796. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 June 1803

796. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 June 1803 ⁠* 

Why Grosvenor that is an idle squeamishness of yours, that asking a previous leave to speak. Where my conscience becomes second to your challenge, the final <offence> shall be amended – where we differ mine is the voice potential. But in truth I will tell you that I am out of humour with Kehama [1]  for half a hundred reasons. historical composition is a source of greater & quieter & more continuous pleasure & that poem sometimes comes into my head with a – shall I sit down to it, & this is so easily turned out again – that the want of inclination would make me suspect a growing want of power, if some rhymes & poemets did not now & then come out & convince me to the contrary. That second book is good for nothing, it has good parts & pictures – but in tota it is bad; I have some guess how to improve it by managing the weather, & by a piece of natural history which is somewhat of a lie. Abuse away ad libitum. [2] 

Not Nestor Cumberland [3]  – only as Nestor [4]  was old. if he must have a Greek <name> – there is but one that fits him – Aristophanes [5]  – & that for the worst part of the libellers character. If his plays had any honest principle in them instead of that xxx eternal substitution of honour for honesty – of a shadow for a substance –, if his novels were not more profligate in their tendency than Mathew Lewiss [6]  unhappy book, if the perusal of the Calvary were not a cross heavy enough for any man to bear who has ever read ten lines of Milton – if the man were innocent of all these things by God he ought never to be forgiven for his attempt to blast the character of Socrates. [7]  right or wrong no matter. the name had been canonized. & God knows Wisdom & Virtue have not so many Saints that they can spare one altar to his clumsy pick-axe. I am no blind bigot to the Greeks – but I will take the words of Plato & greater Xenophon [8]  against Richard Cumberland Esqr. – Now do not suppose that I deny him any merit. his observer has some fine stories – very fine ones. but damn his plays – damn his novels damn his calvary – & for that wicked work about Socrates damn him in person.

I do desire the Cabinet [9]  – because I should like all my friends Operas, stupid whelp that I was not to keep the book [10]  that contained both our Operas, & which is now opus rascio. [11]  because nobody else cares for it, or ever has cared – my nose is long & sharp scented – but my eyes not so farsighted opus rascio & therefore what sort of a book this is is all unknown to me. but it must be ‘fico for my friendship’ [12]  be it what it may.

Of your Mr Glasoe [13]  it is but honest to say that I dislike all I have heard from other quarters of him. but I have no objection to see & to be seen, & am never disposed to return manners for civility. there is no danger that his acquaintance can ever be troublesome to me, & if you take me to him you will see me as courteous as you could wish.

The Grenvilles [14]  are in the right, but they got right by sticking in the wrong. they turnd their faces westward in the morning & swore the sun was there, & they have stood still & sworn on till sure enough there the sun is. But they stand upon the strong ground now & have the argument all hollow. Yet what is to come of it & what do they want. The country asks the question War? they have it – & every man in the country says Amen, & they whose politics are the most conservative say Amen most loudly & most sincerely. In spite of their speeches I cannot wish them in, & when change of ministry is talked of cannot but feel with Fox [15]  that little as I may like them, ten to one I shall like their successors worse. & sure I am that worse war Ministers than the last cannot curse this country. They were Tyrants – cruel Tyrants & provoked hatred & bitter curses by their cruelty. these men behaved so well upon Despards [16]  business & have shown such a respect to the liberties & beliefs of the country that they have fully won my good will. I believe they will smarten up a sad piecemeal patchwork administration. Tierney [17]  has a lead – but they talk of Sheridan [18]  a rank rascal – & of that Irish Lord Moira [19]  – & it does seem that by some fatality the best talents of the Kingdom are for ever to be excluded from the government. Fox has not done well – not what I could have wished – & yet I reverence that man so truly that whenever he appears to me to have erred I more than half suspect my own judgement. –

I am promised access to the Kings Library [20]  by Heber – & indeed it is a matter of considerable consequence that I should obtain it. morning noon & night I do nothing but read Chronicles & collect from them – & I have travelled at a great rate the <since> the burthen of translating & reviewing has been got rid of. but this will not last long – I must think by & by of some other job work, & turn to labour again that I may earn another holyday.

I call Margaret by way of avoiding all common place phraseology of endearment – a worthy child & a most excellent character. She loves me better than any except her mother – her eyes are as quick as thought – she is all life & spirit & as happy as the day is long – but that little brain of hers is now at rest – & it is vexatious to see how dreams disturb her.

A Dios! [21] 


June 12. 1803.


* Address: To/ G C. Bedford Esqr./ 28 Gerrard Street/ Soho/ London./ Single
Stamped: [partial] OL
Postmark: B/ JUN 14/ 1803
Endorsements: June 12 1803; 12. June 1803
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 23. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849-1850), II, pp. 214-216 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Curse of Kehama (1810). Southey had reached Book 3 by this date. BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘As much as you like’. BACK

[3] Richard Cumberland (1732-1811; DNB), playwright, novelist and poet. He authored an epic poem, Calvary, or, The Death of Christ (1792), and conducted a periodical paper, The Observer, 5 vols (1785-1786). BACK

[4] A character from the Iliad, who was present at the siege of Troy but too old to fight. BACK

[5] Aristophanes (c. 446- c. 386 BC), Greek playwright. The Clouds (423 BC) contained an attack on a number of philosophers, including Socrates. BACK

[6] Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818; DNB), The Monk (1796). BACK

[7] Richard Cumberland, The Observer, 5 vols (London, 1785-1786), I, pp. 66-72. BACK

[8] Xenophon (c. 430- 354 BC), Memorabilia (after 371 BC) contains a defence of Socrates. BACK

[9] Probably an anonymous publication by Bedford. It could be connected to the short-lived periodical The Cabinet (1803). BACK

[10] The controversial schoolboy magazine The Flagellant (1792), which contained the writings of Southey, Bedford and their friends. BACK

[11] The Latin translates as ‘a rare work’. BACK

[12] King Henry V, Act 3, scene 6, line 57 [adapted]. The Spanish translates as ‘a fig for my friendship’. BACK

[13] An unidentified associate of Bedford’s. BACK

[14] The followers of William Grenville, Lord Grenville (1759-1834; DNB), Foreign Secretary 1791-1801, Prime Minister 1806-1807. They had opposed the Treaty of Amiens (1802). BACK

[15] Charles James Fox (1749-1806; DNB), leader of the Whig opposition. BACK

[16] Edward Despard (1751-1803; DNB), tried and executed on a charge of planning a revolution in 1802. BACK

[17] George Tierney (1761-1830; DNB), Whig politician who broke with his party and joined the government in 1803. BACK

[18] Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816; DNB), Whig politician and playwright. In 1803 there were persistent rumours that he would join the government, but he declined to do so. BACK

[19] Francis Rawdon Hastings, 2nd Earl of Moira (1754-1826; DNB), Whig politician and Irish landowner. He also refused government office in 1803. BACK

[20] Library at Windsor built up by George III (1738-1820, King of Great Britain 1760-1820; DNB) and given to the nation in 1823. BACK

[21] The Spanish translates as ‘good-bye’. BACK

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