1908. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 April 1811

1908. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 April 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 21. 1811.

My dear Grosvenor

I have some news to tell you of my own family. Mr T Southey is dead, [1]  about half his property he has left to the son of a friend of his at Bristol, [2]  – & the rest he has to his man Tom, [3]  & a few other such objects of his regard. This conduct towards me & my brothers is neither very surprizing nor very blameable – we lived at a distance from him, & when he did see us, he saw animals of so very different a nature from himself, that the wonder would have been if he had taken any pleasure in their society. But he has a sister, now advanced in life, & ill provided for; & she kept his house till he turned her out of it for no other reason than that she thought discovered some regret at seeing the footboy Tom preferred to her nephews, – & he has not left her any thing. This is wicked & unnatural conduct. My account comes from her. she says nothing of herself, & I verily believe thinks nothing of <upon> that score – but her letter is an affecting one. “I hope will God will forgive him (these are her concluding words.) John made himself a slave to get this trash, – he has made himself a fool to give it away. I hope neither you nor yours will ever want it.” – The property thus disposed of is about 1000 £ a year. An estate of half that value was left by the elder brother to a farmers son, whom the father used to send sometimes with a hare &c –.

You know me well enough to know that no man living more thoroughly understands what Shenstone called the flocci-nauci-nihili-pilification of money. [4]  I had no expectations & consequently have experienced no disappointment. God be praised for it, I have also no want, my employments (provided I write prose) are <is> sufficiently paid, & I have plenty of it, & like it as well as if it <were> merely the amusement of my leisure hours. And in case of my death before I shall have been able to make a provision for my family, – my life is also insured for 1000£, xxx & the world is <must be> worse than I believe it to be if my operas should not produce enough in addition to that for the Moon & Stars, [5]  – that is enough to provide for the latter, & to enable the former to provide for himself.

I have another piece of news which did surprize me. Brougham has been commissioned to apply to my Uncle for the purpose of discovering if whether I would undertake to translate Lucien Buonapartes poem. [6]  My Uncle replied he supposed not, but referred the Plenipotentiary to me & no farther proceedings have taken place. When I receive hear from B. I shall recommend Elton [7]  for the task, who translates well & will, I suspect, be glad of xxx a task which is likely to be so well paid. This has amused me very much, – but it has rather lowered Lucien in my opinion by the vanity which it implies. If his poem be good for any thing – he may be sure it will find translators, – it looks ill to be so impatient for fame as to look about for one & pay him for his work. from whom the application to my worship comes I do not know. – Lucien has probably applied to some friend to recommend him to the best hand, – & dispatch being one thing required, the preference has perhaps on this score been given to me over Mr Thomas Campbell, [8]  – by which no doubt I am greatly flattered. I have a great respect for Lucien B. & shall return an answer expressing that respect, for I believe him to be a true republican, & any where out of England that is the best thing a man can be. To Grosvenor Bedford I may say that if the poem in question be a bad one it will not be worth translating, – & if it be otherwise, I humbly conceive that the time which would <be> required to translate it, may quite as worthily be bestowed upon a poem of work of my own.

Have you seen Coleridges letter in the Courier of Friday last? [9]  – no doubt it will be said that he is writing for a pension, & I because I have got one. [10] 

The inclosed is for the Chancellors franking – You do not mention your mother in your last, – & hence I conclude she is better.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr./ [in another hand] Exchequer/ J.C.H.
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 24. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 309–311 [in part]. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey’s death was reported in his local newspaper the Taunton Courier on 18 April 1811, and had been relayed to Southey by his aunt Mary Southey; see Southey to Herbert Hill [begun before and continued on 20 April 1811], Letter 1905. BACK

[2] Possibly William Oliver (1775–1830) of Hope Corner, Taunton. BACK

[3] Thomas Southey’s servant Tom (surname and dates unknown). BACK

[4] William Shenstone (1714–1762; DNB), ‘Egotisms, From My Own Sensations’, no. V, in The Works, In Verse and Prose, 2 vols (London, 1776), II, p. 104. The word means ‘the act of esteeming worthless’. BACK

[5] Southey’s daughters. BACK

[6] Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), brother of Napoleon and author of Charlemagne, ou l’Eglise Délivrée (1814). BACK

[7] The poet, translator and occasional reviewer for the Quarterly Review, Charles Abraham Elton (1778–1853; DNB). Elton, like Southey, was Bristolian-born. Southey’s comments on Elton’s lack of cash are surprising, given that he was heir to a baronetcy, a large estate (Clevedon Court) and a mercantile fortune. BACK

[8] The poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844; DNB). He was a notoriously slow writer. BACK

[9] Coleridge’s ‘The Regent and Mr Perceval. Respecting General Crawford’s Rumoured Appointment’, Courier (19 April 1811). This was a philosophical defence of the concept of state patronage; but as the Courier was widely seen as being in the pay of the Ministry, Coleridge’s motives could easily be suspected. BACK

[10] Southey had received a government pension of £200 p.a. in 1807. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)