3448. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 March 1820

3448. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 March 1820⁠* 

My dear G.

Tho I never examined an account in my life (holding it a less evil to be cheated than to cast up long sums, & fret myself about L.S.D.) yet I think there is an error in yours, – for you have not debited me for the Westminster subscription, [1]  which must surely have been paid within the last three months.

I thank you for your solicitude concerning my readiness to give. But you do not know when I turn a deaf ear. The case of poor Pages family is the only one in which I had not a cogent motive, – then perhaps there was no better one than a regard to appearance, – a tax <to> which I have paid less in the course of my life than any other person. My unhappy brother Edward has at least the virtue of being very mod considerate in his demands upon me. They come seldom, & are always trifling. At present he is ill, – perhaps seriously so. All that can be done for him is to take care that he may not want for necessaries while in health, nor for comforts (as far as they can be procured) when health fails him. I think it very likely that he may be consumptive: the disease is in the family.

In Morgans case I acted from the double motive of good will towards him & his wife, & of setting others an example, – xx which has had its effect. There was an old acquaintance there, & for the sake of his mother, [2]  at whose table I have been a frequent guest, I would have done more for him than this, had it been in my power.

People imagine that I am very rich, that I have great interest with Government, & that my patronage in literature is sufficient to make an authors fortune, & to introduce a poet at once into full celebrity.

Turner is about to take an opinion concerning my claims both in law & in equity to the Somersetshire estates. [3]  Were I to recover them, I should have great satisfaction in resigning my pension xxxxxx – the Laureateship I would keep as a feather, & wear it as Fluellin did his leek. [4] 

I thank Wm Nicol for his suggestion. [5]  You will see however in the preface to the last volume that I had promised to do what he advises

Last night I finished the life of Wesley. [6]  But I have outrun the printer as well as the constable, [7]  & it may be four or five weeks before he overtakes me comes up to me. Now I go dens et unguis [8]  to my Carmen, [9]  – which if I do not like when it is done, – why I will even skip the task, & wait prepare for the Coronation. [10]  Alas the birth days will now be kept. [11]  learn for me on what day, that I may be ready in time. – I do not know why you are so anxious for rhyme. The rhythm of my Congratulatory Odes [12]  is well suited for lyrical composition, – & the last poem which I sent you [13]  was neither amiss in execution, nor inappropriate in subject. But you know that from the first I told you I had no talent for lyrical writing. And I tell you now that my inclination for writing poetry is gone, gone – gone, & that the power is going – going – going.

This conspiracy did not surprize me. [14]  Some good it must do. & yet I dare say the rascally Whigs will soon take part with the conspirators as far as they dare do it. In my conscience I think the editors of the Times & the M Chronicle [15]  deserve hanging as much as these taylors & butchers who wanted to botch & butcher the Government. [16]  Observe how fortunate it is that the H Corpus was not suspended! [17]  If it had these miscreants would have been seized, – & the Opps would have been lamenting over them, soliciting them for statements of grievances, & raising subscriptions for their relief & remuneration. Now the Gallows will have its due.

God bless you


Murray sent me the money for Marlborough. [18] 

1 March. 1820.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 4/ 1820
Endorsement: 1 March 1820; 1 March. 1820
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Eng. Lett. d. 47. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 31–33 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey had agreed to pay £5 towards an appeal for the family of William Page (1778–1819), clergyman and headmaster of Westminster School 1815–1819, who had died on 20 September 1819. His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 89 (October 1819), 374, noted he had left a wife, Anne Page, née Davis (1780–1820), and nine children, ‘very slenderly provided for’. This was despite Davis holding a number of clerical appointments, including Vicar of Willen, Buckinghamshire 1806–1819, Vicar of Steventon, Berkshire, and Rector of Nunburnholme, Yorkshire 1812–1817, and Rector of Quainton, Buckinghamshire 1817–1819. BACK

[2] Unidentified. BACK

[3] The Fitzhead estates in Somerset. The death of Southey’s third cousin, John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), meant he possibly had a claim on these lands. BACK

[4] Southey had possessed a government pension of £200 per annum since 1807; he also received £100 per annum as Poet Laureate from 1813. In Henry V, Act 5, scene 1, Fluellin wears a leek, both as a symbol of his Welsh identity and to provoke quarrels (which he wins) with other soldiers. BACK

[5] William Nicol (d. c. 1855), printer and bookseller. It is not clear what advice he had given Southey, but in History of Brazil, 3 vols (London, 1810–1819), III, p. ix, Southey had indicated he intended to publish in the future ‘the History of Portugal, of Portugueze India, and the other conquests, and of Portugueze Literature’. BACK

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

[7] Andrew Strahan (1749–1831; DNB), MP for various constituencies 1796–1820 and head of a highly successful printing business. To ‘outrun the constable’ was a term for getting into debt. BACK

[8] i.e. ‘tooth and nail’; a contraction of ‘dentibus et unguis’. BACK

[9] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[10] The Prince Regent was not crowned as George IV until 19 July 1821; Southey did not write a poem on this occasion. BACK

[11] Southey feared that, as Poet Laureate, he would have to write an annual Birthday Ode, as well as a New Year’s Ode. The Prince Regent chose to celebrate his ‘official’ birthday on St George’s Day (23 April), unless it fell on a Sunday, as it did in 1820, in which case it would be celebrated on 24 April. BACK

[12] Southey’s Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). BACK

[13] Southey’s New Year’s Ode for 1820, later published as ‘The Warning Voice. Ode I’ in The Englishman’s Library: Comprising a Series of Historical, Biographical and National Information (London, 1824), pp. 381–383. BACK

[14] The Cato Street Conspiracy to assassinate the Cabinet had been broken up on 23 February 1820. Five conspirators were hanged and five transported for life. BACK

[15] The Times was critical of the government; its editor (1817–1841) was Thomas Barnes (1785–1841; DNB). The Morning Chronicle (1769–1862) was the main Whig daily newspaper; its editor (1817–1843) was John Black (1783–1855; DNB). BACK

[16] The Cato Street conspirators included James Ings (c. 1785–1820), a former butcher, and James Wilson (dates unknown), a tailor. BACK

[17] Habeas corpus, the legal principle that prevented detention without trial, was suspended March 1817–February 1818. BACK

[18] Southey’s review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. BACK

People mentioned

Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Edward (1788–1847) (mentioned 1 time)
Morgan, John James (d. 1820) (mentioned 1 time)
Morgan, Mary (b. 1782) (mentioned 1 time)