586. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 29 June-] 12 July 1801

586. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 29 June-] 12 July 1801 ⁠* 

In tribulation of trullibubs & trouble of tripes do I begin O Grosvenor. it is not always easy, as you know to settle ones mind – but prithee take one voyage & it will convince you that it is far more difficult to settle the stomach. I have now been six days & nights at sea, & in that time a lame jackass would have carried me as fast & as far. & Southey what have you been doing? – Oh I have been – very sick. you might rhyme to the question if you please. the weather cock has thought proper to point the wrong way, & in contradiction to all proverbs & all our prayers obstinately stand still. we are just now overjoyed at a change of only two points. I have however discovered an excellent substitute for sea sickness, which you know is so fashionable a remedy for sensory disorders – or rather a method for making people sea sick upon shore. put the death patient <to bed> in a long wooden box, six feet by two, with bedding, N.B. a coffin will do. hang them <him> up in a dark room, rock them <him> well, make a great noise & a great stink – & my life for it they <he> will soon be as sick as heart can wish. I have made another discovery – that I am very good natured, not having one drop of gall in my gall bladder, when the whole contents of my inside came out in long procession. But even worse than sickness is this insufferable tedium – the mill-stone weight of time! I would write practical comments upon the Book of Job – if there were a Bible on board. A days travelling in wind & wet over a wilderness of gum cistus is positive happiness in comparison. [1]  England! England! Oh I do long to stand on firm ground & eat fresh bread & drink fresh water! Not even a porpoise pops up to amuse me – the fish line drags on as idly as I myself – not withstanding <tho> I had determined to catch a mermaid & make a fortune by showing her myself.

If I am neither taken prisoner nor drowned on the way, & if none of the common chances of land life turn up against me – why I may be soon in London. Seven days & always a bad wind till this halfhour when it has changed for – no wind at all. my watch is gone to sleep – poor thing! like K. Charles [2]  I wound it up on setting sail & then had done with time. [3]  the human machine cannot be laid by in this way – nor indeed have I any inclination to go down as Davy has not yet found out a key to wind me up again. – Take my three queries for public good. Would not sailing waggons be the best conveyances in the deserts? – Would not families that keep no dairy increase their comfort by keeping a milch goat? – Cannot some means be devised of preserving a man in madeira like a fly for a voyage – & should there not be a reward offered for a discovery how to entrance such unhappy persons as like me are obliged to cross the sea? N.B. this is well worth the attention of government & the East India company for transporting troops, & the experiment might be tried upon Botany Bay Convicts who ought to have been hung. or in the next expedition to the Coast of France <or Holland> it being of little import whether the men die on the way – or be killed when they got there. & as old Ingenhousz [4]  said of the life of a man – vat is an army to an experiment? –

And now the fourteenth day is come – & we are within a few <few> hours sail of Falmouth, & it blows so heavy a gale on shore, & so thick a mist from the south accompanies it that we are steering up channel in prudent fear. now would I give a few fingers & toes for four & twenty – aye for half a dozen hours of Lisbon weather. here I am as a Paddy would say in sight of my own country only I cant see it for one of my own country fogs. tis a poor comfort to be in English weather when we want to be in England. – You paint Hope leaning upon an anchor – Hope upon deck were a better personification.

Returning after an absence – even no longer than mine has been – is by no means a circumstance of unmingled pleasure. It is nearly fifteen months since I left Bristol, & like Nourjahad [5]  after one of his naps, those changes in my own little world will now strike me with suddenness, x which if <I had been> on the spot would have come gradually & gently on. many acquaintance I have in that time lost – two of them young men, [6]  with whom I had expected to pass many a chearful hour hereafter. my cousin Margaret – if not already dead – cannot outlive the autumn. – I do not return chearfully. ill tidings come best from a distance. – nor should I perhaps have left Portugal this summer but for Wynns letter. you probably know the possibility that recalls me. [7]  this also in a misty day & a foul wind, hangs upon me. I see as little a way before me as the man at the masthead. yet I am pleased. a southern climate is my best medicine, & there is yet a Robinson Crusoe [8]  curiosity about me, which I should willingly find it prudent to indulge.


And have you received Thalaba? [9]  & would you like another story to the same tune? it has long been my intention to try the different mythologies that are almost new to poetry. Thalaba shows the Mohammedan. the Hindoo, the Runic, & the old Persian are all striking enough & enough known. of the Runic I have yet hardly dreamt. I have fixed the ground plan of the Persian.  [10]  the Hindoo is compleatly sketched – you can make little of its title – The Curse of Keradou. [11] 


July 12. Bristol – God be praised for my safe return. – I find little to chear me here. – my Cousin Margaret is dying. she has been wishing to live to see me – yet I wish it had been spared. these things are best at a distance – the spent ball bruises only – not wounds. poor girl – she was to me the dearest of my family.

God bless you Grosvenor.

yrs as ever,


Write & direct to Danvers.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: [partial] TOL
Postmark: B/ JUL 13/ 1801
Endorsements: July 1801; 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. 160-163 [dated ‘At sea, June 1801’]; Adolfo Cabral (ed.), Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 175-177 [dated ‘At sea, June 1801’–12 July 1801]. BACK

[1] A reference to Southey’s travels in Alentejo in April 1801; see Adolfo Cabral, Robert Southey: Journals of a Residence in Portugal 1800-1801 and a Visit to France 1838 (Oxford, 1960), pp. 35-36. BACK

[2] Charles I (1600-1649; DNB; reigned 1625-1649). BACK

[3] Southey was mistaken. According to Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715; DNB), A History of His Own Time, 2 vols (London, 1724-1734), I, p. 560, it was William, Lord Russell (1639-1683; DNB), who shortly before his execution, ‘wound up his watch, and said, now he had done with time, and was going to eternity’. BACK

[4] Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799), Dutch doctor and scientist, leading proponent of inoculation against smallpox. BACK

[5] Frances Sheridan (1724-1766; DNB), The History of Nourjahad (1767). The title character awoke after each of his naps to a world that had seemingly moved on decades. BACK

[6] One was probably Amos Cottle; the identity of the other is uncertain. It was possibly Joseph Hucks. BACK

[7] The possibility that Southey might become Secretary to Sir William Drummond (c. 1770-1828; DNB), classical scholar, poet and diplomat; Charges d’Affaires in Denmark 1800-1801; Minister-Plenipotentiary in Naples 1801-1803 and 1807-1808, and Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1803. BACK

[8] Daniel Defoe (1659-1731; DNB), Robinson Crusoe (1719). BACK

[9] Thalaba the Destroyer was published in June 1801. BACK

[10] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, p. 12. BACK

[11] For Southey’s plan of what became The Curse of Kehama (1810), see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12-15. BACK

Places mentioned

Danvers’s, Kingsdown, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)