40. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 [-21] January [1793]

40. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 16 [–21] January [1793] ⁠* 

Wednesday. 16 Jany. Bristol. just received yours

My dear friend all your arguments I have already answered in my own mind but shall delay writing them till I am settled at Oxford. whatever books of mine you wish to read keep as long as agreeable. the rest I shall be obliged to you to forward as soon as convenient to me at Baliol where I purpose sleeping upon Saturday night. “Imberbis juvenis tandem custode remoto gaudet equis [1]  &c this has no more allusion to me than (with due deference to your opinion) Justum & tencaem propositi virum [2]  has to Edmund Burke. [3]  do you remember the fable of Boreas & Phœbus contending to make a traveller fling off his great coat? [4]  the vultus instantis tyranni [5]  is not so difficult to despise as the hand proffering a pension — the price of honor justice & integrity of each unbought grace of life — here I can tell what it means. of your ode a few words before I set to transcribing. before I read the last half sheet I wished you to lengthen it for only three authors are mentioned & only Shakespear of the first rank — Nature had so little to do with Dryden that I wonder at your ranking him with the Swan of Avon — Milton Spenser — Pope — Akenside Collins — Churchill — Beaumont — Fletcher [6]  would each afford a fine scope for your fancy & will you refuse one stanza to deck the unnoted grave of Chatterton?  [7]  when this fault is noticed I have noticed all. if however (as I hope) you mean to lengthen it I would not wish you to fetter yourself in the chains of precedent — regular lyrics are like despotic monarchies they look stately but lose all the energy of freedom.

The Wedding day

High blazd the fire in Arwins hall
To all the vassal throng —
Sparkled full the generous ale
Reechoed loud the song.

Pensive alone Sir Arwin sat
The jovial tribe among
Untoucht by him the generous ale
Unheard by him the song.

Why lingers Hugo? cried the chief
Abruptly as he rose
Why lingers Hugo? sad he sighs
As to the gate he goes

Far oer the well till’d lands around
He casts his wistful ken —
Fruitless the gaze again he sighd
And back returnd again.

Why lingers Hugo — cried the chief.
He heard the curfew toll.
He hung his head in anguish mute
Despair fulfilld his soul.

The horn blew loud — a page appeard
High heavd Sir Arwins breast —
He saw his lovd Matildas page
He saw & knew the rest.

Sir Knight — Lord Birthand greets thee fair
And would thy presence pray —
Come on the morrow to his hall
It is his wedding day.

All night Sir Arwin pacd along
His room with mournful round
And oft he sighd & oft he groand —
The morning beamd around

He claspt the bauldrick round his breast
He seizd the glittrand spear
He graspd the shield & viewd the dints
And dropt the heartfelt tear

Shield of my sire ah why so oft
Preserve this wretched life?
Far better thus to die than see
Matilda Birthands wife.

They mount their steeds — across the plain
The steeds impatient fly —
High shines the bright meridian sun —
Lord Birthands towers are nigh.

Lord Birthand mounts the winding stairs
And casts around his ken
I see far off from Arwins hall
The friendly troop of men

Resplendant shine their armors bright
Their banners wave in air
I see the vassals all — but ah
Sir Arwin is not there

Why Hugo droops thy duteous head?
Thy master will be here.
Fond Hugo sighd & shook his head
And dropt the silent tear.

When lo swift hastning oer the plain
Sir Arwin speeds along
He spurs in haste his eager steed
And joins the vassal throng.

Welcome my friend belovd to me
And welcome to my bride
Sir Arwin only prest his hand
He prest his hand & sighd.

Forth from the castle Hugo broke
Full happy man was he —
He ran to greet his honord Lord
And clasp his masters knee.

Rise Hugo rise Sir Arwin cried
My friend & servant rise
The faithful Hugo instant rose
And wipt his streaming eyes

The hospitable servants saw
And brought me to their Lord
And vain was each attempt to seek
To fly the friendly board

To day — no more Sir Arwin cried
No more of her too dear
I come not Hugo to repine
Nor play the woman here

Forth to the monastry they go
Lord Birthand high in pride
And oft & aye his beaming eyes
Gazd on his beauteous bride

She like the violet that bends
Beneath the suns hot flame
Perceivd his fond his eager gaze
The rosy blushes came.

The sacred pile opes wide its gates
The bride approaches near —
Sir Arwin starts — looks up to heavn
And wipes away the tear.

High chaunts the mass — their hands are <joind.>
My friends — our part is oer.
May heavn on you each blessing shed
When Arwin is no more.

He said & cast his bauldrick off
And laid his sword aside
And down he flung his clanging shield
And gazd on Birthands bride.

Lady — for thee I hopd to dare
With pride each listed field
For thee — to break the hostile lance
And pierce the adverse shield

Arms of my sire farewell too weak
To shield save this bleeding heart
Too weak alas to shield my breast
From Loves enrankling dart.

Forth from the throng with frantic speed
The faithful Hugo flies
Oh stay my lovd my honord Lord
Resume thyself he cries —

Together in thy fathers wall
We learnt to wield the spear
Together since to manhood grew —
— Ah — go not from me here

Ah do not from the world & me
In madness thus depart —
That hour that rends thee from the world
Will break thy Hugos heart [8] 

What means this action friend belovd?
Lord Birthand eager cried —
Friend of my soul ah yet return —
The tears ran down his bride.

Stay Arwin stay — with faultring voice
The fair Matilda said
And does Matilda bid me stay?
Sir Arwin hung his head

Long has thy image lovd too dear
By Arwin been adord
May every blissful hour attend
Matilda & her Lord.

Amid the solemn convents walls
Shall Arwin seek for peace
And pour to heavn the fervent prayr
Till Life & Passion cease.

Hugo no more — Matilda lovd
No more torment this breast
This bosom still in every form
Too much by thee possest

Hugo if ever thou didst love
Thy friend now show it here —
If ever thou didst prove my faith
Wipe off the enerving tear.

Thine be my hall & stately towers —
Protect the helpless poor
And be to them now he is gone
What Arwin was before

Here shall he pour in grateful praise
To heavn his vital breath
And here I trust contented wait
The friendly stroke of death.  [9] 

—————————————— [10] 

So far from Bristol. behold me now my friend entered under the banners of science or stupidity which you please & like a recruit got sober looking back to the days that are past & feeling something like regret.

would you think it possible that the wise founders of an English University should forbid us to wear boots! what matters it whether I study in shoes or boots — to me it is a matter of indifference but folly so ridiculous puts me out of conceit with the whole — when the foundation is bad the fabric must be weak.

none of my friends are yet arrivd & as for common acquaintance I do not wish them. solitude I do not dislike for I fear it not but there is a certain Dæmon named Reflection that accompanies whose arrows though they rankle not with the poison of guilt are yet pointed by Melancholy. I feel myself entered upon a new scene of life & whatever the generality of Oxonians conceive to me it appears a very serious æra. four years hence & I am called into orders & during that period (short for the attainment of the requisite duties) how much have I to learn! I must learn to break a rebellious spirit which neither Authority or Oppression ever could bow — it would be easier to break my neck. I must learn to work a problem instead of writing an ode — I must learn to cringe to those whom I despise & to pay respect to men only remarkable for great wigs & little wisdom. I must learn to abuse Thomas Paine [11]  — to worship Edmund Burke [12]  — to revile Dr Priestly [13]  — to damn the National Convention — to speak well of Dr Vincent & to understand St Athanasiuss creed. [14]  quid Romæ faciam? mentore nescio! [15]  the name of that Saint whose life (at least part of it) was as incomprehensible as his productions has brought me into many a dilemma. the present madness of party has so combined his creed with the doctrines of Christ that who doubts the first is now immediately thought to despise the last my maxim always shall be (at least I hope so) to practise the virtues it inculcates & reflect not upon the mysteries it contains of the sanctity of those mysteries I know nothing — their incomprehensibility is evident — Athanasius the reputed author of that stumbling block confessed he understood them not — Tillotson [16]  wishd the creed expunged from the liturgy — yet the one was a Saint & the other an Archbishop.

This day has been a most unpleasant one all except the earlier part of the morning when I read your favourite Horace. that beginning Qualem ministrum fulminis alitem [17]  struck me as well adapted to the present times & I think I shall attempt it this week — certain of falling as much short of Horace as his subject will be inferior to mine. notwithstanding the admiration with which I read his works there is a something in the character of the little fat parasite which sullies it very much. I do not know in the annals of history & barbarity any character which I so much abhor as that of the vain the vile Augustus — the death of Cicero the banishment of Ovid [18]  — the black boys & the incestuous daughter [19]  the total suppression of liberty these are blots which all the art of Flattery cannot hide from the eye of Reason. “with the same hand & probably with the same frame of mind did he sign the proscription of Cicero & the pardon of Cinna” [20]  — you remember Gibbons remark upon Augustuss appearance at the banquet in that very elegant piece of the virtuous Julian. [21] 

the name of Julian reminds me of Collins long lost letter which I have this day received. he need <not> fear that I shall become a philosopher of the Mill [22]  — I am not yet philosopher of the world enough to wish it. but Collins I hourly expect & though it be an easy matter to make out a letter from him to you will desist. your last is here before me — the oftner I read your ode the more I like it & lament its shortness — In mazes high & low in cadence soft & strong — this line is exactly what Pope wished — the sound echoes the sense [23]  to particularize all the beauties were tedious I will only mention “mirths fantastic round & Or Melancholys thought profound — these lines remind one of Milton — will it be vain to hope one day like him to defend the cause of mankind & despise the power of monarchs? but politicks I will not begin — you shall have my really free reflections one day & instead of dazzling you with stars or bewildering you in the maze of metaphysics if you will only follow the straight path I am content. Truth came naked out of the well — with me she shall be only simplex munditus [24]  — Mr Burke [25]  has so bedizend out Falshood that it takes much trouble & time to get a sight of her real form.

to day I have been unpacking & laying out money. tomorrow I make my appearance before a set of fellows each of whom will think me a fool for wearing my hair as God sent it & not getting drunk with him — I do not feel ashamed of myself & yet it is not agreeable to go into hall among them all staring at me who shall stare any where to avoid them. then I must go to chapel god knows how often! but I shall see Combe & for the rest cry out with the Miller I care for nobody not not I if nobody cares for me. [26] 

the scout has just been here to know about my supper. you are only allowed bread & cheese in your rooms here & he asked me if I would have a halfpenny worth or a pennyworth — you may guess my surprize — but twopence is all I can have — many a worthier person wants that — why then should I repine! two sleepless nights & three busy days have fatigued me — my eyes ache and I really want rest — Mason [27]  could write a fine drowsy ode to Sleep I think — the deity however seems coming to me without invocation. he shall not be a loser — but I must be more e[MS torn]

Sunday. just done breakfast.

Dear Bedford Ive just made a pretty commence
God grant me I pray University sense!
God help me & mend me for I want amending
But listen & hear what is worth your attending.

Come Genius of Dullness to Oxford so dear
I need not call loud for Im sure you are near
Come murky dark vapors & viel oer my brain
Shall not Southey at Baliol be one of thy train
Im now in thy garb — thy long sleevd sable spread —
The trencher but fit for a cold College head
This trencher to wear which I never desire
That chills een this brain of such furious fire
Come along & possess me then hap ill or hap well
Ill speak of a subject will please thee — of chapel!

Yes Dullness I see thee — I know thee of yore
I see & I recognise — gaze & adore —
By thy full sleevd black gown — by thy still blacker heart
Where Genius nor Virtue possess one small part —
By thy cauliflowrd wig frizzled full — such a one
As is worn in Deans Yard by thy favourite son
By all these church bells that now make my heada[MS torn]
Ah I must be gone or another mistake
½ past twelve —
Already to trespass! so soon to begin
Thus early gainst statutes & customs to sin
To leave duties & Doctors at once in the lurch
In the morning be late & at noon to skip Church!!!
But Order at least in a college should reign
Come Dullness & Order come manage the strain

Last night quite fatigued — with a pain in my head
I was heartily glad to get into my bed
And for fear lest by chance I might hap to sleep late
Jeremiah my scout was to wake me eer eight —
For you must know Bedford if upon this day
In the morning from chapel we happen to stray
We lose the whole term as if we were away —
What I dreamt of no matter — I opend my eyes
And for want of a fire wait for Jerry to rise
Long I lay listening still to the bells all around
Nor heeded them all for I knew not the sound
At last it seemd late so I quietly rose
And began very gently to put on my cloaths
In comes Jeremiah — Good Lord Sir your’e late
The chapels begun & tis sometime past eight
And if the first lesson should now be begun
Lord have mercy upon us the term is undone!
Half drest without neckcloth or combing my hair
I slipt on my gown & was instantly there —
But quite raw & not knowing where I ought to come
On the first vacant seat down I squatted my b-m.
All stard & all laughd this odd conduct to view
I thought of the Miller [28]  & so I laughd too —
For tho the reader stood up & had opend his jaws
I came neck or nothing & just nickd the laws.
I came back — eat my breakfast & took up my pen
And went on as you see with my letter again
But Nature calld out — no resisting her call —
More powerful than Doctors Deans Devils & all
Like Columbus to seek a new mansion [29]  I go
Where to turn where to look where to ask I dont know —
I tryd every door every corner & lane
And at last had the fortune my object to gain
And when Cloacina [30]  had all I could pay


2 o clock

Collins just has been here — so my pen went away —
Once again then I write — from the Scotch Goddess dome [31] 
To Christ Church I went & there met my friend Combe
So we set to — to what — & what you’ll think no harm on
Preferrd conversation to hearing a sermon —
Then I went to Wynns rooms whilst Wynn came to me
Then calld at the cross little Joseph to see
Came back disappointed & sat down to you
So you have all the whole history — dear Bedford adieu —

I made my appearance at dinner immediately after Wynn left me who caught me finishing the above in my own book. here I came off very well — as our hall is repairing & in the room appropriated for eating Liberty & Equality are prevalent. of politics once more — your arguments have not convinced me & the obstacles must be strong that can oppose conviction where it is even wished — too answer I did purpose seriously but the age of eighteen is too young to go deep enough & I have <not> even yet been sufficiently convinced of the depravity of human Nature to admit of arguments which will be <urged> against the speculative ideas of philosophy. do not then I intreat you do not begin the subject again — believe me I wish to decline it for I feel that here are other duties — at the same if I cannot fill a letter otherwise I do not deserve your correspondence. observations upon a collegiate life & an account of mine as minute as can be without growing tedious will supply their place. Collins whom the more I know the more I love & respect will be much with me — we will conform to customs but keep each other in coutenance in the total disregard of ceremonies (among the scholars I name) equally disagreeable & disgraceful we shall read compare & improve together & I trust at some future period look back to the years spent at college with the pleasing reflection that they were spent in doing our duties.

yours most sincerely

Robert Southey.

Monday morning.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: OXFORD
Postmark: [partial] OJA/ 2/ 93
Watermarks: Rampant lion holding a scimitar, a second figure; crown with a circle with Lloyd written underneath
Endorsements: 26 <16> Janry 1793; Recd. Jany 22d. 1793; Ansd. 5. Feby. 1793; 1793
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 169–170 [in part; where it is dated 16 January 1793]. BACK

[1] Horace (65–8 BC), Ars Poetica, lines 161–162. The Latin translates as: ‘The beardless youth, freed at last from his tutor, finds joy in horses.’ BACK

[2] Horace, Odes, Book 3, No. 3, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘The man of integrity who holds fast to his purpose’. BACK

[3] Edmund Burke (1729/30–1797; DNB) defended the American revolutionaries in 1776, but condemned the French Revolution in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). BACK

[4] A fable sometimes attributed to Jean de la Fontaine (1621–1695) in which the North Wind (Boreas) and Sun (Phoebus) compete to make a traveller remove his coat by, respectively, force and persuasion. BACK

[5] Horace, Odes, Book 3, no. 3, line 3. The Latin translates as ‘the frown of an oppressive despot’. BACK

[6] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB); Mark Akenside (1721–1770; DNB); William Collins (1721–1759; DNB); Charles Churchill (1732–1764; DNB); Francis Beaumont (1584/5–1616; DNB); John Fletcher (1579–1625; DNB). BACK

[7] Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB), whose grave is unmarked. BACK

[8] High blazd ... heart: Verses written in three columns. BACK

[9] What means ... death: These lines are written in single column. BACK

[10] ———: The poem is separated from the main text of the letter (on the right) by a box drawn around it. BACK

[11] Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), English radical and author of The Rights of Man (1791–1792). BACK

[12] Edmund Burke, English politician and author of the conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). BACK

[13] Joseph Priestley (1733–1804; DNB), Unitarian minister, scientist and radical. BACK

[14] Statement of Christian orthodoxy drawn up c. AD 500 and attributed to the Greek theologian St Athanasius (AD 293–373). BACK

[15] Juvenal, Satire 3, line 41. This translates as ‘What will I do at Rome? I don’t know how to tell lies’. BACK

[16] John Tillotson (1630–1694; DNB), Archbishop of Canterbury, was reputed to have wished that the church was rid of the Athanasian creed. BACK

[17] Horace, Odes, Book 4, no. 4, line 1. The Latin translates as ‘Like the winged deliverer of the thunderbolt’. BACK

[18] Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC) was murdered because of his opposition to the Second Triumvirate, of which Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (63 BC–AD 14; reigned 30 BC–AD 14), later the Emperor Augustus, was a member. Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC–AD 17) was exiled by Augustus. BACK

[19] Julia (39 BC–AD 14), only daughter of the Emperor Augustus, was notorious for her debauched lifestyle. The Emperor Caligula (AD 12–41; reigned AD 37–41), alleged she had committed incest with her father. BACK

[20] A paraphrase of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794; DNB), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 12 vols (London, 1788), I, p. 86. A copy of this edition was in Southey’s library, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, gen. ed. A. N. L. Munby, vol. 9 Poets and Men of Letters, ed. Roy Park (London, 1974), p. 138. Gnaeus Cornelius Cinna Magnus (before 47 BC–after AD 35) was involved in a conspiracy against Augustus in AD 4 but was pardoned. BACK

[21] Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 12 vols (London, 1788), I, p. 86 n. 26. Julianus, the Apostate (331/2–363; reigned 361–363), Roman emperor. BACK

[22] The traditional song sometimes known as ‘The Miller of Dee’, particularly its lines ‘I care for nobody, no not I,/ If nobody cares for me’. BACK

[23] A paraphrase of Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), ‘An Essay on Criticism’ (1711), line 365. BACK

[24] Horace, Odes, Book 1, no. 5, line 4, sometimes translated as ‘excellent in simplicity’, or from Milton, ‘plain in thy neatness’. BACK

[25] Edmund Burke, politician and author of the conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). BACK

[26] The traditional song sometimes known as ‘The Miller of Dee’. BACK

[27] The poet and gardener William Mason (1725–1797; DNB). BACK

[28] A reference to the traditional song sometimes known as ‘The Miller of Dee’, particularly its lines ‘I care for nobody, no not I,/ If nobody cares for me’. BACK

[29] Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), putative discoverer of America in 1492. BACK

[30] The goddess who presided over the sewers of Rome. BACK

[31] Balliol College, Oxford. Probably an allusion to the widely held, but mistaken, belief that it was a ‘Scotch’ foundation, inaugurated by John Balliol, King of Scots (c.1248–1314; reigned 1292–1296). In fact, the college was founded by his father, John Balliol (b. before 1208–1268; DNB) and his wife Dervorguilla of Galloway (d. 1290; DNB). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 2 times)