55. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 31 [July-6] August 1793

55. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 31 [July–6] August 1793 ⁠* 

Hereford. Wednesday. 31. 1793.

Like the wandering Jew, Bedford, you see I am here there & every where. now tramping it to Worcester, now peripateticating to Cambridge, & now on saddle equastrian in the land of Cyder. traversing the shores of the Wye & riding listlessly over the spot where once Ariconium [1]  stood. walking amongst the dusty tombs of my progenitors in the cathedral — seeing grown-up-boys-&-girls amusing themselves with bows & arrows — moralizing and essayizing upon all & forming a letter upon a different subject every hour. the most agreable part of this to myself & I dare to think to you is that in the course of a fortnight I ramble to Brixton. my next letter shall fix the day. as I rode along now fast now slow now wet now dry before I joined my Uncle I ran over your thoughts upon religion &c a thousand times. every inn I came to I refreshed my memory. religion is a subject upon which so much may be said that wiser heads than ours have been puzzled how to decide. rogues have made it a pretence for every enormity fools have trembled or despised whilst the wiser part of mankind have revered & obeyed. were I a Legislator — I would build a temple to the One Eternal Universal God. my national creed should be God is one — Christ is the Saviour of Mankind — for the metaphysical disquisitions of subtle disputants — divine Doctors — schoolmen whose brains are intricate as a bale of raw silk — mad monks — & drunken divines I would reject them all, & every man who acknowledged a deity might worship him unmolested under my establishment. the human race would soon be fraternized by a system so liberal & those atrocious animosities which prompt the orthodox to revile their dissenting brethren would be forgotten. a churchman will speak with temper of a Jew a Hottentot or a Moslem — but when he names a Presbyterian or a Socinian all the rage of persecution glows in his zealous breast & for want of stronger mental arguments he seems ready to adopt the convincing ones of fire & faggot. I am an enemy to an establishment. church & state produce but a mulish kind of barren religion. tho we turned out the scarlet whore we kept her red petticoat. what is the national religion of America? test acts I abhor. the scrupulous sectary is prevented from entering the pale of the church whilst the door is open to the Deist or the Libertine who can swallow an oath as easily as a bumper. at Oxford I have seen the destined pillars of the church wallowing in all the filth of debauchery

“from such Apostles — oh ye Mitred heads
Defend the church — & lay not careless hand
On Men that cannot teach & will not learn [2] 

you will impute this dislike of Hierarchy to my being a re-publican & a sinner. had any of the Apostles ten thousand a year? what said the saviour of mankind concerning dignities & wealth? I could proceed much farther but how this has gone so far I know not. Frends conduct I despise — that of his persecutors I execrate. [3]  the little I know of his pamphlet is too contemptible to deserve notice. marriage is a sacred institution & the man who would lessen the reverence due to it is a villain.

how these very heterodox opinions may coincide with yours I know not. tis best we should differ upon some subjects — but we are nearer upon all than you imagine. not that I am apostatizing — my principles & practice are equally democratic & you are the greatest democrat in your actions that ever gave the lie to his own opinions.

enough of this. is not Gooseberry Pie a more agreable subject.

A Pious Ode.


Roast beef & plumb pudding
I find not much good in
Nor care one fig for them do I —
For venison & turtle
Let Aldermen hurtle
But give me a Gooseberry Pie.


Recollect my dear friend
How quickly an end
Of a huge one once made you & I
And youll instantly own
That of all eating known
There is nothing like Gooseberry Pie


Anacreon [4]  divine
Sung the praises of wine
When the merry old toper was dry
And what can be done
Better now I have none
Than to celebrate Gooseberry Pie.


When old THORP gan to rail
(Thorp — thereby hangs a tail)
The stranger was ready to cry
When he heard that the Law
Would permit the thief’s paw
Steal the gooseberries he meant <(for a Pie.>


“Neither Goose can I find
“Nor yet Berry behind
“As over Burns Justice I wander”
So the Stranger soon saw
Tho’ no goose in the law
There most certainly was a great Gander.


a most Horatian ode — ending like him with an heroic tale.

Judge Nares [5]  was sitting at the head of his table & his son at the bottom. what have you got there Jack? Goose Pappa. what have you got? calves head my Uncle knows Nares & the muscles of my Face are often in great agony.

Sunday. August 4. 6 o clock evening . Bristol

I have just met with a passage in Rousseau which expresses some of my religious opinions better than I could do it myself. Je ne trouve point de plus doux hommage a la divinite, que l’admiration enuette qu’excite la contemplation de ses œuvres. Je ne puis comprendre comment des campagnards, et sur-tout des solitaires, peuvent ne pas avoir de foi; comment leur ame ne s’eleve pas cent fois le jour avec extase a l’auteur des merveilles qui les frappent. Dans ma chambre je prie plus rarement & séchement, mais a l’aspect d’un beau paysage, je me sens emu. Une vielle femme, pour toute priere, ne savoit dire que ô! L’eveque lui dit: Bonne femme continuez de prier ainsi, votre priere vaut mieux que les notres. — cette meilleure priere est aussi la mienne. —  [6] 

9 o clock. as I put yr brothers letter in the office to day I took yours out. my silence is accounted for & whenever it happened you may depend upon it some strange occurrence taciturnifies me. silence is not my — fault shall I say or virtue? three times have I read your letter unable to make head or tail of the latter part till the third reading & after discovering the sense (enigmatical as the prophecies of Delphi [7]  or the whore of Babylon)  [8]  conclude with one of my new correspondents that you were all mad — by Gad — matter in madness [9]  says Shakespere — but what was the matter? — something material of course. Mr D [10]  (what was his name?) usurps my post — punster of mankind. you are indebted to <me> the half yard of poetry.

sitting in the window at Uley last Wednesday with Mr Shepherd & his sister [11]  — she cried out what creature is that? out we leapt — over the ha-ha — & with the assistance of two dogs killed a stoat. this furnished laughter & conversation. a tame kite eat this stoat & we were contriving epitaphs such as — here lies the poor stoat — that went down the kites throat — &c. I wrote these lines & slipt into her hand

Lifeless within this breast the victim lies
Slain by the fatal power of Ellens eyes.

she is a most agreable lively girl — with that face which a critic would call ugly — but of which a Physiognomist would pronounce more favourably — a pair <of> eyes well illuminated by sense & the same nose that made such havoc in the seraglio of Soliman. [12]  so much for Ellen Shepherd with whom I passed some very agreable hours & of whom I shall often think with pleasure.

this journey has deranged my plan of operations for the campaign. poor Joan [13]  has stood still on her road & her history — I have nearly finished the first <book> in a manner with which I am satisfied & as I am the person whom it is most material to please my own taste must be first consulted. I feel much inclined to democratize an ode to the palace of King John of tooth-drawing memory.  [14] 

wandering over cathedrals is apt to make me melancholy but when I tread upon the rotten relics of royalty I feel proud & satisfied. I have exalted over the tomb of Jack the dentist [15]  — moralized over the petty warriors of the Heptarchy — sighed for the lot of Robert of Normandy [16]  over his grave — I thought of Gray [17]  as I stood contemplating the monument of Edward 2nd. he is the only man whom capricious cruelty amidst its various experiments <ever> tried to make a pop gun off [18]  — in Thornbury churchyard I was struck by an odd epitaph. sombody who died after fifty years affliction of body & mind —

What eer my former life has been
My latter was penitence for sin.

— I forget his name but Gent. was tacked to it so that his crimes & punishments are easily guessed. upon this I mused for ten miles & it may perhaps furnish some future essay.

I have heard from Edmund Seward. the news from Derby which he sends is good & I am more fully satisfied that democracy is but another word for all that is good when I find him equally democratic with myself. I am come to the end of my paper & recollect a thousand things which I wished to have said — it has already been delayed to mention the day of my departure & still it is impossible to fix. you will certainly see me this week but the weighty business of washing mending & marking — cleaning leather breeches —repairing shoes & getting together linen which has mouldered for six months is so intricate that my head is not mathematical enough to measure out a proper portion of time. as soon as this letter is finished I shall begin another & proceed till Times gentle hand unravels the clue.

Seward has revived the battle of the petticoat by asking whether the German women so celebrated for their virtues thought long petticoats necessary to decency. the German women are no guides for us in this matter — we may as well follow the inoffensive manner of Vaillants [19]  sentimental Hottentots — strip a la mode Wynn in the wood [20]  — & season our baskets you know how. I am for Liberty & Long Petticoats.

Tuesday. at last all is settled & on Thursday evening I get into the mail coach. on Friday morning I get out. step into the first hack & hope to breakfast at Brixton. it will the best way of conveying my trunk & desk. till then farewell.

yr sincerely

R Southey.

this letter was very near coming in my pocket. I should have departed this evening if I could have found room.


* Address: Grosvenor Charles Bedford/ Old Palace Yard/ Westminster./ Single
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: AAU/ 7/ 93
Watermark: Crown with G R underneath and figure of Britannia
Endorsement: Received Augt. 7th. 1793
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 30–35; Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 182–183 [in part; where it is dated 31 July 1793]. BACK

[1] A Roman settlement in Herefordshire. BACK

[2] Southey is paraphrasing William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Task, A Poem, in Six Books (London, 1785), Book 1, ‘The Time-piece’, p. 65. BACK

[3] William Frend (1757–1841; DNB), religious writer and actuary. Elected to a fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge in 1780. In May 1793, he was tried by the university authorities for his authorship of Peace and Union Recommended to the Associated Bodies of Republicans and Anti-Republicans (1793). BACK

[4] The Greek lyric poet Anacreon (fl. C6 BC). BACK

[5] Southey is possibly referring to George Nares (1716–1786; DNB), a judge. BACK

[6] Southey is adapting Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), Confessions, Book 12. The French is translated in The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, transl. J. M. Cohen (London, 1953; reprinted 1954), p. 593, as: ‘I can think of no more fitting homage to the Divinity than the silent wonder aroused by the contemplation of His works … I cannot understand how those who live in the country, and the solitary especially, can be lacking in faith. How is it that their souls are not raised in ecstasy a hundred times a day to the Author of the wonders that strike their eyes? … In my room I pray less often and with less fervour; but at the sight of a beautiful landscape I feel moved … An old woman whose sole prayer consisted of the exclamation “O!” “Good mother” said he [a wise bishop], “go on praying like that always. Your prayer is better than ours.” That better prayer is also mine.’ BACK

[7] Site of an oracle in ancient Greece. BACK

[8] Revelation 17. BACK

[9] Southey is adapting Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2, line 96. BACK

[10] Identity uncertain, but this could be a reference to a Mr Deacon, a friend of the Bedford family. BACK

[11] Mr Shepherd (dates unknown) was probably the pseudonymous author of A Tour Through France, Containing a Description of Paris, Cherbourg and Ermenonville; with a Rhapsody, Composed at the Tomb of Rousseau (1789). His sister’s name was Ellen. BACK

[12] Isaac Bickerstaffe (1733–1808), The Sultan: A Peep into the Seraglio (1775). BACK

[13] Southey’s plan to write an epic on Joan of Arc. BACK

[14] The reference is to Raphael Holinshed (1525–1580; DNB), Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577), and the story that King John (1167–1216; reigned 1199–1216; DNB) extorted 10,000 marks from a Jew of Bristol by drawing one of his teeth each day until he agreed to supply the money. BACK

[15] King John is buried in Worcester Cathedral. BACK

[16] Robert, Duke of Normandy (b. in or after 1050, d. 1134; DNB), eldest son of William I, the Conqueror (1027/8–1087; reigned 1066–1087; DNB) he inherited his father’s lands in France but not those in England. He was captured by his brother Henry I (1068/9–1135; reigned 1100–1135; DNB) in 1106 and spent the remainder of his life in captivity. His tomb is in Gloucester cathedral. BACK

[17] Thomas Gray (1716–1771; DNB), The Bard (1757), 2.1, lines 5–10. BACK

[18] Edward II (1284–1327; reigned 1307–1327; DNB) was allegedly murdered by having a red-hot poker inserted into his intestines. BACK

[19] François Le Vaillant (1753–1824), Travels From the Cape of Good Hope into the Interior Parts of Africa, Including Many Interesting Anecdotes, 2 vols (London, 1790), II, p. 8. BACK

[20] This refers to the incident described in the letter to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 5 May 1793; see Letter 48. BACK

Places mentioned