23. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. September 1792]

23. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. September 1792] ⁠* 

Patience & Toasted Cheese

Ah who can tell what varying Fate
Attends on mans inconstant state
And marks the coming hour —
Ah who can tell or sage or wise
The next event that brooding lies
In Fortunes froward power!

For who would think when all around
Reechoed loud the applauding sound
On Georges natal day. [1] 
The pastimes done, the shouts no more
Poor I was left to sadden oer
Misfortunes hapless prey?

Yet so it was for when on high
The rockets brightend in the sky
And reard the wondering shout,
To claim their reign in darkest night
The Salamanders took their flight
And let my fire go out.

Why did <not> one at least remain?
So many there must sure be vain
But there indeed they went!
The Gnome Cinerus [2]  watchd the fire
He saw it dwindle & expire
To dust & ashes spent.

He saw with joy his destind prey
He saw it own his hateful sway
Regardless of my ease —
The fireworks done! alas poor me!
Down stairs in haste I came to see
About my toasted cheese.

You who have heard Achilles rage
In minstrel Grecians hallowd page
When Venus rushd below
And spread between the misty cloud
Her pious-scoundrel son to shroud
From too resistless foe. [3] 


Tho I have time
To make it rhyme
As you may see my friend
The sole pretence
This has to sense
Is to match the other end

You who have seen deep anger rise
And flame in Mr Smedleys [4]  eyes
When some unlucky wight
(As I once did) to fume & smoke
Converts the fiery-coming joke
And he miscarries quite.

You who have seen when Dodds pale cheek
Expressd his rage to hear me speak —
May fancy if you please,
To what a pitch my sorrow grew
In what a dreadful rage I flew
About my toasted cheese.

I seizd the poker & the slice [5] 
In hopes to mend it in a trice
And furiously did poke
I pokd & pokd, & laughd & said
Till I had suppd I’d not to bed
In truth & not in joke

Still did Cinerus keep his seat
Nor could I force from his retreat
No Salamander there —
And here sat Tom [6]  & there sat Shad [7] 
They laughd — I laughd & all were mad
And so — I took a chair.

But Shad more versd in magic lore
A talisman of wonderous power
Took fearless in his hand —
A talisman whose potent sway
Each Salamander must obey
To those who understand

A metal box this charm containd —
With what from calcind flax remaind
A stone of dappled hue
Deep dug from mine — with nicest care
Refind by flames increasd by air
In shape & nature new.

With nicest stroke on anvil strong
Beat hard & fierce the flames among
In shape for service meet
A handle there appeard in view
To put the fingers safely thro
And then undaunted beat

A tinder box tis calld below
What hight above I do not know,
And sooth to say don’t care
Shad graspt this in his skilful hand
Then watchful took his curious stand
And there began to beat prepare.

Aw’d by the wonderous powerful sound
The Salamanders gather round
Obedient to his call
In sparks of fire they hover there
Now from the stoney womb appear
And in the store-house fall.

Tis done. the taper blazes bright
We gladden at the chearful sight
It gave my woes some ease —
For soon I sure may go to bed
(Thus sleepy to myself I said
When I have had my cheese.

Call then (said Prudence) to your aid
The Sylph in yon machine there laid
And blow the kindling fire —
Let Sylphs & Salamanders join
Against the Gnome their power combine
And bid the flames aspire.

To all indeed the advice seemd good
I took the Sylph inclosd in wood
I placed it on my knees.
The fire increasd — the flames they grew
Out with the dust Cinerus flew
And Sally [8]  cut my cheese.

Plague take that Gnome. may magic power
Embitter every future hour
Close him in earthquakes shock
Or whelm him in a coal pit low
Or down Volcanos bid him go
Or rive in rough ribbd rock.

For now the fire began to glare
The cheese was cut & pard with care
And in the toaster laid
Says I, all toils & perils past
Sure I shall have my cheese at last
And so I am not afraid

“Ah luckless word & bootless boast” [9] 
Indeed I found it to my cost
As I prepare to tell —
Cinerus in a cinder lay
Resolvd to make the cheese his prey
And down the trippet fell

I laughd — I rag’d now almost mad —
And so was Tom & so was Shad
I thought I should have swore
Out would have come a swelling oath
But I considerd in my wrath
That I could have some more.

And Fancy popt into my head
In all her lovely charms & said
Come Southey be at ease
List to my counsel & attend
Do send the story to your friend
For he loves toasted cheese.

And when your life from toil has restd
When you & cheese are both digested
Perhaps this tale shall please
And future nations in your page
Shall read & ridicule your rage
About the toasted cheese

I have sent what I hope my dear Bedford will please
Some Patience & with it the tale of my cheese
Of that quite enough. you know Charles’s old rule
“Who talks of past sorrows is surely a fool. [10] 
My heart not over easy — a pain in my head
Tis now full six hours eer I can go to bed.
And in the mean time as I something must do
I’ll devote one half hour to rhyme reason & you.
I grant very seldom in this present time
You will find any reason will meddle with rhyme,
When gossamer tears mantle over the eye
When verses are hung on a cobweb to dry
And witty Mit Yenda [11]  beseeches his muse
With harmonious does’s & did’s dost’s & do’s
When at Bath Thomas Cross of Kingsmead Street Esquire [12] 
Write letters & sonnets & whines by the quire
Tho rhyme my dear friend shall like mushrooms in season
Amongst the whole mass you will seldom find reason

Last night how d’ye think I got off with the time?
{This verse has no reason tis only for rhyme}
Read by candle I durst not — thus sorely perplext
{For the sense my dear Bedford go on with the next}
I opened my box where in sad dismal show
[MS torn] the Flagellants [13]  lay packt up neat in a row
[MS torn] Satire — not able by candle to write
[MS torn] all rest for the rest of the night —
[MS torn]od bye to both Luther & Calvin & Knox [14] 
I heated the clamps & prepared the box —
And whilst our productions around did environ
(Tis a good rhyme of Butlers [15] ) I sat down to iron.
Why should I be ashamed? I remember at Brixton
(Oh how shall I make this next verse here to fix on!)
In short Bedford you see that I only can rhyme
In content [MS obscured] have reason perhaps the next time.

What a train of reflections recurrd to his mind
When a fine periwinkle Rousseau [16]  chanct to find!
Indeed my dear Bedford reflections like these
Never fail whilst they torture the bosom to please —
When bleeding Remembrance fresh opens her viens
Does not Sorrow herself more than pay for her pains?
Does her pleasure admit of the smallest alloy? no
Recollect Homers τεταρπομεδα γαοιο [17] 

L’Homme de la Nature! [18]  ah could I but know
That my name might one day resemble Rousseau,
As like his periwinkle I feel every hour
The days that are past come in soul-rending power
Days lovd & lamented — when blithe as the day
That calld me to pleasure I rose but to play
When Learning held forth her inviting bright arms
And Study deprivd of constraint had but charms!
When days weeks & months with rapi<di>ty flew
And I wept for the sorrows I then never knew.
Those sources exhausted cold Apathy steels
And this selfish breast for itself only feels
Ah no! for I write what I wish to believe
But whilst I have eyes left — those eyes sure will grieve —
Een now down my cheek the too pleasing tears flow
Sensibility shed oer the page of Rousseau
For show me the wretch that unmovd can read here
That can run oer the page without shedding no tear
If he has a soul which I dare not declare
It is not the soul of a man but a bear.

But here will or nill I must finish my friend
For as you may see my whole sheets’ at an end —

One little corner remains for a little prose — on Wednesday next morning I go to Bristol — where in all human probability I shall remain till my departure to Oxford. a period I look forward to without pleasure & expect without pain — the university life is that horrid negative state to me far worse than actual suffering — I came in a hot day into the world & know no medium in my temper — but my corner is almost full. direct to me at Miss Tylers Bristol — there I go to my huge desk full of scraps now almost unintelligible to myself which are gradually giving way to fairer copies — I ought to be studying Euclid  [19]  — (the Devil take that wretch & make draw triangles below) but Rousseau being more calculated for me the geometrician lies as stupid as he would make me. remember me to your brother & send Collins direction


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single Sheet
Stamped: BATH
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 27. AL; 4p.
Dating note: The letter is dated from internal evidence, in particular references to Southey’s imminent return to Bristol, which had taken place by 26 September 1792. BACK

[1] Possibly a reference to public celebrations on 4 June, the birthday of George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820; DNB). BACK

[2] A type of Salamander and so in mythology able to live in fire; therefore, an appropriate poetic name for Southey’s gnome. BACK

[3] The reference is to an incident in Homer’s Iliad, Book 20, when a fight between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan warrior Aeneas (son of the goddess Venus) is stopped by divine intervention. BACK

[4] Edward Smedley (1750–1825), an Usher at Westminster School 1774–1820. BACK

[5] Southey inserts note in margin: ‘Somersetice pro shovel’; i.e. ‘Somersetshire for shovel’. BACK

[6] Southey inserts note in margin: ‘my brother’. He is referring to Thomas Southey. BACK

[7] Southey inserts note in margin: ‘the servant’. He is referring to Shadrach Weeks, who worked for Southey’s aunt, Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[8] A servant who worked for Southey’s aunt, Elizabeth Tyler. BACK

[9] A paraphrase of William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), ‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin, Shewing How He Went Farther Than He Intended and Came Safe Home Again’, in his The Task, a Poem, in Six Books ... to Which are Added ... an Epistle to Joseph Hill, Esq. Tirconium, of a Review of Schools, and the History of John Gilpin (London, 1785), p. 356. BACK

[10] Southey is probably quoting a commonplace. BACK

[11] Satirical name given to the Della Cruscan poet, Thomas Adney (dates unknown), in William Gifford (1756–1826; DNB), The Baviad: a Paraphrastic Imitation of the First Satire of Persius (London, 1791), p. 29. BACK

[12] Unidentified; presumably a Bath tradesman. BACK

[13] A schoolboy magazine devised by Southey and his friends, it was forced to cease publication after nine issues. BACK

[14] The Protestant reformers Martin Luther (1483–1546), John Calvin (1509–1564) and John Knox (c. 1514–1572; DNB). BACK

[15] Samuel Butler (1612–1680; DNB), English poet. The rhyme is from Hudibras (1662), Part 1, book 3, lines 1–2. BACK

[16] In the sixth book of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Confessions (1782), the sight of a periwinkle brings to mind an incident involving his friend Madame de Warrens nearly thirty years earlier. BACK

[17] The Greek can be translated as ‘let us have the pleasure of tears’, a phrase found frequently in Homer. BACK

[18] Jean-Jacques Rousseau. BACK

[19] Euclid of Alexandria (dates uncertain, between 325 and 250 BC), mathematician. His work includes the Elements. BACK

Places mentioned