579. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 May 1801

579. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 6 May 1801 ⁠* 

Oyez – Oyez – Oyez – Bedford. & in plain English O yes – O yes. O yes Bedford – yes, yes, he is, yes, he is, – that he is, certainly & undoubtedly he is, he is; – you yourself – HoraceHarry – Cooling – she herself would confess it, or ought to confess it –, I indeed on my part must own not in the two ends – but the two ends do not meet – nor could they be made to meet – not even if it had pleased God any more than that Bohemia could be made a maritime country [1]  – because there must be a middle between the two ends, otherwise his guts would be in his brains, [2]  & there would be a something wrong about the rectum, – giving up therefore the head & tail – which is a better phrase than laying them aside – & sticking to the middle, for in this case medio tutissimus ibis [3]  – I do again affirm that he is – positively & altogether & considered totally as a whole – not part by part not piecemeal, anatomitcally – limb by limb – feature by feature – but in the gross average – in the comparative totality – in the grand view – in the comprehensive scale – I do affirm it – & that with no mental reservation – not from any vanity, any justifiable pride in the possession – how did I come by him. take your Map of Portugal – look for Cape St Vincents – then let the eye travels diagonally inland. some seven leagues distant in that direction – & the league is four English miles – tho sometimes it may be eight – but these leagues are to be computed at four – do you not see a ridge of mountains? the Serra de Monchique? there I have been – & your finger is now within half an inch of a town about a league below the very cacumen of the sierra – it is the town of Monchique – you have it – & that is his name. It is a pity Grosvenor that your eye could not actually & occularly be in that spot – & that you did not ascend upon a jack ass with me to the Foye, & look around you – & behold a prospect where the eye was bounded only by its own weakness. There Grosvenor was he born. & it is a very Paradise – woods – waters – all that is soothing – all that is magnificent. there is a rain-manufactory upon the summit – & I had a sample of the raw materials. but so it was – I was deadly hungry. how should it be otherwise? we had had much to do & little to eat – & I had not then caught the Tortoise – who is coming to England with me – so that we had nothing in store in case of famine – & at Monchique there were fowls. we did not steal them Grosvenor – they were bought & picked, & spitted upon the small cane – spits Grosvenor are little in use where roasting is unknown.

But the sight of the meat – for tho fish flesh & fowl are three distinct denominations, yet assuredly fowl must be allowed to be flesh, & meat is a name common to both – that sight – the recollected hunger affects my appetite. there sate Bento [4]  turning by hand the cane – & the savour of the roast offering arose, & the nose having the first fruits, tantalized the mouth by its imperfect enjoyment. He also smelt it, & he came, perhaps led by curiosity – for a roast fowl was a thing unheard of in the town – perhaps led by the nose. not in the dancing bear way, but by the silken threads which Nature has given Instinct to rein us.

Sta pronta, which is being translated – it is ready! the knife & fork came from the pocket – they were seperated – opened – wiped – ready. there he stood. In a Catholic <country> it may be doubted whether to have given him food <meat> on a fast day had been allowable – this was not a fast day – it was Tuesday Monday April 20. & I had reason for imagining that he was no Catholic, tho born & bred among Papists. indeed the facts is that the Priests had never attempted to instruct him, he had too much sense to be imposed upon – & this they knew. We were feasting & there he stood – in a posture of attentive supplication – all upon the watch – ears – eyes – (beautiful eyes –) nose – lips –, from one end to the other, & there was the shape of one end

[Southey inserts a large C]

from which figure it is apparent that tho a point be the fit ending for an epigram it is not for all other things. We gave him – no matter what. it was enough – it what became us to bestow & him to receive. there was no stipulation, it was on our part a free gift – not a price. no return was expected – indeed none was deserved. but he went home & his dreams were of the fowl, & what a happiness it were to live with an Englishman. & the next morning he arose, & forsook all & followed us.

I immediately saw that he was – but there was no one to whom I could communicate the discovery till I had reached Lisbon, & that was a laborious journey of nine <days> going by Lagos, & Sagres & the Cape. yet it occurred to me often with emotions of solitary triumph, & if my pleasure was increased by looking on to your consequent mortification, impute it to the constitution of our nature, not to the selfishness of the individual. what one gains another must lose. certainly I am proud that he is – for certainly he is – indeed, he is. & on my return to Lisbon I asked Edith if he was not – & she affirmed it – not that I needed her testimony to fix my own faith. the fact was obvious. the eye assents to it as the mind to a mathematical axiom, not from volition – not from the result of reasoning, but from the feeling, the palpable perception of truth.

Two gooseberry pies being supposed – made their paste made at the same time, & indeed of one mass, the gooseberry gathered from the same bushes & of equal age – the sugar in just proportion, & clouted cream to eat with both – it follows that the largest is preferable – I love Gooseberry Pie Grosvenor – & I think the case plain – (curse the blot) let us try a converse proposition. two doses of physic equally nauseous – is not the largest the worst? suppose for instance manna & salts. ask the mouth – ask the intestinal canal – one ounce or two? – Perhaps you say that were the Venus of Florence [5]  carved of Colossus size her beauty would be magnified into ugliness. that there may be too much of a good thing – it does not effect my argument. do you remember the suetty-small-pox pitted man at Gray’s Inn? look at him thro Herschells [6]  telescope. or rather inquire his cavities & the circumambient atmosphere of perspiration – that is if this letter should reach you before dinner – or if you want to rid your full-bladder of its contents. deformity therefore is increased by size. that beauty is heightened by enlargement remains for after discussion. but he is biggest, & cæteris paribus [7]  – size turns the scale. it is an argument of weight Grosvenor the point is proved. he is – demonstratively – it is the corollary of the Pie – the Manna & Salts, & the Grays Inn-little-man proportions. he is – yes Grosvenor – Monchique – I called him so in memory of his active mountain – Monchique is uglier than Snivel. [8] 

I promise you a serious letter by the next packet, meantime God bless you.


May 6 1801. Lisbon. [9] 


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr / Exchequer./ Westminster
Stamped: LISBON
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ MA/ 25/ 1801
Endorsements: Lisbon 6 May 1801; 6 May 1801
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 149-153. BACK

[1] In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare gave a coastline to the landlocked Kingdom of Bohemia. BACK

[2] Samuel Butler (1612-1680; DNB), Hudibras (1684), Part 1, canto 3, line 1091. BACK

[3] Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC–AD 17/18), Metamorphoses, Book 2, line 137: ‘you will travel safest in the middle’. BACK

[4] Portuguese servant. BACK

[5] A Greek statue, better known as the ‘Medici Venus’, and regarded in the eighteenth century as the epitome of female beauty. BACK

[6] William Herschell (1738-1822; DNB), astronomer famous for discovering Uranus in 1782. BACK

[7] The Latin translates as ‘all things being equal’. BACK

[8] A dog owned by the Bedfords. BACK

[9] I promise … Lisbon: Written at top of fol 1. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Gray’s Inn (mentioned 1 time)