3552. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 November 1820

3552. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 12 November 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 12 Nov. 1820

My dear Grosvenor

The half-bills are arrived – & your letter xxxx serves as a cordial to counteract the gloomy thoughts & feelings which the newspaper has produced. [1]  – Come here early in May, & I will put you in good condition, body & mind. We will go over the whole of the Land of Lakes, making a compleat tour of them, – & I will have a pair of riding breeches made for the nonce, to go on horseback with you. We will have mountain parties, – & such tarn scenes as Nash will show you in his drawing, – make your arrangements accordingly, & for me, I will live upon the exercise in anticipation, till you make your appearance.

It is well that one has something to exhilarate one in private life, – for otherwise there is very little either at home or abroad, which can be regarded with hope, or with complacency. I am heartily ashamed of the English people, who have retained nothing of the old English character, except physical courage, & extreme credulity. – Physical courage I say, because there is very little of the moral virtue left. We are at this time under the tyranny of the Press, – & the men who have the direction of the public opinion, & thereby of public affairs, are precisely the greatest rascals in the country, the most profligate & worst-principled adventurers of the age. Things cannot continue thus. & whatever course they may take, if you & I should reach the age of threescore years & ten, we shall in all human probability have outlived the English constitution & the liberties of England. The question is not whether we shall escape from despotism, but whether the process by which it is to be brought on will be longer or shorter, – more or less calamitous & frightful. In the present xx condition of the world I am perfectly certain that no government can withstand the influence of a free press; – the freedom of the press is incompatible with public security, – & yet we know that the inevitable tendency of despotism is to degrade mankind, & that without the wholesome influence of the press governments tend to despotism. – But of what use is it to anticipate evils, against which no exertions can avail, till we have a resolute government.

Gifford has now the whole article upon Huntington in his hands. [2]  I rely upon its insertion in the xxx next number, for paying my Christmas Bills. For the number after he xx may have a paper upon some Brazilian travels, [3]  which will serve to introduce remarks upon the state of that country, & its internal danger. – And if he assures me that a paper which Bowles sent him upon that subject is not to be used, [4]  – I will set about the life of Oliver Cromwell, [5] xxxx I should rather that Bowles’s were inserted, but think it not likely. Bowles has been ill-used in the Q.R. & is now at war with it, having the right on his side. [6] 

Sad changes have taken place among our Cats since you were here. I believe you remember Lord Nelson. He became so wretched that it was an act of mercy to put him in the river, – & that service was rendered him by poor Mrs Wilson. Bona Fidelia reached a good old age, & was found dead in the wood-house. There then remained Madame Bianchi, who was Bona’s daughter, & Pulcheria who was Madames daughter. These poor creatures who lived with Mrs Wilson, & had possession of the chairs & the fireside in her kitchen forsook the house the day that she had her mortal seizure. They became almost wild, – at length however we got them to come into the house for food, & I had persuaded them to come to my call before I left home in the spring. When I returned Madame had disappeared (& has never been seen since) – & Pulcheria was in a miserable state, – dying of some disease which was then prevalent among the cats & very fatal to them. It was pitiable to see her, & yet in the hope of her recovery, I could not order an end to be put to her lingering. But I was glad when she was found dead. – A visitor from the town, by name Virgil, who haunted these premises, being probably driven from his own, died here also. And thus the old generation to which Bona Marietta, Sir Thomas Dido, & Madame Catalani had belonged, was extinct. We have now only a young Othello, from Newlands; he has the defect of being of a miserably small breed, otherwise a worthy & promising cat who has never looked into a boot; & is safe from all such operators as the Editor of the Q.R. [7]  – Sir I shall be very happy to introduce you to Othello. It is a good name, not merely as expressing his complection, but because he will undoubtedly be as jealous as beseems his Tomship. I trust he will be the founder of a new Dynasty, & that in a few generations black will be the prevailing livery of the cats in Keswick

Have you seen any thing of Strachey? remember me to him when you do.

God bless you



* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqre/ Exchequer/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 15 NO 15/ 1820
Endorsement: 12 Novr. 1820
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. 214–217 [in part]. BACK

[1] Under extreme pressure from George IV, the Cabinet had reluctantly agreed to introduce a Bill of Pains and Penalties into the House of Lords to deprive the King’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King. On the Third Reading of the Bill on 10 November 1820, the government majority was only nine votes and it seemed very unlikely the Bill could pass the House of Commons. Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, therefore announced the Bill would be withdrawn. BACK

[2] Southey’s review of The Works of the Reverend William Huntington, S. S. Minister of the Gospel, at Providence Chapel, Gray’s Inn Lane, Completed to the Close of the Year 1806 (1811) appeared in Quarterly Review, 24 (January 1821), 462–510. Unfortunately for Southey, it did not appear in Quarterly Review, 24 (October 1820), published 19 December 1820. BACK

[3] This proposed article was not written or published. BACK

[4] The Quarterly Review did not publish this article. BACK

[5] ‘Life of Cromwell’, Quarterly Review, 25 (July 1821), 279–347, an assessment of the life of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658; Lord Protector 1653–1658; DNB). BACK

[6] Bowles had been attacked in the most recent issue of the Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 400–434; published on 5 October 1820. The reviewer (Isaac D’Israeli) had described him as ‘a sort of sentimental critic’ (403) and ‘a poet and no commentator, [who] pours out his invention on old facts, and never discovers new ones’ (419). Bowles responded in A Reply to the Charges brought by the Reviewer of Spence’s Anecdotes in the Quarterly Review from October 1820 Against the Last Editor of Pope’s Works; and Author of ‘A Letter to Mr. Campbell,’ on ‘The Invariable Principles of Poetry’ (1820). BACK

[7] i.e. the cat was in no danger, unlike Southey’s articles, of being castrated by Gifford, who was a former shoemaker. Southey referred to Gifford’s habit of making changes to Southey’s articles as ‘putting them in the boot’. BACK

People mentioned

Wilson, Molly (?–1820) (mentioned 2 times)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 2 times)
Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)
Strachey, George (1776–1849) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)