2859. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 November 1816

2859. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 8 November 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 8 Nov. 1816

My dear Grosvenor

In the ways of thanks it is quite unnecessary that I should say anything to you. [1]  The whole introductory matter is curious & to the purpose. I would only wish it improved by a word or two implying respect for Davenant, [2]  – a hint concerning the absolute doggrel of Cibbers notes [3]  (or perhaps a specimen of them, – to be found in the magazines of his day) – & more praise of Whitehead, [4]  who performd his task with more than respectability.

P. 11. you may add that this piece of xx theatre history (the interview at the levée) – was told has been told both in prose & verse, [5]  – & that it will doubtless give great pleasure to the well intentioned authors of the story to be informed what the real circumstances were, as it must be very satisfactory to them to perceive how capable they were of conceiving what should be the conduct of Mr Scott such men on such an occasion –

19. Omit the remarks upon the Ed. Rev. or turn them in this way – that it has been as some critics have asserted the severest test to which poetry can be put is that of translating it into prose – the charm of verse being taken away, the matter has then only its own strength & dignity to support it. To the test the C Triumphale was put by certain critics, [6]  – & the result was th (as was said in the Times) – that they produced some of the best prose which had ever appeard in their Journal. [7] 

14. The passage may be spared – for the love of curtailment

17. Find as much fault as you will; – but find none the which any versifier or reader of poetry would discover to be fallacious. Who ever objected to Gray his Above below the Rose of Snow

Twined with the blushing foe we spread [8] 

approved poetry is full of precedents of this kind.

22. My dear Grosvenor there is an end of all sense in criticism, & all nature in poetry, if a proper name is to be prohibited in this manner. You might just as well prohibit Moses, or George – in contempt of H R H the P. Regent.

24. Quote the last stanza about Fredericks [9]  sword, – for the sake of relating the fact x that it was destroyed by the French to prevent this, – Dr Spiker [10]  told me this, – whom Nicol [11]  knows. I think it was by Maria Louisas orders but am not certain. [12] 

25. Perhaps you had better say nothing about the understanding, – but insist on the fitness of abolishing the custom [13] 

30. Here I should like Stanzas 19 – to 24 inserted. – With more than half a page, make room for them by omitting shorter extracts which have seldom any effect. [14] 

34. In like manner you had better try to insert Stanzas 34–38.

The field of battle could not have been seen at a better time. A little sooner it might have been shocking, – a little later the affecting circumstance would have been gone.

The best part of the poem is the description from p. 148 – to 153 [15]  – which Wordsworth, who is never profuse in praise, – thinks the best description of the kind that There will be no room to quote it – but I should like to have the two last stanzas of the canto given, & something said of the attempt which has been made of x giving permanent & universal value, to a temporary & national subject, by connecting it with wide views & philosophical views. As you may notice the strange absurdity of classing me among those persons who think that no amelioration in human society is possible, – a charge (with great civility however) brought against me in the Champion; [16]  – as if I ever wrote any thing which had, or could have a political bearing, that did not uniformly express my ‘hopes for humankind.

55. You may confess flattery, – & of a good kind, – the flattery (call it any thing else) you like, which suppose elevation enough of mind in the Person who it address to dispense with all flattery; – & sense & virtue enough to be pleased with a monitory strain, – & rightly to understand the sincerity & warmth with which it is offered.

The better way of securing admission for your hits at the Scratchmen [17]  is by complaining to Gifford that you have not alluded to them sufficiently, & asking him to lend a little venom – he has enough to spare, & the compliment may will prevent him from thinking you have said too much.

I shall return the ms. perhaps tomorrow, or if not, certainly on the day after. Nash is about to return, & has a rich treat for you in his sketches. I learn that he still paint professes his art; wherefore Mr B. I have to request, desire, & insist, that you, at the earliest time which may suit your convenience & his, sit to him for me, at my cost. And when your portrait arrives I will turn Coleridges out to make room for it. Will you also, if it can be had, bespeak a bust of Smiths widow [18]  & let it be sent to Nash with my compliments. – He goes tomorrow – if the snow xxxx does not prevent him, – & halts on the way with Sir G Beaumont

About Derwent hereafter. He has an absolute passion for mathematics, & has fixed his heart upon Cambridge, – where this passion is very likely to make his fortune. [19] 

I am looking on to a laborious winter – in labore quies. [20] 

God bless you my dear Grosvenor


Allude to the notes to the Carmen [21]  – as copied into London & provincial newspapers for their aptness – hinc illæ lacrimæ [22]  – the condensed matter of these notes would make a good blistering instrument to be laid on, & remove the sore.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK
Postmark: E/ 11 NO 11/ 1816
Endorsement: 8 Novr. 1816./ Review of L.P.
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 25. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Here Southey comments on a draft of Bedford’s review of the poems he had published as Poet Laureate. The piece was intended for the Quarterly Review, but did not appear. BACK

[2] Sir William Davenant (1606–1668; DNB), Poet Laureate 1660–1668. BACK

[3] Colley Cibber (1671–1757; DNB), Poet Laureate 1730–1757, notorious for inconsequential and vain poems accompanied by annotations. His New Year’s and Birthday Odes had been printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine. BACK

[4] William Whitehead (1715–1785; DNB), Poet Laureate 1757–1785. BACK

[5] See The Satirist; or, Monthly Meteor, 13 (September 1813), 251–254, ‘Applications for the Laureateship’, in which Southey’s and Scott’s verse is parodied and each is portrayed as motivated by the desire for money and office. BACK

[6] Edinburgh Review, 22 (January 1814), 447–454 (448–450), claimed that Southey’s Laureate poem Carmen Triumphale (1814) was prosaic and to prove its point printed several stanzas as prose. BACK

[7] The Times, 7 April 1814, attacked the Edinburgh Review’s criticisms of Carmen Triumphale (1814) and stated ‘Sure I am that if the metamorphosed stanzas are to be denominated prose, they are some of the best prose I ever read in the Edinburgh Review.’ BACK

[8] Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB), ‘The Bard. A Pindaric Ode’ (1757), lines 90–91. A marginal note in Bedford’s hand reads: ‘Can any thing be more beautiful or less like the passage I have objected to?’ BACK

[9] In Southey’s ‘Congratulatory Ode’ (1814), stanza 11, to Frederick William III (1770–1840; King of Prussia 1797–1840), Southey had expressed the hope that the King would be able to return to Prussia the sword of his great-uncle, Frederick II ‘the Great’ (1712–1786; King of Prussia 1740–1786), which had been taken by the French in 1806 and displayed as a trophy of war in the Hotel des Invalides. BACK

[10] Samuel Heinrich Spiker (1786–1858) was librarian to the King of Prussia and had visited Southey in August 1816 – an experience he recounted in Travels in England, Wales, & Scotland in the Year 1816, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 269–272. BACK

[11] Bedford’s friend William Nicol (d. 1855?), the son and business partner of George Nicol (1740?–1828; DNB), Bookseller to the King, 1781–1820. BACK

[12] Marie Louise (1791–1847; Empress of the French 1810–1814) BACK

[13] Southey’s had accepted the Laureateship in 1813 on the ‘understanding’ that he would not have to write annual New Year’s odes. In fact, he had misunderstood the situation and was soon disabused. A marginal note in Bedford’s hand reads: ‘– No – state it as it is at present – there are now several precedents for the abolition & these will be some credit to the P. R. – if it be given to understand that these are in consequence of that agreement.’ BACK

[14] A marginal note in Bedford’s hand reads: ‘The stanzas are very beautiful, but in an Epitome merely I think they will be out of place.’ This probably refers to The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), but it is not possible to be sure which stanzas of its eight Books were intended. BACK

[15] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816), Part Two, Book 3, ‘The Sacred Mountain’, stanzas 24–35. BACK

[16] Southey is here referring to two articles by ‘The Itinerant’ on ‘Mr Southey’, The Champion, 15 September and 29 September 1816. BACK

[17] An abusive reference to the Scottish writers of the Edinburgh Review. BACK

[18] James Smith (1775–1815) had sculpted Southey’s bust in 1813 and Nash was producing a sketch of the bust. The name of Smith’s widow is untraced. BACK

[19] Derwent Coleridge studied mathematics as the major part of his B.A. degree at St John’s College, Cambridge, but only obtained a Pass degree. BACK

[20] ‘Peace, in work’: Southey’s motto, inscribed on his seal. BACK

[21] In his notes to Carmen Triumphale (1814), Southey gleefully listed the erroneous predictions of the Edinburgh Review that the Peninsular Campaign was a futile intervention by Britain in an Iberian war against France that could not be won. BACK

[22] ‘Hence these tears’. BACK

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