65. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [brother], [late October/early November -] 14 December [1793]

65. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey [brother], [late October/early November –] 14 December [1793] ⁠* 

Dear Tom. as I sat down to write a long letter
It struck me that scribbling in rhyme would be better
That if with success I should fill up the sheet
It might serve to amuse a dull hour in the fleet.
Soon thought — soon resolvd. I’ve a great deal to tell
And the rhymes run away very easy & well.
Oh I have a mine of poetical riches
Snivels [1]  cough — a young pig washd & Mr Bs breeches
A wasps nest discoverd & taken & slain
Gipsey washd in the suds & the fleas on Bow Begum. [2] 
Myself turnd schoolmaster — but here is the tea come
So I’ll fancy my tea like Apollo’s strange spring [3] 
Gulp down a great cup full & then try to sing
We thought my dear Thomas that poor little Snivel
Was going with a tough cough post haste to the Devil
But say you, who is Snivel? why Snivel dear Thomas
Is a beautiful elegant terrier of promise
On whom Nature has all her best bounties bestowd
And I am just going to write a fine ode

Alas poor SNIVEL
The cough she had
Was very bad
And made her hang her head & droop & drivel.
And then we met in consultation grave
To think what might poor Snivel save.

We met
A very very very mournful set
Poor Snivel! with a sigh I said.
Poor Snivel! echoed Grosvenor & he sighd.
Poor Snivel! Horace cried
Poor Snivel! Mr Bedford shook his head.
And Robert [4]  said as grief did him bewitch
Poor dog — poor beast — poor Snivel & poor bitch

Tis a sad cough say I.
Tis no cough Robert says.
This cough says Horace soon will make her die
And Grosvenor said it soon would end her days.

Sir, (Robert said) be my opinion known
In Snivels throat there is a bone
And could she this throw off
She never more would cough

Then Robert cut a stick with a great crook
And poked down Snivels throat to look
Look there — look there —
I see the bone I do declare.
Down the poor beasts red lane
We look, but look in vain.

Dear Tom you know Mr Parsley. [5] 
Imagine for the simile’s sake
An Ass had the tooth ache
And every thing prepard
The ass was led into Doctor Parsleys yard.
Think you quite quiet would the Ass lay?
Seated in the great chair
Do you think he would not make a riot
But sit as quiet
As Shad sat there?
I dare say
The Ass would kick & bray
Thus to the Doctor most uncivil
Kickd barkd bit howld the impatient patient Snivel.

And so
Robert at last let go
And Snivel was so bad that once we thought
Twas best to have her shot.

Then was there lamentation heard at Brixton
Since Death we thought the bitch had fixt on
And so again we met to save
Poor Snivel from the grave!

Some James’s powders [6]  mixd in butter
Poor Snivel took to make her squtter.
And this to follow up
We gave a dose of jollup
Then as you well may think
Ensued a dismal stink.

The cough survivd this trick
And Snivel dislikd physic

So once again each sad Physician
All sad & sighing
That the poor beast was dying
Met to consult upon her sad condition
And we agreed the Patient was so ill
That her disorder baffled human skill

And so
We let poor Snivel go
And then — miraculous to tell
When the Doctors gave her up — the beast got well!

Misfortunes Thomas never come alone
As in my letter shall be shown.
And when you see come
The sorrows of Bow Begum
And hear how Hyder [7]  tore his masters breeches
Then you will think indeed that Fate each dog bewitches.

When Gipsey [8]  jumpd for joy mast high
To see her daughter get well
Then Mr Bedfords careful eye
Saw that Bow Begum was not well
And soon he sees
An hundred thousand million fleas
Deprived the poor unhappy beast of ease.

Again to counsel we come
To think of something to relieve Bow Begum.

First Mr Bedford came
Then Grosvenor grave physician stalkd along
And Horace next of grave doctorial fame
And I too joind the throng
And then by schemes like these
We counselld what was best to kill the fleas

Whether with poking head
Intent to pick them out
Or wash with melting lead
The fleaing rout
To boil the bitch or else to shave her
And then in good strong suds to lave her

One plan at last we fixt upon the which
Was to call in the Barber to the Bitch

The Barber comes & now
First with his scissars does he shear the Bow
And now he has her
He takes his razor
A strong soap lather made he
With which
Whilst Robert held the Bitch
Most barbarously he shaved the Lady.

As when — the skies the <grew> dark
And (like a maggot in a nut-shell)
Old Noah in his ark
With sons wife daughters birds & beasts was put well
A dreadful trim in
Men & Women
And children began swimming
Horses & cows then tried to float
Each pig cut his own throat
But trying to escape was then no good
For every one was drownd in this sad flood

Such ills as these
A deluge quite as unexpected
By Robert & the Barbers hand directed
Rushd on the fleas.
Then in this trim
Each flea tried to swim.
But ah! but oh!
It would not do
For tho to swim in water they might hope
As you dear Tom or I can do
Yet when they came to try in soap
The lather stopt them. it is very true
For my dear Brother really I think
That you in soapsuds would most surely sink.

Then Bow Begum was scrubbd
And then she was rubbd
And in a towel wrapt to dry
Bow Begum thus compleated was laid by.

And now (thus Grosvenor said)
I have a charming project in my head
Since we’ve begun to wash why not go thro?

Tis an odd rig
Yet — why not wash the pig?
Since the same suds will excellently do.

Soon thought & soon resolvd. but yet
Remaind one mighty job
The little pig to get
Before we well could put him in the tub.
But pig ran hard
About the yard
Had you been there you would have laughd to see
How fast the pig ran round — & here close followd we.

Fast ran the pig but faster
We followd little master
Then did he kick growl grunt & squaul
And never in my life did I
Hear such a sad outcry.
But yet in vain was all.
For Pig was caught
Spite of his dreadful din
On to the washing tub was brought
And there thrown in.
Sure such a sight was never seen
A Pig quite clean!

Thus Thomas youve seen each disaster so evil
That befell to Bow Begum & poor little Snivel
But these scenes my brother must shortly be over
And I must return to see Phillis & Rover [9] 
But of this homeward journey we’ll now lay aside stir
And give you the story of breeches-break Hyder.

The evening drew nigh
And bedarkend the plain
Mr Bedford would try
To let loose Hyders chain.

So when Hercules strove
Pluto’s mastiff [10]  to bind
And drag him above —
He would stay behind.

He tost & he tore
His rage mixing cries in
And then with a roar
Belchd a gallon of poison

But whats very strange
Tho exceedingly true
To loose Hyders chains
Made this dreadful ado

For Robert no more
To unchain him could dare,
His breeches before
Having met with a tear

And Cooling [11]  too dreads
This beast most unkind
Who had bit all to shreds
His breeches behind.

For me I thought best
Since the beast was so rum
Tother side of the gate
To take care of my b-m.

Safe & snug there I staid
And of course without fear.
When by no means afraid
Mr Bedford drew near.

He let loose the chain
‘Good dog Hyder come’
Eer he spake it again
Hyder leapt at his bum.

To tear it he meant
But the beast was mistaken
Mr B aside bent
And so saved his bacon.
But oh of all vexations worst vexation
Thro the torn breeches hung the flag of abomination

No longer at Brixton such sports wear away
In innocent folly an hour of the day
At Bristol I write to conclude this so long
This tiresome ridiculous whimsical song.

Far away lie our lots in the voyage of [MS torn]
As under thus borne on the ocean of strife.
Yet remember each peril & wintry hour past
Our voyage must end in the same port at last
What tho the winds whistle — clouds mantle the sky
The deep thunders roll & the billows beat high
Anon the rough rage of the tempest shall cease
The sun shine again & the sea sink to peace


My dear Thomas there is nonsense enough for one letter & I can only say that if it amuses you you shall have more & better — at least more serious. the length of this may apologize for the lateness — in fact it was begun immediately upon the receipt of yours.

Shad desires to be rememberd to you. I write this at the table with him. he is recovering apace from a violent cold — for me you know nought is never in danger — we are all well.

should you see Madge [12]  again remember me kindly to him — he was one of my earliest friends & long as we have been estranged I still feel a great regard for him.

I send this to Bath that my Mother may say what she pleases

yours most affectionately

Robt Southey.

I shall remain here till January.

Dec 14. My mother has kept this letter six weeks. this evening we received your letter. you shall have some money very sent. send your direction for the shirts & the money shall come with them. I am over here for a few days. we are all talking about you Miss Monk [13]  & Miss E Fricker & me & Mamma. & Mr Daguilar [14]  has been just here & my pen is very bad & I want you to mend it send your direction & you shall have all the money can be sent

your affectionate brother

R Southey.

how much prize money?

ha ha ha


* Address: Post Paid/ Thomas Southey Esqr / Venus Frigate/ Plymouth <Plymouth> [inserted in another hand]/ Torbay or elsewhere/ Single Sheet./ xxxxxxx
Stamped: BATH
Endorsement: Letters Recd. in 1793
MS: British Library, Add MS 30,927. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Snivel was a dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[2] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[3] Apollo, in Greek mythology, the god of poetry. The Castalian Spring at Delphi, centre of a cult of Apollo, symbolised the well of poetic inspiration. BACK

[4] Robert Southey. BACK

[5] His identity is uncertain, but he seems to have been someone employed by the Bedfords. BACK

[6] A patent medicine used for fevers and as a general pick-me-up, invented by Dr Robert James (c. 1703–1776; DNB). BACK

[7] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[8] A dog owned by the Bedford family. BACK

[9] Dogs owned by Southey’s family. BACK

[10] In classical mythology, the twelfth labour of the hero Hercules was to kidnap Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates to Hades. BACK

[11] Unidentified. BACK

[12] His identity is uncertain, but he seems to have been a childhood friend of Southey’s in Bath or Bristol — possibly they attended school together or lived near one another. BACK

[13] A member of Southey’s circle of family and friends in Bath or Bristol. Her full name is unknown. BACK

[14] A member of Southey’s circle of family and friends in Bath or Bristol. His full name is unknown. BACK

Places mentioned