1382. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 November 1807

1382. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 24 November 1807 ⁠* 

Tuesday 24. Nov. 1807.

My dear Gosvenor

If it had been possible that you could have answered my letter in the way you intimate, I should certainly not have written it. [1]  It was written upon the supposition that a little hurrying might be of as much use at the Exchequer as it is every where else in these days, when no one person whom I can find except Rickman & myself, looks upon punctuality as a duty.

Mine is a strong spirit, & I am very desirous that you should not suppose it to be more severely tried than it is. The temporary inconvenience which I feel is solely produced by unavoidable expenses in settling myself, which will not occur again, – & if Espriella slides into a good sale, [2]  or if one edition of our deplorable Specimens [3]  should go off I shall be floated xxx into smooth water. Bear this in mind also, that I can command an income fully equivalent to all my wants, whenever I choose to write for money & for nothing else. Our fathers in the Row would find me task-work, to any amount which I should might wish to undertake, & I could assuredly make 300 a year as easily as I now make half the sum simply by writing anonymously, & doing what five hundred trading authors could do just as well. This is the worst which can befall me, & this is not so bad as the study of law, the practise of physic, or the profession of divinity in a church whose leading tenets I disbelieve.

Old John Southey dealt unjustly by me, but it was what I expected, – & his brother will beyond all doubt, do just the same. [4]  In case of Ld Somervilles [5]  death without a son, a considerable property devolves to me or my representatives, – encumbered however with a law-suit to recover it; – & as I should be compelled to enter into this, I have only to hope his Lordship will have the goodness to live as long as I do, & save me from the disquietude which this would occasion. I used to think that the reputation which I should establish would ultimately turn to marketable account, & that my books would sell as well as if they were seasoned with slander, or obscenity. In time they will; – it will not be in my time, – I have however an easy means of securing some part of the advantage to my family, by forbearing to publish any more corrected editions during my life time, & leaving such corrections as will avail to give a second lease of copy-right, & make any booksellers editions of no value. As for my family I have no fears for them, they would find friends enough when I am gone, – & having <this> confidence you may rest assured that there is not a lighter-hearted man in the world than myself.

Basta, [6]  or as we say in Latin Ohe jam satis est. [7]  My eyes are better, which I attribute to an old velvet bonnet of Ediths – converted without alteration into a most venerable studying-cap for my worship; it keeps my ears warm, & I am disposed to believe that having the sides of my head cold, as this Kamschatacan [8]  weather xxxx needs must make it, affected the eyes. Mr Bedford you may imagine what a venerable & as the French say penetrating air this gives me. Hair, forehead, eyebrows & eyes are hidden, nothing appears but nose; – but that is so cold that xxx xxxx xxx I expect every morning when I get out of bed to see the snow lie on the summit of it. This complaint was not my old Egyptian plague, but pure weakness, which makes what I have said probable. [9] 

Did you ever get those Spanish volumes of poetry about the Saints bound which I left with you for that purpose? [10]  – If so I wish they were at Longmans to take their place in the next parcel.

We had an interesting guest here a few xxx evenings agone, who came to visit Tom. Capt Guillem [11]  – Nelson’s first Lieutenant at Trafalgar, a sailor of the old Blake & Dampier [12]  breed, who has risen from before the mast, was in Duncans action, & at Copenhagen, [13]  &c. He told us more of Nelson than I can find room to write. He gave orders before the action to anchor the fleet after it, & repeated them xxx with almost his last breath. Those orders were repeated to Collingwood [14]  & disobeyed by that old Applewoman. Had they been executed every ship & every life on board them would have been saved. – The fire from his ship was so severe that the Spaniards leapt overboard & swam to it, as the safest place, – our sailors thro out the Foksl end (I do not vouch for the orthography of that word) – handed them in thro the port holes, & then past them along like glass said Capt G – as if they were afraid of handling them – ‘here Jack – damn my eyes take care of the Spaniard’ – & so they were past on from one to another, till they were put somewhere out of the way. – Two men were concerned in Nelsons death, a soldier & a sailor, one loaded & the other fired. Two midshipmen marked them & brought down the sailor. After the ship had struck they went on board & went aloft to look for the other. He was lying there with both their shots thru him, one thru the head, one thru the body. Collingwood, [15]  one of the mids, has since been a mess mate of my brothers. The other got his death in a sad way, – they were both on board one of the French prizes, when those vessels which escaped but which Sir R. Strachan [16]  afterwards took, past her, & fired into their own ships which had struck – one of the most rascally things that ever was done. Collingwood saw them coming & seeing he had no business to stand that – got as low in the hold as he could, – the other poor fellow had his thigh broke – C had just time to quit the ship before she sunk, in consequence of this broadside with all on board!

You will guess that the snow has kept your letter on the road, & will in like manner keep my reply. I inclose the receipts to Rickman. [17]  The best way of sending money is by a bank post bill but that makes trouble, & where there are franks there is no objection to cutting the notes. [18] 

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Postmark: E/ NOV 28/ 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. 118–20 [in part]. BACK

[1] In his last letter to Bedford, Southey had complained about the delay it took for his pension to be paid, asking: ‘if you can by any interest get my pension paid I pray you exert it’ and adding: ‘I foresee that I shall be kept in hot water by it till I am lucky enough to get some little prize in the lottery of life which will enable me to wait without inconvenience for arrears’; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 15 November 1807, Letter 1378. Earlier in 1807, Wynn had arranged that the pension he paid Southey from his personal funds was replaced by a government pension. BACK

[2] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). The book went into a second edition in 1808; but a third was not called for until 1814. BACK

[3] Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807), co-edited with Bedford, and published, to Southey’s dismay, with numerous errors. BACK

[4] When he died in 1806, Southey’s uncle John, left nothing to his nephews; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 26 June 1806, Letter 1194. Southey’s prediction about his uncle Thomas was also correct; see Southey to Henry Herbert Hill, 20 April 1811, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Four, Letter 1907. BACK

[5] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819). BACK

[6] Meaning ‘enough’ in Spanish. BACK

[7] Meaning ‘now, that’s enough’, Horace, Epistles, I, 5: 12. BACK

[8] The Kamchatka peninsula, in Russia’s far east, is notorious for its freezing temperatures. BACK

[9] ‘Egyptian’ opthalmia, or keratoconjunctivitis, an eye disease thought to have originated in that country because many of the French soldiers who campaigned there in 1798 became infected. BACK

[10] Probably Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa (1538–1610), Templo Militante Flos Santorum, y Triumphos de sus Virtudes, 4 vols in 2 (Lisboa, 1613–14), half bound calf, no. 3332 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[11] John Quilliam (1771–1829), a farmer’s son of the Isle of Man, was made Lieutenant by Admiral Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan (1731–1804; DNB) at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797. Noticed by Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté (1758–1805; DNB) for his coolness under fire, he became First Lieutenant on Nelson’s flagship, the Victory, during the battle of Trafalgar (1805). He was made captain in 1807. BACK

[12] Admiral Robert Blake (1598–1657; DNB) and Captain William Dampier (1651–1715; DNB), naval heroes from humble backgrounds. BACK

[13] Respectively, the battles of Camperdown (1797) and Copenhagen (1801). BACK

[14] Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, 1st Baron Collingwood (1748–1810; DNB), assumed command of the fleet at Trafalgar upon Nelson’s death. BACK

[15] Midshipman (later Commander) Francis Edward Collingwood (1785–1835). BACK

[16] Sir Richard John Strachan, 4th Baronet (1760–1828; DNB). BACK

[17] For this letter, see Southey to John Rickman, 24 November 1807, Letter 1381. BACK

[18] A secure way of sending money in the post was to tear banknotes in half and send the two halves separately. BACK