3228. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 January 1819

3228. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 January 1819 ⁠* 

My dear G.

Your pencils [1]  are on my chimney piece, & the next question is how to transport them to yours, – for they are of an unfrankable shape & texture, & at this season of the year, no opportunity of sending them by a private hand is likely to occur. And unluckily it so happens that I never stood more in need of such an opportunity.

I am very much obliged to Shield [2]  for his desire of setting my verses to music, – very much flattered &c &. And very much obliged to you for your solicitude about them, & entirely of your opinion as to the said verses, as far as regards their merit; – you know I told you that simple fiddling was not fit for them, – they ought to be bum-fiddled. But as for their giving offence, lord help the silly persons who should be offended at them! They have no other fault than that of being altogether good for nothing, & they no other merit than that of being entirely suitable to the subject, that is to say, just as common place. I thought the subject was no matter of choice, – the Queens death coming so close upon the end of the year. [3]  Otherwise it is most likely that I should taken a general topic, & preferrd <given> a lyrical sketch of the State of Europe, which might have been a companion to that Ode of mine written four years ago, wherewith I am well pleased. [4]  There is no reason why I should not write <such> an Ode still, (except that I am much better employed) – but you yourself say it cannot be in time; & so in Cumberland phrase I need not fash myself. [5]  – I have done my exercise, a very bad one it is I know, but I do not think it will be looked over, & if it should, & they were to sconce me [6]  a quarters salary for it, I can tell them this, that I could get 25£ in less time than it would take me to make a better. Nevertheless if any thing comes into my <a> head, which is at present far too much occupied to have room in it for stray fancies, I will give the Minerva [7]  birth, – & peradventure it may do as well for next year as for this, if all parties concernd should see another new year, & if Europe continues for so long at peace. – Shields is a good-natured man, & really I will in future let him have my exercise in full time. He shall have it by the end of November. [8]  At present I think we are compleatly out of the scrape.

My dear Grosvenor, why do you speak in such terms of Haydon, who is even by the acknowledgement of those who dislike him most, a man of first rated powers in his art? He may have done <some> foolish things & acted indiscreetly in others, – but to speak of him with contempt – & call him a coxcomb is out of all reason. He has long since broken off all connection with Leigh Hunt on account of his mischievous opinions, [9]  – but I have nothing to do with his friendships or his enmities, – I know him only as one of those painters, who if opportunity were given them, would place this country as much above all others in that art, as we are in arms & in poetry, & in the real enjoyments of life.

Nor do you speak xxxxx in consonance with my feelings concerning your friend Mr Fielding [10]  & James Fontaine. [11]  If the former is thinking more of the world to come than of this, – it is not a mental dram-drinking to which he has taken, – but the only proper diet. Fontaine is not a dreamer, but a sober & rational enquirer into a subject of no trifling importance, inasmuch as it involves the most remarkable objection to our established creed. He has not written well, & therefore will provoke little or no effect. The book is far too long, & wants method as well as condensation. But he is right, & when I come to town I should like to see him.

My house is dismally silent. Xx Tantemagne (a coinage this moment from the mint) went yesterday with Sara & Shedaw to Rydale, for where they will stay about a fortnight. Talking of Tantemagne I threaten her sometimes that I will import an Aunt-Eater from Brazil. [12] 

I wrote lately to Wynn; [13]  urging him to stand in Romillys place, [14]  & put himself at the head of that reform in the Criminal Laws which must be made, & which he will conduct with more judgement, & upon better principles than Sir Samuel. I do not want him to be more in opposition than he is, – indeed I would far rather see him with the Government, & this he knows, – but I would have him more in the eyes of the country, – & here the way for him is open. –

If I were not far too well employed, & hastening anxiously forward to the completion of my Brazil, [15]  I would pay off my score to Mr Brougham by reviewing his letter to Romilly & the Committee Business. [16]  For never did man lay himself more compleatly open, by the haste with which he has propagated false accusation the insolence with which he has treated our public schools & the persons connected with them & the entire ignorance which he has shown of their nature & purpose, – & even of the language of their xxxxxxxxx charters. [17]  But I must not waste my time upon him. Before I leave home I must finish both the Wesley [18]  & the Brazil. Proofs of each are on my desk. And I am now going to prepare ‘more copy’ for the press. – If the Almanacks are not coming with the Tea, they may come from Albemarle Street, with the next QR: [19]  I suppose Murray will have to send me Mr Butlers book. [20]  We have an interchange of this kind & are upon the best terms with each other, tho he is the most zealous defender of the Catholics (his own persuasion) & I the most zealous of the opposer of that abominable sxpxrs corruption of Xtianity & of the impudent question cry of Catholic Emancipation

God bless you & give you many a happy new year


If you ever go into a shop where old books are sold I wish you would buy me a neat copy of Thomas a Kempis. De Imitatione Xte, – of course I mean in the Latin. [21] 


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 3 JA 3/ 1819
Endorsement: 1 Janry. 1819
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 106–108 [in part]. BACK

[1] Keswick was a centre of pencil manufacture because of the nearby graphite mines in Borrowdale. Southey had presumably bought some pencils as a gift for Bedford. BACK

[2] Southey had sent Shield, through Bedford, his ‘Ode on the Death of Queen Charlotte’, the annual New Year’s poem he was required to write as Poet Laureate and which Shield was required to set to music (though New Year’s Odes had not been performed at Court since 1810). Southey’s poem was not published until it appeared in Friendship’s Offering and Winter’s Wreath: a Literary Album, and Christmas and New Year’s Present for MDCCCXXIX (London, 1829), pp. 106–108. BACK

[3] Queen Charlotte (1744–1818; DNB) had died on 17 November 1818. BACK

[4] Southey’s ‘Ode, Written in December, 1814’, published in Minor Poems, 2 vols (London, 1815), II, pp. 227–238. This poem had proved too controversial to serve as the New Year’s Ode for which it was intended. BACK

[5] In Cumbrian dialect ‘to fash’ means ‘to trouble’. BACK

[6] A term at the University of Oxford, used to refer to a fine its members were required to pay for a breach of discipline. BACK

[7] Minerva was the Roman goddess of poetic inspiration. BACK

[8] Southey nearly kept his promise – his next New Year’s Ode was sent to Bedford for onward transmission to Shield on 3 December 1819, see Letter 3395. BACK

[9] Haydon and Leigh Hunt had been close friends, but fell out in early 1817. The cause seems to have partly been Hunt’s growing closeness to Shelley and partly a conflict between Haydon’s Christianity and Leigh Hunt’s scepticism. Southey’s review of Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. BACK

[10] William Fielding (1748–1820), barrister, magistrate and son of the novelist, Henry Fielding (1707–1754; DNB). Southey had been introduced to him in 1817 in St James’s Park. BACK

[11] James Fontaine (1778–1826) had sent Southey a copy of his Eternal Punishment Proved to be not Suffering, but Privation; and Immortality Dependent on Spiritual Regeneration; by a Member of the Church of England (1817), no. 1468 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. See Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 21 December 1818, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3221. BACK

[12] A pun on ‘anteater’, a mammal species common in Brazil. BACK

[13] Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 22 December 1818, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3223. BACK

[14] Sir Samuel Romilly (1757–1818; DNB), MP for various seats 1807–1818, Solicitor-General 1806–1807, leading Whig proponent of law reform. He had killed himself on 2 November 1818. BACK

[15] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[16] A Letter to Sir Samuel Romilly, M.P. from Henry Brougham, Esq. M.P., F.R.S. upon the Abuse of Charities (1818). Brougham was Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Education of the Lower Orders 1816–1818, which severely criticised the lack of educational provision for the poor and highlighted abuses in educational charities, including leading public schools. The Letter and Reports of the Committee were among the items reviewed by John Wilson Croker, among others, in Quarterly Review, 19 (July 1818), 492–569, published 2 February 1819. BACK

[17] Brougham had not been educated at an English public school – he attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh. Southey had attended Westminster School from 1788 until he was expelled in 1792. BACK

[18] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[19] The Quarterly Review; its publisher, Murray, was based at 53 Albemarle Street in London. BACK

[20] Charles Butler, Historical Memoirs respecting the English, Irish, and Scottish Catholics, from the Reformation, to the Present Time (1819–1821), published by Murray. Southey possessed a presentation copy from Butler, no. 508 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[21] Thomas à Kempis (1379/1380–1471), De Imitatione Christi (c. 1418–1427). BACK

Places mentioned

Rydal Mount (mentioned 1 time)