33. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4 December 1792

33. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 4 December 1792 ⁠* 

Bristol College Green. Tuesday. December 4th 1791*

is that date explicit?

*meant for. December 4th. 1792  [1] 

When a Raven shall build In a stone Lion’s mouth, on the top of Vale Royal house, there shall an heir be born there, who shall live to see great troubles in England.

so said the Cheshire fool or prophet, which you will 400 years ago. [2]  & the <present> heir of Vale royal house was born when the stone Lions mouth served for the Ravens nest at this Bedford would not every old woman tremble? I can despise the waking dreams of madmen when old Doyley & Dickinson [3]  thought to terrify me by this very prophecy & that of the 3 thumbed miller (now living on Salisbury Plain whom the fates have destined to hold three Kings horses up to his knees in blood) [4]  I laughed in my sleeve & absolutely frightened them.

last night I went to see that compilation of turgidity & bombast the Grecian Daughter [5]  if you recollect there are many passages about loyalty royalty & freedom party ran high God save the King was sung — Philosophy like Justice was swept silently down the stream — one man (that word is better than with the gentle prefixd) stood firm to his principles — when the hat was taken off his went last & unwillingly & the cowardly insults of a surrounding loyal mob he treated with contempt — when the riotous paroxysm produced by this last proclamatory dose (it will be a working one I believe) was past Citizen Bailey [6]  as they called him in contempt was without a companion. I quitted my seat — we entered into conversation out of which no Judge can extract treason — & the vile mob at the conclusion that seperated us prevented me from drinking a bottle with him this day which I won by a wager. he has only been in Bristol three months & where to find him I know not. now Bedford the agitation of last night brought these old Ravens Lions Millers &c into my head this morning — your apology is indeed too much. the gentle reprimand you gave I deserved for beginning the subject suffer me to say a few words & drop that subject by letter for ever. these are perilous times give me three lines of any mans writing said Richelieu & I will extract treason from them. [7]  every boy is a patriot — you say so & I will grant with pleasure that every boy unbiassed by interest is so for this evident reason the mind yet unblackened by guilt hypocrisy & a court is good by nature — they love their country & its liberty better than themselves — Fortune links them in the long chain of dependance which surrounds every public office (I need not say Bedford I hope, that as for these motives they have nothing to do with you) & it becomes their interest to continue the deception. — opposition is but a farce — a fight like Bagshot battles [8]  where all seek to obey one leader reform is talked of. but a tree rotten at the core must be ——. a standing army is a very dreadful thing, said some old senator of England. oh I could prophecy but that the hand — not of Death Bedford. if I come to London it will be before Xmas day & we will talk of these thing if you wish it — for my part as I will never more seek the subject so will I never avoid it — Justum & tenacem &c. [9] 

you talk of reading Juvenal — read the 8th satire [10]  & you shall one day see my imitation which I finished in two days some parts you will not like — Collins has often wishd me to attempt this nervous Satirist — I have at length & I was hardly so well satisfied with myself even when I wrote that devilish good No 5. [11]  that we shall be of the same opinion I hope most sincerely — should the flames of civil war burst forth seas of blood must quench them. est hic est animus lucis contemptor & qui vita bene credat emi — honorem. [12]  never may the fates of Falkland & of Hampden [13]  be exemplified in you & me Nature never intended me for a soldier — when I am agitated every nerve trembles but at those moments when a bystander would think me palsied with some fear I could leap to pluck bright honor from the pale faced moon. [14]  I could write an ode & stand to be shot at.

I have already said too much. I have an old poem of the heroic class before me. Pharonnida — one of the Cantos was finishd on the morning of the second battle of Newberry. [15]  take his concluding lines

But ere calm’d thoughts to prosecute our story,
Salute thy ears with the deserved glory
Our marshal  [16]  lovers puchast here; I must
Let my pen rest awhile, & see the rust
Scour’d from my own sword, for a fatal day
Draws on those gloomy hours, whose short steps may
In Britains blushing Chronicle write more
Of sanguine guilt, than a whole age before.
To tell our too neglected troops that we
In a just cause are slow, we ready see
Our rallied foes — nor wilt out sloathful crime
Expunge, to say, Guilt wakend them by time.
From every quarter the affrighted scout
Brings swift alarums in, hovering about
The clouded tops of the adjacent hills
Like ominous vapours lie their troops, noise fills
Our yet unrallied army & we now
Grown legible, in the contracted brow
Discern whose heart looks pale with fear. — if in
This rising storm of blood which doth begin
To drop already, I’m not washt into
The grave, my next safe quarter shall renew
Acquaintance with Pharonnida — till then
I leave the Muses to converse with men. [17] 

This man would have written blank verse wonderfully well. he mistook his bent & in spite of an interesting story & a bold imagination Pharonnida is forgotten. you see he was a royalist — why is Cæsar writing his commentaries in Alexandria [18]  or Brutus reading Plato in his tent [19]  more renowned than Chamberlain finishing the canto in a manner which certainly is grand at the moment when Death was hovering around? you know Shakespear better than I do — look at Bellarius’ speech & take that as an answer to the question. [20] 

Now Bedford your friend though no citizen, who has no vote nor is likely to have any upon any occasion, who whether he consents or not must pay for Gods daylight since so commanded by representatives when he had rather represent himself is writing to you a long letter though at this time under the impulse of two contrary power intolerable Indolence & impatient Curiosity — what I am curious for no human being can divine — I have Merlins prophecies [21]  in my desk & let them lie unconsulted to write to you.

an ugly time to conclude but this cannot go to day unless this minute


I have not received the letter Collins mentioned. remember me to him.

if any one passage here strike you as offensive you have my request to scratch it out — it is a horrid subject — like a current you no sooner touch it than it carries you away.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster/ Single Sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: ODE/ 5/ 92
Watermark: Crown and anchor with G R beneath
Endorsement: 4. Decr 1792
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. AL; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] * meant ... 1792: Added in another hand. BACK

[2] Prophecies attributed to the legendary ‘Cheshire prophet’ Robert Nixon (supp. fl. late 15th–early 17th centuries; DNB). Nixon’s Cheshire Prophecies, At Large went through several editions in the eighteenth century. Traditionally, Nixon was closely connected to Vale Royal, the Cistercian abbey in Cheshire which, after the dissolution, was converted into a country house. BACK

[3] William Dickinson (1771–1837), a pupil at Westminster School, who later went on to Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1793, MA 1795). Civil Lord of the Admiralty, 1804–1806. BACK

[4] Southey is conflating a prophecy by Robert Nixon, with one by Mother Shipton (supp. fl. 1530; DNB). BACK

[5] Arthur Murphy’s (1727–1805; DNB) tragedy The Grecian Daughter was first performed in 1772. BACK

[6] Although his identity is not certain, he may be connected to ‘Citizen Bailey’, author of The White Devils Un-Cased. Being the First Discourse upon Ecclesiastical Tyranny, and Superstition: Delivered at Section 2 and 7 of the Friends of Liberty (c. 1795). BACK

[7] A paraphrase of a quotation attributed to the French statesman Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585–1642). It is usually rendered as ‘If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men I will find something in them which will hang them’. BACK

[8] The military manoeuvres and mock-battles staged on Bagshot Heath, near London. These were the subject of the anonymous Bagshot Battle; A Humorous Poetical Burlesque; Designed for the Amusement and Entertainment of Ladies, Who Were Not Present at the Late Military Evolutions (1792). BACK

[9] Southey is quoting from Horace (65–8 BC), Odes, Book 3, no. 3, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘Just and steadfast’. BACK

[10] Decimus Junius Juvenalis (fl. AD late C1 and early C2). Satire 8 is about the pointlessness of tracing ancestors. BACK

[11] Southey is referring to the controversial fifth issue of The Flagellant (29 March 1792). BACK

[12] A misquotation from Virgil (70–19 BC), Aeneid, Book 9, lines 205–206. The Latin original translates as: ‘Mine is a heart that scorns the light, and believes that the glory that you strive for is cheaply bought with life’. BACK

[13] The author and politician Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland (1609/10–1643; DNB), was killed fighting for royalist forces at the first battle of Newbury. The politician John Hampden (1595–1643; DNB), died of wounds received fighting on the parliamentary side at the battle of Chalgrove. BACK

[14] A misquotation of Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, scene 3, line 208. BACK

[15] The second battle of Newbury occurred on 27 October 1644. The author of Pharonnida, a Heroick Poem (1659) was William Chamberlayne (c. 1619–1689; DNB). Southey owned a copy of the first edition of the poem, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, gen. ed. A. L. Munby, vol. 9, Poets and Men of Letters, ed. Roy Park (London, 1974), p. 113. BACK

[16] Southey adds note in left hand margin: ‘I do not understand this word’. BACK

[17] William Chamberlayne, Pharonnida (London, 1659), pp. 171–172. BACK

[18] Gaius Julius Caesar (100/102–44 BC) wrote Commentaries on his campaigns, including those in Egypt. BACK

[19] An adaptation of Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3. BACK

[20] A reference to Cymbeline, but it is unclear precisely which speech by Belarius is meant. BACK

[21] Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100–1155; DNB), Prophetiae Merlini (pre–1135). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)