claim of all my projects. There is in the story abundant matter for magnificent & for terrific parts, – the difficulty will be to excite a sufficient human interest, – for Laderlad is out of reach of any human sympathy. I must therefore make keep Kalyal always in the foreground. [10]  – My notion of the metre is only to rhyme it in parts, either to increase the bustle – or to give ornament to what in itself is least interesting, the greater part remaining unrhymed.

If you could dramatize Thalaba, certainly he would be very much obliged to you, & his poet also. [11]  I see grand pantomime scenes – but know not how they are to be brought together. The poem itself has two shoots which might grow each into a separate existence & form preliminary poems – the stories of Okba, & of Othatha. Shall I omit the story of the garden of Irem? [12]  – to which I am greatly inclined, in that case I should represent Zeinab as wounded & dying in the desert, but this would be too painful a picture perhaps – & the warning of the Angel ‘Remember Destiny has marked thee from mankind [13]  – is essential to the poem. Other alterations are to be the end of the ninth book – all that poison story to come out – & not to kill Lobaba in Book 4. it will make a better finish to leave Thalaba alone in the desert. [14] . There are 350 copies still unsold. I expect that Madoc will give them a lift, & that they will be gone in two years.

Dream away upon the Butleric hint – my life on it it is worth something. [15]  think what a magnificent chapter may be made of his transactions among the Constellations! I have conception of one or two beings admirably calculated to figure in such a Garagantuan story. a Gold-eater for instance. & a dwarf who has the power of extending any part of his body to any length, who can stand under a church tower & stretch up his neck to look into the Jack daws nests, – & reach his hand to pick a pocket across the Atlantic. The Butler should like Robin Hood enlist all extraordinary persons into his service. It should have all that is odd & grotesque in sublimity, puns by the wholesale – chapters of rhymes & plenty of the unintelligible. with a few stars * * * to enlighten it, out-Rabelaising Rabelais, out Sternifying Sterne. [16]  I have out of the way learning enough to spare to set all the world staring, & would throw you all the odd things which came in my way to make patchwork of. Quoad the meaning [17]  – I think the story – what there was of it – should be how the Butler contrived to lose his estates masters estates in the West Indies & to make the best tenants in the world discontented all by the fault of his man William. I beseech you come down, & we will talk over this sublime project upon the top of Mount Skiddaw. – Were it but once fairly taken in hand we should finish it in a month – it would be done with such hearty & Westminsterish good will. [18]  Now This is your forte – what your brain was compounded & compacted for – as sure as I am sure of it, – as sure as the Devil is of Sir James Macton Mackintosh [19]  – that is to say – cock-sure.

A Dios amigo!


Sunday 12. May. 1805.

Anne Killigrew has been made famous by Dryden, & desires room. [20]  For Waller [21]  – I trust you have taken care not to insert any specimen already in Ellis from him, [22]  & the few others whom he has included – & we are obliged to include by the chronological order adopted. I look daily for the proofs.


* Address: To/ G.C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [illegible]
Endorsement: 12 May 1805
MS: Bodleian Library, MS 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. 383–385. BACK

[1] Southey is discussing entries for the anthology, Specimens of the Later English Poets, jointly compiled by himself and Bedford and published by Longmans in 1807. BACK

[2] The poetry of John Brown (1715–1766; DNB) is included in the Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), II, pp. 346–353. The projected epic on Brutus (the legendary founder and first king of Britain) is not mentioned. BACK

[3] Isaac Reed (1742–1807; DNB) editor of Biographia Dramatica, or, a Companion to the Playhouse (1782) and the Plays of William Shakespeare (1803). As well as writing for the European Magazine, Reed was its proprietor and editor (1782–1807). BACK

[4] A review appeared in the European Magazine, 48 (1805), 279–282. BACK

[5] A third edition of Joan of Arc was published in 1806. BACK

[6] Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2, line 133. BACK

[7] Southey’s poem, Thalaba the Destroyer (1801). BACK

[8] Meaning ‘with love’. BACK

[9] Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama, published in 1810. Southey had sent Wynn an early draft of the poem; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 March [1805], Letter 1050. BACK

[10] In The Curse of Kehama, Southey’s protagonist, Ladurlad, kills the son of Kehama, while trying to protect his daughter, Kalyal, from rape. In revenge Kehama places a powerful curse upon him which he has to endure for the rest of his life. BACK

[11] Bedford did not create a dramatised version of the poem. BACK

[12] The ‘garden of Irem’ is described in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 1. BACK

[13] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 1, line 669. BACK

[14] The ‘poison story’ was eliminated from the second edition of the poem (1809); the other alterations envisaged here were not made BACK

[15] For this hint, see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 13 April 1805, Letter 1058. BACK

[16] François Rabelais (c. 1494–1553), the French author of La Vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel (1532–1552); Laurence Sterne (1713–1768; DNB), author of the ludic novel The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). BACK

[17] Meaning ‘as to’. BACK

[18] These comic inventions, originating in schoolboy stories at Westminster, were never published by Bedford but provided the hint for Southey’s comic novel/miscellany The Doctor (1834–1847). BACK

[19] James Mackintosh (1765–1832, knighted 1803; DNB): a lawyer, politician and judge, whose Vindiciae Gallicae (1791) defended the French Revolution against the charges of Edmund Burke (1729–1797; DNB), only for Mackintosh later to change his mind and adopt anti-revolutionary views. BACK

[20] Anne Killigrew (1660–1685; DNB), author of Poems (1686). Killigrew died young, of smallpox, and was elegised by John Dryden (1631–1700; DNB) in To the Pious Memory of the Accomplish’d Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew (1686). A selection of her work is included in Southey’s and Bedford’s Specimens of the Later English Poets, 3 vols (London, 1807), I, pp. 7–16. BACK

[21] Edmund Waller (1606–1687; DNB), poet and politician, is represented in the Specimens of the Later English Poets, I, pp. 17–28. BACK

[22] Waller’s work also featured in the anthology on which Southey’s and Bedford’s was modelled, George Ellis’s, Specimens of the Early English Poets, 3rd edn, 3 vols (London, 1801), III, pp. 164–178. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)