1318. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 May 1807

1318. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 May 1807 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

When I wished you to never to read the Classics again – it was because, like many other persons, you read nothing else: & were not likely ever to get more knowledge out of them than you had got already. [1]  Your letter contains the usual blunders which the ignorance of the age is continually making, & upon which & nothing else rests the whole point at issue between such critics as Gog [2]  Jeffray & myself – you couple Homer & Virgil under the general term of classics, & suppose that both are to be admired upon the same grounds. A century ago this was better understood, – the critics of that age did read what they had wrote about, & understand what they read, & they knew that whoever thought the one of these writers a good poet must upon that very principle then hold the other to be a bad one. Greek & Latin poetry Grosvenor are as opposite as French & English, (– excepting always Lucretius & Catullus), & you may <as well> suppose it possible for a man equally to admire Shakespere & Racine, as Homer & Virgil – that is, provided he knows why & wherefore he admires either. Elmsley will tell you this – & I suppose you will admit him to be authority upon this subject.

You ask me about the Catholick question. I am against admitting them to power of any kind, because the immediate use which would be made of it would be to make proselytes for which Catholicism is of all religions best adapted. Every ship which had a Catholic Captain would have a Catholick chaplain, & in no very long time a Catholick crew: so on in the army, – just as every rich Catholick in England at this time has his mansion surrounded by converts fairly purchased – the Jerningham family in Norfolk [3]  for instance. – I object to any concessions, because no concessions can possibly satisfy them; & I think it palpable folly to talk or think of tolerating any sect (beyond what xxx they already enjoy) whose first principle is that their Church is infallible, & therefore bound to persecute all others. This is the principle of Catholicism every where; & when they can they avow it & act upon it.

If our statesmen (God forgive me for degrading the word!) – if our traders in politics – the Tantara-rara’s  [4]  had better information of how things are going on abroad – they would not talk of the distinction between Catholicks & Protestants as political parties being extinct. But for that distinction Prussia could not have retained xxxxx its conquests from Austria, – & that distinction Bonaparte is at this time endeavouring to profit by. There is a regular conspiracy or system carrying on to propagate Popery in the North of Germany, – of which Coleridge could communicate much if he would, he knowing the main directors of this new Propaganda at Rome. The mode of doing it is curious – they teach bring the people first to believe in Jacob Behmen, [5]  & then they may believe in any thing else. All fanaticism tends to this point – You will see something which bears upon this subject in Espriella [6]  when he makes his appearance, – & you will also see more of the present history of Enthusiasm in this country than any body could possibly suspect, who has not, as I have done, cast a searching eye into the holes & corners of society, & watched it under-currents, – which carry more water than the upperstream –

A Catholick Sea Captain would soon have a Catholick crew. Irishmen would enter with him, – & a crew of which the majority should be Irish Catholicks would very soon find their way to Brest. I could say a great deal upon this subject, & tell you some curious facts – if you really wanted to enter into the matter but it takes up time to write these things, & when I write letters, it is either because I have something to say, or in mere idleness – as an excuse for laying aside something else of which I have grown tired, & yet cannot conscientiously long put by without some such apology for so doing.

I have a favour to ask of Horace, which is that be will do me the favour to send me the titles of such Portugueze manuscripts as are in the Museum. [7]  There cannot be so many as to make this a thing of much trouble, – & there are some of great value which were I believe part of the plunder of Osorios library, carried off from Sylves by Sir F. Drake. [8]  I wish to know what they are, for the purpose of ascertaining how many among them are not to be found in their own county, & either taking myself, or causing to be taken, if a fit xx transcriber can be found, copies to present to xx some fit Library at Lisbon; in so doing I shall render the literature of that country a most acceptable service, which it would most highly gratify me to do, & for which I should receive very essential services in return. There are I believe in particular, some papers of Jeronimo Lobo’s [9]  concerning Abyssinia, & a MSS. of which Vincent has made some use.– I am particularly desirous of effecting this, not merely from the because I could do nothing which would be more essentially useful to my own views there, but also because of the true & zealous love which I feel for Portugueze literature, in which I am now as well skilled as in that of my own country, & into which, whenever the reign of priestcraft is at an end, I trust to be one day adopted. – You perhaps have little conception how infinitely important the subject of my History – or series of Histories is & what a range of information it necessarily takes in. Whenever you can find your way here you shall see good proof of my labour.

I pray you remember that what I think upon the Catholick question by no means disposes me in favour of the new ministry – of whom those that are not fools are thorough rascals, & pledged to that question deep enough for damnation. I Mr Bedford am – as you know – a Court Pensioner & have as you know well deserved to be so – for my great & devoted attachment to the person of his majesty & the measures of his government – Nevertheless Mr. Bedford his ministers are men of tried & convicted incapacity, – they have always been the contempt of Europe, whether they can be more despised than their predecessors have uniformly & deservedly been, I know not; – I cannot tell how far below nothing the political barometer can sink till it has been tried. There is one Paull [10]  – a simple man, but right honest; – & there is one Burdett also who hitteth hard, & as it seemeth unto me hitteth the right nail upon the head. – I wish you, or any one who remember him at Westminster could see Jones Burdett [11]  now; If I had <not> myself seen it I would not have believed that any mans understanding could have been so improved. He is as much above par now as he was then below it.

What is bred in the bone Mr Bedford – – shall I tell you what tune politics go to in England? – to the tune of Tantara-rara. [12]  Shall I tell you to what tune our political traders ought to go? – to the Rogues March – Shall I tell when you may hear something of the opinions of an old friend of yours? – at Church when the Clark says – As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be world without end, amen.

God bless you


Tuesday 5. May 1807.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ MAY 8/ 1807
Endorsement: 5 May 1807
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 86–89 [in part]. BACK

[1] A reference to Southey’s note, inserted at the top of the letter: ‘ Especially as you chiefly read (I may say exclusively) read those from whom least was to be got – which is also another sin of the age.’ BACK

[2] Gog and Magog were a pair of legendary giants, who, according to London legend, were captured and chained to the gates of the palace of the mythical first king of Britain, on the site of which the Guildhall stands. Carvings of the giants are kept at the Guildhall and used in the Lord Mayor’s show each year. BACK

[3] The family of Sir William Jerningham, 6th Baronet (1736–1809) and his wife, Frances Lady Jerningham, and of Sir George Jerningham, 7th Baronet (1771–1851) and Frances, Lady Jerningham, lived at Cossy Hall, Norfolk. BACK

[4] Southey’s disparaging term for the noisy MPs in the House of Commons. Tantara-rara, Rogues All was the title of a 1786 play by John O’Keeffe (1747–1833; DNB); see The Dramatic Works of John O’Keeffe Esq., 4 vols (London, 1798), III, pp. 349–90. ‘Tantara-rara, Fools All Fools All’ was also a popular song from Henry Fielding’s (1707–1754; DNB) play The Lottery (1732). BACK

[5] Jakob Böhme (1575–1624), the German mystic, shoemaker and author of Aurora (1612), admired by German intellectuals and Catholic converts including Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854). BACK

[6] Fanatics of various sects in England are discussed in Letters 68–70 of Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[7] The British Museum. BACK

[8] Jerome Osorio (1506–1580), Bishop of Sylves in Portugal, which was sacked by Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596; DNB) in 1587. BACK

[9] Jerónimo Lobo (1593–1678) travelled to Ethiopia and to Goa; papers concerning his journey were found, in the twentieth century, in the library of the Duke of Palmela, and in the Ajuda library at Lisbon. BACK

[10] James Paull (1770–1808; DNB), an MP and ally of radicals. Paull attempted to hold Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760–1842; DNB) to account for misgovernment in India. BACK

[11] William Jones Burdett (1772–1840), brother of Sir Francis, a schoolmate of Southey at Westminster. BACK

[12] See note 4. BACK

People mentioned