60. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 [-18] October 1793
60. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 14 [–18] October 1793 *
Brixton Causeway. Oct. 14. Monday morning 1793. day before my departure
My dear Grosvenor.
as I do not know when I may again find so excellent an opportunity of beginning — I seize old Time by the forelock & there will I hold him till I want him. so no more at present from your sincere friend. where my letter is destined to be finished I know not but the continuation comes from Reading where I am writing in a small room with a good fire & two London Riders dissertating upon robberies & the most likely places for such adventures. as one of them is at the same table I cannot versify as I intended & had begun so plain prose must tell how I got this far. the Doctor left me at Brentford I proceeded on sad & solitary to Hounslow & there gave one shilling for Sir Launcelot Greaves  to amuse me on the road. at Cranford Bridge — thirteen miles from Hyde Park corner I took a dinner. but I found the day growing late & myself unwilling to be fatigued against tomorrow so I first mounted the Maidenhead Stage & then the Reading. as evening approachd got in the last & here I am at a most execrable Inn in not the most agreable of humours.
I know nothing so unpleasant as leaving the friends we love & — yet such is the state of society that life is hardly any thing than continual parting. you are an exception — but observe the general tenour of life — school & college occupy what ought to be <the> happiest ages — then comes business & perhaps the opportunity of happiness when the relish is gone. Universities might certainly be made useful institutions but at present they are pernicious to individuals & to the nation at large. the morality of Oxford you know how to estimate but with respect to the polishing which I know I want but fear I shall never attain — is it to be found there? steel receives its last polish from a womans hand I believe — & my rugged ore requires the same management — this I shall never meet with. three years must be spent in studies which lead to nothing — & the remainder of my life in forming theories of happiness which I never can practises. Edmund Seward says very truly that <a> man who indulges himself in literature merely for self amusement deserves no more respect from the public than the glutton or the voluptuary. this is very true but selfishness is deeply implanted in the human heart so deeply that even the strong hand of Philosophy cannot root it up. you & I may indulge ourselves in theories of reforming the taste & morals of a corrupt age & perhaps our theories are not wholly visionary — but is our disinterestedness such as might prompt us to this against our inclination?
I soon found the two Riders were Democrats when they began upon politics, so up went your letter & I joined in the discourse. eat a boild rabbit with the one who remaind & got to bed. next morning sketched the gate house of the abbey (which you shall have as soon as I reach Bristol) put a biscuit in my pocket & trudged on. after eighteen miles walking without rest or other food than my biscuit I reachd Dunnington Castle — more fatiguing pilgrimages have certainly been performd by greater fools but none with more devotion. I had the idea of Chaucer  & you were in great danger of a rhapsody. had the merry old Bard resided there now I should certainly have claimed acquaintance & drank some of his old October — but the castle is desolate & I must proceed to Newbury to dinner. I just reachd it as the last coach past thro. mounted the box — made a good dinner & reachd Bath a little before ten last night, Wednesday.
on Saturday morning I purpose proceeding to Bristol. Oxford I do not visit. you will direct to me as usual & the sooner you write the better. I have some good odes in embryo to fill up this letter — in the interim you shall have the remarks that occurrd upon reading Sir Launcelot Greaves on the road. broad coarse humour seems to be the chief excellence of Smollet incidents almost too gross to please & too strange to be probable happen at every inn his heroes stop at & we are sure to find the sailors dialect & the clowns broad Scotch or broad Yorkshire in the place of humour. when he gets upon those subjects which perhaps none but Rousseau knew how to treat he rhapsodizes about charms angels & Hymens & thinks passion & nonsense mean the same. some strange discovery of birth comes in at the end & all the dramatis personæ are tacked together at the altar. yet with all these faults you are not soon tired of Smollets novels. they insensibly lead you on & if they do not come near the heart certainly play round the head. Humphrey Clinker  strikes me as his best — the characters are less outrè & of course more natural. perhaps the epistolary form of it kept him in some bounds.
I copied these four lines from the hospital at Reading
To the ME at Brixton
the transition from your letter to the card table was not the most agreable last night — particularly as I was in the writing mood — I met with a fellow of Corpus now doing penance in all the horrors of disease for his faults & follies — Goldesbrough  he tells me has got the demiship at Maudlin. what a miserable state is that man in, who has only his fellowship to depend upon. if he marries he loses it & how he can be happy without marriage appears to me a paradox. this is a piece of the scarlet whores petticoat — a lump of the old leaven a remnant of idolatry. it might have been reasonably imagined that when the enormities of nunneries & monasteries (most monstrous institutions) were exposed — that our sage reformers would have provided against their renewal. they ought to have known that the same causes will produce the same effects & when they tolerated matrimony in the clergy they should not have insisted upon celibacy in the universities. In the history of these hot beds of vice I am not well read — but it is probable that when the work of reformation was performd by Rapine — some timeservers who secretly favoured the old Religion presided in the universities & retained thus much of the Babylonian patchwork. the consequences are visible. our fellows are either the most dissolute libertines or good well meaning scholars like Tom Howe sauntering about their respective quadrangles with long faces & keeping them free from the impurities of impudent dogs. Ginger forms a genus of his own & a queer genus it is — distinguishd by the generic marks of everlasting thirst & invincible stupidity to which accomplishment he specifically adds — two eyes like a boild rabbits & the harmonious nasal twang that instead of filling the heart with devotion plays upon the risible muscles of his auditors. for many years these unfortunate animals have been the butt of ridicule whilst the satirist forgets that instead of lashing the victims of the institution he ought to expose the institution itself. Vicesimus Knox  has touchd pretty freely upon these subjects — but much remains to be done. there is an immense Augean stable that wants cleansing — & the filth that now breeds corruption if properly distributed could become excellent manure & fertlize the whole country. a consummation devoutly to be wishd for  — more to be wishd than expected.
To me the radical defect of the universities appears this — the association of men with only men. the total absence of that sex from whom only we can receive the last polish. the intercourse in this country is much too distant & of course Man becomes more brutal when the tablecloth is removed the women retire with the dishes they have dressed & of Mr Wilkes  two subjects of conversation the one (bad as it is) is above the drinking party. the women of the present day are not in general possessd of those qualifications which we might desire — but I am inclined to think with our correspondent Cassandra  that most of these faults originate in our sex. when they see that unaffected simplicity has no charms in the eyes of fashionable folly they give into fashions which Reason would have condemned & Nature scornd. I might alledge the distance between the sexes as an argument against your assertion that man were <is> in a state of Nature were I so disposed — should we in that best state be pleasd with Hail Politeness Power divine — the curst little rushlight or the horid squalling of a thing imported from Italy? but I am running from my subject into a rage against opera singers — beings to be pitied most certainly — but 999 degrees below the Men Milliners & that is below nothing.
The human mind is formed as capable of excellence now, as it was in those days when Themistocles  fought Aristides  lived & Æschylus  sung. nor are the faculties of Woman impaired or anyways alterd from what they were in Portia  Arria  & the mother of the Gracchi  and yet we seldom see one of these glorious characters arise. there must be a defect somewhere & with respect to one cause — that of education we shall agree. I would not wish my Wife to excel in dancing finger the harpsichord & paint flowers incomparably whilst her knowledge of books was confined to novels & of cookery — to knowing where to place the dishes. she should not be a kitchen wench or a pedant — but I am convinced it would be equally agreable to both were she a companion in my studies & knew how to make a good pudding. as I would not wed a Sycorax  so neither would I ask a Venus.  good humour & good sense would always be handsome. surely my wishes are not unreasonable — but they will probably never be gratified. thanks to myself I possess the two best requisites for an old batchelor — I can smoke tobacco & play backgammon — in addition to this I will talk politics with the exciseman of my parish & like a true patriot always be shaved at the Barbers. an old Mrs Piozzi  shall dress my turnips after I have raisd them — I will make my own cyder — & have a flitch of bacon on the rack with my walking sticks, & a good stock of toasting cheese. this is not a very enviable prospect but building Castles in the air for Reason to destroy is an employment I am sick of.
I have denominated my stick the Sans Culotte to which name it has the most undoubted title. in my next you will probably have an ode to it & another to the Me at Bristol — but I must have Snivel  finishd & an ode to Tom Paine. 
the Doctor & I made a fine contrast — the drest travelling democrat & the drest Man Millener! he will be very angry at this so tell him that in five minutes I shall <begin> him a very long epistle. I am in momentary expectation of my baggage & you need not be told a little impatient. make my respects to all your good family. Mr & Mrs Deacon — Mrs Colyns  &c.
a la mode CC you see I have once remembered the rules of Politeness Power divine.
I have pleased myself during the filling of this sheet with the idea that you & Horace are busied in performing the same task. tomorrow I reach Bristol to dinner direct to me as usual.
yours most sincerely
* Address: To/ James Deacon Esqr/ Long Room/ Custom House/
Postmark: AOC/ 19/ 93
Watermarks: Portal & Co; crown with shield
Endorsements: Recd Oct. 22d. 1793; Ansd: Oct. 25th. & 27th
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. c. 22. ALS; 4p.
 In mood ... tongue: Verse written at a right angle to the main part of the letter across the bottom part of fol. 1 r. BACK
 Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400; DNB), poet and administrator. Dunnington Castle, near Newbury, was reputed to have once belonged to the Chaucer family. BACK
 According to legend, the philosopher Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1292?; DNB) created a talking brazen head which could answer any question. Southey later incorporated this myth into Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 10, lines 281–284n. BACK
 The popular ballad ‘The Children in the Wood’, included in Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London, 1767), II, pp. 211–217. BACK
 O thou ... feel: Verse written at a right angle to the main part of the letter in double columns across bottom part of fol. 1 v. BACK
 John Goldesbrough (d. 1846), a student at Balliol College, Oxford, and later a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, BA 1797. BACK
 Vicesimus Knox (1752–1821; DNB), headmaster and writer. See Essays Moral and Literary, 11th edn, 2 vols (London, 1787), I, pp. 323–326. BACK
 Probably the politician John Wilkes (1725–1797; DNB), whose profligacy and promiscuity were renowned. BACK
 Æschylus (525–456 BC), Greek tragic dramatist, reputedly killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head, mistaking it for a stone. BACK
 Portia, the wife of Brutus (85–42 BC), was a Roman woman with a high tolerance for pain. She gave herself a severe wound in the thigh in order to display her bravery, thus proving herself worthy of being included in Brutus’s conspiracy against Julius Caesar. After Brutus’s death in 42 BC, she committed suicide by swallowing burning coals. BACK
 Arria was the wife of Paetus Caecina, one of the participants in a conspiracy against the Emperor Claudius (10 BC–AD 54; reigned 41–AD 54) in AD 42. On the way to her husband’s trial, Arria stabbed herself to show Paetus that it did not hurt; Paetus followed her example and killed himself before going to trial. BACK
 Cornelia Scipionis Africanis (190–100 BC), mother of the radical politicians Tiberius (163–132 BC) and Gaius (154–121 BC) Gracchus. She was considered the ideal of a Roman matron. BACK
 The writer Hester Thrale Piozzi (1741–1821; DNB). Southey is possibly alluding to her platonic relationship with Dr Johnson (1709–1784; DNB). BACK
 The Bedford family dog. For the poem to Snivel, see Southey’s letter to his brother Tom, [late October/early November–] 14 December  (Letter 65). BACK
 If Southey wrote an ode to the radical Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), it does not seem to have survived. BACK