1536. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 18 November 1808

1536. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 18 November 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Grosvenor

There is one name in your list of Respectables which sheds a mildew over the whole – it is Malthus. [1]  It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgement not merely for the inhabitants of Bethsaida, but <even> for those of the city which once stood in St Georges fields, – than it shall be for that man. It is a more beastly abomination to have conceived the principle of his book, than to have committed all the fundamental faults of all the Schrams. [2] 

There are many of the Sons of the feeble in the catalogue. Nothing but Giffards friendship could have made him annex Dr Irelands sermons upon Massinger to his edition of that x dramatist. [3]  – Take them however as they are they are fully equal to their purpose. I see no medical names, & except the learned Shanevixs [4]  no scientific one. – Two things I confidently recommend, that Rickman be applied to upon the subject of political economy, – his ability George Rose [5]  & the Grand Parleur [6]  will warrant, & thro them the application should be made, for otherwise I doubt his willingness: – & when any thing is to be written about the state of the Poor, let application be made to Poole, who was employed to obtain the Parish returns. No man living is so thoroughly master of the subject, & I will pledge myself that no other man has ever & thoroughly taken so philosophical & practical a view of it. Tell Giffard this, & if he does not profit by it it is his own fault.

Grosvenor Bedford, – there is a fair face to this business, – but believe you me, the lower parts will be found as foul as Duessas. [7]  Dear Grosvenor what is the English of your ‘it will draw into the support of it whatever ministry there may be in existence’ – – but – it will support the ministry of the time being. The specific object of counteracting that cursed, cowardly, whitbreadish – Scotch – kiss my a–– cry for peace, is assuredly at this time a very important one. But mark you me, – whenever my Lord Hawkesbury [8]  thinks proper to perform the ceremony of kissing again, as xxx he has done once before, & will be ready to do again if it xxx xxx he finds it necessary for his own continuance in place, mark you me Grosvenor, this weather cock which he is about to set up will veer just as the wind from the treasury blows. And all must be flattery & falsehood now, – every thing will be managed in the best of all possible manners under this best of all possible administrations. If Ireland be mentioned no hint must be given at the utter & almost irreclaimable barbarity of its population, – when our finances are to be spoken of, not a word of the burthen of taxation must be dropt, – when the state of our army is alluded to not an innuendo will be permitted against the Duke of York, [9]  – his infamies, & the disgrace which he has brought upon the army, & the ruin which he may perhaps bring upon the nation must be kept out of sight, for the Duke of York is the Kings favourite, & his Ministry are the Kings Ministry, & the Review is the Ministrys Review. – Grosvenor I must put on my gloves when I write, for it will be a dirty business. But The principle which justifies me is this, – that their influence will give currency & weight to my own opinions upon other subjects, – & tho my opinions h all hang together, all the hanging which they imply will not be perceived.

All politicians by profession are alike, they wish for the good of their country just so far as it is subservient to their own purposes & no further, – there is a great deal of good which may be done without infringing upon this sine qua non, & it is in the hope of promoting that good that I have mentioned Rickman & Poole to you, & that I am willing to write myself, – with my gloves on.

Enough about this. I have looked at the business on all sides & in all point of view, & am ready to do my duty in that department into which it shall please Mr Gifford to appoint <call> me; right honestly, & as ably as I can. And now I shall neither say nor think more about it, till duly apprized of what I am to do.

By these comments on your letter you will perceive that its contents have arrived & that his Majestys pensioner has received the half notes. [10]  From him that hath little shall be taken of that little which he hath. The one thing which I wish is to have the office of Historiographer created for me with a xxx salary of 400 £ a year, which will <would> leave me a net income of more than 250. Whether it will ever be in Wynns power to do this God knows. My own decided opinion is that things are leading to a Revolution x in the country, tho there is nobody in the country that wishes it.

Fare you well. More Kehama as soon as I can transcribe it. [11]  – some which is of the best kind has been added this week.


Nov. 18. 1808.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr./ Exchequer/ Westminster./ Single.
Endorsement: 18 Novr 1808.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ NOV 21/ 1808
MS: Bodleian Library, Eng. Lett. c. 24. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey reviewed Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB), An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 292–301. The review incorporated suggestions and notes made by Coleridge in the margins of a copy of Malthus’s work (British Library C 44 g 2) that also contains marginal comments by Southey. BACK

[2] A name for the comic and whimsical stories and jests that Southey and Bedford had composed as schoolboys at Westminster. BACK

[3] The Plays of Philip Massinger ... With notes critical and explanatory, by W. Gifford (1805). Gifford had requested and received editorial assistance from his old friend John Ireland (1761–1842; DNB). BACK

[4] Richard Chenevix (ca. 1774–1830; DNB), an Irish chemist, contributed several articles to the Quarterly. BACK

[5] George Rose (1744–1818; DNB), MP for Christchurch and a supporter of Rickman since he first saw Rickman’s work on statistics in 1796. BACK

[6] Southey’s name for the Speaker of the House of Commons (for whom Rickman worked as secretary), Charles Abbott who established the Royal Record Commission to preserve and disseminate government documents. BACK

[7] An evil female character in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590–1596). BACK

[8] Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1770–1828; DNB), titled Lord Hawkesbury before the death of his father in 1808. Hawkesbury had served as Foreign Secretary before 1806; from 1807 he was Home Secretary; as Lord Liverpool (as he became by the death of his father in December 1808) he accepted the position of Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in 1809. BACK

[9] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), Commander in Chief of the army. York had commanded troops in the disastrous Flanders expedition in 1793–1794. In 1809 rumours over corruption erupted into a full-blown scandal in which York’s mistress, Mary Anne Clarke (1776–1852; DNB), a former courtesan, was shown to have preferred officers for promotion in return for payment. BACK

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

[11] Southey was sending drafts of The Curse of Kehama (1810) in instalments. BACK